Don’t Let Worry Choke You Out
by Alfred Ells, M.C.
It is normal and natural to worry. Strained finances, family problems and even positive life events can cause anxiety. Lately, Dan’s racing mind jolts him out of sleep every night around 3:00 am. “My wife is always after me for worrying so much about the pandemic and its effect on our building project,” he says, “but we’re in the middle of it and there are so many moving pieces.”
Worry is fearful thinking. It comes from the Old English word wyrgagn, meaning “to strangle.” Worry and its twin, anxiety, are both manifestations of fear. Anxiety is often described as free-floating fear. The two together can result in sleepless nights, impatience, irritability, tormenting thoughts and depression. If the anxiety, worry and stress get bad enough, the result can be panic attacks or worse. Strangely, researchers have found that people worry about many things, but only 8% of worry is over legitimate concerns.1
The challenge is to recognize our worry, anxiety and fear and not allow it to edge God out of the equation. Fear is the enemy of trust. It is faith in the enemy. It makes us believe the worst will happen. Perhaps that is why scripture has 365 “fear nots.” As God spoke to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”2 To truly survive and thrive, one must conquer fear and its manifestations.
Four Steps to Conquering Your Fears and Anxiety
Step 1: Recognition and ownership. Many of us fail to clearly identify our anxieties and worries as stumbling blocks. We tend to obscure our fears and the way they manifest in us. A helpful exercise is to ask a close friend or spouse what behaviors they see in our lives when it comes to fear, anxiety and worry. While discussing one of our children, my wife noted that I seemed worried. I hadn’t realized how anxious I was. Her feedback helped me face my fears.
Another exercise is to listen to our “self-talk,” the inner conversation we have with ourselves. Write down what those inner thoughts are saying about your issues. This will help you identify your fears and feelings. After recognition it is important to take ownership of your fears. They are yours and only you can change them. If we blame them on others or on circumstance, we will not be able to change them.
Step 2. Admit. Confess. Surrender. It is important to openly admit to our fears, anxieties and worries. It often helps to confess them out loud to another person. Rather than destroying our faith, this will help us build our faith by facing our existing fears head on and conquering them. Once a fear or its derivative is recognized, admitted to and confessed out loud, it must then be surrendered. It’s natural and necessary to pray to God to take away or carry us through our circumstance. It’s also necessary to surrender our fears to Him and trust His outcome. When one surrenders a fear, it is an act of trusting in God no matter the outcome. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him….”3
Surrender is not yielding to sin or giving up, but rather yielding to hope, peace and the assurance that God will care for you no matter what happens. It is a courageous, yet necessary, thing to do. It tames our fears, worry and anxiety.
It may help to consider Pastor Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer that has helped so many members of the Alcoholic Anonymous programs find peace and surrender.4
“God, grant the grace with serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed and the wisdom to know the one from the other.”
When fear continues to dominate, and surrender is difficult, there are also thought-switching and thought-stopping techniques that can help you combat your worrisome thoughts and focus instead on God’s perspective, wisdom and truth. Telling Yourself the Truth is a great resource book on how to identify your fears and stop negative, fearful thoughts.5 A competent, godly counselor can help you change your inner conversation.
Step 3: Identify genetic and environmental triggers. Genetics and body chemistry may play a role in sensitivity to fear, worry and anxiety. Research suggests that individuals who are prone to fear and worry may have a harder time being resilient. The tendency to be anxious and worry often runs in families and is passed down generation to generation. This makes it especially difficult for some individuals to deal with their fears when crises occur. If you think you might be predisposed to anxiety, consider consulting with a qualified physician. Medication may help.
Step 4: Launch a multi-faceted attack. Because there are many causes, you may need multiple strategies to conquer your fear. As we’ve learned, a vulnerability to fear does run in families. Additionally, traumatic events can trigger your fear circuit and create hypersensitivity to the storms of life. Even something as simple as a lack of sleep can contribute. Assess the negative stimuli or triggers in your life that cause fear.
Could worry-wart relatives be unintentionally fanning your fears? Ask for help from your friends and family to tone down their fretfulness while around you. Avoid them if necessary. Work hard at getting the required number of hours of sleep even if it requires nutraceuticals or pharmaceuticals.
Counseling sessions may help some people, while others may need a prayer partner to help wage spiritual warfare. Still others may have a chemical imbalance requiring medication to reduce hypersensitive physical reactions to anxiety. Pray for God’s will in these matters, and He will lead you to healing.
Alfred H. Ells, M.C. is a bestselling author, ordained minister and leadership consultant. He specializes in working with clergy and churches.
1 Dr. Walter Calvert, 2006, National Science Foundation
2 Joshua 1:9
3 Job 13:15
5 Backus, William, Chapian, Marie. Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, 1985
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