Anxiety is debilitating, but it doesn’t have to run your life

Advice from two renowned spiritual writers can help us overcome it.

Lesly Juarez | Unsplash

In The Hiding Place, a true story about helping Jews escape the Nazis during World War II, Corrie Ten Boom writes, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’d been involved in such dangerous activities as Boom, I certainly would have been worried. Eventually imprisoned for her actions, her strength never wavered, perhaps because she kept her anxiety at a distance.

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It’s very easy to fall into habits of worry. We can be anxious about big things: Am I raising my children right? Did I choose the right career? And we can worry about small things: Did I leave the garage door open? Does my hair look bad? I admit that I have managed to worry about all of these at some point. I wouldn’t say I have an ongoing struggle with anxiety, but the times it has managed to gain control over me are now impressed in my mind as a warning.

For instance, a while ago, I thought I’d made a huge mistake at work. Even worse, my boss also thought I’d made a huge mistake and we had a tense meeting about it. The issue took several days to sort out, but it was one of the more horrific, cortisol-induced nightmares of my life. Trying to fall asleep at night, my heart raced and my mind fixated on problems even though I knew I couldn’t address them until the morning. I lost sleep, felt terrible, and my productivity in other areas of my job crashed to a halt. The crazy thing about the incident? In the end, it turned out I hadn’t made a mistake at all and there was no problem to fix. I wish that, before I’d descended into a cycle of sleepless anxiety, I had been more clear-headed about what was in my control and what wasn’t. Maybe I would have dealt with it better.

We may never quite know why a person is anxious, but we do know that it happens to all of us.”

Often, I see other people in the exact same situation and instead of having compassion, I wonder why they’re worrying so much, why it’s such a big deal, and if they’re over-reacting. But when you’re in its grip, anxiety is a big deal and no one is in a position to judge from the outside. It may not always make sense why someone is so anxious, but it’s an opportunity to see how incredibly debilitating anxiety can be and offer gentle, non-judgmental support.

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For some people, anxiety can be linked to a health or medical condition, for others it’s a habit formed over many years that is difficult to overcome. Oftentimes, it arrives via situations we all find ourselves in from time to time: relationship crises, parenting woes, work-related stress, etc. We may never quite know why a person is anxious, but we do know that it happens to all of us.

St. Francis de Sales, author of a book about spirituality called Introduction to a Devout Life, writes about how commonplace anxiety can be and how to overcome it. With the exception of active wrong-doing, he says, “Anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul.” That’s putting it strongly, but what he means is that anxiety destroys our inner peace, causes us to act in uncharacteristic and rash ways, and eventually affects our spirituality because we’re overcome by distraction and feelings of helplessness. Anxiety can become the root of a number of other problems.

So instead of focusing on the worst case scenario of what may or may not happen tomorrow, focus on what’s in your power to deal with today.”

This makes sense. After all, how many times have I had to later apologize for harsh words spoken and hasty actions taken when I was “not myself” because of worry? Internally, anxiety makes us doubt ourselves and may even cause a collapse of faith because it turns us inwards on our own problems and prevents us from looking to God for help.

Corrie Ten Boom’s quote is a good starting place when it comes to alleviating our anxiety. She helps us remember that anxiety attacks us over what we cannot control. So instead of focusing on the worst case scenario of what may or may not happen tomorrow, focus on what’s in your power to deal with today. This can help you gain smaller victories that encourage you to keep going.

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St. Francis de Sales also provides helpful insight by showing us that anxiety negatively affects our spiritual lives. So during times of stress, instead of focusing on the problem until it drives you crazy, consider it for a planned period of time, then take a break to spend time with God. Each of us is unconditionally loved and no worry in the world will rob us from the inner peace we can find in Him.

Each week, Fr. Michael Rennier reflects on the Sunday Mass readings and pulls out a theme applicable to our daily lives. Today’s reflection is based on the Gospel for the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

 

 

 

 

Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier
Fr. Michael Rennier graduated from Yale Divinity School and lives in St. Louis, Missouri with his wife and 5 children. He is an ordained Catholic priest through the Pastoral Provision for former Episcopal clergymen that was created by Pope St. John Paul II. He’s also a contributing editor at Dappled Things, a journal dedicated to the written and visual arts.

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