Wednesday, March 2, 2011

No Need To Be Anxious

There are a couple of Bible passages that are going through my head as I sit here gulping down my coffee in Uptown Waterloo.

The first is Phillipians 4:6-7: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

And the second passage is Matthew 6:25-26: "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?"

Perhaps you are someone who wrestles with a great deal of anxiety on a regular basis, or maybe you only experience it once in awhile and it doesn't wreak too much havoc on your life. Personally, along with chronic - and sometimes major - depression, I wrestle with what is called general anxiety disorder, which pretty much means I feel anxious almost all of the time. Wherever we are on the scale of anxiety, I think we can gain comfort in the words of these Scriptures and others.

Over the past few months as I've been off work I've been challenging myself to have "worry-free days," where no matter how bleak things look I drop my anxiety and refuse to let it in. And there has been quite a bit to worry about as I've been off work. But I've been having some success. Another way to describe these times of being worry-free is "lowering your anxiety shield." I heard this term from a course I'm taking at my spiritual centre, and there an illustration was used from Star Trek (if you use a Star Trek illustration you're good in my books.) Basically, on an away mission, Kirk and Spock get separated from their crewmates. They can see them being attacked by the enemy, but can not seem to reach them. Then Spock realizes that the force field can only be dropped if one fully releases all anxiety; thus, the lowering of the anxiety-shield.

The question must be asked, "Can we control our anxiety? Or are we controlled by it? Can we control our emotions?" I believe that we can control it, with practise. I know this can seem impossible, especially if you've been wracked with fear and anxiety for most of your life. I am happy that I am re-establishing healthy relationships with members of my family, but my childhood was, well, less than ideal. Perhaps you can relate to this. I lived in an environment that induced high levels of anxiety within me. And as a child I couldn't do anything about it. As I grew into a teenager and then an adult, although I was not in this situation anymore, I was still wracked with fear. The good news is that I don't have to be that way anymore.

I guess what i would say firstly is that if you've been through traumatic experiences, you don't have to do it alone. In the past I have found professional therapists very very helpful, as well as medication. What I'm finding most helpful now in my life is my spirituality and gathering with like-minded people in my spiritual community.

For those of you who believe in God (and that term can cover many different concepts of the divine,) I think the Scripture passages I quoted at the top of this article can be extremely helpful. First let's look at the passage from Matthew. Jesus goes straight to the point of the things that get people so worked up. We worry about what we will eat and drink and what we will wear. When things are running tight we wonder how we will meet those needs. Jesus essentially says, "Why are you worrying? Take birds for example. They don't hold down a 9-to-5 job, yet God looks after them. And are you not more valuable than they are?" And then Paul writes in Phillipians, "Don't worry about anything, give it to God instead and you will have peace." Notice he doesn't say "Don't worry about most things," he says ANYTHING.

Are these words too lofty? Was God somehow more powerful 2000 years ago but today is rendered powerless? Maybe you're saying, "Well you don't know how bad things are for me, Mark Andrew. I (or a loved one) is so very sick, I'm unhappy in my job, and in my relationships. To you I say, "I DO KNOW what kinds of feelings you're feeling now." Like I said, I've been off work for months, I've been very sick, and my relationship status isn't exactly what I'd like it to be. So, knowing the feelings that you are feeling, I still suggest giving them to God, releasing them into His (or Her) care. Perhaps you're saying "I don't believe in God." Well, what kind of a God do you not believe in? Is it a man-in-the-sky who sends some people to heaven and some to hell and who must be worshiped in one specific way? Well, guess what, I don't believe in that God either. God for me is a divine spiritual reality who lives both within me and around me. God, for me, is the reality that exists everywhere.

Perhaps you're saying "I don't think I can release all my anxiety, it's too high." I know what you mean. What I suggest that you do is start by setting apart 10 minutes a day, designating them as "worry free minutes." I suggest doing this right when you get up, before or after breakfast. During this time, find a quiet place, sit cross-legged or straight in a chair, or perhaps laying down (if you won't fall asleep) and consciously say to yourself "I am now free of all anxiety. I give my worries to God now." And then just breathe deeply in and out while imagining your mind as a still lake on a summers day. During these 10 minutes, nothing is wrong. The kids aren't sick, you're not unemployed, you're not overwhelmed. An image I like to use is of my mind expanding like an elastic, with the knots of anxiety becoming untied, therefore leaving room for my consciousness to expand. As you regularly take time for these moments, you'll probably find yourself wanting to give yourself even more time, perhaps adding another "worry free" time before you go to bed. And when anxiety starts to creep its ugly head back into yours, you can gently say "No, I let that go this morning, I'm not worrying anymore."

I also suggest that you find people that you can talk to about your worries; sometimes this is the last thing that you want to do, but it does help. You don't have to go through it alone.

Finally, I think that we can find inspiration in words that were written thousands of years ago, we can release our anxiety to God, and with practise we can take control of our own emotions.


Mark Andrew