Anxiety keeps us focused on Danger
Updated: Jun 7, 2022
My daughter was in danger last week. Well at least I thought she was. She is a young adult fully capable of solving problems and taking care of herself but a string of problems left her vulnerable and me feeling helpless.
She had just moved to Nashville to work for an inner city ministry, a program that from the start was understaffed. In the course of that first week, through coworkers quitting and supervisor getting Covid, my daughter found herself to be the last worker left. With nothing to do, and no one whom she knew, she found herself alone in the big city. Then a series of crisis’ occured, from getting a flat tire to losing her debit card. I began to experience sleepless nights and so did she.
My husband and I decided to bring her home until her supervisor was out of quarentine and work could resume but we wondered if it was the right choice.
During the week that my daughter was there she was stretched and grew and solved problems on her own in ways she never had to before and that she didn’t know she was capable. In many ways the experience of stress was good for her and helped her develop confidence in herself. But she was very anxious and so were we.
It’s hard sometimes to know when to push through a stresser and reduce our sense the power anxiety has over us or when to intervene and back out of a stressful situation. Even in counseling, when helping people navigate anxious situations or overcome a phobia it's a balance between encouraging one to tolerate anxiety and not allowing them to be flooded by anxiety.
It is true that much of what we fear lies within us, anxiety is the anticipation of something bad happening. Fear is the facing of an actual threat. But we are wired to treat anxiety the same way as fear as if we are being presented with an actual threat. Our body responds in a way to prepare us for fighting or fleeing the threat, even if the threat is just an anticipation. And we can entertain so many scenerios that never come to pass. We can also make things that have very little threat to our overall wellbeing more catastrophic that they really are.
If anxiety is a sense of danger then that is in the mind then we can use our mind to manage and overcome it.
Grounding in the present
Since threat is often the perceived danger that something is going to happen in the future and it is often an interpretation based on bad things that have happened in the past I often help my clients learn to ground themselved in the present. Grounding is focusing on your five senses to experience the present moment. If we can stay in the present, we are more able to tune into a sense of safety.
Seeking out safety cues.
Safety is the opposite of danger, so helping people turn from the alarm siren of threat to the things around them and within them that inform them of their safety can help reduce anxiety.
Using Mindfulness skills
Mindfulness is the training of our mind to observe without judgement ( not callling a situation horrible, just noticing it) as well as learning to notice and observe emotions rather then react to them. If we can keep from reacting to anxiety provoking situations we can learn to stay calm enough to problem solve.
And for those who are Christians we have spiritual tools at our disposal. We have trust in a God who is always with us . Psalm 73: 23 Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand.
We have scripture to meditate on to lower anxiety. Matthew 8 23-27 tells the story of Jesus quieting the storm to help us remember the protection we have in Christ. And though many times Christ quiets the storm, we can also know that even if the storm over takes us, it is not because he has forgotten us. We are never separated from Him. My own personal belief is that the root of anxiety is a fear of being utterly completely alone in our time of need. We are promised that that will never be the case, no matter what we face.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8 38-39
We have the lifeline of prayer, we have a God who hears us, who is never off duty. That may seem difficult to those who have sufferend hard things. I always suggest, that if someone has had the experience of feeling abandoned by God that they tell their story and talk about that to someone. Sometimes healing can happen and new insights occur in the telling of your story.
Anxiety, at it's worst uses up energy to fight a sense of danger that could be used to problem solve and to live a full and meaningful life. It keeps us seeking safety at the expense of growing and fully experiencing our life. It can be debilitating and rob us of joy, connection with others and can impact our physical and mental well being. Living a life focused on danger is exhausing and painful. The degree to which we can push through and tolerate anxiety is the degree to which we can grow to be who we were meant to be.
Disclaimer- Talking about anxiety and danger is a heavy topic and I never know what experiences people will bring to the reading of these posts. I will always state, that though I am a therapist, I probably don’t know you personally and what you are going through or what you have been through, so my suggestions may not be enough. There are some dangers that are completely real and should be avoided and not be tolerated. When people are truly in danger, seeking safety always comes first. My suggestions are for education purposes only, not therapy. But I would advise anyone who has experienced unhealed trauma, or overwhelming or debilitating anxiety or finds themselves in a dangerous or abusive situation, to seek the help of a professional as soon as possible. If you don’t know who to contact, you could start with your church to seek resources or look online for professionals in your area. And if you are in danger, contact 911 or local emergency center for immediate help.
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