Anxiety is not God’s will for us. Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and themselves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious. When they were confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency after being separated from God, they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way? There are certainly plenty of things to be concerned about, but we only become worried about those things when we allow those concerns to separate us from God’s love and our ability to use the gifts and support God has given us to make concrete plans to address those concerns gracefully.
The Theology of The Body teaches us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless. t’s fine to be concerned about things. That’s what enables us to identify a problem, bring it to God, gather our resources and support, and make a concrete plan to address the concern. But that’s different from anxiety, which has us focus so exclusively on the problem that it makes us incapable of identifying the actual problem, bringing it to God, gathering our resources, and making a plan. We just allow ourselves to spin out. That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us “Be Not Afraid.” He wasn’t denying the myriad concerns that affect our lives. He was saying that with God’s grace, we have the power to respond to those concerns in a spirit of love and grace rather than a spirit of fear. Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater. In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”
1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face. Yes, these are real things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves. Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing. If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems. Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations? How will I pace myself? How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?” Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!” It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety. Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed. The most important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.
2. Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!” Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution, but merely the next step.What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources, and enlists more support? If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek. Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once. Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success. The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.
3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for. Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it. Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through. In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different. God loves you. He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace. The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.
For more support overcoming anxiety, check out the resources available at CatholicCounselors.com.
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