When anxiety flattens you

Here’s the 3-step formula for living: Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

Forget any one of those and you’re pretty well sunk. Experience a job loss or health crisis and you feel pretty well sunk too. That punch in the gut leaves you gasping for air.

Now breathe. Breathe! You remind yourself of the 3-step formula as the future unloads its cargo of uncertainty on your chest. Anxiety has made its new home there.

When anxiety flattens youAnxiety constricts. It suppresses creative thinking about your future. It’s as if you’ve exhaled and suddenly forgot to breathe in. (In case you’ve forgotten what anxiety feels like, just stop following the 3-step formula. In a minute or two that panicky feeling will remind you.)

When you’ve had the wind knocked out of you, you need to breathe in again. Here are some simple, but effective, ways to do so:

  • Pray – Someone once observed that there are no atheists on campus during finals week. We naturally turn to prayer in crisis not only for a solution but also for comfort. If you’re gasping about what to pray, check out my previous post, “A prayer for the anxious.” It may provide a good jumping off point to find your own voice to speak with and to breathe in the counsel of God.
  • Write – Slowing down to write about your situation is a great way to identify your perceptions and unlock creative options. According to Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, restating your situation by assuming that you don’t know everything about it is one of the surest ways to safeguard yourself from future missteps. If you’ve never journaled before, read my posts on journaling starting with “Why I gave journaling another try” for some suggestions on how to start.
  • Appreciate – Anxiety draws attention to your limitations. Instead, fill your lungs with praise for others and thankfulness for the blessings you already have. List them in your journal. Breathing the fresh air of gratitude will help you feel more relaxed about your future.
  • Trust – Our natural response to life’s sucker punches is to fight, to freeze, or to flee.  Frenzied panic, indecision, or avoidance is a form of shallow breathing, however. Prayerfully take a step of trust by choosing to do one thing today, knowing that God cares for you and is orchestrating your future (1 Peter 5:7).

Unlike living, there’s no 3-step formula for overcoming anxiety. But in those times when anxiety flattens you, these suggestions may help you get your breath back again.

What are some ways you’ve found to reduce your anxiety for the future?

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