Ready to Reduce Stress, Worry, and Fear?
by Emily Crawford-Thompson, Ph.D.
READY TO REDUCE STRESS, WORRY, AND FEAR?
WANT TO OVERCOME REACTIVITY, DEPRESSION, AND ANXIETY?
LEARN THE WISDOM OF MINDFULNESS-A COPING SKILL TO RESTORE PEACE AND HOPE
This has been an unprecedented time in our world and in our nation, and we are enduring immense stress that challenges the mental health and well-being of even the most resilient among us. We are in difficult times, but you don’t have to walk through them alone.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. -Viktor Frankl
Do you feel “broken” sometimes with all this stress? Are you worried about whether things will ever return to “normal?” Maybe you are worried that in some ways they will return to the status quo, and you hope you are not wishing in vain for a “woke” world better than before. Hope does not disappoint. This situation, too, will pass. I believe God has a way of turning very negative situations into a positive turn of events. Tragedies turn into triumphs, tests become testimonies, and messes become messages. In other words, please keep hope alive and remember that dark seasons do pass.
My suffering will add an essential contribution to my ability to understand others and to help other people. -Viktor Frankl
During this season when many of us may feel broken, and we are grieving the brokenness we see all around us, consider the idea that we may be broke open. We are broke open ready for love and understanding, and this, my friend, is often when we are most ready to hear and receive it.
The Lord has been reminding me to not “own” fear by referring to it as “my fear”; He did not give us a Spirit of fear but one of power, love, and a sound mind. Just that subtle wording change can make a big difference in our peace. It allows us to get some distance from fear; in other words, to begin to recognize that worry is often a frequent distraction in our lives that is counterproductive. While choosing to not give in to fear, this certainly does not mean that we throw caution to the wind! Some have taken this to the extremes, and take unnecessary risks which are also counterproductive at best. Fear is, after all, an emotion that also exists for good reason, to alert us to real danger. Fear becomes excessive for most of us, though, because we tend to become anxious about some things that are not actual or likely threats. Most of us have had the experience of realizing that we didn’t need to worry about something after all, because the thing we feared did not come to pass, and the situation worked out better than expected. At other times, we are indeed worrying about actual threats; however, we are dwelling on things that are really not in our control. When we ruminate about things that are not in our control, we are expending time and energy getting off center from our peace. Worry creates an illusion of control, but in reality, the worry itself often makes us feel out of control!
Despair is suffering without meaning -Viktor Frankl
I know all too well that many of us have also experienced real danger and real threats, and this certainly makes it difficult at times to trust that we need not worry. Did you know that some scholars say there are 365 Bible verses that encourage us to not worry or fear? One for every day of the year! This is because we truly need a daily reminder to be alert to the possibility that some unnecessary fear is encroaching on our thoughts, distracting us, bringing our mood down, and stealing our peace. When we are alert to this, we are more likely to stop it in its tracks before going down a rabbit hole envisioning the worst-case scenarios. Oh, how we worry and we fear of things which in a year will disappear! It is not always easy to shut off worrisome thoughts, and it often requires quite a bit of persistence. This does not mean there is “something wrong with you” or that you should beat yourself up for not being able to quell the thoughts sooner. Those self-blaming thoughts are just another distraction coming upon you, and also something you don’t need to own. There is a reason why the journey of faith is often referred to as “the good fight”; it can certainly feel like a fight somedays to keep our heads above water and not succumb to fear, especially when indeed we live in a world where there are so many valid fears.
So how do we shut it off? How do we reduce stress, worry, and fear?
A MINDFULNESS EXERCISE FOR YOU:
Do you find that waiting is the hardest part? We all know the feeling of being rushed and under time pressure, and lamenting that is always when it seems ALL the lines at the store are long and are not even close to moving as efficiently as the Chick-fil-A drive-through (those guys are truly amazing). So, we find ourselves impatiently tapping our foot in the grocery store line and maybe even honking our horn at the stoplight. We wish people would move faster, and we feel so stressed! This is a great example of one of those situations that is really not in our control. We cannot make the light turn green faster, and we cannot control others’ behaviors. So, what can we do?
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. -Viktor Frankl
Next time you find yourself waiting for a zoom video session to start or for your file to download, use the opportunity to do a brief mindfulness exercise:
Close your eyes if you can do so safely.
Notice where you feel tension. The forehead, neck, shoulders, and stomach are some common places stress likes to reside.
Relax. Unclench those tense muscles. Take some deep breaths from your stomach. You should notice your stomach rising and falling if you are breathing deeply.
If you are still waiting, notice what is on your mind. What are you thinking about? If there is a worry or concern, pray that you would receive help, guidance, and peace on the situation.
Take some more deep breaths.
Now that you have created some space in your mind, think on one thing that is right, excellent, admirable, lovely, or true.
Hopefully more than one good thing came to mind for which you can be grateful today.
Repeat any of the above as often as needed, and don’t feel that you have to wait to practice mindfulness until you are waiting.