Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?Matthew 6:27 (NIV)
Last night was one of those restless nights of tossing and turning and just praying to fall asleep. I woke up stressed and down, and anxieties flocked to my sleepless mind like mosquitos to a stagnant pool.
It was also overcast today. I wanted to plant a tree that’s been sitting on my deck for several days. But I needed the ground to be softer, so I decided to wait for the afternoon drizzle to soak into the soil so that I could dig it more easily tomorrow.
In the same way, I decided to wait on my worries.
Like the soil, my mind wasn’t ready to break into yet. I needed to let it soften, to heal from sleeplessness, before I could open it up safely.
When I was in counseling, my counselor told me that, sometimes, it’s best to set worries aside for awhile.
Now, clearly, it’s important to address our fears, especially if they are urgent. This is why counseling was so helpful for me. But not all fears are urgent or even worthy of our time. Even when they are, we may not be ready to confront them yet.
To give another example, I tend to worry about my future. It’s important for me to face this occasionally, whether by talking it out with someone, praying about it, or focusing on the truths in scripture. These are appropriate and helpful steps when done at the right time. It would not be appropriate or helpful, though, if I worried about my future while in the middle of taking an exam, and it could potentially dangerous to worry when I am in the middle of an anxiety attack.
It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes a panic attack is the worst time for me to think about my fears. When panicking, my first reaction is usually to try and identify my fears so I can get past them. This is has rarely worked. The problem is that those fears look bigger and scarier from a perspective of panic. I need to calm down before I can see them from a neutral perspective.
We tend the soil when it’s ready. In the winter, the soil is hard and frozen. We have to wait for it to thaw. If it’s too wet, it clumps. If it’s too dry, it crumbles.
When I’m having physical anxiety, my mind is more likely to focus on worst case scenarios and negativity. Knowing this, I have learned that the best way to halt physical anxiety is to get out of my head until the soil is ready.
Again, there are different kinds of worry. I have a fear, for instance, of going into labor. Right now, however, I’m not pregnant. Even if I was, worrying about something in the future would only steal precious moments in the present. But if I was actually going into labor, it would be unhealthy to push aside the fear (like so many sitcom women tend to do by staying home and ignoring that their water broke). Nope. Now is the time to go to the hospital and face that fear.
For me, halting worry means giving myself permission to have some unsolved questions in my life. I don’t have to know everything or be prepared for every scenario (especially theoretical ones). It’s okay for me to live in the present and trust that answers and strength will come. It also means learning how to think about other things.
This can sometimes lead to an unhealthy avoidance if the fear is especially bothering me, so it’s good to know the difference between letting go of a fear for the moment and letting it fester longer than it needs to. But knowing that I will consider the fear at some point helps me set it aside when I need to. Sometimes this means mentally telling myself that I’ll “think about that later” or “talk about it next time I see so-and-so.” When it comes to pregnancy, for instance, I know I don’t need to worry about that now.
So when do I allow myself to worry?
I don’t want worry to fester into something worse. So, at some point, it is good to face those worries in a healthy way.
First, I wait until I’m in a healthy mindset. I understand that this answer assumes that one can actually be in a healthy mindset. If that’s not the case, I wait until I’m at least physically feeling better (not on the verge of panic) and am able to think through things without falling apart.*
Second, I wait until I’m not alone. Learning how to talk through anxiety with someone else, such as a counselor or friend or mentor, has been tremendously healing for me. It allows me to bounce my fears off of someone who can look at the situation objectively. They may not always have advice, but I can process how I feel without judgement and without the ideas simply spiraling in my head repeatedly. (I do suggest talking to someone who is in a healthy place for this).
Confronting my fears doesn’t always mean that they go away, but it does make me feel better to know that I have at least looked them in the face and been okay.
We are not meant to live in fear. When worry becomes obsessive, we need new, healthier obsessions. Fears can be tackled in healthy ways, such as through counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy. But in the meantime, we tend to the soil of our bodies and minds. For me, this means being present, being healthy, and remaining in the love of God.
Worry really can wait. Cycling through our anxieties doesn’t prepare us for the future. It only takes away our present joy.
*Please remember that I’m not a therapist, counselor, or psychologist, and my methods may not work for everyone or in every situation. There have been times when I needed to talk/think through a panic attack before I could feel physically better. I am mostly writing about those worries that nag at you but are not urgent or crippling.
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