How to Stop Worrying and Clear Your Head From Anxious Thoughts
Superhero Mentality: Jessica Cruz
Growing up, I enjoyed constructing blanket forts in the living room or playing under the deck with my siblings in our dirt-laden bunker. Something about forts invokes nostalgia. Security and strength also are words that immediately come to my mind when I think of fort [and fortresses]. Over the past few years, I have noticed an increased anxiety, not only from myself, but from society as a whole. Americans enjoy the pleasure of living in a wealthy and free society—privileges not afforded in other places and times. My aim here in this post is not to analyze the causes for the increased angst. That I will leave to professionals in psychology, medicine, and psychiatry. Instead, I am going to share a couple reasons why retreating to my cerebral citadel as opposed to actively engaging the stress inducers has worked for me for the past month. Please be aware, that while this approach may work for me I am in no way endorsing a fortress mentality being a miracle-cure method to fending off fretfulness for everyone.
1. Defense Beats Offense Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote,
“Negativity can only feed on negativity.” From personal experience, I know that negativity only grows when you give attention to it, too much attention will lead to negativity consuming your life. Fighting negativity with an offensive attack does not work. I came across this anonymous quote that stuck a cord on this subject, “When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department generally uses water.” Different approaches are necessary when battling stress and negativity in your life. An image of a faucet comes to mind when complaining controls my life. Last month, I allowed my emotions to get the better of me: both at home and work. Frustrations about unmet expectations caused grievances which poured out like water running from an open faucet.
To combat my weaknesses, I simply went to source—my words and shut off the valve of verbal complaints. This month instead of vocally sharing my grumbles aloud, I created a laconic lock for my tongue. According to James 3, the mouth and tongue act as a gateway for various despicable behaviors. Keeping our words bridled is key to stopping negativity. The Apostle writes in James 3:2-5,
If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.a 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. 4It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes. 5In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions.
2. Fortifying not fleeing: The brilliant Albert Einstein once declared, “Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.” Sometimes turning away from the stresses and negativity going on in life gets equated with running from your problems. Withstanding the temptations to give into the negativity that surrounds you displays strength.
Known as fortitude, courage is the foundation upon which virtue and the ability to withstand the assault of pessimism is built on. Author Maya Angelou succinctly states, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Shifting my mindset toward stoicism and fortress-like greatly helped me weather the storms of stress.
Becoming more self-aware of my vocal complaints, grumbles, and murmurings prevented me from stumbling into the sea of stress. Distancing myself emotionally from the “bad” or “negative” experiences I faced in the workplace or at home helped me to move more quickly onto the next task or event of the day. The image of a fortress best represents for me the virtue of fortitude and ability to block negativity.
“But you, O man of God, must flee from these things; and strive for uprightness, godliness, good faith, love, fortitude, and a forgiving temper.” –1 Timothy 6:11
Are you feeling sluggish? Groggy? Quick-tempered? Do you struggle to move on from a trying situation despite your best efforts? If you answered yes to at least one of the questions, or even all of them, please know that you are not alone! I often struggle with keeping up in an ever-changing work-place and quickening of life in general. I struggle to handle difficult and frustrating situations with grace and patience. What is the solution?
Experts, educators, doctors, psychologists, and scientist provide a panoply of tips and methods to improve people who suffer from anxiety and feelings of constant lack of energy. My goal today is not to replace or compete with any of those already tried and true methods. Instead, I want to share my personal experience living with and dealing with ADHD and anxiety. Although ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, it sort of is a misnomer—people with this diagnosis do not always fail to pay attention. Rather, I go through periods where I actually hyper-focus. What this means is that I tend to fixate or zoom-in on a particular subject/hobby that I am passionate about. When this happens I tend to lost sight of things happening around me—my wife or children asking me a question or other perspectives at work.
Shifting my focus to and from various things in the day is tough for me, but I discovered a few strategies that help me form a habit to more agilely more from task to task throughout the day. The advice below comes from things that worked for me personally to limit my anxiety and increase my ability to move from trying situations easier and more positively.
1a. Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry: Saint Padre Pio, a 20th century mystic and stigmatist, was a man whose powerful presence captivated a multitude of people. “Pray, hope, and don’t worry,” he exclaimed. When I first heard this statement in high school, I always thought it was a pious saying that overly religious people told you when things got tough. Certianly, I did not believe praying, hoping, and simply not worrying actually had a basis in reality.
After nearly a decade of being a parent, I have since learned that prayer is effective. Hoping even amid a seemingly hopeless situation is effective. The last part of DO NOT WORRY is a part that I struggle with mightily, but at least I am aware of my deficiency. Padre Pio continues to provide comfort to me. He reminded me the importance of the presence of God even when you cannot feel it,
Jesus is with you even when you don’t feel His presence. He is never so close to you as He is during your spiritual battles. He is always there, close to you, encouraging you to fight your battle courageously. He is there to ward off the enemy’s blows so that you may not be hurt.
1b. Remind Yourself to be Thankful: For those of you who are observant or a formatting nerd may notice that this point is not numbered 2 but rather 1b. Equally important as praying is reminding yourself to be thankful. In fact, among the most common prayer is that of gratitude for the blessings in one’s life.
Forming a habit of shifting my mindset to reflecting on the blessings in my life took time and work. Ultimately, this habit has paid off! I found a direct correlation with the frequency of thankful thoughts with my ability to more quickly navigate between stressful situation Former NFL quarterback and devout Christian Tim Tebow spoke of thanksgiving in this way, “I pray to start my day and finish it in prayer. I’m just thankful for everything, all the blessings in my life, trying to stay that way. I think that’s the best way to start your day and finish your day. It keeps everything in perspective.”
As someone with diagnosed ADHD, I struggle with honing in on the trees of the forest instead of stepping away to notice the beauty of the forest [or life] as a whole. Jotting down a few of my blessings everyday on a Post-It note is an easy way for me to daily remind myself to continue an attitude of gratitude.
2. Exercise with Exorcise Your Personal Demons: My favorite philosopher Aristotle [sorry Plato!] wrote about the importance of developing a regular routine, “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” Along with filling myself spiritually and emotionally with prayer and a thankful mindset, frequent exercise combats my inner demons of impatience and anger that get pent up after a stress-filled day at work and home. Running calms my mind and provides me energy. St. Paul uses the analogy of running frequently in his letters, but among my favorite quotes comes from 1 Corinthians 9:26 when he writes, “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly.”
Jogging intermittently or aimlessly does me no good in the long run. Frequent jogs at least three times a week for 2-3 miles provide me the best defense against my personal vices of anger, bitterness, impatience, and judgmental thoughts. After a fulfilling 5k, I almost immediately experience a sense of joy and relief. Any lingering anxiety from earlier in the day disappeared. Focusing on a landmark or sign throughout my jog helps motivate me to push past any exhaustion or temptation to take a break.
Forming a healthy habit of prayer, thanksgiving, and exercise [mental and physical] will not happen overnight. The key is to acknowledge your progress and pick yourself up when you fall—believe me falling and failing is guaranteed. Good habits take time. Practice makes progress. Soon you will be able to encounter a difficult situation and more easily able to overcome.