I was recently talking to someone who asked if I had any suggestions for helping their child have less anxiety, and the answer was pretty simple: Make them do stuff. That’s it (for more tips, check out part 2 in this series). If we want to reduce anxiety, we need to live and realize how capable we are at getting through difficult things. For the most part, when someone says they have anxiety, this is a sign they lack confidence and they don’t trust themselves to be able to handle what they might experience. That’s why doing things is so important; by pushing ourselves to face challenges, we build confidence and we start to trust ourselves. A lot of therapists and other professionals like to overcomplicate things, but most of people who have too much anxiety simply need to learn to believe in themselves more. One of the reasons COVID lockdown was so damaging to people was it left us not doing things thereby causing us to lose confidence in our abilities to do stuff. This made recovery after lockdown harder than it would’ve been if it had only been two weeks or two months and not two years.
I should also point out that sometimes we should feel a lack of confidence. For instance, if I’m on a hike and I encounter an angry grizzly bear, my brain should be like, “Yeah, I’m going to lose this fight… run!” Sometimes we’re supposed to experience anxiety, especially when our lives are in danger because the anxiety helps us move. It can also teach us to be better prepared next time like if we didn’t study enough for a test.
There is another time we should feel anxiety… but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Sometimes anxiety can be a sign we’re too caught up in the moment like the other week my wife was preparing for our daughter’s birthday party and she was having heart palpitations from the stress. This was a party for a five year old and her four friends – that’s a little over the top. Wanting to help, I simply asked, “What is your goal?” My wife said the goal was for our daughter to have fun… and then added, “So I probably shouldn’t have yelled her like I did.” My question was all I had to say because my wife got it; she adjusted her expectations and was much better after – sometimes the less we say, the better because people hate being told what to do or given a lecture. Using the 3 anxiety levels we’ve been discussing, what happened is my wife was caught up in the moment causing her to confuse a Surface Level anxiety with a Life Threatening one – that’s it. Most things are pretty simple.
There is only one time when confidence and being aware of the goal will have no effect… and we’ll get to that in a moment. (Am I building suspense, yet? That’s twice I’ve mentioned it) First, I want to point out that one of the surprising realities I’ve found as a therapist is when I ask some people who claim to have anxiety, “So what are you specifically afraid of?” They’ll respond, “I’m not scared of anything. I have anxiety.” Um, you know anxiety is just another word for fear, right? It amazes how many people will be shocked when I point that out. Some people almost seem offended: “I don’t have fear; I’m not weak. I have anxiety. That’s what strong people have.” Nope, anxiety is simply something the pharmaceutical companies have embellished in order to make a lot of money. People need to start realizing how capable they are and fight the voice that tells them they’re too weak or dumb to push through the challenge their anxiety is telling them they can’t overcome. We are created to be strong enough to handle life; we need start remembering that.
So what is this one time when confidence or knowing our goal can’t prevent us from feeling anxiety? Coincidentally, this is the main reason for the title of this series: There Should Be Worse Anxiety Problems in the World. This one idea is what sparked this entire series… but enough delaying. Drum roll… We should feel anxiety when the Foundation Level of anxiety hasn’t been addressed. We need to address the Foundation because it’s the foundation; it’s very complicated, I know (said while wiping the dripping sarcasm from my mouth). If you don’t have a solid foundation in place our body should be trying to get our attention – address this!
The main question in the Foundation Level is “What happens after this life?” If we don’t know where we’re going, how can we not be anxious unless we’re so distracted or blind we never give it any thought? People get anxious about what career they’ll have (a Surface Level anxiety), but eternity lasts a lot longer. We should all have Foundational Level anxiety at one point because we need to seriously consider what happens next. We should also be considering “What is the point of this life?” I hear people say things like we’re just meant to be kind. If that’s what we’re meant to be, people are failing hard at that. If we were kind, would there be as many broken families? I’ve heard other people say that there isn’t any real point to life; it’s just a thing we’re doing. That to me is incredibly depressing – so this is all useless? And how does death of a love one or your own death not terrify you? That’s it; there’s no hope to see each other again? That way of thinking should cause us even more anxiety.
One of the biggest problems in our culture is it constantly distracts itself from the bigger picture. But the truth is life is short. Not only is it short, it’s meaningless. (That’s a lesson from the Bible – fun isn’t it?) Isn’t that great? It’s incredibly liberating: “It’s all meaningless, so who cares?” Of course, I should be clear: Life is meaningless, but it’s incredibly important because it sets us up for the next life. But we need to remember the bigger picture in order to help reduce Surface Level anxieties and help us enjoy life more – it’s all meaningless, so relax and have fun. I’ll confess, I regularly need to be reminded of this because there are so many distractions in the world even someone like me who knows the truth can forget it. Fortunately, the more I reflect on the bigger picture, the more I remember the title of a popular book in the 90s, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff.
The Foundation Level anxiety is why every culture besides our Western one holds religious beliefs at a high value. In cultures that don’t have our distractions, they focus on it. Western culture is typically quick to ignore God and religion and even look down on it. Is that because we’re so enlightened or are we so distracted and removed from the realities of life and death (e.g. we don`t even kill or our own food) we think we don’t need religion? If we’re so enlightened, why is there an epidemic of divorce, mental health issues, suicide, and extreme drug use? If there isn’t value in religion, why are the younger generations – the generations most void of religion – the most emotionally damaged and likely to have drug and suicide problems? If not having religion shows a culture’s enlightenment, why is our world getting more and more messed up?
Without God, what is the foundation of your life? Some people say family, but how many people really love their families? Without religion, why do you follow rules? Why do you care about doing what’s right? What does right even mean? Unless there’s a Creator, life is a free-for-all where we simply agree to some basic rules because it makes our own life easier – it’s selfish. The problem is people suck. How do we trust people to make good choices? Looking at the government, how can we trust people in leadership to do what’s best for the country when they only do what’s best for themselves? I need to believe in a God because I don’t trust people. People suck, and yes, I’m a person, so I suck. I can only trust myself so much. I need help to be better than I am. I need there to be a God so I have hope for this life and the next.
Sure, Christians can struggle with anxiety and depression, but as a friend told me, “Where we have fear is where we don’t trust God.” Whether that’s true or not, how much worse would my anxiety be if I didn’t regularly connect with God and be reminded that I am loved and I can draw on His strength? Most times, anxiety and depression in a Christian is a sign that we need to reconnect with God and/or recognize that we have a misunderstanding of God that’s hurting us. For instance, God never tells people to feel like they’re worthless or to be weighted down by guilt – that’s a human or devil thing. God is a God of love, and love is patient, kind, and self controlled. God created me; He wants me to be thankful for what He’s given me and do what I can to be what I have the most fruitful it can be.
Side Note: Believing in God also answers the other Foundational Level questions: am I loved? Do I have purpose? Yes, because I believe in a God who loves me and wants me to treat this life as my way to grow in relationship with Him while inspiring others to do the same.
“Fear of the Lord leads to life, bringing security and protection from harm.” (Pro 19:23)
“The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.” (Pro 24:16)
“The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.” (Pro 28:1)
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people (like me)