Whatever happened to worry? I’m not sure the last time I heard someone say they were worried because it’s always “anxious” now. It’s like anxiety is more important: “I’m not worried; I’m anxious. It’s much worse.” If that’s the case, then we as a society are intensifying our issues to be bigger deals: “I don’t want to make my mole hill into just a mountain. I want it to be the biggest mountain possible and have it known I have it harder than anyone else like I’m winning a competition.” It’s like how I used to fall into the trap of bragging how little sleep I got – that was dumb. Fun fact, being unhealthy like I was isn’t something to brag about; it should cause us shame and that shame should motivate us to be better.
I also find the word stressed isn’t used as much anymore. At least with being stressed, it shows that we’re working towards fixing it. Saying we’re anxious sounds more like an excuse not to do anything, which (as discussed last week) is the opposite of what anxiety is meant to do. Anxiety is meant to make us want to do something to reduce the danger and make us safer. Unfortunately, this leads to many people drinking, smoking pot, overeating, gaming, or other bad choices, but these things don’t reduce the danger. Bad coping tools only procrastinates the danger, which in the end makes it worse. We have to face our anxiety to actually reduce it.
I really wish our culture would switch to celebrate courage and bravery instead of anxiety, but the pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to be promoting that message: (company) “Let’s cancel the words courage and bravery because that will help our profits.” Chad, are you suggesting anxiety is largely a problem because it makes big money? Absolutely. Either anxiety is something we’ve created to be a serious issue or this generation suffers from a serious case of no backbone. Anxiety is something we’re meant to experience, but it’s just anxiety. We’re not actually suffering; we’re scared of it. How lucky are we to be given the privilege of being afraid of suffering instead of actually suffering?
Last week I considered how there are three basic anxieties: Surface Level, Life Threatening Level, and Foundation Level. Before I explain why I think there should be worse anxiety problems in the world, let’s do the opposite and consider why there should be less (I like to be strange). Last week, I also mentioned that in light of death, Surface Level anxiety disappeared – nothing really matters when you’re grieving. This follows the idea that it can be helpful to consider how things could be worse. This is meant to give us a sense of thankfulness. For instance, my wife wasn’t feeling very well this week, but she shared how lucky she felt after seeing me worse off and having my head in the toilet… I had the flu. I wasn’t drinking from the toilet like a dog or giving myself a swirly: “It’s so tingly!” By finding a way to be thankful, we gain a sense of control over the situation and ultimately over our anxiety.
Following this idea of thankfulness to reduce anxiety, remembering there is good in all situations can reduce anxiety. No matter what happens, we can find assurance knowing that good will come out of it. Of course, when we’re grieving, this isn’t something we can find until much later in the healing process. For instance, when my dad passed away, if you tried pointing out the good at the funeral I may have hit you in the face… or at least thought about hitting you because I have delicate hands. As time passed, I was in a much better spot to see the good in it, which took my healing to the next level – seeing the good in something is the ultimate way to find healing. I now describe my dad’s death as the greatest life lesson I’ve ever received. It was rich with wisdom to be discovered from learning how fragile life is, experiencing what it’s like to be forced to watch those I love be in pain knowing there is nothing I can buy or do to make it better for them, and to better understand what others experience with death of a loved one. There are many other things I can add to this list, but what’s important is to keep in mind to reduce anxiety is there are seven good things to be found in every situation:
- It can give us understanding, which increases our wisdom
- It can give us better ability to sympathize
- It gives us a talking point to connect with others
- It’s a growing opportunity
- It’s a sign of our strength that we were able to get through it (You may not feel strong, but it takes strength to keep going, and after losing my dad I can remind myself that if I can get through that, I can get through most things.)
- It’s a potential joking point
- It’s a reason to pray and connect deeper with God
The sixth point on that list, “It’s a potential joking point,” is a third way to reduce anxiety; simply put: laugh. Laughter seems to be something our society has forgotten since reality TV took over from sitcoms and people became more judgemental of others and less interested in seeing the lighter side of life. Several weeks ago I actually shared my list of seven good things in all situations at my church. The video of it was posted online and when I looked at it all my brain could focus on had nothing to do with my talk: (my brain) “What’s wrong with my stomach? I don’t remember putting a pillow under my shirt before I went on stage. The camera must be broken because that’s not my stomach. I wore a shirt with vertical lines to look thinner, but when I’m sitting, they turn into latitude lines on a globe like it’s to help people find the Land of Pudge. Why was I sitting? You don’t sit on stage when you have the percent body fat of Homer Simpson. There’s a reason you always wear a shirt when you’re on the toilet because otherwise you’ll look down and wonder why your body has turned into half melted marshmallow. I’m blond. I’m like Thor… minus the arm muscles and more like the fat version in the End Game. I should wear an eye patch.” No, that isn’t an exaggeration. That is exactly how my brain went when I saw myself, but it was meant to be comical. I could laugh at it or I could cry. Laughter is such a freeing choice. It’s the opposite of judgement. Show me an anxious person, and I’ll show you someone who is judgemental even if that judgement is solely targeted at themselves. Learning to laugh makes us better people to be around and helps us be more enjoyable to ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I want to like being around me because I’m the one person I can’t escape. And the only way to do that is by reducing my judgemental side, which is best done by laughing more.
The fourth way to reduce anxiety is to define it. Defining the fear takes away the mystery and makes it more tangible. By defining it I mean in one short phrase or word you can define it in a way that makes it clear. For instance, I’ve had people tell me they have social anxiety: (me) “So what are you actually afraid of.” (person) “What do you mean?” (me) “What is it about social situations that make you anxious?” (person) “I’ve never thought of that… I guess it’s people judging me.” (me) “So you don’t have social anxiety; you have a fear of being judged. Now let’s explore whether you have a healthy amount of fear for this or too much because we should care what people think, but not so much that it hurts our ability to connect with others.” Other times people will end up saying they get overwhelmed in social situations, so they don’t have social anxiety, they have a fear of getting overwhelmed. Isn’t that simpler to handle? It’s easier to grasp than “social anxiety,” which is so looming. Plus being overwhelmed is normal. The question is at one point do you get overwhelmed? I know for myself I prefer small groups, so at larger gatherings I hang out near the back of the room and try talking to one or two other people who seem a little lost. That’s it. Don’t call it social anxiety to make it sound bigger. Specifically define the problem and then address it.
A lot of people use anxiety as an excuse to get out of being uncomfortable, but being occasionally uncomfortable is the only way to grow as a person, reduce anxiety, and generate opportunities. Anxiety isn’t meant to be an excuse to be lazy or get out of doing things we should be doing. It’s meant to make us aware that we are uncomfortable and to do something to make it better.
To conclude this lesson on how to reduce anxiety when the title is “There Should Be Worse Anxiety Problems in the World,” (it’s very strange; you can laugh or judge me for it) here are the points in a list:
- Remember it could be worse, so be thankful
- Remember there is good in all things, so it’s not that bad
- Learn to laugh (to reduce being judgemental)
- Specifically define the anxiety in order to better address it
- Look to God for added strength (to be discussed next time)
This week may you consider how you can reduce your anxiety.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)