Anxiety is increasing in our culture. 3 reasons and how to feel more calm

anxiety

There was a time in my life when anxiety ruled me. I woke up every day with a sense of dread instead of hope.

To me, the world was a scary place. Rather than anything in particular, I feared life in general.

I would drag myself out of bed, knowing I faced a day filled with fear. Each morning brought with it the mere will to survive. Until one day even that will left me.

If you had inquired about my well-being in the middle of this despair, I would have smiled and said, “Great, how about you?” because of my terror over facing my feelings.

I had refused to stand up for myself or express emotional needs, and the consequences of my self-abandonment had taken their toll.

Thankfully, a well-timed Oprah episode on suicide survivors prompted me to keep going.

Now I know that God had sent me that love message in the form of a talk show. But at the time I didn’t know God. I believe that fact had everything to do with my anxiety.

I’ve overcome my anxiety with God’s help. But in the culture at large, anxiety is at record highs. Here are three reasons why I believe this is so.

1. Disconnection from God

As the world becomes increasingly secular, people are told to believe in themselves rather than a higher power.

This puts a tremendous onus on them that they were never meant to bear.

Rather than taking problems to God in prayer, mere humans are expected to act as their own saviors.

The pressure to be God in your own life is too much and creates natural feelings of fear and unease.

The pressure to be God in your own life is too much and creates natural feelings of fear and unease. Click To Tweet

The lie that we are not living in a fallen world forces people to pretend.

That’s called cognitive dissonance. It’s a break between what you know to be true and how you behave.

2. The rise of technology

The constant ding of notifications and text messages are enough to make anyone feel twitchy.

The expectation of constant availability both for work and relationships creates tension in our minds.

We feel compelled to answer people right away. We live in a constant state of reaction. Click To Tweet

We feel compelled to answer people right away. We live in a constant state of reaction.

Nonstop interruptions make it difficult to enjoy the wonderful feeling of getting lost in a task.

Studies show how technology has changed the way our brains work, and it’s not pretty.

We have reduced attention spans. We fear missing out if we log off for too long. We are less able to to stay in the moment.

3. Worry over a future we can’t control

Jesus said, ” Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

This is where we get the saying One Day at a Time. 12-step programs use this phrase as the central tenet of recovery.

If you stay inside the day, you can handle anything, including the cravings of an addiction.

As soon as we focus on the past or future, mild panic sets in. These can trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms which are nothing more than a replacement for God. An idol.

Regrets over a past that cannot be changed get our minds in chaos. Then, thinking about an uncertain future leads to scary thoughts.

As long as you keep your thoughts focused on today, anything seems possible. It is a sanity saver.

Planning vs. worry

Planning for the future is different than worrying about what’s to come. Let’s say you’re getting ready for a move.

You won’t simply refuse to think about moving day because it’s not today. However, responsible planning for a smooth move is very different than stressing over everything that could go wrong.

Worry sets in when you think about all the things you have to do at once. They run around in your head and tumble over each other and none of them gets done.

Anxiety results from ruminating over future tasks rather than taking steps today to accomplish them.

What will I do today that will move me closer to my goals? Click To Tweet

That’s why taking things one day at a time keeps you on an even keel. What will I do today that will move me closer to my goals?

Rejection: 3 ways to overcome the fear and pain

rejection

Have you ever feared rejection so much it felt like life or death?

I remember a time during school when my friends gave me the cold shoulder. The way my body processed the rejection felt life threatening.

My heart rate quickened, I became sweaty and panicky, like a prey animal abandoned by its herd.

My reaction felt out of proportion to the situation. But I couldn’t talk myself out of it.

It turns out there are good reasons why rejection feels so painful. In the past, being cast out from the tribe meant losing your life.

So, it makes sense that rejection today can still feel like a small death.

In spite of these very real and painful reactions to rejection, it’s important to overcome your fear. Here are three things you can do to overcome fear of rejection.

1. Acknowledge the pain you’re feeling is real

The pain of actual or anticipated rejection is real. You might experience physical hurt like stomach ache along with the requisite sweaty palms and dry mouth.

Then there is the emotional pain of self-doubt that threatens to pull you under.

It doesn’t help to deny the very real pain you’re feeling. That creates cognitive dissonance which makes you adjust your behavior to a reality you know is not true.

You’re lying to yourself. Don’t do that.

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Instead, acknowledge the nerves and work through them. Remember to breathe. You might share your fearful feelings if you’re comfortable doing so.

This way you won’t risk getting through on false bravado. Your vulnerability will shine as you come from an authentic place.

My daughter’s karate teacher asked the kids if they felt nervous before an assessment. He told them he hoped they did because it showed they care.

Much more effective than saying “don’t be nervous.”

2. Surround yourself with supporters

The human need to belong is so strong that a ‘no’ from someone we’ve never met can mean more than a hundred words of encouragement from a loved one.

Make sure the people who surround you are supportive and make you feel good about yourself. It helps to have cheerleaders to encourage you while you’re pushing through scary situations.

Listen to the kind words of people who know you rather than imaginary words of strangers who may or may not reject you.

3. Celebrate your courage to risk rejection

It takes tremendous courage to express your needs or stand in front of a crowd to deliver a speech. You’re doing something many people are afraid to do.

Personal growth only happens outside the comfort zone. Click To Tweet

Remind yourself that personal growth only happens outside the comfort zone. Playing it safe will never help you grow. Change is hard and that’s why most people avoid it.

But you’re not most people! Give yourself a pat on the back for fighting through those real feelings that are designed to keep you safe.

And for having the courage to reach out to others to share you dreams. Because it’s so much easier to hide and go through life without challenging ourselves.

But you’ve decided you want something more and have fought your fears to realize it. This puts you in a class of people who are not willing to settle for the status quo.

It might very well make you the target of people who preferred you stay where you are. Maybe it’s because they envy your desire to honor God’s direction for your life.

Or maybe your staying small served them in some way. Your courage to overcome those obstacles in addition to your own fears is formidable. Remember that.

Rejection as success

I’ve learned to take rejection as confirmation of success. It means I tried and gained knowledge to help me improve or take a different route next time.

What you view as rejection might simply be a poor fit rather than a failure. Click To Tweet

What you view as rejection might simply be a poor fit rather than a failure.

You’ll be happy to know your willingness to risk rejection makes you more evolved. Back in the days when we could not survive alone, you would have adapted your behavior to fit in with the tribe.

Thankfully, today those shackles no longer bind us. All it takes is courage to overcome the fear of rejection.

Decisions become easier when you do these three simple things

decisions

Do you find it difficult to make decisions? Can the fear of making the wrong decision paralyze you so you delay doing anything at all?

Maybe you get bogged down in pro and con lists. And what happens if there’s an equal number of them?

You’ve heard about a gut instinct but struggle to trust yours and wonder if you even have one.

If you’re an introvert, HSP, or Type B personality, you probably take longer to make decisions. You might second guess yourself and spend a lot of time and energy fretting over what to do.

If you’re a person who avoids conflict or a people pleaser, you cringe at the thought of making a decision that rubs people the wrong way.

i'm really bad at making decisions gif | WiffleGif

As a person who struggled her whole life with making decisions, I noticed they became easier when I made certain changes.

Here are the three simple ways to eliminate all the stress around making decisions.

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1. Embrace minimalism

When you get rid of the stuff you don’t need or use, decisions become easier because you have fewer options to choose from. Sounds obvious, right?

Start by decluttering your house and car. This might sound overwhelming and won’t happen overnight.

Organize a drawer and reward yourself. Then, move on to your closet.

When you declutter your wardrobe, you have fewer items to choose from. You’re left with only the items you love and that fit, so the decision becomes more pleasant.

You’ve created a stress-free morning by simplifying your decisions about what to wear that day.

After the house and car, work on decluttering other aspects of your life. Say no to things that stress you out and set boundaries to protect your time.

This will help clear your head from internal chaos. Instead of reacting and feeling overwhelmed, you’ll be calm and empowered.

Making decisions from a clear and cool head is so much easier than the alternative. And the decisions you make will be more authentic because they’re coming from a place of peace.

Rather than people pleasing, you’re making decisions that are best for you and your family.

2. Practice patience

A little known fact about decisions is that they sometimes make themselves. Waiting before jumping in with both feet can have positive results.

Now, this is not an excuse for procrastination or paralysis.

But if you avoid making a rash decision and wait a beat, you might be surprised at the outcome. If you feel unsure and wait before taking action, the issue might resolve itself.

One year, my daughter struggled with a difficult classmate who smothered and manipulated her.

During the summer, we prayed for God to work on this girl’s heart and help my daughter set appropriate boundaries. On the first day of school, I waited to hear how things went.

“She moved!” my daughter exclaimed.

God can work in ways we never even imagine with our limited scope of reference. He sees the whole picture while we just see our tiny corner.

Again, there’s a difference between passivity and patience. Or avoidance and caution.

Putting off decision-making because you’re paralyzed with fear is not what we’re talking about here.

3. Set a deadline for making decisions

This might sound contradictory to the previous point, but hear me out. If your problem is procrastination rather than patience, you need some accountability.

Giving yourself a deadline to make a decision is different than taking impulsive action. Make your decision by a certain hour or day, depending on the urgency of the situation.

Giving yourself a deadline to make a decision is different than impulsive action. Click To Tweet

Sometimes, as in #2 above, the issue will have been resolved before the deadline. Or you will have given yourself enough time to experience peace about your decision.

You might fear making the wrong decision if you don’t brood over it endlessly. But this is rarely the case.

Perhaps it’s your fear of changing your mind that’s putting so much pressure on your decision-making process. But very few decisions are irrevocable.

Maybe you’re too hard on yourself and feel that once a decision is made there’s no going back.

How about giving yourself a little grace? Even big decisions like a move can be reversed if necessary. You’re rarely stuck with a decision you made just because you made it.

Have the self-compassion to say we’ll try it this way for now. And if it doesn’t work out we can redirect or even go back to the old way.

If you refuse to make a decision, chances are you won’t have to change. But ask yourself if that’s what’s best for you.

Emotional neglect: how to know if you’ve experienced it and 3 ways to heal

emotional neglect

Have you heard of emotional neglect? You’re probably more familiar with the term emotional abuse, which acknowledges you don’t need to be hit to experience harm.

Sometimes, emotional abuse is so bad people have to estrange from their families. We accept that even without physical scars, emotional wounds run deep and deserve to be acknowledged.

Perhaps you have wondered if you were emotionally abused because of the deep hurt you experienced growing up. But your parents didn’t call you names or scream at you.

You find it difficult to put your finger on what happened to you. But you know your childhood experience has left lasting scars.

You see the praise and affection your friends receive from their parents and wonder what that’s like.

You witness them calling their mom for help when they go through something hard. And their mom offering comfort and advice, while you have to handle things on your own.

It’s possible you have trouble understanding what happened to you because you’ve experienced emotional neglect rather than abuse.

The problem is less what your parents did than what they didn’t do. And that’s why it can be hard to describe and recognize.

With emotional neglect, the problem is less what your parents did than what they didn't do. Click To Tweet

What are the signs of emotional neglect?

Emotional neglect can show up in a number of different ways. But here are seven signs that may sound familiar to you:

1. Your parents were either focused on rules or overly permissive. Either way, they seemed to care little about your feelings.

2. You never learned to set boundaries or establish healthy coping mechanisms as a result.

3. You rarely received positive feedback from your parents or even constructive criticism. They never helped you see your strengths and weaknesses or develop your talents.

4, Your parents’ needs took precedence over yours. If you were struggling, they did little to help you understand what you were feeling.

5. You can’t talk to your parents about emotional topics and if you do they make you feel worse. You’ve learned to keep your feelings to yourself so as not to overburden others.

6. You are over responsible. Good at caring for others but not so good at caring for yourself. You may feel resentful about how much you give and how little you receive.

7. You are unduly hard on yourself and even feel like you have a fatal flaw that makes you defective. You feel that if people really knew you they wouldn’t like you.

It is within your power to heal from emotional neglect. Click To Tweet

If you see yourself in the above descriptions and believe you’ve been the victim of emotional neglect, take heart. It is within your power to heal.

Here are 3 things you can do.

1. Understand that emotions are not bad, they give you information

If you were never taught to deal with your emotions, it makes sense you’d have trouble regulating them.

I used to avoid emotions and misunderstand them. Anger to me was so all-encompassing it could take me out for a whole day.

For that reason, I’d avoid feeling angry until I blew up. Then experience tremendous shame and guilt.

I’d avoid sadness because I feared that would throw me into a deep depression. I’d try to talk myself out of a low mood instead of allowing myself to feel and process it.

Now, I understand anger is often justified. It might be a sign that something needs to be changed or addressed.

And rather than deny sad feelings, I surrender them to God and ask for His comfort. It lasts less than a day and I come out on the other side feeling refreshed and renewed.

emotional neglect, boundaries

2. Learn to set boundaries and develop routines

If you suffered emotional neglect as a child, you probably didn’t feel like you could say no or ask for what you wanted.

As you learn to protect yourself through boundaries, you’ll feel safer and experience more authentic relationships.

You may have never learned the value of routines like getting up early or making a healthy lunch for work. Or find it hard to motivate yourself to do them.

They may seem pointless or tedious to you, but they are important elements of self-care.

When you take care of yourself through routines like exercise, healthy eating, and getting to bed at a certain time, you will experience increased health and self-worth.

You have to become the parent to yourself that you never had.

3. Spend time discovering yourself

Take time to journal and understand yourself. Treat yourself as you would a cherished loved one. Take yourself out on dates and pay attention to your likes and dislikes.

Figure out what gives you comfort and fulfills you and do more of that. Maybe you want to read for a whole day. Or go for a meandering walk.

Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and consider connecting with others who share those interests.

Mindfulness: how to benefit from focus on the present moment

mindfulness

Mindfulness is a big catch phrase these days. Its literal definition means bringing one’s attention to the present moment.

And in a world filled with distractions that can be a precious gift indeed.

Mindfulness came into my life when I took part in a pilot program that helps people who tend to escape through daydreaming.

Possibly due to past trauma, I had difficulty staying present. As a result, my thoughts wandered in directions beyond my control.

In the program I learned practices that helped me slow down and pay attention to the present moment. It taught me mindfulness in three helpful ways.

1. Mindful eating

Some people use mindful eating as a weight loss method. But it helps you feel better in other ways, too.

When you slow down and pay attention to what you’re eating, you feel more in control. You enjoy your food more which makes you less likely to binge.

When you slow down and pay attention to what you're eating, you feel more in control. Click To Tweet

When you chew each bite 25-30 times, it takes you longer to eat. This leaves you feeling more satisfied and less likely to eat more than you need.

It helps you stop eating when you’re full which improves your health and comfort levels.

2. Body scan

A body scan is a mindfulness exercise in which you relax and bring focus to your physical body. You can listen to a guided scan in which a narrator tells you which parts of your body to focus on.

For instance, you’ll start by bringing your focus to your head. Slowly, you’ll make your way down your body and finish by paying attention to your feet.

The exercise does not ask you to relax or feel any different about your body, but simply to focus on it.

Some people say the practice helps them connect with their bodies in a beneficial way. It helps them know where they hold stress and anxiety and release it.

It also helps discipline a scattered mind by bringing thoughts into focus on a specific object (your body) in the present moment.

3. Meditation

Mindfulness training introduced me to meditation practices that are now part of my daily life. It’s as simple as setting a timer and paying attention to your thoughts.

Lasting from three to twenty minutes their impact on my brain has been palpable. The hamster wheel of my thoughts slows down to a crawl. I feel more calm and in control.

Like many of life’s lessons, this one took years to learn. I had believed meditation only served you during the specific time you practiced it.

After a few weeks I discovered the far-reaching effects of meditation. It re-wires your brain, making it less scattered and more functional.

Meditation is usually framed as an Eastern philosophic tradition. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Anything that keeps you centered in the present moment can work as a meditation. Meditating on a Scripture verse or praying helps you overcome a runaway brain, too.