Dear Anxiety: Let’s Break Up

No one wakes up in the morning and begins planning how to be more stressed, anxious or unhappy.

I’m fairly certain of this.

Why? Because we were created with the innate desire for peace, joy, and tranquility.

Nevertheless, panic anxiety continues to be the number one health problem for women. And is second only to drug abuse among men.

Many of us can relate to writer Ann Voskamp when she calls anxiety her “natural posture.”

I spoke on this subject at a recent women’s retreat – about the need to think about the way we think. Psychologists teach that the way people think affects:

  • their emotions
  • their ability to relate to others
  • their ability to cope in difficulty circumstances

Brain exam

In his groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman describes the physiological process that occurs when we are suddenly (or, for some of us, chronically) alarmed. This can mean seeing a snake, or being confronted by someone obnoxious – which could, I suppose, be the same thing.

First, and hang in here with me:

  • a signal goes from your retina to a little organ in your brain called the thalamus.
  • Ideally, the entire message, having been translated into the language of the brain, will transmit to an area called the visual cortex. Here it is assessed for meaning.
  • If an emotional response is appropriate, it will be sent on to the amygdala.

But wait!

Sometimes, a portion of the message in the thalamus is waylaid by the amygdala, which provides a much quicker, but – and this important – less precise, response. It commands you to freeze, fight, or flee.

So you scream and run from the snake almost before you realize you’ve seen it.

Uh oh.

Or, more to the point here, you find yourself in an unpleasant conversation suddenly saying things you will later (deeply) regret.

It all occurs in the same brain system. And when we are stressed, we become even more vulnerable to this limbic hijacking.

What to do?

Here are 2 quick tips when dealing with those challenging situations:

1)  Take a time-out. Allow the adrenaline to settle so you can think and respond – rather than react. Maybe we could have this conversation a little later.                                                                                                   

2)  Breathe. The simple act of taking 3 deep breaths can slow your reaction. Breathe.

But how can we begin rerouting our thoughts out of their deeply rutted tracks of anxiousness? Here are some suggestions I shared at the retreat:

  • Pray about your anxiety. “Fear not” and its variations appear 365 times in the Bible. Think about that. Your Father knows what you need (and you do need relief from anxiety) before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:8 NIV)
  • Wrangle your thoughts.  When you sense anxiety coming on, think of it as a signal to stop and relax. Don’t underestimate your brain. It can actually be conditioned to do this.  Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8 NLT)
  • And finally, practice thanksgiving – eucharisteo. Thanksgiving precedes miracles.  In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6b NIV)

Then tell your friends you are going to break up with anxiety. And that you’ll begin by preventing the unnecessary hijacking of your amygdala.

They’ll be intrigued.

And maybe more of that peace, joy, and tranquility will bloom for everyone.

What are some ways you combat anxiety? Click on “Leave a Comment” above.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Erin Smith on October 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you for recapping some extremely important nuggets for me from the retreat. My poor amygdala is a frequent victim of the hijacking phenomenon:)


  2. Posted by Ande on October 18, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Great word!!!!
    Prayin in the Holy Spirit!!! That’s my 1st line of defense


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