Being rid of anxiety and living in the present, today. Part 1-
There is something in the air right now, and it is difficult to get a way from it. It hangs around like an unpleasant odor that won’t go away, even with the best attempts of masking it. Anxiety and stress have come up a lot lately in conversations. It is that time of year and some of us are dreaming of vacations far away! Each day, my inbox has one more end of the school year deadline or end of the year activity. Does it feel like you have a long list of things to do, and well, not enough time to accomplish it? On the other hand, you may have time, but instead you have decisions that are difficult to make. Possibly, you are waiting on others, for the next step. And now, you wait. The stress may be from nearing exams, along with finding a summer job, and figuring out classes for next year. Stress lingers and lurks, and it just plain stinks!
How about you, what makes you anxious right now?
The last few weeks have made my head full — full of decisions about college, weddings to attend, gifts to buy, plans for graduation, summer plans to make, things to figure out for the next school year, etc. I feel the ramifications as my chest feels tight, and my thoughts feel distracted and overwhelmed. There is this allusive form of control that I think I can have in my stress. As if thinking more about these things, mulling over them one more time, working harder, or staying up later will help. Yet, there is just not enough time in the day. I know you understand. All of us run by a clock, and we wish it would tick a little more slowly. But would that really help?
Is having a little more control the answer?
Getting to the source
A vacation might help temporarily (just like my scented candle may lightly mask the unpleasant odor for awhile), but soon another round of stress returns. There is not an easy answer or remedy to anxiety, but I think there are steps we can take. This may seem obvious, but if we can step back and identify where the stress is really coming from- we are taking the first step in being rid of it, instead of just masking it (temporarily) with sweet scents. Here are a few sources of anxiety:
Decisions are of course a source of anxiety. Are you under pressure to make a decision? If we focus on “What is the right decision?” or “What if I make the wrong decision?” we can feel a lot of pressure. “How should I even make the decision?” (See “Decisions, Decisions, how to decide” for a guide in decision-making) Too much power and influence is given to the outcome of the decision. There is a concern that this decision, if wrong, could mess everything up. It can feel like all happiness depends on the right decision. This puts me and the final decision in control of my future.
Time (or having more of it), seems like it would fix everything. There is never enough time to accomplish all we want to do. “If I could work harder and longer then I would feel better.” “If I could manage my time more effectively then my anxiety would be reduced.” Time then, becomes something we trust in. Having more time we can control, seems like it would solve most things. It is then easy to get into an unhealthy pattern of putting in long hours or over-working whenever we get into a pinch.
The uncontrollable in the near or distant future
The uncontrollable in the near or distant future is also a constant source of anxiety for most. Our life can be dictated and controlled by the “what if’s,” therefore allowing the future to paralyze or scare us. “What if I don’t get a job or my resume is not the best?” “What if I lose my health or my money?” As we focus so much on the “what if’s” we are robbed of the present. Our trust, once again, is in the allusive control of the future.
Expectations for our performance also increase anxiety. There is such subtle emphasis in our world that our performance, can make or break us. Our future seems to depend on our performance. We may not even realize this is a causing anxiety as we worry about fulfilling ours and others expectations.
Often I see students (and of course, the rest of us too) who pack their schedules, over commit and are consumed with resume building. This leads to being “overdone.” Let me explain. Last week I made muffins for my family and I baked them a little too long– leaving them burnt on the bottom. I needed to take them out a little earlier. If I had, there would not have been a layer of black. I think our lives can be like this. As we overload our time with too many things, we become “overdone.” We have less impact because we are over-committed. It is difficult to be faithful in the moment and “right where we are” because our packed schedule keeps us full and tired. Full feels right. Taking on a heavy load, getting less sleep, adding one more activity, performing for our resume can make us “overdone.” My muffins were better off with a little less baking time.
As you plan your schedule think about this: often “less” is more. We are also more effective and more at peace when as we are able to live out our priorities and “be” right where God has us– and not so focused on our performance. Whether you are in college, just graduating or a graduate of many years– we will always be tempted to trust in our performance.
Which one of these causes you the most stress?
As I look at these sources, it seems like anxiety robs me of something. It comes down to this: anxiety is a great robber. Anxiety tends to rob me of the present. It steals today. When my head is full of tomorrow, I can’t live today fully. How can I stay present? How can I be fully in “today?” Anxiety also, diminishes and robs my trust. It is in direct opposition to trust. When we have complete trust, we are at peace. A picture of complete trust is of a baby asleep in a mother’s arms. There is complete assurance that she is going to hold him and not let the baby fall.
How do we learn to continually trust?
Getting the present back
If anxiety robs me of the present, how can I be more in the present? Recently, I was reading a book and it mentioned how getting outside helps reduce anxiety. One thing I enjoy is sitting outside and observing my surroundings. When I am doing this, I notice there is a pause in my mind, or a little vacation from the things weighing on me. This can be done in a backyard, at a park or a nice place on campus. To help me take in nature, I look around and find things that are beautiful or interesting in the nature around me. The other day I noticed the beautiful order of red lilies in my neighbors yard.
Other times, I close my eyes, and observe all the different sounds I can hear. Over a few minutes, I try and count and hear the different number of sounds. I may hear a bird chattering, chimes blowing, or the wind in the trees.
Again, this takes my attention off things that my be producing stress. Not only does it take my mind off things, but it helps me to engage in the present. God uses nature and being outdoors to lift our gaze off of ourselves and onto Him. This time gives me a little picture of the peace that God offers. As I seek to rid myself of the robber, anxiety, I am capturing peace and trust instead. This is not a cure, but learning to be present is one of God’s ways to help us to enjoy today, be thankful and take our eyes off ourselves.
Where can you go to pause and be outside?
Everyone would like a vacation from their anxiety and to be rid of it. In order to not just mask it, we need to replace it with other things that build our trust and restore peace.
Next time: Yesterday affects today. Our anxiety today is created from yesterday. Creating new tomorrows and getting “trust” back.