Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied… Exodus 4:1-2
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
This analogy from Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush is a great metaphor for mental health approaches to anxiety. Moses, fearful of the huge mission God was sending him on, pleaded that he was overwhelmed and overmatched for the task. God replied to him, “What’s in your hand?” The implication was that Moses had what he needed already with him. He was equipped to handle the daunting task which caused him fear and anxiety.
We have in our hands tools to deal with anxiety. As stated in an earlier reflection, anxiety is an ever present foe, a traveling partner if you will, that we all carry with us. But we also carry the tools to deal with it. Anxiety would lead us to believe that we are overmatched- that eventually, we are doomed to some frightful experience or event that may even kill us. Panic attacks are examples of this. However, even regular everyday anxiety is like that little self-destructive force that seeks our destruction. But we have tools in our hand to deal with it. We have ways to control anxiety, and just knowing that we have the tools is half the battle.
First, we breathe. We hit the “pause button” and take control of irrational thoughts that threaten to overwhelm us. We take voluntary control over an involuntary bodily function, our breathing. A 4-second slow inhale through our nose, and a slow 7-second exhale through our mouth just a few times will slow us down and give us control of our body. This also helps to blow off more carbon dioxide which builds up as our bodies gear up for the fight that it feels is coming.
Next, we pray. Prayer, as discussed earlier, is not just for God to change our situation. It is to give us the strength, assurance, and renewed mind so that WE can control our own behaviors in response to this invisible threat we perceive.
Then we develop an “exit strategy”. Hopefully, this is something that we have considered before we are in the immediate high anxiety situation. That strategy involves developing a list of everyday things we can do when faced with what we feel are overwhelming thoughts and fears. It includes any and all behaviors that we can use to take back control. It can be as mundane as going to get a drink of water; taking a brief walk; calling a friend; picking up a book or magazine; citing a bible verse that is meaningful; doing some push-ups. In other words, it can be anything that we have earlier decided are activities that WE CAN DO to take back control.
The beauty of this is that just knowing that such a list exists takes away some pressure, and reassures us that we can do something, and anxiety will not overwhelm us.
Finally, at the end of the list- way down on it- is the “drastic step”. That is the step that is completely unlikely to be used, but could be if all else fails. That could be like, “Well, if worse comes to worse, I could go to the emergency room. I would be treated there and they could help me”. Again, just knowing that there is always a solution to every problem, which is key to mental health, is reassuring and soothing.
We do have what we need in our hand. We often just need to be reminded that it is there.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the plan that we can regulate ourselves when we know that you are always there, and that we are not alone. Thank you for the tools you have built into us, Amen.