*Views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect that of my company or organization.*
You wouldn’t normally have to tell someone with anxiety to “think through” a matter. It’s something we do often. It is our “ordinary” operating mode. With all the negative sides that come with anxiety, what if we also looked at all of the positives? More than that what if we learned to change the negatives into positives by changing our perspectives? If being able to “think something through” is an asset then I believe a person with an “anxious” brain has an unplanned advantage; we often process thoroughly. I’m one to think a matter through, and through, and through. Often to my own “help” and often to my hurt. Then a couple more times through for good measure, you know, just to “make sure.” Whatever that means. The upside is I put the thought in but the downside is that second guessing can hinder what critical thinking intends to help. If critical thinking is the promoter of progress, second guessing is the enemy of it. It’s too bad they are often adjacent to one another within the anxious brain.
“Fight or Flight” or “Stay and Slay?”
I remember learning one day during undergrad about the physiological responses we experience during fear and anxiety. Guess what they are most similar to? They are very close to what we experience during feelings of “excitement” and anticipation. I’m talking extremely close. When I heard about that I just about held onto it for as long as my next oral presentation, for I knew I’d need any and all of the help I could get. Now if you’re like me in undergrad you were probably thinking “Can’t they find a better way to have us learn?” (All the introverts shouted “AMEN!”) The extroverts, well they drank it in like a Kool-Aid on a hot summer day in the cafeteria room of a middle school. In all seriousness, the facts are clear: There is a greater fear that most people experience for public speaking than for death. Jerry Seinfeld said, “This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Since that time in undergrad I have always believed most people can learn to turn the feelings of “anxiety” they have at the thought of an oral presentation, for example, into feelings of excitement that get you motivated to stun the audience. This leads me to think of some of my friends. Have you ever met someone who has a catchy personality? They are the high energy ones whom others feed off in conversation. You begin to come alive just talking with them. It’s likely many may even struggle with anxiety. Yes, the comedians, the quick thinkers, the innovators. Many have “anxious brains.” They just don’t like to rest or find it very hard to. This strikes me. Whereas in my middle school years all the way up until high school and college you could not get me excited about an oral presentation, I would actually view it now as more exciting than exasperating and more exhilarating than debilitating. Whereas growing up I would’ve dove out of that classroom quicker than a squirrel in a nut race because of sweaty palms and needing to pee before having to get up and speak, I would be more likely to use those raw emotions now to get “fired up!” I said more likely, which means this isn’t always the case. I am a work in progress. There was a process involved for me and that process absolutely involves perspective. The truth is I didn’t do it on my own. The sad reality is many people with anxiety experience these emotions even when they’re not giving a presentation. I used to often. That is the reality this article is intended to speak to. Many with anxiety feel like they are ready to fight a bear in the woods, only there turns out to be no bear and now they’re still in the woods on what to do about the feelings they battle internally. Anxiety is very physiological. My goal here is to provide hope to these people, for I am one.
The Golden Question
Now comes the question I have wrestled with and am certain is part of the equation for working towards a solution:
What if we could turn the adversary that runs toward us into the aid which runs beside us?
If the greatest problem with general anxiety is the fact that those of us who battle it constantly ask the “what if” questions to our detriment, “what if” we started asking them to our benefit? We are familiar with asking them and anticipating negative outcomes. What if we anticipated the positive ones just as much? We think by anticipating “the worst” that we are being “responsible” and prepared, but when the worst does not come in 97% of those cases, what we’ve actually done is waste our energy on worry. Worry changes nothing anyway.
It’s in the Seed
Anxiety has lied to us. The problem is many of us go on listening rather than leaning in to reality and what we know to be true, and acting on that instead. It is easier said than done after all. The truth remains that we do not have to listen to anxiety. Instead, we can learn to look at the beginning stages when we “feel” anxiety as raw emotions and thoughts in their seed stage. Before those emotions and thoughts connect and form what feels like an “uneasy” feeling, we can actually stop and consider what is beginning to happen. We need to stop and do this more often. What if we began to battle anxiety and fight back with the truth of reality? I believe it is then we can turn that “liar” into a lion. For when truth prevails, cowards reveal themselves and surrender. What if the coward of anxiety could be turned into one of courage and bravery? What if our brain chemistry could be molded to our benefit? The great news is that most of the latest research seems to be indicating that we have much neuroplasticity; we have more of it than we could’ve imagined. Basically our brains can begin to “rewire” themselves based on what we are feeding them and based on what we are reacting to. The choice is ours about the treatment we will seek going forward. What if that which attacks within could be channeled and used as the asset you cannot operate without? I’m telling you big changes are possible!
The Power of Perspective
Let me be personal here and transparent. I am grateful to look at problems as potential solutions. I have not usually done this and I mean, who does? Rather I began to learn a better way and a better perspective than what was traditionally done my “own way.” I don’t go on hoping for problems, but they are sure to come in this life. I didn’t teach me this, but the Friend I admire most did through His life and words. His name is Jesus Christ. To me this means much more than easy idealism; it’s seeing the potential in every problem and then working towards a solution. Actually, I am only able to think this way because of the way I see myself through the lens of heaven’s perspective. I am interested more in how God sees me than how I see me. He does all of the heavy lifting, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to set the weight on the weight bench. I see it as an advantage when Jesus said “With man this is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 ESV)
The Mind of Christ
I find it vital here to mention God because without Him in my life, 90% of what I am writing now never would’ve been a thought. Christ is not only my Savior but my model, my motivation, my inspiration and the One who helps me to consider the application of that which I write. I don’t believe that God is interested in “spouting something” to us on Sunday, and then acting “disengaged” in our every day. Actually, I believe it is His design to desire to communicate with us on the regular. I believe that Jesus is the ultimate cure to the deepest problems that plague us.
What I am advocating is for us to objectively question our own questions. We should. Let us question our anxiety for those of us who battle it. Let us charge at that which has sought to break us and turn it into that which breaks down problems and future barriers. Did you know that the “anxious” brain carries within it an asset? People with anxiety are often very smart.
The task may seem bigger than you or I can handle but it is not greater than God can handle.
Our insecurities may be bigger than we can handle; They are not bigger than God can handle.
Our fears may be bigger than we can handle; They are not bigger than God can handle.
If I look around and see that I don’t have the power to “do it,” could it be that’s because much of the power lies in how I view it?
In my own life as someone who battles anxiety I can say when I am most enjoying myself is when I realize I’ve forgotten “to worry.” I then realize it was never my job to anyway. “Worry is paying interest today on a loan you won’t take out tomorrow” (R.W. Shambach).
Thought(ful)? I hope so, for the same person who is thought(ful) is full of thoughts, both good and bad. It’s in the very word. Anxiety used it for harm. God can turn it around for good. I believe God can change our perspectives, but it comes down to if we are willing to let Him do it and if we are open to seeking Him first. Like much in life, it doesn’t come naturally but intentionally. And believe me, without Him I wouldn’t be able to make lasting progress, much less write or think about progress. There is so much more I can say on this matter but I will save it for future blogs. I believe there is more hope for those with mental illnesses now than ever before, more resources than past generations could’ve dreamed of and more potential that lies ahead. Let us plow forward with open minds and unhardened hearts.
Written by Alex Oram
March 4th, 2019