Title: Too Close to the Edge: When Anxiety Becomes Disruptive

“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.” —Charles Spurgeon

Anxiety can be absolutely crippling, especially when laced with panic attacks and the inability to function in everyday situations due to extreme fear. When people are diagnosed with anxiety, it means their fear is so severe that it completely disrupts their normal functioning.

To a certain extent, anxiety is beneficial—it makes us want to study harder for good grades and helps us know when we need to run or fight (fight/flight response). Healthy anxiety keeps us from getting into the truck with the person we don’t know, from walking out into the street in front of that speeding car, and from getting too close to the edge of a tall building.

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But anxiety can morph into something completely maladaptive, meaning it keeps us from engaging in everyday activities, throws off our moods, and disrupts our thought processes.

There are three traits that qualify anxiety as more than “normal”:

  • It’s irrational.
  • It’s uncontrollable.
  • It’s disruptive.

According to Hockenbury and Hockenbury (2011), “anxiety disorders are among the most common of all psychological disorders,” affecting nearly 25 percent of the United States population. [1] About 25 percent of teens experience anxiety throughout their lifetime, and around 6 percent experience anxiety at an extreme level.[2]

Anxiety comes in many different forms, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Attacks and Panic Disorders
  • Phobias (Specific/Simple, Social)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder[3]

Anxiety isn’t always caused by one thing, but some possible causes include:

  • Biological processes and the brain
  • Social and environmental factors
  • Stress[4]
  • External circumstances
  • Physical Wellness
  • Parent/Mentor example
  • Traumatic Experience[5]

 

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Regardless of whether the anxiety our girls experience is normal teenage worry over grades and friends, or more like a debilitating fear, there are some things we can do to help.

  • Stay present.
    • Know your girl. Know when things are good and when things are off.
    • Listen to the words she uses to describe her feelings, and listen for what she doesn’t say.
    • Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Her actions will speak—loud!
  • Be a rock.
    • When she feels unsteady, she needs you to be steady. Both of you can reach up and cling to God. But she also needs you to be her mom or her leader—that strong, adult presence in her life. So, be strong. Guide her into God’s presence, and guide her away from her fear.
  • Help her reroute her way of thinking. Replacing faulty thought patterns with healthy ones is not only life-changing—it’s biblical (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8).[6]
  • Healthier thinking requires a healthier focus—reroute her focus from herself and her circumstances to God. This goes hand in hand with rerouting our thinking.
    • Help her remember who God is and how He has been faithful to her in the past.
    • Help her memorize Scripture about God’s peace and how He brings that into our lives. Isaiah 26:3, John 16:33, Philippians 4:7, and 1 Peter 5:7 are some good starters. Try making a list and adding to it as you experience stressful situations with your girls.
  • Encourage her.
    • Make sure to notice and mention when she handles a difficult situation well. Don’t gloss over her failures in this area, but don’t forget that we all make mistakes.
  • Pray for her.
    • Try modeling your prayer after Paul’s greeting to the Thessalonians, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” —2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Be a good example.
    • She will watch how you handle your own difficult circumstances and anxieties. Model for her how to turn to the Lord.
    • Show her what it means to cling to His grace while we feel like we’re grasping at the threads of our sanity.
    • Help her understand that our trust in Him can outweigh our irrational (and rational) fears.
    • Help her to know that it’s okay to reach out for help when our anxiety is overwhelming.
    • Show her how to battle anxiety with prayer and Scripture.
    • Demonstrate how to continue to walk in love throughout all situations, despite her fear and anxiety.

 

By: Stephanie Livengood

 

[1] Don H. Hockenbury and Sandra E. Hockenbury, Discovering Psychology, 5th ed., (New York: Worth Publishers, 2011), 537.

[2] “Any Anxiety Disorder Affecting Children,” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed December 19, 2016, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-children.shtml.

[3] Hockenbury, Discovering Psychology, 530-546.

[4] “Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Hand,” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed December 19, 2016, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml#pub3.

[5] Tim Clinton and Ron Hawkins, The Quick Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling: 40 Topics, Spiritual Insights, and Easy-to-Use Action Steps (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 117-122.

[6] Clinton and Hawkins, The Quick Reference Guide, 120.

 

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