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Posts tagged ‘Anxiety’

How to Ease the Intensity of a Panic Attack by Practicing Mindfulness

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Challenge Panic attacks can hit you at the most random, inconvenient times without notice or apparent triggers. They can create intense moments that leave you fearful while waiting for the feeling of impending doom to subside.

Solution By observing mindfulness, we can decrease the intensity of a panic attack by allowing anxiety to run is course without shaming ourselves or suppressing our feelings.

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The feeling struck while I was driving down the interstate to an appointment. My muscles tightened and encapsulated me. My breath became short and my head started spinning. The cadence of my heartbeat increased while my hands clinched the leather on my steering wheel.

“This is it,” I told myself. “I’m really dying this time.”

This time, right? This wasn’t just the result of some fabricated paranoia. These symptoms were real.

I could feel my throat start to close, and I was convinced I was going to suffocate and pass out. The feeling intensified as I realized I could seriously injure myself or another person if it happened while I was driving, so I pulled over at the nearest exit.

The mystery of a panic attack can create enough anxiety to actually trigger one. The phenomenon has been studied for decades and has been loosely explained through theories of evolution, genetics and the fight-flight-freeze response. Preventing them from occurring, however, has been a trial-and-error process and one person’s remedy doesn’t always work for another.

Though we’re not operating in the rational parts of our brain during a panic attack, exercising mindfulness could make a difference in its intensity. Give these exercises a try.

1. Embrace what’s happening.

The physical symptoms you’re experiencing are the result of your body trying to protect itself. (This, of course, is assuming you’ve been cleared of any pre-existing conditions from your doctor.) When the fight-flight-freeze response is active in your brain during a panic attack, it sends messages to different parts of the body to respond to the perceived danger you’re processing.

2. Focus on your breathing pattern.

There are different variations of doing this, but here’s what works for me. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4-6 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds. Do this as many times as you need to. The idea here is to focus on your breath and to return a normal oxygen flow to parts of your brain and body.

3. Eat a mint or chew some gum.

The stronger the scent, the better. The taste overloads your senses and takes away the intensity of what you’re experiencing.

4. Stop shaming yourself.

You may find yourself embarrassed in how you’re responding to external stimuli while your body and mind endure the downward spiral of panic. Allow yourself to honor how you’re feeling, recognize what’s happening and to get through the experience. Attempts to suppress these things could make the anxiety worse.

5. Don’t ask “Why?”

Asking yourself, “Why?” is not a question that comes from the rational part of your mind. It comes from the proverbial heart or your gut. The answer to “Why” takes you down the rabbit hole of “What-ifs” that won’t give you the answers to relief.

Mindfulness means we give ourselves permission to accept our thoughts, feelings and experiences without judgment and shame. It opens our attention to what’s happening in the present. When we embrace the physical symptoms of a panic attack, it sends a message to the amygdala, almost as if it were to say, “Hey, I know what this is. I’ve experienced it before and everything will eventually be ok.” Give yourself permission to let anxiety run its course and acknowledge how you feel when it happens. Practicing mindfulness at the onset of a panic attack allows you to make the necessary connections that ease the anxiety efficiently.

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An Affair Does Not Have to Mean the End

SOURCE:  Carrie Cole M.Ed., LPC/The Gottman Institute

Ralph and Susan had been married for 13 years with two adorable children. Their suburban life was packed with work, school, and the kids’ extra-curricular activities. Neither made their marriage a priority, but overall they felt their relationship was good.

Susan withheld her suspicion when she noticed that Ralph was on his phone more than usual. At times she couldn’t help but ask “What’s going on?” only to receive “Nothing. Just checking the news,” or “There’s a lot of drama at the office that I need to take care of.” She trusted him.

When Susan discovered that Ralph had been texting another woman, she was devastated. Her world came crashing down. In her mind, Ralph was not the kind of person to ever have an affair.

Ralph lied about it at first. He felt like he needed to protect Susan from the ugly truth. But as more evidence came out, he couldn’t lie anymore. He was having an affair.

He didn’t know how he had got involved so deeply with someone else. It just happened. He and a co-worker had become close friends over time. It felt good to have someone to talk to who listened and made him feel special. He hadn’t had that in a long time with Susan.

During the affair he had to convince himself that Susan didn’t care. He felt she wasn’t interested in him sexually anymore. They were more like roommates than soulmates.

As a Certified Gottman Therapist, I have heard many versions of this story in my couples therapy practice over the last 15 years. An affair, whether emotional or sexual, is devastating. Both partners suffer tremendous pain. But an affair does not have to mean the end.

The PTSD of an Affair

The betrayed partner experiences a tidal wave of emotion. The pain, hurt, anger, humiliation, and despair are overwhelming. After the traumatic moment the affair is realized, they become fearful, anxious, and hypervigilant, wondering where or when the next blow is going to come – not unlike symptoms of PTSD felt by military veterans.

Their mind races with thoughts of What don’t they know? What’s the whole story? Scenes of their partner with someone else appear in their mind when awake and when asleep, making life a living nightmare.

The Guilt of Betrayal

The betrayer also experiences a great deal of emotion. The hopeless feeling of witnessing your partner in pain and knowing you can do nothing to alleviate their suffering is a horrible experience. The feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation are almost unbearable.

So, what causes an affair? Why do partners choose to cheat? The answers are complicated and may take months to unravel.

Recovering From an Affair

Is it possible to recover from an affair? The answer for most couples is yes.

Many couples I’ve worked with have actually created a stronger, more emotionally connected, and richer relationship from the ashes of an affair. However, it’s not quick or easy. As with any serious injury, it takes time to heal. And it usually takes therapy.

It’s tempting to think that it will automatically get better with time. The problem with “sweeping it under the rug” is that the anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt felt early on by the betrayed person often give way to resentment – a slow seething anger that leads to total contempt for the betrayer. Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that contempt is deadly in relationships and very difficult to recover from.

Couples therapy can help partners explore and understand what happened. The betrayed partner needs to have their questions answered, such as:

  • When did you meet?
  • Where did you meet?
  • How long did the affair last?

The betrayed partner attempts to understand how it happened and how they can prevent it from happening again. They also seek consistency in the stories from one telling to the next. Do I know everything? Are you lying to me now? These questions are best asked and answered in the emotionally safe environment of a therapist’s office.

It is best not to ask questions about the specifics of the sexual nature of the affair. Those questions usually do more bad than good in that they conjure up images that might haunt the betrayed partner’s thoughts.

When the betrayed partner feels that they have all the answers they need, the couple can begin to work on rebuilding trust. Couples like Susan and Ralph have turned away from each other in many small ways over time, which compounds into the feelings that ultimately led Ralph astray. They neglected the relationship.

Once couples process what happened, they need to begin to tune back into each other. Susan and Ralph found that they avoided each other to avoid conflict. Tuning back in requires dialoguing about problems – both ongoing perpetual problems and past issues that might have caused some injury to the relationship.

Recognize That Conflict is Inevitable

Conflict is a natural part of your happily ever after. Every relationship has conflict due to different values, beliefs, and philosophies of life. When these differences are discussed safely, and when honored and respected, the couple will experience greater intimacy. At times this can feel uncomfortable and take some push and pull. Communication skills provided by a therapist can help the navigation of these discussions go more smoothly.

Once the couple has tuned back into each other, it will be helpful to create some meaningful rituals to stay connected. Couples can be creative about ways to do that which are special and unique to them. One couple I worked with decided to have morning coffee together for 30 minutes. They would discuss the events of the day, check in with each other emotionally, and take the time to really listen to each other’s hearts.

Another couple developed a ritual of a bubble bath after the kids were in bed. They said they did their best talking in their big round Jacuzzi tub.

Sexual and emotional betrayals are a hefty blow to a relationship, but an affair does not have to be the end. Couples who have the emotional fortitude to reach out and seek the help they need can create a much more meaningful and intimate relationship in the aftermath of infidelity.

 

Waiting: Out of the Shadows

SOURCE:  Charles Swindoll

Some of you who read these words today could use a little extra hope, especially if you find yourself in a waiting mode.

You were once engaged in the action, doing top-priority work on the front lines. No longer. All that has changed. Now, for some reason, you’re on the shelf. It’s tough to stay encouraged perched on a shelf. Your mind starts playing tricks on you.

Though you are well-educated, experienced, and fairly gifted in your particular field, you are now waiting. You’re wondering, and maybe you’re getting worried, that this waiting period might be permanent. Admittedly, your response may not be all that great. You can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. It just doesn’t seem fair. After all, you’ve trained hard, you’ve jumped through hoops, and you’ve even made the necessary sacrifices. Discouragement crouches at the door, ready to pounce on any thought or hope, so you sit wondering why God has chosen to pass you by.

I want to offer you some encouragement, but I need to start with a realistic comment: it may be a long time before God moves you into a place of significant impact. He may choose not to reveal His plan for weeks, maybe months.

Are you ready for this?

It could be years.

I have found that one of God’s favorite methods of preparing us for something great is to send us into the shadows to wait.

But that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to terminal darkness. Take heart from the words of British author James Stalker who wrote, “Waiting is a common instrument of providential discipline for those to whom exceptional work has been appointed.”

Pause and let that sink in. Read the statement again, slower this time.

Waiting is one of God’s preferred methods of preparing special people for significant projects. The Bible makes that principle plain from cover to cover.

As Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.”

God often prepares us for something great by sending us into the shadows to wait.

6 Little-Known Signs of Depression in Older Adults

SOURCE:  Kristen Sturt

Depression affects over two million people 65-plus; learn how to identify the signs, and how to get help.

Your husband might be depressed, and you might not know it. Or, maybe it’s your sister or your mother.

Maybe it’s even you.

Even though upwards of two million Americans age 65-plus experience depression, the majority of seniors—68 percent, according to a National Mental Health Association survey—know little about it. One big reason is that signs are easy to overlook, since they’re frequently confused with other ailments and changes that come naturally with aging.

“Often in older adults, when they’re depressed, you don’t see high levels of crying and sadness you might see in a younger adult,” says Dr. Sarah Yarry, Ph.D., a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in gerontology. “You see it more often as withdrawal. It’s apathy, hopelessness, loss of appetite and interest.” Older adults regularly demonstrate physical symptoms, as well—particularly aches and pains—and when they’re not addressed along with the underlying neurological issues, depression is more likely to linger, and more likely to come back.

Depression comes with serious personal costs, too: It’s correlated with a higher risk of dying early from certain illnesses and is a major factor in suicides. That’s why it’s imperative to recognize the signs—even the lesser-known ones—before it’s too late. Here, then, are some common, but little-known indications of depression in older adults.

1. Joint and back pain

As we age, some pain is to be expected, and it doesn’t have to come with depression. That said, the connection between pain and depression can’t be ignored—especially if the pain is chronic, meaning it lasts more than a few months. Back aches and joint pain are commonly reported signs. One 2015 study in the journal Arthritis even found that about 12 percent of those with hip or knee osteoarthritis were depressed, versus about 6.6 percent of the general population. What’s more, “each additional symptomatic joint was associated with a 19 percent increase in the odds of self-reported depression.” Research shows that pain and depression is a chicken-egg scenario, too; the discomfort contributes to the depression, which can then intensify the agony. Physically painful illnesses, from stroke to multiple sclerosis, can exacerbate depression, too.

2. Cognitive impairment

While our mental abilities are expected to decline somewhat with age, depression can do a number on memory, focus, attentiveness, and even speech and movement. In fact, one small 2004 study found that more than half of participants suffering from late-life depression had significant problems with processing information and executive function (decision making, reason, etc.).

This mental cloudiness is frequently confused with dementia. As opposed to a degenerative condition like Alzheimer’s, however, “The confusion comes from lack of energy and apathy,” says Dr. Yarry. “It takes so much effort with them because they’re depressed.” This makes diagnosis crucial, since treating depression can improve sharpness.

3. Chest pain

Heart disease and depression often go hand in hand; depressed people show more signs of coronary illness, and people suffering from coronary illness are more likely to be depressed. Two recent studies support this:

  • A 2010 study in Heart Views found that chest pain patients demonstrated “more than triple” the rate of depression of the general population.
  • A 2015 study found that newly depressed angina patients “reported more angina and physical limitations” than those who were not depressed.

Depression apparently makes surviving coronary disease more difficult, too; depressed heart failure patients, for example, are four times as likely to die early. Part of this may be chemical, part if it is because depressed people may be less motivated to take good care of themselves. Either way, chest pain like angina can be an indicator of depression.

4. Irritability

In addition to melancholy, older adults suffering from depression may express grouchiness, increased anger, or even open hostility, all of which can be magnified by the use of alcohol (also tied to depression). Part of the reason for this is cultural. “It’s more appropriate to express depression as irritability rather than sadness, because that’s what’s acceptable in that generation,” says Dr. Yarry. “It’s the accepted way of expressing emotion.” Other feelings that might indicate depression: Increased fear, anxiety, guilt, and loss of hope.

5. Headaches

Though it’s not widely known, there’s a strong, long-established tie between senior depression and headaches. For example, in 1999, the journal Pain published a survey of 1,421 Chinese seniors that found those with frequent, severe, or migraine headaches were likelier to be depressed. Migraines are especially correlative; a 2008 study of migraine patients aged 50-plus discovered that nearly half showed “mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms.”  Like joint and chest pain, depression may exacerbate headaches, while headaches can contribute to depression.

6. Gastrointestinal issues

As we age, we internalize our psychological issues in more ways than one, and depression may have some pretty serious effects on our guts. Nausea, constipation, and digestive problems are common, as are appetite and weight changes. Depressed older adults may drop pounds and slow their eating overall, though some may go the other direction and gain weight, too.

If you suspect someone you know is suffering from depression—or you, yourself are experiencing symptoms—see a medical professional as soon as possible. “Bring them to a family doctor and get an evaluation,” says Dr. Yarry, who also suggests seeing a mental health expert whose focus is in treating older people. “Talk to a geriatric psychologist that specializes in depression issues.”

For more information about depression and older adults, consult one of these resources—and remember that there’s always help.

 

7 Truths to Remember in Troubled Times

SOURCE:  Family Life/Dennis – Barbara Rainey

Concerned about economic, political, racial, and moral instability in our culture?  Disheartened by struggles in your personal life?  Here’s what to focus on when the ground shakes beneath your feet.

Years ago our family of eight and some dear friends of ours with their two kids vacationed in a small condo on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It was a beautiful setting and a wonderful time for our families, but one night we were introduced to an experience that Southern Californians face regularly.

At 2 a.m. we awoke to a boom that made us think a truck had hit the building. Then we noticed that everything was shaking. We jumped out of bed and hurried to the living room where all our children were sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags. The chandelier over the dining room table was swinging.

It was an earthquake—not very large, but very unsettling. We felt disoriented and confused. We wondered how long it would last and what we should do. The earth is supposed to be steady and solid, and now it wasn’t. When it finally stopped we couldn’t go back to sleep for hours because our fears had been awakened and our security threatened.

Unsettling times

Does our experience describe how you have felt recently? Many Americans have felt shaken by economic instability, racial conflict, mass shootings, and terrorist threats in recent years. Even the current political races have left us feeling anxious, troubled, disoriented. We wonder what to do. We feel afraid as the ground shakes beneath our feet.

Many followers of Christ feel just as unsettled over the unprecedented transformation in the moral climate of our culture. The world’s views on human sexuality, especially, have changed so quickly that Christians are now labeled as bigots for holding to biblical standards. We don’t know how to act, what to say or not say.

And inside our individual homes, many may be feeling disoriented and disheartened because of illness, hardships, failed relationships, or recent deaths of friends or family. Like a friend of ours who just received a cancer diagnosis—her world has just been shaken. Perhaps your world has been shaken, too.

Our stability

A couple of years ago I (Barbara) was reading through the book of Isaiah, and I came across a passage I had never noticed before. Isaiah 33:5-6 says, “The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.”

I was struck by that phrase in the middle: “and he will be the stability of your times…” At the time our country was experiencing an economic downturn. Everyone in America was feeling the impact.

When life feels insecure and unstable—not just in the world outside but also inside your family—remember that God is ultimately in control. No matter what is happening around you or how unsteady the world feels, He is our sure and stable foundation.

In many ways, America has been a pretty stable country for the last few decades. But it may not continue to be. When you feel the ground shift beneath your feet, it’s good to remember that Jesus is your Rock and your Fortress. He will be the stability of your times.

Dealing with the hardships of life

Life will never be easy. We will always face problems and hardship. That would be true even if our culture felt more stable than it does today, for the Scriptures promise us, “In the world you shall have tribulation.”

So how will we deal with loss, with grief, with fear, with suffering? How do we respond when things don’t go our way? And how do we teach our children to face the hardships of life?

Christians today need to know more about God, more about ourselves, and more about the mission God has given us. Here are seven things to remember:

1. God is alive. He has not disappeared. He is eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing, just as He has been from the beginning of time. As Isaiah 40:28 tells us, “… The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”

2. God never changes. Psalm 90 (KJV) begins, “Lord, Thou has been our dwelling place in all generations … even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.” Inspired by these words, Isaac Watts wrote the following verses in the enduring hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” They remind us that our fears, though circumstantially different than his in ages past, are still the same:

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

We all fear the loss of life, health, freedom, and peace. We fear the unknown future. But do you know who will be with us? Jesus, the One who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

3. God offers eternal life. If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, your sins have been forgiven because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. You are a child of God, and as Romans 8:38-39 tells us, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is encouraging.

4. God has won the battle. He has defeated death. History will culminate in Christ’s return. No matter what we experience in the world, we can find peace in Him. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

5. God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything going on in the world, or in your life. He is the sovereign, omnipotent King of kings. Even in times of uncertainty and chaos, Romans 8:28 (NASB) is still in force: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” So is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), which tells us, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

6. God will provide for your needs. Especially in times of economic uncertainty it’s easy to grow anxious about the most basic things, like whether we will keep our jobs, or whether our families will have enough to eat. But in Matthew 6:26-33, Jesus tells us we should not be worried about what we eat, or what we will wear:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

7. God has given us good works to do. Jesus’ words also remind us that there is more to life than meeting our daily material needs. When we seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, we operate according to His priorities—we’re concerned about building our family relationships, and connecting the hearts of our children to God’s heart, and impacting future generations by proclaiming Christ. We’re concerned about God using us to reach and influence others with the gospel. That’s what life is really about.

Second Corinthians 5:20 tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ. Have you considered that your best opportunities to fulfill this role—to represent Christ and His Kingdom—may come in times like these when so many need help and encouragement?

Consider this: If you are feeling troubled by the instability in our world, then many of the people you encounter each day are concerned and fearful as well. What makes you different is that you have a firm foundation in Christ. This is an opportunity for you to shine. If you have built your home on the Rock (Matthew 7:24-27), you will remain unshaken. That in itself is a witness to the watching world that there is something different about Christians. And if you then reach out to help others who struggle without that foundation, that makes you rare indeed.

When life feels insecure and unstable, focus on these timeless truths. Read the never-changing Word of God with your spouse and to your children. No matter what troubles we are experiencing in our world and in our families, He is in control. He will not abandon us. He will provide for us. This may look different than you expect, but His promises have not expired in the 21st century.

Emotions: Who’s In Charge Of Yours?

SOURCE:  New Life Ministries

Knowing God leads to self-control. Self-control leads to patient endurance, and patient endurance leads to godliness. – 2 Peter 1:6

Who is in charge of your emotions?

Is it you, or have you formed the unfortunate habit of letting other people—or troubling situations—determine the quality of your thoughts and the direction of your day? If you’re wise—and if you’d like to build a better life for yourself and your loved ones—you’ll learn to control your emotions before your emotions control you.

Human emotions are highly variable, decidedly unpredictable, and often unreliable. Our emotions are like the weather, only far more fickle. So we must learn to live by faith, not by the ups and downs of our own emotional roller coasters.

Remember: Your life shouldn’t be ruled by your emotions—your life should be ruled by God. So if you think you’ve lost control over your emotions, don’t make big decisions, don’t strike out against anybody, and don’t speak out in anger. Count to ten (or more) and take a “time out” from your situation until you calm down.

– Steve Arterburn

Sometime during this day, you will probably be gripped by a strong negative feeling. Distrust it. Reign it in. Test it. And turn it over to God. Your emotions will inevitably change; God will not. So trust Him completely as you watch those negative feelings slowly evaporate into thin air—which, of course, they will. Our feelings do not affect God’s facts.Amy Carmichael

Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them; when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask to have them altered. In neither case are they you, but only a thing that happens to you. What matters is your intentions and your behavior. – C. S. Lewis

The spiritual life is a life beyond moods. It is a life in which we choose joy and do not allow ourselves to become victims of passing feelings of happiness or depression. – Henri Nouwen

LET GOD CHANGE YOUR MIND

SOURCE:  Amy Simpson/InTouch Ministries

When it comes to worry, yes it’s all in your head and there’s something you can do about it.

There was a time I was nearly powerless against my own emotions.

Growing up in a household made confusing by my mother’s schizophrenia, I learned to mask my feelings well—the only way I knew how to handle them. When bad things happened or I got negative feedback, I’d quickly plummet into discouragement, depression, and sometimes self-pity. It was amazing how quickly I could drop from fine to really, really not fine.

Things have changed. I’ve changed.

A Christian counselor helped me understand the power of my “cognitive distortions”—negative and false messages I was habitually sending myself. I used to say, You’re a loser. You always screw up. You’re  worthless. Sometimes I didn’t even put these messages into words; I just directed hatred toward myself. I didn’t realize I was mistreating my own  soul. And because I sent myself these messages  so often, my spirit believed they were true.

Now my spirit believes something different.

I started sending myself messages grounded in biblical truth. I also started reading the Bible more, taking risks in Christian fellowship, and reaching out to develop supportive friendships. I can see those old messages are false, and when they do come to mind, I recognize them and tell myself what is true: I have purpose. I’m a beloved child of God. My God is much more capable than I am, and He loves me.

Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

This change in self-talk affected more than my mind. It made a difference in my entire life. I’m less prone to depression, I’m more peaceful, and I have more love to offer others. I’ve noticed another change: I don’t worry as much as I used to. When I start to worry, I remind myself that God has transformed me into a new person by changing my mind.

Romans 12:2 is a commonly quoted verse, but we often focus only on not being shaped by the world but utterly transformed. We haven’t given enough attention to this transformation happening through a renewal of our minds. It’s not merely a soul or heart change. As the New Living Translation says, it’s a matter of letting God “transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Science is only now catching up to Scripture, which teaches us what is possible through Jesus Christ.

Our Changeable Brains

My story is one of many that demonstrate the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, this form of counseling “is based on the idea that our feelings and behaviors are caused by our thoughts, not external things like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change.” Rather than live at the mercy of outside forces, we have a choice. And the most effective way to modify our habitual behaviors and emotional patterns is to let God change the way we think.

Strong, if emerging, physical science also supports this.  Research has transformed our understanding of the brain’s capacity for change through neuroplasticity. It turns out that our brains are moldable long past childhood; they can and do change throughout our lives.

“Brain plasticity is a physical process,” says Dr. Michael Merzenich, noted neuroscientist and expert in brain plasticity. “Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken, neural connections can be forged and refined or (conversely) weakened and severed. Changes in the physical brain manifest as changes in our abilities. Often, people think of childhood and young adulthood as a time of brain growth … but what recent research has shown is that under the right circumstances, the older brain can grow, too.”

Thanks to neuroplasticity, changing our thoughts (as well as our behaviors and experiences) causes us to form new synaptic connections, strengthen existing ones, and weaken others. These new and altered connections result in changes in our behavior. In his book Soft-Wired, Dr. Merzenich writes, “As a skill is developed (such as whistling, or doing a pirouette, or identifying bird calls), the specific neural routes that account for successfully performing this new skill become stronger, faster, more reliable, and much more specific to—specialized for—the task  at hand.”

This is as true for habitual worry as for anything else.

Worry Is a Problem

Many of us need this kind of change. In a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association, 40 percent of respondents said that in the previous month, stress had caused them to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Nearly one-third said they had skipped a meal because of stress, and more than 25 percent said they had been unable to sleep. Another survey found that more than 60 percent of American workers worry they will lose their jobs, with 32 percent saying they worry about this “a lot.” Parents commonly worry about their kids, and big worries start when children are small. Worry is not only common in our society; it’s also woven into our cultural fabric—an expectation of responsible people, a fashionable accessory whose absence seems suspicious.

We often confuse worry with two other states of mind: fear and anxiety. The three tend to be used interchangeably, but they’re different. Fear and anxiety are normal, healthy, and productive capabilities given by God—but they’re not meant to be permanent states of being.

Our culture provides plenty of opportunities to worry. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us.

Fear is a response to an immediate (real or perceived) threat. Anxiety usually appears in anticipation of what will or might happen.

Unlike normal anxiety, worry is not an involuntary physical response but a pattern we choose.

Coming from within ourselves, it’s a decision we make to stay in that place of anxiety, which was designed to protect us from immediate danger, not to see us through everyday life. For some, staying in a state of anxiety isn’t a choice but, rather, a disorder that happens when the body’s healthy, helpful biological process works overtime. An anxiety disorder is, essentially, too much of a good thing, afflicting 29 percent of us at some point in our life. It’s very different from voluntary engagement in worry and requires treatment with medication, counseling, or both.

For anyone tempted to worry (and who isn’t?), our culture provides plenty of opportunities. But followers of Christ are called to live and think differently from the worried world around us. Voluntary worry directly contradicts the way God commands His people to live. If we’re not careful, it can lead to sinful behavior. Hence Jesus’ words: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34). This same message holds through the Bible, affirming a countercultural lifestyle of faith and trust from Genesis to Revelation.

Worry can injure our bodies and minds. It can cause shortness  of breath; heart palpitations; pain and damage in the back, neck, and shoulders; muscle tension; nausea; headaches; and other physical problems. In his book The God-Shaped Brain, Christian psychiatrist Timothy R. Jennings describes how the effects of ongoing worry look in our brains. As we spend more of our lives in a state of anxiety, fear, and worry, our neurons don’t function as well as they should, and we don’t produce as many healthy new ones.

The damage isn’t limited to our bodies. It injures our relationships with other people. And like all sinful patterns, worry forms a barrier in our relationship with God. It keeps us focused on ourselves, our agendas, and our own problems. It keeps us peering into the future, which is God’s domain, and clinging to people and possessions that belong to Him. That’s why addressing worry must include spiritual transformation. Voluntary worry ultimately cannot be overcome by sheer willpower—its solution is rooted entirely in who God is.

Solution: Faith

In their book How God Changes Your Brain, Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman used neuroscience to establish this startling concept: Belief in God—and religious activity itself—physically changes our brains. “Faith tempers our anxiety and fears, and it may even temper one’s belief in an angry God,” they write. “The beauty of Job’s story is that it reminds the suffering believer that God  is ultimately compassionate. And from the perspective of medicine and neuroscience, compassion can heal the body as well as the soul.”

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves.

The discovery of neuroplasticity is a startling affirmation of Christian belief in allowing God to transform us through the renewing of our minds. It affirms the power of cognitive change as well. “Watch over your heart with all diligence,” Proverbs tells us, “for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Jesus Himself spoke of the true source of our behavior: “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matt. 15:17-20).

Likewise, Paul told the Roman church, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6).

No therapeutic technique can transform us as the Holy Spirit can.

Acknowledging that neurological changes happen with a change in belief doesn’t diminish the mystery or power of God’s work in us. But we do have a choice—we can welcome this transformational work or resist it. God graciously gives us the freedom to believe.

Changing worry means changing what we believe about God and ourselves. If we don’t believe God is any bigger or better than us, we have reason to fret. But if we believe He’s all-powerful, trustworthy, righteous, and good, it makes sense not to waste our lives in worry, but instead to believe and embrace what we know to be true about God and who we are as His children.

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