Recently, I surprised my son by putting up glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of his room. As we discussed our observations about the stars, I would ask questions such as, “what do you notice about which stars are brighter?” I explained to him that the stars absorb the light so they can shine in the darkness. I quickly realized that the stars are an excellent analogy.
When we are doing well, life is going along smoothly, and we have time on our hands, that is when focusing on caring for our emotional health is very, very important things to do. If we wait until times are dark, and we’re feeling overwhelmed with depression, grief, anxiety, or anger, we won’t have anything left in our emotional coping storehouse if we haven’t been working to build our supply. It is when we are doing well, that we need to be sure to address the painful or dark emotional experiences. It’s when we are doing well that it’s important to bring those dark emotions to the surface. We need to acknowledge them, name them, cope with them, and send them on their way.
If we don’t address them, painful, unpleasant emotions have a way of simmering under the surface until the world around us gets dark, and then become terrifyingly suffocating as we sink into the darkness.
Imagine, for a moment, being in a large body of water. In the daytime, you can see everything around you because the water is clear and everything is illuminated. When it gets dark or the water becomes murky, however, and you can’t see what may be lurking under the surface, it could be quite terrifying. It can be very tempting to make an effort to avoid unpleasant emotions by “bottling them up,” or “stuffing them in.” Regardless of the phrase you use, the concept is the same. We basically drop those emotions under the surface, out of sight, only to haunt us later when our world once again becomes dark and we’re treading water.
To give another analogy using my lovable four-year-old, after discussing the stars, we discussed a little stuffed Ty Monstaz creature he has had for a very long time. Patch, the Pirate Monstaz, had
been on a shelf and hadn’t been touched for quite some time. My little guy had not heard Patch’s voice for probably a year or more. What he remembered about the plushie pirate, though, was that when he was smaller, it scared him.
Even though he was older, and knew the toy probably wouldn’t scare him like it once did, he was still acting like he was scared of it. Granted, it may have simply been an attempt to elicit a sympathetic reaction from mom, but that’s okay too. So, we had a discussion about how things may change as we get older, and it’s important to listen to it again, to see if it was maybe not as scary as he once thought it was. Eventually he agreed, and we did.
Once he heard it again, he decided that it wasn’t so scary after all, and has actually been fascinated by it once we googled it to try to figure out the gibberish he spoke before saying, “walk the
plank, mate!” (Hint: to create the gibberish, it seems the company flipped audio recordings backward…. fun!)
It’s the same way with our emotions. What may seem scary to us at one time may actually not be as bad as we think once we lay it out to examine and deal with it. It’s interesting to note that avoiding anxiety-producing triggers actually serves to strengthen the anxiety rather than helping us cope with it. The more we put off doing something that scares us, the more we actually feel scared of whatever it is we are avoiding. Have you found that to be true?
Going back to the glow-in-the-dark stars, they are also a significant analogy of our spiritual health. We need to be soaking in the light when we can so when times are dark, we can still shine. As my son and I looked at the ceiling, it was obvious that the brightest star was the one that had been closest to the light source. It stood apart from all the other stars because it soaked up as much light as possible. Staying close to the light gave it the unique ability to shine brightly into the darkness and make a difference by bringing a smile to the face of a sweet little boy- and his momma.
“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a n hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let
your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
I’ll never forget that Monday morning. June 17th, 2013. It was the only morning I had ever experienced quite like it…
Panic. A complete and total state of fear had somehow overtaken my body during sleep. That morning, as I rose to consciousness, I was nauseous, sweating, breathing heavier than usual, and somehow hyper-sensitive to the fact that if my feet touched the floor only bad things would happen.
This, boys and girls, was my first go-round with anxiety.
Unfortunately, this first time experiencing the full effect of anxiety’s pleasure-less curb stomp was just that – the first time.
The daily struggle was so intense that for the following 8 months my life was completely shaken.
The beauty of that anxious week-starter was that it required me to reach a low I had never experienced. From that low, I was able to begin crafting the life that I wanted to experience more than anything: a closer walk with God, an abundantly loving relationship with my family, freedom from fear, freedom from debt, and enjoying the career I had been blessed with instead of approaching it with crippling fear and the paralyzing concern of making a mistake.
Thankfully, all of the resources I needed to rid my life of anxiety made their way to me in the coming months.
Since then, over 18 months later, I’ve become incredibly passionate about this topic of anxiety. Although my experience with anxiety was a difficult and unwelcome one, in retrospect I am very thankful for it. You see, without being forced to confront my anxiety I wouldn’t have discovered books and audio books on goals, affirmations, visualization, achievement, and a plethora (one of my favorite words) of other tools and resources that helped me lay a beat-down on fear.
Now, as I tell myself each morning, “I exist free of fear.”
And if you are reading this – I want the same thing for you. My goal for Every Day Incredible is that anybody struggling with fear and anxiety or challenges in their life would have access to resources and encouragement that will enable them to punch fear in the mouth, make a decision to craft the life they have been dreaming of, raise both fists in the air, and scream in an obnoxiously loud fashion, “I REFUSE TO BE DENIED!!!”
In summary, 4 ways to beat anxiety are:
- Be positive…
I decided early on in my dealings with anxiety that nothing good would come for me as a result of being negative. I mean, one of the fundamental things we picked up in math was that a negative X a positive = a negative, right? I remind myself of this regularly these days when the mental weeds pop up in my mind. If those same mental weeds are popping up in your mind, try this: Read Jeremiah 29:11, claim positivity (yes, out loud), and begin thinking of not only the exciting things that tomorrow holds – really give yourself a chance to dwell upon and be excited about the positive things that your life holds for you right now that you may be overlooking.
2. Believe you are, you can, and you will…
As I’ve listened to Brian Tracy say in “The Psychology of Achievement” many times, “nobody is better than you, nobody is smarter than you… you have more potential in you than you could ever tap into in 100 lifetimes.” Make a decision right now, make it a do-or-die decision, put it on paper right now (yes, I’m serious), and leave the fear that has plagued you for far too long securely in the rear view.
3. Take control…
I came to a pretty simple conclusion a few months into my struggle: “It’s my life – I’m responsible. It’s my attitude – nobody else can change it.” Although, initially, there were days that this affirmation didn’t have the result I was hoping for, eventually it made all the difference in my anxiety-fractured world. When I accepted that this struggle was mine and mine alone to deal with, I got confrontational with it. I talked to it (yes, out loud). Sometimes in the house (not sure if anybody heard me?), sometimes in the car (yes, I’m pretty sure passers-by saw me and wondered…), but always reminding whatever fear occupied me that the party was over. I made a decision that I was once again taking over the role of party host, and that this body and this earthly existence were given to me by my God Almighty along with a very detailed instruction manual that reminds me to “FEAR NOT” many, many times within its pages.
4. Have freedom… from fear, negativity, and those who inspire fear and negativity in your life.
I’ll focus on the last part of that bullet point. I have formulated a humble but accurate opinion that negativity is as or more contagious than any illness or disease we will ever experience as human beings. As a part of my recovery, I engineered a Negativity Radar (c) (TM) (Patent Pending). It’s awesome. It’s a box-like structure that is Stanley Thermos green, remotely wired to my psyche and emotions, and it beeps within my innards when my spidey-senses ((c) 2015 Peter Parker Enterprises, LLC) start to tingle and advises that I’m within the realm of negativity’s dark presence. Often times, this “presence” comes in the form of other people. And often it takes the shape of them verbalizing their life’s minor inconveniences or poor decision results that manifest themselves as problems in their lives. Sometimes it’s opinions – you know, “ahh, the little guy can’t get ahead”, “you’ll never be debt free”, “you’ll always have a car payment”, “you can’t start a business in this economy”, “insert misc. negatively-spouted garbage that’s a waste of gray matter here”, or whatever else they can pour on you like Nickelodeon slime to suffocate your life’s awesomeness. Do yourself a favor and create some space when you notice your radar getting active. When your radar is jamming some old-school funk, like blasting “Ladies Night” by Kool and the Gang – don’t create space. Run away. Far away, as in Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine, far away. Get out of town as it relates to those people. “But dude, some of those people are family!” I concur. “Hey man, they might be offended.” Yes, they’ll be offended and you’ll be in the break room at work doing the robot as you wait for the Keurig to finish your donut shop blend. I’ve done it (the separation and the robot). It’s hard (the separation more than the robot – but both have their complexities). It feels weird at first. You’ll get used to it. Some will take it personally. For sure. Yes, in all cases… but choose the robot.
As you work to conquer anxiety and live life free of fear, remember that life gives us opportunities every day, so make every day incredible!