How much of our time and energy do we as women lose to worrying and anxiety? We’ve got huge things on our minds like how is our marriage really doing, am I a good enough mom, will my kids turn out okay, what if it’s cancer, should I change jobs, should I move, will I make it through my divorce? To smaller, daily things like why am I so tired all the time, will I ever feel fulfilled in my work, will we have enough money to pay all the bills this month, what is my daughter going to do after high school, etc.?
We women can tend to be a worrying bunch.
Let’s talk about a few ways we handle fear that aren’t the greatest…
We numb through shopping or eating or drinking.
We obsess and lose sleep.
We stuff it and pretend we’re fine, but we know it’ll come out in other ways.
Even those of us who are trying to follow God and who know what the Bible says about worry…you know, like, Don’t worry. Do not fear. Cast all your cares on God. Do not be anxious about tomorrow…we still worry.
All of those are commands, by the way. Meaning, things God is telling us to do. Meaning, he must think we can control this.
We get it, we’re not supposed to be anxious, worrying, fearful.
I’m going to share three practical methods that I use when I’m feeling overwhelmed by worry along with one huge lesson I’ve learned that has shifted my thinking in this area.
Before we dive in, let me just say that worry – in my opinion – is just another human emotion. Worry will not kill us. And, in fact, it can be like a little red flag telling us that something isn’t right and we should pray about it or try to address it.
And I want to debunk a biblical-sounding myth. How many of you have heard the phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle?”
That sounds good, right? That’s comforting. And it’s loosely based on a Scripture that says God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can escape.
But will we get more of our share of hard times in this life, more than we feel we can handle? OF COURSE WE WILL.
A, Jesus outright said, “In this world, you will have trouble…”
And B, if we didn’t get more than we could handle, God would be irrelevant. We are forced into his arms time and again, when we choose to go to him, when we face hard times.
So, for the record, YES, we will all go through hard times. YES, it’s more than we can handle sometimes. And YES, being overwhelmed is a normal reaction to being human!
Author Glennon Doyle says, Life isn’t hard because you’re doing it wrong. Life is just hard.
Depending on the type of anxiety and the number of issues at play is how I choose which of these worry-busting methods to implement.
Method 1: Everything That’s Wrong in My Life List
Yep, this is where we get super honest with ourselves and even super negative. It’s okay because we’re not going to stay in that yucky place.
I have used this method innumerable times in the past ten years of my life, especially when I’m completely overwhelmed.
We start by making a list of every single thing in our life that is going wrong. Good times, I know. Hang with me. I want you to make this list with two columns. The first column will be all the hard things. I’ll get to the second column in a minute. Also, leave a couple lines between each hard thing.
First of all, brain dumps are a cathartic way to get all of it out of you and onto paper. Secondly, there is odd relief in seeing either how horrible everything is (because then you feel justified and validated) or in how puny your list is (because you may realize things aren’t as bad as you thought).
I want you to take some time with this, maybe a half hour or so for the whole exercise. Once you’ve completed the list, you’re going to read through each hard thing slowly. But we’re going to run it through the grid of the Serenity Prayer.
The Serenity Prayer, for those not familiar with it, was written by Reinhold Neibuhr, and it is most often linked to recovery groups, like AA and AlAnon. It goes like this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
So I write that prayer out on that sheet of paper of all the hard things in my life. And I start at the top of the list and read each hard thing out loud, slowly.
Read them, and then ask: do I have the power to do anything tangible about this or is this out of my control?
For instance, say one of the hard things is: my company is going out of business. You have no control over your company going out of business, so next to that one, you’ll write PRAY. (Because we can ALWAYS pray.)
But then say the hard thing under that one, I’ll be out of a job in four weeks. You may not have control over your future unemployment, but you absolutely have some control over what you do about it. Will you take some time off? Will you sign up for unemployment? Will you work on your resume? Will you create a LinkedIn profile? Will you begin looking on Indeed every morning?
Once you’ve asked yourself do I have the power to do anything tangible about this or is this out of my control for each one of your hard things, you are now able to see that perhaps half of your list has just been turned into your prayer requests, requiring no further action from you at this time, which should free you up a bit to then turn your focus on the rest of the list of things you can do something about, and you’ve now got yourself a tangible to-do list. You do not have to tackle your list all in one day. But you have just broken it up into very doable steps and this will empower you to feel not so powerless.
Method 2: Worst-case scenario
This is where you take an anxiety and play it out to its bitter, horrible end. I know we’re told to look on the bright side and to stay positive but there is a beauty in this method.
Let’s say you have to go to some kind of event and your ex-husband will be there. And you’re anxious to say the least. Well, you let your imagination run a bit wild here and you tell yourself that you’ll see him, and he’ll have lost weight and he looks amazing, and you will trip, break a heel, and fall in mud while spilling a glass of wine on your ex-mother-in-law. You will embarrass your children. They will stop speaking to you. You will be kicked out of the event, but only after knocking over a plate of desserts. Okay, that’s ridiculous, but I think you see my point here. The worst-case scenario is bad but livable! You’d live through all of that! And in fact, your actual scenario is probably more like you’ll have an awkward five-minute conversation and then you can excuse yourself and sit somewhere else the rest of the time, or leave if you’re super uncomfortable because you remember that you’re a grown up!
On a more serious note, I used to have to play out a worst-case scenario that when my kids were teenagers and visitation was required of them, that they would be killed in a drunk-driving accident. NOW THAT IS A WORST-CASE SCENARIO. But girls. And I don’t say this lightly. But girls, even then. EVEN THEN, God would be with my children and usher them into his presence and He would’ve been with me to comfort me and uphold me and heal me.
Sometimes our worst-case scenario is so outrageous it can make us laugh and add levity to the situation. And sometimes it’s a reality check that yes, something horrible could happen, but yes, we would still be held in God’s hand no matter what. Worst-case scenario-ing takes the wind out of your anxiety’s sails.
Method 3: Focus on today
I recently heard a saying that is brilliant and I have no idea how I’ve never heard it before. You may have heard it. Ready?
“If it’s hysterical, it’s historical,” meaning that when emotions are overwhelming, they may not be fully relevant to the present situation.
So, when I say focus on today, regarding your worry, I mean two things.
One, try to trace your feelings back…is what you’re worried about actually a trigger for you? Are you attributing a past pain to a current situation and you’re making larger than it actually is? You’ll know if that’s the case, and you can address it by reminding yourself that was then and this is now, or that was your ex-husband and he is nothing like your new husband, etc.
But when I say focus on today, I also mean this. When I am struggling with a totally big fear, I have learned a little trick that surprisingly works really well. For instance, I was scared that – as a divorced woman – I would be alone for the rest of my life. And when I really sat with that, even for a few moments, it would totally freak me out. It was a very real fear for me.
However, when I would stop myself and say, “Wait, I’m going to be alone tonight. And I can totally handle being alone tonight. (In fact, I kinda want to be alone tonight),”, and then, “I’m not going to meet anyone tonight and be in a relationship tomorrow. And I not only can handle that, I’m really okay with that…I don’t want to be in a relationship tomorrow.” I could completely turn my thought process around and let it go when I would minimize the far-off future and bring myself right into my immediate present. Honest. It worked for me every time. Try it next time you’re facing one of those what-if kind of worries.
With all that said, sometimes our worry just won’t subside. When that’s the case, if we seem more worried than the average person, or if you’ve talked with a friend and they can’t understand why you feel the way you feel, you may want to talk with a counselor, your doctor, and/or a coach (like moi).
Finally, I want to touch briefly on Jesus’s 366 “do not fears” in the Bible. That used to be feel like a huge guilt-inducing phrase to me. I know, I know, do not fear! But I still am worried so what does that say about me??? That I’m a bad Christian? That I don’t pray enough? That I can’t surrender fully to God no matter how hard I try?
But then I heard it put this way. That “do not fear” is not a command in the same way “do not lie” or “do not steal” is. Those are things that we are told not to do.
But when we see the words “do not fear”, we need to start thinking of them as an assurance from God, as comfort from God, as in “you do not have to fear” because I’m God. In fact, I’ve heard it said that the when you read the words “do not fear”, start then immediately adding “I am here”. We don’t have to fear because we have a loving, kind, providing, God-Who-Sees watching over us.
David said of God in Psalm 138:8, “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me.” When all is said and done, reminding ourselves that we have a loving Father God who is deeply and intimately concerned with our lives can bring a sense of calm, if we let it.
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