While I think living your life consumed by fear is not the way to go, there is something to be said about embracing fear– to not be afraid of fear, so to speak. Our fears, our anxieties, have things to teach us, if we will only let them. I wrote last week about a commencement speech from J.K. Rowling that talked about how we can learn from failure, and I am also a believer in learning from our fear.
I recently read a blog post called Dealing with Anxiety, written by Allison Vesterfelt, whom I consider myself to be identifying with more and more as I read more of her writing and feel like I get to know both her and myself better.
If we blindly cast our anxiety aside and tell ourselves not to feel it, we’re missing out on learning from our own feelings. We then enter into a cycle of anxiety by feeling it, telling ourselves not to feel it because we know we shouldn’t get so anxious, and then becoming more anxious in our inability to dismiss our anxious feelings.
Like Allison suggests in her post, when we feel anxious, we get the opportunity to ask ourselves what the root cause is. We can take the opportunity to figure out what our anxiety is trying to tell us. From there, we can adjust our ways of negative, worst-case-scenario thinking patterns, encourage ourselves to think more realistically and positively, address the bigger underlying issues, and actually move closer to resolving the things that cause us anxiety instead of just ignoring them when we brush our unpleasant feelings under the proverbial rug.
Anxiety is habit-forming. We develop patterns over time of how we deal with situations, and our approach to them is just as important as our reactions to them. If we let ourselves get worked up before something even begins, we’re preventing ourselves from great potential enjoyment, setting ourselves up for failure and robbing ourselves of pleasure we could have experienced.
If, instead, we acknowledge our nervousness and anxiety, ask ourselves why we feel that way, and remind ourselves of truths that contradict the deep-seated lies we believe, adjusting our perspective, we are more likely to be better prepared to handle the things that come our way– both pleasant and unpleasant alike. Allison notes that she chose to replace her anxious thoughts with positive ones, changing her thinking to change her feelings and behavior.
This also goes back to a speaker I heard last fall, Jeff Vanderstelt, who spoke about how our belief informs our behavior. If we have a mistaken belief about who we are, we will see its effects in our life. He gave the example of anxiety. If we are anxious, we can trace it back to an incorrect belief in who we are and who God is. Ultimately, anxiety is caused when we believe we are not in control, believing we need to be in control, believing God isn’t in control, and believing He isn’t going to take care of us. We feel ill-equipped to run our lives the way we want to as a result of our past failures and fallibility, leaving us fearful of making mistakes and wrong decisions.
But if we realize that God is loving (which we know because He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for us so that we could spend our lives with Him), we can trust that He will provide for us (and be reassured with how He has so lovingly provided for us in the past), and know that we are not responsible for controlling everything in our lives, reducing our anxiety.
Similarly, if we are anxious because we are afraid of making mistakes, we can remind ourselves that things will work out whether we choose option A or option B, that we can bounce back from negative experiences, and that such choices and their effects will build our character. We have the power to use our anxiety to point out our deeper struggles and face them head-on. Now let’s choose to do so.