An anxious mind is like being stuck in the mud. Wheels spinning with zero traction, mud flings everywhere. No matter how hard you step on the gas, the only progress you make is to sink deeper into the rut you’ve created getting yourself even more stuck. Much like this scenario, instead of being able to pass by a thought that makes you uncomfortable or afraid, an anxious mind traps you there. What is typically a momentary flash of fear builds on itself as you think deeper, darker thoughts about the one tiny thing that got it all started. Suddenly you’re stuck in a place of heaviness, stuck with this icky thought at the forefront of your mind, stuck in a battle with mental anxiety.
Having personally struggled with both mental and physical aspects of anxiety over the past 5 years, the Lord has taught me so much about how to cope. Reading 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 last week, which talks about how the Lord comforts us so that we might pass that comfort on to others, I started a mini-series where I am going to share 5 tips for coping with anxiety in hopes that it might encourage you in your own struggle. My first tip was to breathe and today I am presenting you with my second tip.
Mental anxiety is no joke. Just as I described, it causes you to feel trapped in negative thinking and unable to get out. It’s an incredibly difficult battle, but one of the most important things to realize is you are not stuck. You have the choice and the ability to free yourself. It’s hard, hard work but one of the most helpful strategies I’ve found is to simply change focus.
A couple years ago, when I was in the midst of my deepest struggle with anxiety I came across this sentence in my devotional called Jesus Calling – “The only remedy is to switch your focus from the problem to My presence.” Reading this sentence, it was like a light bulb went on. An anxious thought only has power as long as I give it my attention. If I don’t want to give a fearful thought even the slightest opportunity to trap me in fear, then I need to stop it in its tracks. And the best way to do that is, to change focus – to replace it with something better and take away its power.
Here's my tip -
As soon as an anxious thought enters your mind, recognize what it is and label it as anxiety. Whether out loud or in your head tell yourself, "This is anxiety talking. It is based on fear, worry, and lies, and I am not going to let it have power." And then, change your focus. It is near impossible to just stop thinking about something– so, instead think of something else. Read a scripture that encourages you, turn it over to the Lord in prayer, think through the character of God, call a friend, watch an episode of Friends, say a prayer for someone else who might be struggling– consider it a healthy distraction, a way of keeping yourself from spending time on a negative thought.
_ recognize the anxiety
_ change focus
This sounds so simple- and it is. However, if you, too, struggle with mental anxiety you know that actually putting it into practice is incredibly difficult. As soon as you replace one anxious thought another seems to weasel its way in and then the cycle repeats itself. In that case, doing this action may be a constant, every minute requirement. But just like any discipline, the harder you work at it and the more often you do it, the more natural it becomes. By building up this habit you can more easily stop an anxious thought the very second it pops into your mind, take away its power and claim your peace.
Changing my focus has been incredibly helpful for me in my struggle with anxiety. But the most beneficial and the most peace-giving is when I change my focus specifically to the Lord - just as the devotional said, “from the problem to My presence.”
I’d like you to leave you with this devotional from Jesus Calling –
“I want to be central in your entire being. When your focus is firmly on me, My peace displaces fear and worries. They will encircle you, seeking entrance, so you must stay alert. Let trust and thankfulness stand guard, turning back fear before it can gain a foothold. There is no fear in My love, which shines on you continually. Sit quietly in my Love-light, while I bless you with radiant Peace. Turn your whole being to trusting and loving Me.”
Work hard in your fight against anxiety. Build up this discipline, turn your focus to the One who created peace, and stay tuned for tip #3.