Jennifer Webster, MA, LPC
“Anxiety is a lot like a toddler. It never stops talking, tells you that you’re wrong and wakes you up at 3am.” -Source unknown
This quote is a light description of a pretty heavy issue: Anxiety. Feeling anxious is part of the human experience, and most people agree that these are anxious times.
Anxiety can be normal and useful, such as feeling anxious before a first date, a job interview, or a tough exam. It can also be debilitating, such as not wanting to leave the house, ruminating on scary scenarios, or fighting intrusive thoughts. Regardless of the form, anxiety can elicit an intense fear that is out of proportion to the situation at hand.
Anxiety is usually a fear regarding a future outcome and a desire to control that outcome. By focusing on the future, anxiety prevents us from enjoying and living in the present. And living in the present is the ultimate goal for emotional, relational, and spiritual health.
“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
Anxiety is about taking today’s trouble and magnifying it into the future. This magnification presents itself in our thoughts. It’s not uncommon to beat ourselves up over unwanted thoughts that pop into our heads. It may come as a relief to learn that we don’t have control over our thoughts any more than we have control over our dreams.
But we do have control over what we do with those thoughts.
We have the choice to challenge, to change, or to dismiss them. We have the choice to sit with the thought, act on the thought, or ignore it. In other words, we have the choice, as the Bible tells us, to take the thought captive.
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5
Questions we may ask in response to this quote include, “What does it mean to take a thought captive?” and, “What would it look like to have a thought and then choose what to do with the thought?”
A few weeks ago, my middle daughter got married out in the country. Before the wedding, her beautiful Maid of Honor arrived at the venue with her bridesmaid’s dress. As she hung up the dress in the closet, a live scorpion fell from the dress. I don’t have to tell you how quickly the scorpion was taken captive and demolished. There was no entertaining the fate of the scorpion. It had to be destroyed, since we knew it could cause harm.
Then my daughter went outside with her new husband for pictures. As they returned from the photo session, the photographer noticed several crickets had hitched a ride on her dress – again, this was a true country wedding! These crickets posed far less harm than the scorpion, but they were annoying, distracting, and still not welcome. The photographer gently picked the crickets off of the dress and released them outside.
Two different insects – both unwanted, unwelcome, and uninvited. Our intrusive thoughts can be the same.
Intrusive thoughts make us anxious like a scorpion or cricket on a bridal dress can elicit anxiety. Like insects, these thoughts are separate from the person they intrude, and that’s why the person can choose to get rid of them.
Sometimes our thoughts are as harmful as a scorpion. When these thoughts enter our minds, the intrusion is not our fault, but we must deal with the thought with the swiftness and focus necessary to kill a scorpion. This determination prevents the thought from doing harm.
Other times our intrusive thoughts are as annoying and present as crickets, and we must choose to remove and replace these thoughts. It’s our choice and responsibility to take these thoughts captive and get on with the day
There are many different methods for coping with anxiety. From healthy eating and good sleep habits to exercise and time outdoors, the age-old saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” rings true. It’s important to take care of our physical health, and our mental health will follow.
One of my personal go-to’s to manage anxiety is The Five Senses Coping Skill. It’s super easy for all ages to use when ruminating thoughts take hold.
Click HERE to access The Five Senses Coping Skill.
You can also find support, recovery and Bible study groups with others at River Pointe and West End Church.