Why Techniques, Methods and Prayer Aren’t Working
When homeless, I remember digesting tons of books on how to overcome social anxiety, agoraphobia and panic attacks. I bulldozed through the pages hoping, praying for relief. “Why can’t I look people in the eyes without panicking? Why can’t I have a normal conversation without going to pieces mentally? Why can’t I go to certain places, have certain thoughts, be with certain people without severe anxiety?”
What We Thought Worked May Not After All
I tried so many techniques, methods and tons of prayers. Deep breathing, counting backwards, stopping caffiene, meditation, blowing in a bag, renouncing evil spirits...blah, blah, blah...and blah. They did nothing for me! Nothing! Actually, I take that back, they did do something. THEY MADE ME WORSE! MUCH WORSE! Paying attention to my breathing, caused more anxiety--a ton more. Stopping caffeine made me less shaky, but miserable. Counting backwards or snapping my wrist with a rubber band, just reinforced the OCD I already struggled with. Breathing into a bag, made me concentrate more on my breathing and my bad breath, which led to more panic...and disgusted faces. Praying made me mad at God for not helping. And, meditation, well, maybe I was doing something wrong, but my anxiety was so bad, meditation just made me meditate on the anxiety...and, then, yes, I had more anxiety attacks. My anxiety gave me anxiety!
Why Anxiety Methods/Techniques Aren’t Working
When it comes to anxiety, when we rely on methods/techniques we’re not much different than the recovering addict who, in an effort to protect her wounds, avoids facing her daunting past or overwhelming present reality by deflecting and dodging questions and replacing the addiction with busyness, frustrations or other subtle distractions. Methods/techniques, if they help at all--and in some cases they might--act as a lotion on a gushing wound as deep as the day is long, never drilling into the core of the infection. Surgery is what’s needed, not tickling.
Methods/techniques when over-depended on are the fast-food of the mental health world. They promise much and produce little. Our emotions, like our bodies, were created with a natural cure for anxiety. Just like the body uses apples better than a sloppy coleslaw, peanut butter dripping burger to heal itself, our natural healing agents work better to heal the soul than any methods we have created to work around the issues. Methods (while they work for some, and to certain degrees), if they are the only treatments, can negatively act to feed the depression of the anxiety we’re experiencing. Driving us deeper into a hole of hopelessness. I can remember tyring all these methods like breathing into a bag/snapping my wrist/trying to pace my diaphragmatic breathing…Hogwash!
When the body sustains damage, it goes into fix-it, protect-it mode. Sending all its reinforcements to aid in the healing of the wound. When the soul sustains damage, it goes into fix-it, protect-it mode, and with time and the right environment, just like the body, it will heal. (Note: Just like the body cannot always heal itself without help, there is a time for a doctor, or, in this case, a counselor and/or psychiatrist that can guide you into activating some of your built in healing components, like grieving or talking through things. More on this later).
Why Prayers Aren’t Working
I imagine a world where God answers everyone’s prayer to have no anxiety. This world seems carefree, worry free, yes, but perpetually late, lazy, injured from falling off cliffs, covered in third degree burns...I’m laughing now. Now, I obviously understand that there is an extreme form of anxiety that’s out of place, unwelcome, and entirely overwhelming. But, again, I imagine a world where there is no suffering from this form of anxiety. It would likely be a world void of pain, yes, but also void of compassion, understanding, miracles, or the wisdom gleaned from overcoming such struggles. If God beamed us right out of every troubling anxiety ridden situation, what would we have to share with others? Where would we gain wisdom, understanding? As relaxing as this seems, prematurely answered prayers can rob us of the perspective to be gained in tough circumstances, the compassion to walk alongside others on their journey and it can rob us of the beauty of the untold stories of redemption.
So What Does Help Anxiety?
One of the first areas we will explore (and we will go into more later) is the area of outlooks and attitudes. I remember walking the streets of downtown Tulsa homeless, skinny, drunk, beaten at times and thinking:
"I’ll never get out of this mess! I’m such a loser! Anxiety will be a big part of my life, forever. I’ll never have good conversation with people, never work again, never enjoy a significant other again, never be calm...on and on we go."
Everything was a test and I always failed. My thoughts, my desires, my efforts were never good enough for me. My attitude toward myself/the world/anxiety/other people was that of an angry toddler dragging her rag doll around and slapping it every time she imagined it did something wrong. Worthless, just like my dad called me years ago.
Opening myself up to new people and new ideas whittled my outlook and attitudes into a new shape, and a new direction. This changed everything!
Your first mission: Shift
Shift from believing that all anxiety situations are a test, to--as uncomfortable as these (annoying feelings, crazy thoughts, and bizarre behaviors) are in this situation--this is merely an experiment, an experment to find the best ingredients for your healthier life to come.
(While the author is a licensed professional counselor, this is not an attempt to provide therapy or any other form of professional treatment, not even a bit. The writings are merely the author’s experiences while overcoming anxiety, depression and on life in general. And in no way are they an effort to provide counseling or any other professional services. If you need professional help, by golly, seek it out...you deserve it!)