My 12 Proactive, Practical & Prayerful Tips for Managing Anxiousness & Worry
Hello, my name is Simone. I am a garden-variety worrier. I am a perfectionist, with a tablespoon of people pleaser, and a cup of Counsellor, a recipe for easily caring about what others need, think and feel. Out of all the recipes made, this one leaves me with a niggle of anxiousness churning in my tummy.
Anxiousness is feeling out of control. It’s experienced as crippling fear or a rise in panic. The tragedy of anxiousness is that it leaves us stuck in the past and gripped by the spirit of fear of the future. How much of the present do we allow to pass us by? I am the ‘What if…?’ girl, with her cousin ‘If only...’ This dangerous pair pulls me into the past and propels me into the future, pushing me away from my present and prevents me from being present in my present.
Anxiousness debilitates and paralyses effective action and gets us STUCK on things that have already happened and we cannot change, or things that haven’t yet happened and may never come to pass.
Anxiety is a sensitive topic, and I hope to address it with the compassion it deserves.
To differentiate it from more severe and diagnosable anxiety which requires psychological attention and interventions, I will refer to mild to moderate anxiety (the garden-variety worriers) as anxiousness.
Anxious thoughts can easily become a lifestyle.
We become so accustomed to living with anxious thoughts and feelings that the absence of anxious thoughts and feelings can result in anxiousness. For those of us who are the garden-variety worrier (and not diagnosed with generalized-anxiousness and other associated disorders), anxious habits that have become a lifestyle can and need to be broken. Anxious thoughts and feelings are getting in the way of experiencing aliveness and prevent us from staying present in our relationships. Empowering and equipping myself with tools, growing in self-awareness, and praying for God to break the chains of these anxious thoughts and feelings has helped me to proactively identify and change my anxious thoughts and feelings.
Above all I have a heart for relationships, I care about my own, and I care about yours, so out of love I share with you my tips for proactively managing your anxious thoughts and feelings.
1. I talk for half the day, and I listen for the other half of the day. It took me a long time to realise that talking about anxiousness or listening to someone talk to me about my anxiousness didn’t seem to calm me. But being held tightly, silently, until I felt more like myself, definitely did help. Trying and testing in order to identify what it is you need when experiencing anxious thoughts or feelings is important.
2. Tell your partner what helps you. Partners may want to help us feel better but may not know how. It was frustrating for us both when my husband tried to talk to me, and I would still be as anxious. So, once I figured out number 1, I shared this with him, and now he knows to send me to the couch, returns with a cup of tea and holds me.
3. Prevention is always more effective than cure. Obviously first prize would be to prevent the anxious thoughts and feelings from overwhelming in the first place. This takes some work, but jot down the anxious thought you had, and when you had the thought in a notebook. At the end of the day, or the end of the week, see if you can identify a pattern. Identifying the triggers that activate you helps you to prepare yourself in advance as best as you can.
4. Anxious people often think a lot. I am the queen of overthinking, overanalysing, dissecting every last detail. Its possibly what makes me effective as a counsellor, seeing the detail that others don’t, but in my personal life it is very exhausting. Our thoughts are NOT facts! We are HEAD, HEART AND BODY. For those of us who use our minds too much, I recommend training yourself to move out of your head (your thoughts) and move into your body. That’s why a hug and physical touch helps to regulate me so much.
I start to focus on where in my body I feel the anxiousness,
I focus on areas of my body I don’t feel it. The spaces I don’t feel it in my body are my safe spaces. I force myself to focus my energy on these spaces in my body.
Other ways of moving into the body is to USE your body. It helps take you out of your head again. Exercise, yoga, a sport, a craft, sex, cooking, colouring.
Including our partners in this activity will help to make it an extra positive memory in our brains, and shared activities create opportunities for bonding as a couple, so it’s a win-win all round.
5. In a situation that causes anxiousness make a list. Writing is going to be your best friend with anxiousness. Writing is a powerful means of communicating with yourself and linking your rational and emotional parts of your brain. There are a number of lists you might find helpful to make:
Make two columns labelled “Things I Can Control” and “Things I Can’t Control” and dissect the situation/ circumstance/ conversation that is making you feel anxious thoughts accordingly
A shopping list
A to-do list divided into 4 columns: MUST, SHOULD, WANT TO, COULD
Key dates, appointments, birthdays coming up
Meal plans for the week ahead
Date night ideas
Declutter with a list of things you give away
6. Train yourself to be present. On a fundamental level you need to remind yourself that you can only live in the present moment. There is no alternative. The challenge is to find practical ways to keep your attention focused on the situation immediately at hand. Making lists is a great way to bring your mind to the present. My husband is a lot better at remaining present, so we have agreed that he calls me out when I am in my far-away-anxious-fairytale-land, and by doing so encourages me to emotionally return to him.
Another useful tool is to write on an index card the following 4 questions:
What are 3 colours I see right now?
What are 4 sounds I hear right now?
What are 5 things I physically feel/ can touch right now? (not emotion related, but environment related like I can feel the wind in my hair)
What do I need to be doing right now (in order)?
Before doing the next item on the list, you will repeat all 4 questions, don’t try to handle the rest of your day right now, practice the art of keeping yourself in the moment.
7. Journal your blessings and gratitude. There is a direct link between anxiousness decreasing and us focusing more on what we are grateful for and what we are blessed with. Thinking this is not enough, it is important to write them down. Be specific, don’t just say “family” or “boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife”. What is it about them that you’re grateful for?
And then always end it off by asking:
What do these things reveal/ suggest about who I am?
Anxiousness often taints who we think we are, so it’s important to positively reinforce and affirm ourselves.
If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?
Here are some journaling prompts:
Write the words you need to hear
What would you like to be remembered for?
Write a list of songs that can help change your mood, write some of the lyrics that connect with you the most
List 20 things that make you smile
List 3 things you would do if you weren’t afraid
Name 5 pivotal people in your life
Where/when do you feel most safe and loved
8. Make it a lifestyle. Overall, we are wanting to replace our anxious lifestyle, with a more positive healthier lifestyle. It takes 21 days to form a habit, and 90 days to create a lifestyle. Incorporate gratitude, self-affirmation or self-care into your daily schedule by creating 30-day plans at a time. There are beautiful templates available on Pinterest or make your own.
An effective way to divide your month up would be to theme each week of the month, and then allocate an activity in line with this weekly theme, for every day of that week.
Week 1 : Self Care
Week 2 : Diet & Exercise
Week 3 : Digital Cleanse
Week 4: Positivity & Gratitude
9. Empower yourself to help and serve others.
Tell the story of the mountain you have climbed. Your words could become a page in someone’s survival guide.
You are in a fantastic position to be a voice for others on how you coped. Anxious thoughts and feelings can isolate us and maintain a self-focus. Becoming more other-focused in healthy relationships can give some perspective. Serving others in our coupleship reminds us of our God given gifts and how blessed we are. The point of it all, is to look up, so we don’t sink, alone, in the crashing waves.
10. Routines & Schedules. Establishing a balanced night and morning routine in your home is instrumental to starting and ending your day positively! The key here is consistency, don’t add something to a schedule that isn’t realistic. I am a night owl, so setting my alarm for 5am to do exercise, or have my quiet time is setting myself up for failure when I hit snooze EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I have long since given up on that idea, and instead incorporate my exercise and quiet time/ journaling at a time that I can consistently commit to and it can become a DAILY PRACTICE.
11. Connect & Be Community Minded. As a couple and on your own, to thrive, and not just survive, we cannot exist in a vacuum. It is imperative to our spiritual, mental and emotional health that we are connecting regularly with like-minded people. Nurture a community of people that challenge and inspire you.
God created us to be in relationship with Him and with others.
We were never meant to tackle the challenges of life, of anxious thoughts and feelings, of relationships, alone. Drew and I have found deep, fulfilling belonging in our local church, and by investing in it individually and as a couple we have deeply rooted friendships and a strong community that offers wise counsel, faithful prayers and fellowship, armouring us before challenges arise.
12. Pray & Praise. “Do not be anxious/ fear not” is featured 365 times in the Bible - one for every day of the year. I believe the Lord knew we would be worry warts, and that we would forget His promises. And so He reminds us daily. We cannot worship and worry at the same time. I’ve found a huge amount of comfort and hope in the Lord, in the community of believers He has given us to belong to, learn from, within which to find fellowship and friendship.
We aren’t expected to do this world alone. We are hardwired for connection.
Sometimes the anxious thoughts and feelings are so overwhelming that it’s hard to see the light on your own. Allow someone to be your light, allow your partner to pray for you and with you, to put words to what you feel, allow yourself to be filled with His presence, and His peace.
There are a plethora of resources available offering encouragement and hope. Read your Bible. You can do all the above and they will help, but breaking the chains of anxiousness, and renewing your spirit comes from resting your soul in Jesus. Here you will find your true peace and purpose. Podcasts from Focus on the Family, Faith based instagrammers and bloggers (one of my favourite is Daughters of Delight) and I have created a playlist of praise and worship songs that offer me encouragement, and peace.
Oceans ~ Hillsong
I am not alone ~ Kari Jobe
New Wine ~ Hillsong
Waymaker ~ Michael W Smith
It is Well ~ Kirsten Dimarco
No Longer Slaves ~ Bethel
I hope tomorrow morning when you wake, you will see light in everything, where the light pours through the window and onto the floor, wherever you are may you be reminded that there is so much more in store. The same God who made a way in the waters will make a way in the desert and in the wilderness, for the same God who made the galaxies, made you, a marvelous work of God.
Let Him unravel your worry-woven tapestry,
Let Him cut it down to nothing more
Than severing threads
Let Him remind you
That in the unravelling
Of all the things you had planned
He was paving the way toward a beautifully woven
God ordained future up ahead.
WITH LOVE, SIMONE * There is no shame in anxiety, please seek assistance from a loved one, your church, or local organisation should any part of this piece resonate with you. Please feel free to contact me if you think it might be helpful to discuss these suggestions at greater length or for a list of referrals to trained therapists in the Johannesburg, South Africa area. You can find my contact information under the tab Contact Me.
24/7 Anxiety and Depression helpline (SA) can be contacted on 0800 456 789.