When Anxiety Sears, Listen, Learn, & Let Go

When Anxiety Sears, Listen, Learn, & Let Go

I walked with a purpose. My goal was to get somewhere quiet and stop the pounding heart from rattling around in my rib-cage. My thoughts raced but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shut them down. Like a volcano, they were erupting all around me with heat and fire—singeing my skin and refusing to be extinguished. Anxiety, the mother of all that burns.

It’s easy to say to someone with anxiety, “Don’t worry so much.” But at its core, those words signify a blatant ignorance for what anxious people suffer. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that “18.1% of adults are affected by anxiety disorders—approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18-54.” So I know I’m not alone as I sit or lie down in dark spaces and try to catch my breath. But sometimes, no matter how hard I focus, my brain won’t listen and I gasp and flop like the proverbial fish trying to make it back into the water.

In the book, “The Meaning of Anxiety” Rollo May states, “But, as is obvious to any observer, many people are thrown into anxiety by situations which are not objectively threatening either in kind or degree. The person may very often state himself that the occasion of his anxiety is a relatively minor event, that his apprehension is ‘silly,’ and he may be angry with himself for letting such a minor thing bother him; but he still feels it.”

And that is how I felt a few days ago as I sought to mentally machete the angry little sprouts of worry that were snaking around my ankles. My worries seemed silly and I felt confident in my ability to destroy them, but after concerted mental avoidance I realized my methods were ineffective. They had found the MiracleGro, experienced a growth spurt, and were curling around my neck. I found no amount of chopping would make them abate.

Round and round and round we go! Where we stop, nobody knows!

I’ve had some very real reasons to be anxious lately. I work in an office that is currently experiencing tremendous pressure to conform to new government regulations, I have a child with special needs, and I’m trying to make ends meet. Sometimes the thoughts catch me unaware and my random brain starts chasing invisible bunnies down treacherous trails. The strange thing about anxiety is that the thing I’m chasing (usually a problem I want to solve) ends up chasing me. I make pretty pictures with my brain, not unlike the Spirograph so many of us used as children, only I don’t have any artwork to show for all my mental gymnastics, only a frayed nervous system.

But I like what Rollo May says next, “Attempts to evade anxiety are not only doomed to failure. In running from anxiety you lose your most precious opportunities for the emergence of yourself, and for your education as a human being.”

If my anxiety exists for no other purpose than to help me learn and grow as a human being, I can live with that. If anxiety forces me to understand the misery other experience, and therefore teaches me compassion, even better. We learn our most potent lessons when we open our hearts to pain. When we allow the sorrows to touch a place we didn’t know existed and then muster the courage to foster healing, we become something more than muscle and bone. Anyone can cry and complain, but it takes concerted effort to stifle the groans and press forward. Only the stout of heart dare attempt it, and, umfortunately, the only badge of honor they receive is the true and lasting peace of knowing they are more than they thought they were.

The brain is a complex organ and I am only beginning to scratch the surface on my journey to understand the root cause of anxiety. Sometimes I think it’s physical. Be it food or environmental, I can become crippled by the heart-palpitating pressure that builds in my chest. I often experience the same physical response when I get stuck in traffic on a bridge as I do when I consume excess amounts of chocolate.

At other times the chest tightening episodes are a random response to the cavalcade of thoughts I am trying to process. In those moments I am learning that it is important to pause and step off the Spirograph. Spinning in circles is an exercise in futility. Sometimes it is as easy as sorting out one problem at a time and deciding the best way to manage it. Then, after I come to terms with my response, I am able to let it go.

When my volcano blew a few days ago, I reverted to hiding and deep breathing, but I also employed a tactic that serves me well in other stressful situations: prayer and scripture. Much the same way a mother comforts her fearful child with truth, I comfort myself with God’s truth. I prayed for the heart to stop pounding and then reinforced that request with words of comfort.

Let me be clear, sometimes the verses do little more than comfort my busy brain. The heart continues to throb and the chest is still tight, but other times I experience supernatural calming in my body that cannot be explained. I really consider anxiety to be not unlike a progressive illness. There is no known cure, but I can find relief from acute symptoms. The important thing is that I make a choice to focus on the truth that I know; I am loved. I am not alone. I am in the process of sanctification.

Today if you are struggling with anxiety and are sorting through the cinders of your last episode, consider how you will respond the next time the volcano heats up. Our bodies are so often out of our control (Just ask the bladder. She will not be denied.). But we are not utterly helpless. If you have never read a single word in the Bible, consider opening it. Ask real questions. Seek real answers. And be prepared to calm your quaking fears.


  1. You weren’t the only one struggling with anxiety this week. There is nothing that gets to me like the waiting and preparation for medical tests. I can deal with the physical discomfort much better than the burning inability to relax and let go. You have so little time to yourself. Having too much time isn’t any better. It just gives more time to fuel the nasty little darts in my brain. I find it helps a lot to confront the originator of those and give him the rebuke he deserves. God is truly my shield and defender against what I cannot see but can feel. He often reminds me I have no peace because I haven’t asked. I know that is not always the case because sometimes there are reasons for it I can’t remove. But I did get to experience a sense of calm and peace before my tests that were born out by negative results. Thank you God!!!

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