“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27
1 out of 4 American adults will experience clinical levels of anxiety at some point in their lives.
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Even if you don’t struggle with this personally, it’s likely that you know someone who does. It could be your friend, your family member, your neighbor, or your coworker.
Anxiety disorders have become an epidemic in our society. Sadly, I feel that we are failing when it comes to treating them.
Coping With Anxiety
A simple Google search of “how to cope with anxiety” elicits countless articles filled with techniques for managing anxiety.
Some common ones include exercising, doing yoga, praying, meditating, getting a massage, reading a good book, or going for a walk. I’ve had therapists suggest some of these same things to me.
There is certainly nothing wrong with doing any of these things and you may even find that these things do alleviate anxiety for you…temporarily.
While these seem like smart ideas on the surface, they all have one thing in common: they encourage you to avoid your anxiety.
Going to a yoga class is certainly preferable to binge drinking, doing drugs, eating your feelings, or engaging in some other unhealthy habit to escape from your anxiety…but here’s the thing: you’re still trying to escape.
Overcoming anxiety is not easy, but it is simple. It can be summarized in one little word: acceptance.
Note: When I say “overcome”, I do not mean “cure”. Anxiety is a disease and it is not something that can be cured. By “overcome”, I mean “manage effectively”.
Let’s imagine that you are having a panic attack.
Your heart is racing, your face is hot, your palms are sweaty, you feel dizzy, and you think you’re going to pass out. Your body is going into fight or flight mode.
You have a few options here.
You can fight the anxiety, you can hide from it, or you can allow it.
“Fighting” it or resisting it sounds like this:
“What is wrong with me? I know I’m not going to die. This is just a stupid panic attack. Why can’t I hold myself together like other people can? Why does this keep happening? I thought I was getting better. There’s nothing to be afraid of. This is so irrational. What’s wrong with me?”
In contrast, hiding from anxiety looks like distracting yourself or numbing the sensation. This is what life coach Brooke Castillo calls “buffering”.
Some common ways to buffer include overeating, over drinking, and overspending. Trying to avoid negative emotions (including anxiety) is one of the root causes of many types of addictions.
Buffering doesn’t always look unhealthy, though. Remember the healthy habits we discussed earlier? Exercising, doing yoga, or reading a good book can all be ways to escape from anxiety.
Fighting anxiety and hiding from anxiety produce the same result: they both actually strengthen your anxiety.
When you try to “fight” a panic attack or escape from it, you make the anxiety worse because you are creating anxiety about anxiety.
The initial trigger may not even cause you to be anxious anymore, but now you’re feeling anxious about being anxious. You have poured gasoline on a fire.
The more you try to resist your anxiety or hide from it, the more anxiety you are creating about it…so your anxiety simply compounds.
“Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” –Eckhart Tolle
The solution is acceptance.
What does this look like?
The next time you experience low grade anxiety or a full-blown panic attack, notice it. First, name the one word emotion that you’re feeling (anxiety, fear, tension, etc.).
Next, notice how it feels in your body (without judgment). Observe it objectively. What does it feel like? Where do you feel it? Describe it in detail.
Do not judge yourself for feeling the emotion. Simply observe. Notice that although it is uncomfortable, it will not hurt you.
Feelings are not harmful. They are simply vibrations in your body.
Next, accept the anxiety. Allow it to be there and hold space for it.
Do not try to distract yourself, escape from it, or talk yourself out of the emotion. Simply let it be there.
This will not be easy. It might be extremely uncomfortable. But that’s okay.
It’ll take time, but eventually, you’ll probably notice that the anxiety has passed.
Do not try to rush it. If you’re in a hurry, you’re doing it wrong. You wouldn’t be in a rush if you had truly accepted the discomfort of anxiety.
“The presence of anxiety is unavoidable. The prison of anxiety is optional.” – Max Lucado
Need Help? Check These Out!
My Favorite Books on Anxiety
Hope and Help for Your Nerves – Dr. Claire Weekes (a little dated, but this is hands down the most helpful book I’ve found on anxiety)
Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World – Max Lucado
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook – Edmund J. Bourne
The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo (several useful episodes on anxiety, buffering, and accepting negative emotion)
Things Above Podcast by James Bryan Smith (multiple episodes with practical, Biblical insights on anxiety and worry)