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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another take on anxiety

One of the emotions which can run rampant in our bodies is that of anxiety - even leading us into such serious attacks mimicking what appears to be a heart attack or some kind of severe reaction.  Many of our emotions are "strong" and don't give us as much of a challenge as this one emotion!  God created all emotion, with anxiety being the one connected with the sense we are somehow in harm's way.  There is something akin to a "niggling" which just alerts us to the need to do something differently or else we will be in the midst of some type of trouble we may not want to face.  As long as we don't get overwhelmed by this emotion, we are fine - but in today's world, the stress factors are much worse than they used to be and we tend to internalize our stress in ways we may not even recognize.  I am jaw clench kind of gal - clenching my jaw without any real thought just because the stress is building.  I then begin to feel it in my shoulders and neck, because the tension in my face is connected to my neck and that is connected to my shoulders - - - oh, you know the song!  Since this is one of those emotions which can give us a great deal of problems, we'd do well to learn how to keep it under control.  What we may not realize is just how much this emotion is really "our problem" and not caused by some external stimulus!

Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ That’s what those people who don’t know God are always thinking about. Don’t worry, because your Father in heaven knows that you need all these things. What you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what he wants you to do. Then he will give you all these other things you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Tomorrow will have its own worries. (Matthew 6:31-34 ERV)

God designed the anxiety response to stimulate such a flow of hormones it is kind of like what is released when we get that fight or flight response - ramping up our response ability.  The trouble with anxiety is we seldom act upon it as we should - we simply allow it to build up and give us more pressure internally than we know what to do with.  We have probably heard it said worry is simply bringing into today the issues which belong to tomorrow.  If anyone has ever said that to you, they were quoting Jesus - each day having enough trouble of its own - tomorrow having its own set of worries.  The instruction Jesus gave was simply not to worry, but to trust.  This means the opposite of worry is trust, implying worry is a lack of trust (or perhaps a misplacement of our trust).  Much of the anxiety or worry we experience in life isn't because of some external threat, but because we have an issue with control.  We don't want to relinquish some control we might have and therefore, we hold on for dear life to things which we really have very poor control over in the first place!

Anxiety is one of those emotions which evoke the sense of "dread" we might describe at not knowing what is ahead.  It is that sense of apprehension something bad is about to happen.  For about a week now I have been narrowly avoiding some kind of accident with another vehicle or two on the roadways, with folks just either not paying attention, or being too quick to try to get somewhere.  Yesterday, while completely stopped at a red light, it happened! I was bumped from behind by a big SUV.  I was just sitting there!  The damage was minimal, leaving a little crease in my rear bumper, but what was worse was the anxiety leading up to this event.  Based on the inability to control the driving patterns of those around me, I have realized I get to my destination with jaw clenched, shoulders tight, and the like.  Why?  I am unable to control, feel threatened, and know something bad will happen if I am not at my best when driving on these streets!

What makes anxiety worse is the ability of the brain to hold onto memory.  I can recount the near misses over the past couple of weeks when someone has pulled right out in front of me, attempted to cross into my lane in fast moving traffic without seeing my in their blind spot, or even the times when it appeared someone was approaching me from behind at too great of a speed.  We don't need to actually have a memory associated with the impending "doom" we sense, we just need an accumulation of emotional memories similar to what we imagine will happen and the dread begins to build.  I used the illustration of the traffic issues because we can easily associate with those, but there are tons of other memories we have tucked away in the recesses of our brains, giving fodder to all manner of anxiety if we are to actually stop and think through our sense of dread over certain matters.  That time when the checkbook read zero and the bills came due.  The moment we received the bad report on a lab value or diagnostic test the doctor performed.  It doesn't matter what the emotional "memory" bank stored away, it can "come forward" whenever anything "remotely" similar threatens us again.

The worst part of this memory thing is we don't even know we are allowing it to happen, because much of anxiety is simply happening in our unconscious.  We don't consciously bring out those memories, fearing we will lose control in the current circumstances based on the evidence we can conclude from memories one through thirty on our memory drive!  We just "feel" the impending doom because these memories evoke the unconscious set of hormonal release which increases our anxiety level within.  Jesus says the remedy to this anxiety is to trust - to do so means we let go of being in control all of the time.  If you have ever done one of those "falling back into someone's arms" exercises, you know how hard it is to surrender control - to trust in what you cannot see.  The fact is, we may not "see" God at work, but we can see evidence he loves us and we can count on the fact he will never betray his love because it is impossible for him to do so.  We can count on the circumstances to not bring more than he knows we can handle - as long as we are handling those circumstances while he is leading us through them.  It isn't us taking God's hand and dragging him through the circumstance with us - it is us being taken into his arms and allowing him to carry us through them!  Just sayin!