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Letting Go of Worry and Anxiety
By Pam Vredevelt
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Pam Vredevelt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReview the Facts
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You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I've lived through this ... I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do. Eleanor Roosevelt
YEARS AGO I SAW A CLEVER ACROSTIC FOR THE WORD FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. When we are fearful, we tend to jump to conclusions based on partial truth instead of on complete and accurate evidence. When something goes wrong and we don't have the facts, we can misinterpret the meaning of an event and immediately forecast the worst-case scenario.
I've heard it said that the more intelligent and creative you are, the more likely you are to worry. Why? Because when people are worried about something, their imaginations paint mental pictures of what they dread most. Those with sharp minds see all the angles of a given predicament, and their creativity enables them to vividly envision every possible miserable outcome.
Recently I experienced a rush of anxiety after an innocent mishap. I gave Nathan his nighttime medication and then left the rest of the family at home while I ran a few errands. An hour later I walked in the door toting an armload of groceries. My husband, John, offered to help carry packages in from the garage. Passing me in the hallway, he said, "You don't need to give Nathan his medicine tonight-I already did."
Instantly my brain jumped into 911 mode. Danger alarms sounded.
We had a problem. John didn't know that I had already given Nathan his pill, so now Nathan had a double dose of medication in his body. The medicine was something new we were trying for his ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and I didn't know the drug's toxicity levels or the potential side effects of higher doses. Fear of the unknown revved up my "obsess-o-meter."
One way to reduce worry and anxiety is to get the facts. For me, that meant immediately getting on the phone with a friend who is a doctor and professional educator specializing in this kind of medication. I asked specific questions about how this medicine acted on the brain and what range of dosage was safe for Nathan's body size. From our brief conversation I learned that Nathan could tolerate the double dose and that he would most likely just feel a little groggy for a while. In the words of the expert, "There was no harm done." Those facts brought me peace.
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"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
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Naomi, a former client, spoke with me one afternoon about the worries that tormented her. As we reviewed her history, I learned that a teenage neighbor boy had sexually violated her when she was seven years old. When she came to see me, her oldest son was in the first grade, and Naomi was extremely fearful that what had happened to her would also happen to him.
"Bobby keeps getting invitations to spend the night at his friends' homes," Naomi explained. "I can't let him go. I'm so afraid that something bad might happen to him." Naomi knew that her anxiety was blown out of proportion, but she still couldn't shake it. One of my goals was to help her understand her fears.
"Naomi, the avoidance you're using to cope with these situations is actually driving your anxiety," I said. "This is not the kind of fear you can retreat from in the hope that it will just go away. If you want to beat this fear, you're going to have to face it head-on. You see, the fact is: Avoidance increases anxiety."
Naomi spent the next few months of therapy revisiting and processing her childhood trauma. As she connected her current feelings with the facts of her abuse and grieved the injustice, the pain slowly but surely began to lose its power. One of Naomi's assignments in therapy was to make a list of the facts about her past experience. She then compared it with a list of the facts surrounding Bobby's life. Seeing the specific differences in black and white brought her a measure of relief.
But there was more work to do. Naomi decided to give her son some important information. She bought a children's book about personal safety and taught Bobby how to pay attention to the "uh-oh" in his tummy. He learned that it was very important to "Say no!" and to "Go and tell" an adult if he felt at risk. She rehearsed potential scenarios with Bobby and showed him how to respond to someone who was acting in a sexually inappropriate way. Giving Bobby the facts reduced Naomi's concerns about his vulnerability and increased her confidence in his ability to protect himself.
Gathering facts about Bobby's friends and their parents was also helpful. Naomi felt more comfortable with some individuals than with others. She reached a great milestone when she and her husband gave Bobby permission to spend the night with his best friend after a ball game. It didn't happen without some anxiety, but it happened!
To keep herself from worrying, Naomi used a diversion tactic that evening: She and her husband went to see an action-packed movie. During our next counseling session, she happily reported that she had slept well through the night. As for Bobby, when he came home in the morning, he was beaming.
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The adventurous life is not one exempt from fear, but on the contrary, one that is lived in full knowledge of fears of all kinds, one in which we go forward in spite of our fears. Paul Tournier
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Are worries stealing your joy? Are anxieties eating away at your peace of mind? If so, may I make a suggestion? Please-get the facts. If you're fretting about the possibility of a health problem, don't brood over it. Call a doctor or see a specialist who can review the facts with you. Focus your attention on what is, not on what if. Investigate. Ask questions. Research. Pool information. A mind that feeds on the facts is less likely to fall prey to a frenzied imagination that casts illusions as reality. The fear of the unknown can paralyze you, but reviewing the facts can set you free and give you peace.
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Peace is not arbitrary. It must be based upon definite facts. God has all the facts on His side; the world does not. Therefore God, and not the world, can give peace. Billy Graham
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Chapter TwoRegister Your Concerns with God
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Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. Philippians 4:6-7, The Message
MY SECRETARY STOOD IN THE DOORWAY OF MY OFFICE, her face registering her alarm.
"Pam, you have an emergency phone call," she said. "Nathan left the schoolyard. They've searched for the last half hour and can't find him, so they're calling the police."
That news would send icy shivers through any mother, but my fear escalated in light of my son's Down syndrome. Nathan lacks the safety net of common sense and maturity, and when he wanders outside of adult supervision, his risk of encountering danger increases exponentially.
Adrenaline coursing through my veins, I rushed to the phone my secretary held for me. "Hello, this is Pam," I said, trying to maintain my cool. "I'm on my way."
It's astounding what anxiety does to the body. By the time I reached my car, my stomach was in knots, and a lump the size of a Ping-Pong ball seemed wedged against my larynx. I began playing therapist with myself.
Okay, Pam. Calm down. God knows right where Nathan is. There are a lot of people looking for him. Keep your cool. Don't jump to conclusions. You won't be any help to anybody if you start short-circuiting. Just relax. You'll be at the school in five minutes.
That was the plan. But you know how plans go.
When I started the car, a buzzer signaled that my gas tank was empty. I had intended to get gas on the way to work that morning, but I was running late. I figured I could make it to the office and fill the tank after work.
Now, what do you think a professional therapist would do in a situation like this? Would she respond with logic and say, "Hmm. It looks like I need gas"? Would she maintain complete composure, casually shrug, and say, "Oh well, what's another kink in the day"? Or would she flail her hands, scream "Oh no!" at the gas gauge, and then burst into tears?
You guessed it! Obviously my car wasn't the only thing running on fumes at the moment. After my little fit, I pulled myself together long enough to pray, God, please get me to the gas station that's on the way to the school.
He did. But I should have prayed for the people at the station because they were slower than slugs on a Portland sidewalk. For several l-o-o-o-n-g minutes, my car was the only one at the pumps, but no one responded. If the Lord was testing my patience, I flunked. After waiting and waiting, I finally went into the station and said, "Could someone please help me? I'm in a hurry. My little boy is lost, and I need to go find him."
The guy dawdling behind the counter acted as if he didn't have a care in the world. He cocked his head to the side, squinted his eyes, and gave me the look. You know-the one that says, "Yeah, sure, lady." He s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y made his way to the pumps.
Twelve and one-half minutes later, I rolled out of the station with enough repressed negative energy in my body to trigger another eruption on Mount Saint Helens.
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Anxiety is the interest paid on trouble before it is due. Dean William R. Inge
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Panic-driven thoughts ricocheted in my brain. What if we can't find Nathan? What if he wanders onto a busy street? What if a felon gets hold of him? Pictures on milk cartons flashed before my eyes. A vivid imagination is a blessing for creative writing, but it's a curse in these kinds of situations.
I finally arrived at the school. Racing up to the front doors, I passed a woman walking toward the parking lot. I must have had panicked mother written all over my face, because she looked at me and asked, "Are you Nathan's mom?"
"Yes," I responded anxiously, hoping she had some good news for me.
"They found Nathan."
"Oh, thank God," I said.
"He's with the principal," she added.
Sure enough. There in the principal's office sat my guilty little escapee. I couldn't remember an occasion when Nathan hadn't smiled and jumped up to give me a welcoming hug after we'd been apart for a few hours. But this time he had a very somber look on his face, and he didn't move. His head hung low, and he looked at me through guilty eyes, knowing he had made a big boo-boo.
I hugged him. "Nathan," I said gently, "I was very worried about you. And the principal and your teachers were scared, too. Leaving the schoolyard was not a good idea."
The principal gave me the full story. Somehow Nathan had sneaked around to the back of the school, pushed the gate open, and wandered over to the retirement home next door. He went to the third floor of the complex (Nathan loves elevators and is proficient at working them), roamed the halls, and then went back down to the ground level and out the back door. I guess he'd seen enough of the old folks and decided it was time for something a bit more exciting.
Driven by his unquenchable thirst for adventure, he bolted over to the next building on the block, which happened to be a hospital. There a kind elderly man noticed that Nathan was handicapped and all alone in the hospital lobby. Figuring that he was lost, the man took him by the hand and began hunting. A few minutes later, one of the school helpers in the search party rounded the corner.
Nathan spent the rest of the afternoon in the principal's office with the school counselor. She drew pictures of the event to help him understand which choices were acceptable and which were not. I am so thankful for such sources of support as we try to help Nathan grow up to be safe and wise. Still, I think I pumped more adrenaline during that episode than I had the entire previous month.
And, boy oh boy, did my body feel it the next day! When the alarm went off at 5:30 A.M., I felt as if I'd been hit by a Mack truck. The impact wasn't just physical. My mind was troubled, and worry was getting the best of me. My anxiety about the events of the previous day was matched by my apprehension of what was to come.
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A worried man could borrow a lot of trouble with practically no collateral. Helen Nielsen
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Do you ever experience that? Ever have a day so full of panic that, even after a situation is resolved, the residue of fear taints your outlook? At times like that, we need to take some time alone to register our concerns with God. He invites us to do so. The apostle Peter wrote: "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). In the original language this phrase means that we are "to aggressively roll over" all of our worries onto God.
Let's think for a moment about how we are created. We are made up of body, soul, and spirit. Through our body's senses, we relate to the world around us. Our soul is the thinking and feeling part of us: our mind, will, emotions, conscience, and consciousness. Our soul allows us to laugh, cry, reason, and make choices. Then there is our spirit, which enables us to relate to God.
I have noticed that human beings tend to use only two-thirds of this package. Even if we try to use the capacities of our body and soul to the fullest, we may neglect our spirit.
Excerpted from Letting Go of Worry and Anxiety by Pam Vredevelt Copyright © 2001 by Pam Vredevelt. Excerpted by permission.
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