Has anyone else noticed that our generation seems especially anxiety-ridden?
A few years ago, I experienced anxiety that was so intense I could hardly function. I would wake up nauseous in the morning, and I would be overwhelmed with anxiety as I drove into the parking lot at my job. I constantly would pray for my anxiety to be relieved, but these in-the-moment prayers had a limited effect on me.
Eventually I was able to overcome this issue. The Holy Spirit began to show me individual things that were contributing to my anxiety, and I was able to overcome them one at a time.
Many of us have made the mistake of dealing with anxiety in the moment to relieve the symptoms, but there are actually problems in the structural integrity of our lives that need to be rectified if we are to be free from anxiety.
Anxiety comes from a combination of 1) bad thought patterns and 2) bad lifestyle habits. In order to conquer anxiety, you must begin the process of discovering and changing the thoughts and habits that contribute to it.
Here are a few of the most common reasons why we are anxious:
1. We Have Overloaded Ourselves
We are finite creatures and can only handle a limited amount of activities, information, and stress. When we fail to acknowledge our limitations and don’t have strong boundaries for protecting those limitations, this can be a cause of stress.
It doesn’t help that we live in a society where it’s common to overwork ourselves. We tend to value busyness, trying to be superman or superwoman. For me, my desire to overload myself came from a few different things.
The first reason was that my impatience to succeed caused me to work relentlessly on a project because I wanted to reach the end sooner. I realized that while I needed to put forth my best effort, God is the one who will cause me to succeed. His plans for my success don’t involve me overloading myself with stress. I had to learn to trust his timing instead of trying to make things happen on my own.
The second reason was that I was listening to people around me who told me that I “should be able to handle” this or that. When determining your boundaries, don’t compare yourself to other people. We are all designed differently and have different needs, so it’s important to listen to your own instincts (and to God’s voice) when it comes to how you schedule your time. You don’t need to give in to the “work yourself to the bone mindset.” If you are in a work environment where you are being overworked, perhaps it’s time to set some boundaries or find a new job.
2. No Structure or Poor Structure in Our Lives
When it comes to our finances, our time, our friendships, and our commitments we need to ask ourselves this question: are we in control of them or are they in control of us?
If I am late for work every day, eventually I might grow anxious about losing my job. If I am not managing my budget well, it’s very likely that this will result in anxiety about money. If I’m giving my time to unhealthy friendships, this can throw me off balance and cause anxiety. If I’m not spending enough time resting or socializing, my overworked brain might start to feel stress. If I’m not sleeping well, my tired brain won’t be as prepared to resist anxious thoughts.
It’s easy to go through life on auto pilot, but this often leads to a sense of being out of control. When we don’t have a structure and intention behind our daily actions, this can lead to anxiety that can’t simply be removed by trying to fight it off in the moment.
We often look for the quickest fix to remove the feeling of anxiety rather than taking the time to restructure our lives for better emotional health.
We don’t need to become rigid control freaks about our schedules. For me, restructuring my life has been about taking one new step every day that takes me in the right direction. Ask yourself, “What ONE thing can I start doing today that will move me toward my goal?” Do that thing until it becomes a habit, and then pick ONE more thing to add to the mix.
Whenever we try to change everything at once, we inevitably give up because of how difficult it is. Slow but steady changes ensure that these changes will become habitual and will actually stay for the long run.
RELATED: 4 Ways to Beat Anxiety at Work
3. We are trying to control something that we can’t control.
While there’s a certain amount of daily planning that we need to do, we actually don’t have the power to plan our lives. We often make our own decisions and then stamp God‘s approval on them believing that he will guide our steps as we take them. There is a certain amount of truth behind this belief, but I’ve found that more often than not, it’s a bit misdirected.
It’s true that when we move forward in faith God will direct our steps. But it’s also true that we have been given the Holy Spirit, which is the mind of Christ. God has plans for us in mind, and they are not just for the grand scheme of our lives, but for every day. I often find myself in the tension between charging ahead with my own plans and remaining still and allowing God to direct my next step.
When we trust God’s leadership and control over our lives, we have peace because we know that these details are in his hands, and his hands are capable. Whenever we assume the job of figuring out our next steps, we are going to experience stress and anxiety.
We were not designed to figure out life on our own. When we step outside of our role and try to control our lives, we will experience fear.
Children are very small and vulnerable creatures, but when children trust their parents they will develop feelings of safety. These feelings of safety come from knowing that their parents will take care of them. If a child leaves the protection of his parents, he couldn’t survive on his own. He might find himself in some very dangerous and harmful situations that he was never meant to be in.
Just as a child is designed to be led by his parents and nurtured by them, we are dependent on God. Leaving behind the father-ship of God in exchange for our own pursuit of success will lead us to a very fearful place because we are not capable of controlling our lives. When we become childlike before him, we will find freedom from fear.
What areas of your life are you attempting to control? What ONE STEP can you take right now to move in the right direction?