Excerpt from Finding Quiet

If you or a loved one has strug­gled with sig­nif­i­cant anx­i­ety, you or your loved one know what it is like to feel iso­lat­ed, dif­fer­ent (in a bad way), hope­less, and full of fear. As a result, we need to learn a few things about our ene­my. First, you are not alone. In 2003, 15 per­cent of the US pop­u­la­tion between the ages of eigh­teen and fifty-four (forty mil­lion peo­ple) suf­fered from an anx­i­ety dis­or­der. Since then, the num­bers have increased. Anx­i­ety dis­or­ders are the most com­mon men­tal ill­ness in Amer­i­ca, and they affect women and teenagers espe­cial­ly hard (besides post­trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, women are twice as like­ly as men to have an anx­i­ety dis­or­der). More gen­er­al­ly, anx­i­ety dis­or­ders affect around one out of every thir­teen people.

In 2017, Dr. Joseph Mer­co­la had this to say:

Anx­i­ety is the new depres­sion, with more than half of all Amer­i­can col­lege stu­dents report­ing anx­i­ety. Recent research shows anx­i­ety — char­ac­ter­ized by con­stant and over­whelm­ing wor­ry and fear — is now 800 per­cent more preva­lent than all forms of cancer.

A 2016 report by the Cen­ter for Col­le­giate Men­tal Health at Penn State con­firmed the trend, find­ing anx­i­ety and depres­sion are the most com­mon con­cerns among col­lege stu­dents who seek coun­sel­ing. Data from the Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health (NIMH) sug­gests the preva­lence of anx­i­ety dis­or­ders in the U.S. may be as high as 40 mil­lion, or about 18 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion over the age of 18, mak­ing it the most com­mon men­tal ill­ness in the nation.

I am among those who do not believe that the per­cent­age of peo­ple who have anx­i­ety has always held pret­ty con­stant; rather, it’s just that today we’re more open to speak­ing about it.” No, I am con­vinced that the anx­i­ety (and depres­sion) rate is high­er today than it has ever been. Why? Because the con­di­tions present today in Amer­i­can cul­ture — e.g., the rapid pace at which we live, the bom­bard­ment we receive from all kinds of read­i­ly avail­able tech­nol­o­gy, the iso­la­tion we expe­ri­ence in a hyper­indi­vid­u­al­is­tic soci­ety — are so extreme that we are liv­ing with stress, stress, and more stress. Indeed, we are so used to being under stress that we hard­ly rec­og­nize it much of the time. One of the great­est, if not the great­est, caus­es of seri­ous anx­i­ety is stress.

Despite all this, there is good news: sta­tis­tics also show there is rea­son­able hope to sig­nif­i­cant­ly min­i­mize or even get rid of dis­abling anx­i­ety if you do the right things.

There is a very impor­tant cop­ing device in these sta­tis­tics. I’m alone; I’m a sicko; I’m a hope­less cause; I’m a fail­ure as a Chris­t­ian—the next time thoughts like these come into your aware­ness, remem­ber that they are lies! Change your self-talk to reflect the truth: You are a nor­mal mem­ber of soci­ety, along with mil­lions like you, and you live in a very stress­ful cul­ture that is so indi­vid­u­al­is­tic that com­mu­ni­ty and friend­ships are rare. Yet if you do the right things, it is quite like­ly you will make sol­id progress.

Call this to mind if you are in need and feel alone or picked on by God:

No tri­al or hard­ship has over­tak­en you except what is com­mon to mankind.
1 Corinthi­ans 10:13, my paraphrase
Resist [the dev­il], stand­ing firm in the faith, because you know that the fam­i­ly of believ­ers through­out the world is under­go­ing the same kind of suf­fer­ings.
1 Peter 5:9

Rather than iso­lat­ing us from one anoth­er, our suf­fer­ing — espe­cial­ly suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety or depres­sion — can con­nect us with oth­ers. As psy­chol­o­gist Kristin Neff wise­ly observes, When we’re in touch with our com­mon human­i­ty, we remem­ber that feel­ings of inad­e­qua­cy and dis­ap­point­ment are shared by all. This is what dis­tin­guish­es self-com­pas­sion from self-pity. Where­as self-pity says poor me,’ self-com­pas­sion remem­bers that every­one suf­fers, and it offers com­fort because every­one is human. The pain I feel in dif­fi­cult times is the same pain that you feel in dif­fi­cult times.”

Neff’s com­ments remind us that we dare not let anx­i­ety or depres­sion iso­late us from oth­ers. In point of fact, we need just the oppo­site. Group ther­a­py, a sup­port group at church, and deep­en­ing rela­tion­ships with safe and car­ing friends and fam­i­ly are all impor­tant in get­ting well.

What is anx­i­ety? It is a feel­ing of uneasi­ness, appre­hen­sion, or ner­vous­ness. It always has a trig­ger, but we often don’t know what that trig­ger is or what we’re anx­ious about (in chap­ter 3 of Find­ing Qui­et, I offer prac­ti­cal steps to get bet­ter at this). There are sev­er­al dif­fer­ent kinds of anx­i­ety dis­or­der, includ­ing gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der, social anx­i­ety, pho­bic, post­trau­mat­ic stress, and sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety dis­or­ders. I am not qual­i­fied to address the spe­cif­ic aspects of these disorders.

But be encour­aged. I have learned some things about gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety dis­or­der (GAD), pan­ic dis­or­der, and obses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der that you may find help­ful. And much of it can be use­ful for cer­tain aspects of oth­er anx­i­ety dis­or­ders as well.

What caus­es anx­i­ety? I offer this list so you can engage in an exer­cise. You may want to read slow­ly through the list with pen and paper in hand, note the fac­tor or fac­tors that seem most rel­e­vant to your sit­u­a­tion (rank them in order of impor­tance if you can), and jot down some ini­tial thoughts about what you can do to engage prop­er­ly those factors:

  • genet­ic predispositions
  • par­ent­ing (over­pro­tec­tive, over­con­trollers, incon­sis­tent responders)
  • ear­ly child­hood expe­ri­ences that fos­tered shame or insecurity
  • cur­rent lifestyle (espe­cial­ly stress, stress, stress; but also unan­tic­i­pat­ed threats, esca­lat­ing demands, con­fi­dence killers, ter­ror­iz­ing trau­ma, sig­nif­i­cant change)
  • the inabil­i­ty to pre­dict or con­trol the future as much as you would like

Do one or more of these fac­tors apply to you? Most like­ly, the answer is yes. Then you can try to get to the root of these factors.

In addi­tion to defin­ing anx­i­ety, list­ing its dif­fer­ent forms, and not­ing many of its caus­es, there is anoth­er aspect of anx­i­ety I found impor­tant to know: anx­i­ety is a sur­face feel­ing that masks the deep­er feel­ings that are most like­ly the real issue you are deal­ing with — embar­rass­ment, fear, grief, help­less­ness, hurt, lone­li­ness, or sad­ness. Feel­ings are like bub­bles — we need to let them rise to the sur­face (not stuff them or fight them) and be open to what sur­faces. Then we can expe­ri­ence and release them as they move through us like let­ting air out of a bal­loon. Feel­ings may also be likened to waves. We needn’t be afraid the wave will swell and over­whelm us, but can instead let it pass by and ride it out. The feel­ing touch­es us and will even­tu­al­ly leave. It is espe­cial­ly help­ful to remem­ber this while expe­ri­enc­ing a pan­ic attack.

It is my heart­felt pas­sion that God will use Find­ing Qui­et to point peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing anx­i­ety to sources of relief. But that won’t hap­pen if you read through the book with­out reflect­ing on your own expe­ri­ences. So again, I urge you to look at the list of deep­er feel­ings and seek to dis­cov­er which apply to you and why.

Final­ly, don’t waste your suf­fer­ing. Anx­i­ety or depres­sion can be occa­sions for for­ma­tion or defor­ma­tion, for becom­ing stronger in the long run or weak­er. So do what you can — even if it’s a baby step — to resolve to let all of this work togeth­er for your good. And the good news is that stud­ies have demon­strat­ed beyond a rea­son­able doubt that you can sub­stan­tial­ly lessen or get rid of your anx­i­ety and increase your happiness.

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Tak­en from Find­ing Qui­et by J.P. More­land. Copy­right ©2019 by J.P. More­land. Used by per­mis­sion of Zon­der­van. www​.zon​der​van​.com. Pho­to by Pao­lo Nicolel­lo on Unsplash

Text First Published May 2019 · Last Featured on Renovare.org June 2021

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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