Question: I feel anxious all the time. My friends tell me that I just need to trust God more, but it doesn’t help. How can I stop feeling so anxious? (Patrice H.)
Answer: Let’s talk boundaries with anxiety, because I understand how you feel. First of all, remember that fear is a common emotion. A scan of the news headlines can make anyone’s heart rate go up! But, the truth is that anxiety has always been part of the human experience. Today, we fear the coronavirus, debt, and political strife. Half a century ago, we feared famine, war, and plagues. In many ways, not much has changed.
It’s normal to feel anxiety on some level, so please don’t beat yourself up for struggling with it.
In fact, my answer to your question might sound counterintuitive. Instead of telling yourself “just stop feeling anxious” or “just trust God,” here’s what I want you to consider:
Practice extending compassion toward yourself when you feel anxiety.
I know that may not sound like the answer you want to hear. You want your anxiety GONE. But, hear me out…
It is a well-researched fact that extending compassion to yourself helps you stay calm when anxiety ignites. On the other hand, pressuring yourself to “just stop” increases toxic stress chemicals inside your body, which creates MORE feelings of anxiety.
It’s a paradox. The way to stop feeling anxious is to be gentle with yourself when you feel anxious. Psychologists call this approach “self-soothing.” And, it’s a skill that anyone can learn with practice.
How do you set boundaries with anxiety? It starts by learning to soothe yourself when it shows up.
For instance, what would you do to calm an anxious child who is scared after having a nightmare? Would you first hold her close and say calming things? Or, would you shake her and tell her to “just stop thinking about it”?
The answer is obvious. You soothe a child first by holding her close and helping her feel safe. Once she is calm, then you can work with her to understand her fear or the bad dream.
The same truth applies to adults. When you feel anxious, your body and mind are already operating on overdrive. Thus, the first thing to do is help your body and mind calm down by showing yourself compassion.
Self-compassion calms you when you are anxious. Self-pressure creates more stress and anxiety.
Action Steps for Setting Boundaries with Anxiety:
Speak gently to yourself
Often, our anxious thoughts are accompanied by our own inner critic. We start to beat ourselves up for feeling anxious, which increases the feeling of chaos and overwhelm in our heads. So, try to notice the thoughts running through your mind. Are you beating yourself up? Are you yelling at yourself to simmer down? What does your self-talk sound like when you’re apprehensive?
Then, imagine what would it be like to speak to yourself as you would a young child who is nervous? For example, instead of thinking, “What’s wrong with me?!,” practice telling yourself, “It’s okay to feel anxious. I’m human. It happens.”
Take a few long, deep breaths
Managing anxiety can affect your body just as much as your mind. For instance, I used to think the idea of deep breathing techniques was silly “woo-woo.” But, then I read about the scientific benefits and then experienced them in my own life.
Controlling your breathing is one of the best things you can do when you are anxious. Of course, it won’t take your anxious thoughts away altogether. But, it will help calm your nervous system and prompt your brain to release soothing endorphins. And, who doesn’t want that? As you learn to breathe deeply when you’re anxious, you will help your mind relax.
Release tension within your body
Whenever I counsel women who struggle with anxiety, I almost always notice certain physical cues. Some women will tense their legs, moving them rapidly up and down. Others pull at their hair or sit forward with their shoulders tightened up. They literally display the anxiety within their bodies and don’t realize it.
Therefore, when you feel anxious, notice how it affects the way you hold your body. Take a few minutes to do a full-body scan. Start by flexing your toes, your feet, your legs, and working all the way up to your neck. Where do you notice yourself holding the tension? What does it feel like to tense and release that part of your body?
You might develop a practice of releasing tension in your body a few times throughout the day. For example, when I get tense or nervous, I tend to hunch my shoulders. So, I’ve learned to practice rolling my shoulders forward and back frequently throughout the day. It might feel a little strange at first. But, as you flex and release tension in your body, you help soothe yourself and increase feelings of calm.
Let God be God
Besides the physical and mental components of anxiety, there is also the spiritual aspect. Now, I’m not suggesting that you ask God to “take your anxiety away” in a frantic “Hail Mary” prayer. That type of prayer can be helpful for some people. But, for others, it just builds more pressure inside, which is the last thing you need.
For instance, you might find yourself worrying, “What if God doesn’t take away my problem right this second? Does that mean I don’t have enough faith?” Under that kind of angst, you can almost feel the anxiety surge even worse.
In fact, many women report that it’s difficult to pray when they feel anxious. If that’s your experience, it’s okay. It is common even among very faithful people. Struggling to pray doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you or that your faith is weak. Instead, it just means that you are anxious and need to include other ways of generating relief.
God made you to have a body, soul, and mind. When you are anxious, you often need practical support, such as physical relaxation or the warmth of talking with a good friend. Don’t shame yourself for seeking relief that you can touch, feel, or see.
Instead, remind yourself that God is strong, even when you feel scared or far from him. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, the Apostle Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When you feel troubled, God’s strength and support can appear in many different ways, not just through prayer.
Let me be clear. Wrestling with anxiety is a real issue for many women. Don’t take it lightly. There are several steps involved when learning to overcome fear.
Extending compassion to yourself is just one step of the process. But, it’s a step that you can control and begin to use right away.
However, real victory over anxiety occurs when you learn how to uncover the root of the problem and identify the underlying causes.
I’m going to teach how to successfully go through this process on Wednesday, March 25th at 8:00pm Eastern during my webinar:
The price is $35, and all participants receive a recording of the material to replay again as needed. Plus, I will take questions during the live teaching session.
If you wrestle with feelings of anxiety, loneliness, envy, shame, or overwhelm – and who doesn’t – you will discover clear answers and proven techniques that really work. I’ve boiled down over 20 years of counseling hundreds of women into a webinar designed to help you:
- Take charge of your emotions
- Stop beating yourself up over bad feelings
- Built the confidence to lead yourself and improve your relationships
I hope you will join me for this uplifting online event.
Click here to learn more about my upcoming webinar, Boundaries with Overwhelming Emotions.
Join the conversation. Leave a comment below:
How does anxiety affect you the most? Try the steps described above and tell me how they help.
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