By Erich Schoeman (Clinical Psychologist)
To be worried about life is very common. These days most of us face additional reasons to give in to worry as we are faced with a global health crisis that has serious implications on everyday life.
Some people’s financial situations have now escalated to panic level. The challenges are very real and our concerns relevant. As Christians we are faced with the same giants as the rest of the world. How do we fight them and not allow ourselves to be swamped by worry and fear about our safety and security?
Here are 10 practical ways to defeat worry:
1. Distinguish between concern and worry: it is normal to have everyday concerns about paying bills and getting all the work done. It usually leads to actions to alleviate them. However, it becomes problematic when the healthy concern turns into habitual worrying that is difficult to disengage from and saps your mental energy.
2. Identify what you are worried about - write a list of all your worries and add why you are worried. This lessens the fogginess and clarifies exactly what the worries are about.
3. Identify your feelings: when we worry, we tend to feel apprehension, anxiety, frustration, irritation and fear. Feelings of worry and fear can escalate panic. This is because the feelings of fear make the worries seem more realistic. Giving these feelings a name will already bring some control and help you distinguish between your feelings and the situation.
4. Identify your thoughts and beliefs: feelings are mostly fueled by thoughts that we believe to be true about our situations. Fear and worry are basically thought patterns. You need to identify your unhelpful thoughts. They typically sound like:
“What if I cannot pay the bills?” - catastrophizing - creating additional stressors by assuming negative outcomes and disasters will happen
“I won’t be able to support my family” - jumping to conclusions - playing the worry out to an assumed negative end
“The boss said they are going to take my leave to compensate for my absence!” - mental filtering - seeing only one negative aspect of a situation
“O no! How are we going to cope with / do …?!” - assuming there is nothing that can be done about the problem and expecting being overwhelmed
“My family will be so disappointed in me” - assuming negative reactions without a resolve, thus feeling afraid
“I cannot do this, I don’t know what we are going to do..” assuming a helpless position and limiting your own ability to handle the crisis. This leads to passivity and feelings of being overwhelmed
“I should not have done this/that” - - personalisation - blaming yourself (or someone else) when something goes wrong without considering all variables
“I cannot lose my job” - rigidly framing the situation to only one possible outcome, therefore limiting solutions and heightening anxiety
“There is no way out of this..” - blocking possible solutions and creating panic
“This is really bad!” - magnifying the negative aspects and minimising the positives, thus giving a distorted picture and increasing a sense of being overwhelmed.
5. Challenge the thoughts: what we believe to be true about our situations mostly go unchecked. We can act as detectives in examining our thoughts and checking whether they are founded on evidence and mostly, if they are aligned with the truth, the Word of God. Ask questions to evaluate the thoughts:
“What if I cannot pay the bills?” - ‘What if’’ questions rarely work. I am not alone in this, the Lord is with me and He knows my needs. I will ask Him for support and follow His guidance. If I end up being unable to pay my bills, I will handle the situation with the agencies involved. My life will continue and there will be other opportunities to prosper.
“I won’t be able to support my family” - This situation might lead me to not being able to support my family, but the worst case scenario is unlikely. Chances are that we will get through this, but we might have to make temporary sacrifices.
“O no! How are we going to cope with / do …?!” - I might not know now how things will work out, but the Lord does. With His wisdom I will see what I am able to do and trust Him with the rest. For every challenge there is always some answer, especially with the Lord present.
“My family will be so disappointed in me” - If my family has reason to be disappointed in me, I will endeavor to repair the relationships. Otherwise it is not necessarily a given that they will blame me for things outside of my control. If they do, I will only take responsibility for my share.
“I cannot do this, I don’t know what we are going to do..” - I might not be able to do this, but God surely has an answer. I will trust Him all the way through until the end. I will try to calm down, pray and look at all the possible solutions.
“I cannot lose my job” - I might not want to lose my current job, but if I do, there might be other better options available that I am not currently aware of. The Lord promises to work all things out for my good (Rom 8:28) and I can entrust this situation to Him too.
“There is no way out of this..” - The situation seems very tough, but this is an ideal situation to see God working for His glory and my good. Also, I cannot say for certain that there is no way out since I have definitely not tried all options.
“It is either this way or there is no other way..” - There will be many possible solutions and I need to open my mind to consider all. God sometimes leads in ways that do not seem like a solution e.g. walking on water. I will trust His judgement and be open to try creative solutions.
“This is really bad!” - I should be careful to see all the factors in this situation, both positive and negative. I can ask the Holy Spirit and other believers to help me in my assessment of the situation.
6. Focus - Adjust your lens: ask yourself whether you are using the Word of God as your starting point for interpreting the events in the world and your own life? Or are you simply looking at circumstances as if there is no God or He is distant and aloof? As Christians we have the one and only loving God Almighty on our side. That gives us the advantage. We are never alone and have His faithfulness and tender care to support us. Find His promises of provision and protection in the Bible and prayerfully meditate on them.
7. Determine what you can do: sometimes we get so caught up with what we cannot do that we forget to focus on what we are able to do to solve a problem. Draw up a list of possible plans of action. Seek the Lord’s wisdom and follow His guidance however strange His instructions might seem.
8. Trust God to do what you cannot do: For with God nothing will be impossible (Luk 1:37). We all know this verse, but we tend to limit Him to our capabilities. Determine to focus your attention on the faithfulness of God, follow Him fully and He will provide. Let God decide how He wants to solve the problem. Use the situation to testify to His power and faithfulness.
9. Turn complaints into requests: Worrying leads to complaining and this works on everyone's nervesto perpetuate the worrying cycle. When you find yourself blabbering fears in a victim kind of way, immediately stop in your tracks and choose to turn that complaint into a prayer request. Philipians 4:6 teaches us to turn our anxiety into specific requests from God, adding thanksgiving and allowing the peace of Jesus Christ to guard our minds. God’s peace is the reassurance that He is right there with you. It does not have to make sense. You trust Him based on His character and not your circumstances.
10. Distract your mind and relax your body: We also need positive distractions to break the pattern of worrying. Try playing a boardgame, exercising, reading a novel, doing art, creative writing, blessing a less fortunate person or serving other people. These all allow you to direct your efforts to other activities that enhance your own and other people’s lives.
Breaking the worrying habit can be difficult at first, but with regular effort you will be amazed at how much more peaceful and productive your thought life can become. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you into all the truth as you embark on this journey with your faithful Lord by your side.
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