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One big answer for anxiety (Part 2)

A number of recent studies suggest that Americans are more anxious than ever. Worst-case scenarios churn relentlessly in our thoughts: “There’s going to be an accident.” “Someone could break into my apartment.” “I’m going to freeze during the presentation.” “He’s going to dump me.”

Do you ever think such thoughts?

What’s worse is how utterly incapable our prefrontal cortex is in the face of our worries. Reason and logic should filter out 99.9% of these worst-case scenarios, but they rarely do. Neither does the well-meaning advice of our loved ones. Our families tell us, “That won’t happen.” Our friends assure us, “It’ll be fine.” We even tell ourselves, “You know better than that.”

But our anxiety ignores what is reasonable. Instead, we fixate on the lotterylike odds of tragedy and assume we will be the next “winner.”

So what do you do when logic goes ten rounds with your biggest anxieties and can’t knock them out?

In my last post, I shared two tips that I discovered in a book on children’s anxiety, recommended to me by a professional counselor. Today I’d like to finish my “book review” with a tip that sounds remarkably biblical:

Think good (and unrelated) thoughts—Where logic might fail, distraction might not. So think about something else, however unrelated those thoughts might be. In the children’s book, the authors leave a massive blank page for kids to draw one of their favorite memories in vivid detail. As kids recall the sights and sounds of that happy moment, their “worry monsters” fade into fuzzy, distant thoughts.

That tip reminded me of something a counselor told me as I was battling a personal struggle years ago. “Mike, the human brain can’t focus on two things at the same time.” Where I kept trying to tell myself, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” he suggested that I needed to stop thinking about “it” altogether. Think about something else, and you might forget what is so tempting about “it” in the first place.

Sounds a lot like the apostle Paul. In his famous chapter on replacing anxiety with peace, Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything. . . . And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. . . . Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:6-8).

Think! One of Paul’s greatest weapons was to think about such things. In particular, Paul loved to think about the true, noble, and praiseworthy presence of God.

Maybe we could do the same. On days when our hearts are feeling illogical, let’s turn our attention to the “such things” of the Bible, the nobleness of God’s character, and the worthiness of Jesus. We can run through every passage we’ve learned about God and every promise we’ve received from God.

Once we fix our eyes on the object of our faith, Jesus, we might find ourselves forgetting what we were anxious about in the first place.

No, this won’t be the end of our war for peaceful hearts. But worship is a powerful weapon against worry!

Next time, in my final part of this series on anxiety, I want to share the best way I know to conquer the guilt that we so often feel when we’ve been fighting this battle for years without much progress. That’s why we need something much better than what I’ve written about today. Or Someone.

But until then, day by day, let’s ask for God’s help as we try to worship our worries away.