website design software

Welcome to a practical pastoral counseling site of Dr. Harold L. White

 Every pastor can be a valued and competent counselor.

                       Overcoming Anxiety

Plato has said: "All diseases of the body proceed from the mind or soul."

One psychologist has said that there are four main ways of escaping anxiety.
One, is to deny it.
Two, is to avoid the thought or feeling which arouses it.
Three: is to rationalize it.
Four, is to narcotize it.

Cecil Osborne has added a fifth which is to seek out and remove the source of anxiety.

Let's deal with the first method.
This method denies the existence of anxiety.
This is usually an unconscious process.
The individual is conscious of certain distressing or painful symptoms
which may be emotional or physical.
He or she may be unaware of the real reason for anxiety.

Osborne tells of a woman who came to him for help.
She remembered that she had palpitations in March of the previous year, and mentioned
that her mother had died that month.
She saw no connection between the two events.

Osborne worked with her to discover what it was about her mother's death
that had precipitated this tremendous anxiety.
The woman said that she felt only intense sorrow over her mother's death,
but there was no abnormal fear of death and no awareness of any other cause of her anxiety.

As Osborne took the woman below the level of consciousness,
they discovered the source of her problem.
She came to see that she had consciously feared her mother's death,
but unconsciously had desired it.
She had hidden this feeling from her conscious mind.

She came to accept the fact that she had had mixed emotions about her mother's death.
She both wanted it and feared it.
She had repressed the wish for her mother to die,
and felt that she could not find a sense of forgiveness.

We can never feel forgiveness for an emotion when we will not admit having it.
We will not confess to God what we will not confess to ourselves.

She came to see that another source of her anxiety was the unrecognized fear
that she also might die.
She felt just as guilty as if it had been genuine guilt before God.
Intellectually, she knew that God had forgiven her, but she did not accept it emotionally.
At an unconscious level, she had begun to fear death as punishment for her sins.

Our unconscious minds do not operate on a logical basis.
Our unconscious minds deal in feelings that are primitive and often child-like.

She "knew" better with her conscious mind, but knowing nothing of the working
of the unconscious mind, she had assumed that what she knew intellectually was precisely what she felt.

She had thought that she was being truthful when she said to Osborne
that she had no reason for anxiety.
Now she saw that she had a deep-seated anxiety about her mother's death.
She had partly longed for her mother's death, and she also feared it.
So, she had a deeply buried feeling that she needed to be punished
for her "bad" thoughts, and that death might be the form of punishment.

Her mother's death had brought up half-buried memories from her early childhood.
She remembered what would happen to her if she disobeyed.
For the first time she now knew what to pray about.
She knew that it was guilt, fear and anxiety.

When she was able to face her true feeling honesty, she experienced release
from her physical symptoms.
She had come to see that being honest with God is how we receive God's help in a crisis.

The second way of dealing with anxiety is to avoid it.

This is when we seek to avoid the feelings, situations, or thoughts which arouse anxiety in us.
This is not an effective way to deal with anxiety.

An extremely shy person understands that social contacts create anxiety
so such an individual will usually try to avoid people.
There are other people who fears heights and will avoid tall buildings and bridges.
There are people who experience undue anxiety when they are driving through the mountains.
There are people who have anxiety by being in crowds.
There are others that have anxiety if asked to give a speech in public.
Then many may attempt to avoid those situations.
This doesn't solve the situation permanently, and the basic anxiety is still there.

Some of our anxiety is not normal.
It is when our anxiety (our diffused fearfulness) permeates our lives and destroys
our peace of mind that we must look for the underlying cause.

The person who procrastinates is dealing with anxiety by avoiding it,
even though he or she is usually unaware of it.
It is not simply being lazy that causes a person to postpone the writing of the letter
or going to a doctor or making a needed phone call.
We call these things, "procrastination."
We also need to know that procrastination arises basically because of anxiety.

Usually on the unconscious level, we find that it is less anxiety for us to do
something else than to write a letter or make a phone call.
So, we try to solve the problem temporarily by avoiding it.
But the problem is not really solved.

Some people have great difficulty with what they call "bad" thoughts.
These thoughts often have to do with sex or hostility, and come to their minds occasionally.
They are embarrassed and ashamed at having such thoughts.
They attempt to push them out of their minds.
But the more they push, the more such thoughts persist.
There is a struggle between will and imagination.
Usually, imagination wins.

Osborne says that there is no such thing as a "bad" thought.
He makes the point that there are destructive thoughts, random thoughts, and absurd thoughts.
Instead of putting all thoughts into two categories, "good" and "bad,"
he would have us think of them as creative or destructive.
He also says that this is the first step toward a solution.

He makes a suggestion that when there are a lot of random thoughts assailing the mind
that a person should say, "This is not a "bad thought."
This is a destructive thought because it destroys my peace of mind.
I do not know its source.
I did not invite it to come into my mind.
I will not grapple with it, and I will not feel guilty about it.
That thought is simply an unwelcome guest, and I will turn my attention somewhere else.
I will do that without guilt or condemning myself."

In time this process will have far more power over random, unwelcome thoughts
than all the will power that we can exercise.

The difficulty with avoiding as a solution is that a person tends to avoid only the symptom,
which leaves the real problem undiscovered and unresolved.
Then it will persist or break out in some other form.

When a person has strong guilt feelings that demands either forgiveness
or self-punishment in some form.
Often, their first step is to deny and repressed guilt feelings.
They do this by pushing them down into their unconscious mind, and then symptoms can erupt.
When people avoid the symptom, they may be relieved of the anxiety for the moment,
but this will not solve the basic problem.

So many times the basic problem is guilt.
There are people who would rather suffer the pain and embarrassment of their symptoms
rather than the greater pain of looking within and facing up to their guilt.

Being judgmental is easy at this point and then it is difficult to understand
the real conflict in a person's mind.
So rather than face it, and confess it, people will simply deny it, and then try to avoid
the situations that triggered all of his or her symptoms.
There is probably no hope of alleviating such a situation until the person discovers
the one real problem.

The Bible calls it "sin."
Psychologists call it anxiety and conflict.
Regardless of what a person may call it, in order to be free, everyone must face and confess
whatever it is that alienates him or her from his true self, from God, and his fellow man.

A third method of dealing with anxiety is just to rationalize it.

All realizations are largely unconscious processes.
What may be said by way of rationalization may be true, totally or partially,
but still not be an explanation of the action.

When an individual is bothered by a series of interruptions, such as a number of phone calls,
this can create tension in an individual.
Tension creates anxiety, and anxiety creates tension.
When an individual has work to do and cannot find time to do it, and has constant interruptions,
he can rationalize that not being able to do the work was because of the constant interruptions.

But there could be a basic issue, and the real problem could be that a person has a feeling
of guilt and self-criticism if he or she did not accomplish a certain amount of work.
Not being able to finish the work may cause an individual to feel guilty.
The guilt of not being able to cope with other employees, or visitors or telephone calls
and being interrupted at the same time.

It would be easy to rationalize such an anxiety.
A person could think that they had no zeal to finish the task and they were constant failures
if they did not achieve all the work that they had outlined for themselves.

The truth could consist of a number of things.

As a child such individual had felt acceptable to their parents only once they had performed
their task well and on time.
Now that parental anxiety was transferred to that person.
That person found that they could accept himself or herself only if they had finished
their self-appointed tasks on time.
Such a person could feel vaguely guilty and inadequate when they were not.

There was no parent to criticize, except the "parent within" who resides within each of us.
So such guilt feelings were false gilts.
Such a person was guilty only before the accusing conscience
which was conditioned in childhood.
Such an individual should insist that the "adult of the present" make decisions
rather than the "inner child of the past."

A fourth method of handling anxiety is the use of narcotics.
Of course this is done by the use of drugs, alcohol, being over-busy, and in many other ways.
Billions of dollars are spent annually on alcohol and drugs in an effort to escape anxiety.

It may be the anxiety produced by loneliness, inferiority, guilt or frustration,
or by the threat of failure.
Alcohol paralyzes the higher brain centers were judgment takes place,
and tends to lessen anxiety temporarily.

The person has no more courage than before.
His threshold of tolerance for anxiety has not been raised.
Nothing has happened except that he has temporarily narcotized himself.
Some of the tranquilizers function in a similar way.

A person is no more able to cope with life, perhaps,
but life appears less threatening for the moment.
We know that certain drugs have value
as a temporary solution to the problem of anxiety, but they do not provide a cure
for the basic "dis-ease," which is the problem of unrelieved anxiety.

A less conscious process, and a quite socially respectable one is the narcotizing of anxiety
by being excessively busy.
Most compulsive workers fall into this category.

Whether it is a person's compulsive devotion to his job, or whether it is a mother's
endless attention to and to details of housekeeping, or a church worker's fatiguing, and never ending.
Guilt-oriented compulsiveness needs to be re-examined.

The example of this is of a young wife and mother that could not understand how her relaxed,
but highly competent husband could just sit and look out the window.
She complained that he could just sit and do nothing, and that she couldn't just sit.
Her attitude was that there were too many things to be done,
and a woman's work is never done.

Her problem was a mixture of rationalization and narcotizing.
As a child, this lady had never been permitted to be idle, or just to read a book.
Her compulsive father had insisted upon the children always being busy around the house
even when there was no work to be done.
So this young wife was having considerable difficulty in her marriage.

Communication had broken down between she and her husband.
Constant busyness at home, together with much social activity, constituted an escape
for her from the anxiety of close contact with her husband.
So the husband began to devote more more time to his office,
also in an unconscious effort to avoid the anxiety generated in his home.

There are many people who seek to put aside their anxiety by engaging
in a merry-go-round of social activities.
Such persons are not really being socially minded.
They are just seeking to escape from the anxiety generated by being alone,
and they are attempting to find an answer to their own self-alienation.

There compulsive efforts may consist in constant party-going, visiting, entertaining;
or they may take the form of "good works" in the community or the local church.
Any or all of these can be either creative endeavors or an unconscious effort
to drown out the small voice which encourages that individual to evaluate
their inner lives and goals.

One wise person has written, "Beware of the barrenness of busyness."

Another bit of wisdom says, "When you are too busy to pray, you are too busy."

Being overly busy is a mark of our society, and it is clear that, good as many
of our frantic activities may be, and much that passes for worthwhile activity is often simply
an effort to relieve anxiety.
The good can become the enemy of the best.

The fifth possibility and a creative solution is to seek out and remove the source of anxiety.

We need to emphasize there is nothing wrong with anxiety per se.
It is only when our anxiety becomes so all-pervasive as to limit our effectiveness
that we need to seek for the source.
Of course, this is easier to suggest them to accomplish.

The reason for this is that often the roots are buried deep within the unconscious mind.
A person may be totally unaware at the conscious level of the events
which have been created under undue amount of anxiety.
However, it is possible to seek out and deal with the source of this abnormal anxiety.

Generalizations can be dangerous, so let us bear this in mind of the risks
as we make the following generalizations.

1. Anxiety is created and necessary up to a point.
Beyond that point it is destructive.

2. If a person's tolerance for normal anxiety-producing situations is low,
tolerance can be raised in time by a process of maturing emotionally.

3. Unbearable anxiety, exceeding our tolerance level, will always tend to produce
either physical symptom's, emotional distress or both.

4. The sources of our anxiety will usually be found in one or more of these areas:

(a) Attempting to pursue incompatible goals.

(b) Guilt areas, recent or of long-standing; actual or false guilt
(most guilt is centered on sex and hostility).

(c) Early childhood conditioning.

(d) Failure to achieve some goal.

The average person experiencing undue anxiety will usually find the source
of his difficulty in one or more of these areas.
However, it requires a willingness to be open rather than defensive.
It also requires a willingness to run the risk of exposure and consequent rejection
which seldom if ever happens.
It also requires a willingness to be ruthlessly honest with oneself and with others.

The process is not an easy one, and it can seldom be taken alone.
Our capacity for self-deception is enormous.
Other trusted friends or a small group can help, gently and lovingly,
for us to replace our tendency to rationalize.
We need not only psychological insight, but we also need the healing of Jesus who said,
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

In some wonderful way the presence and power of Jesus Christ are experienced
with a small group of people meeting together in His name, and enables us
to be honest with Him, with themselves, and with one another.
God's power is then added to our human insight, and we are no longer alone in our search.
We are strengthened and supported by His spirit and by others
that are involved in the same search.

Whether we call it sin, guilt, anxiety neurosis, or just an illusion of the mortal mind,
we are talking pretty much about the same thing.
We are describing an individual who is out of harmony with the divine laws of God,
and therefore is alienated from God, his neighbor, and himself.

He can be free of his alienation and his symptoms if he will reestablish himself
in a loving relationship with God and man.
He can come to regard himself as forgiven and acceptable.
His self-contempt, conscious or unconscious, can be replaced by a proper self-acceptance.

With the help of God and those who are trained to help that person can experience
a spiritual transformation.
This is when he will learn to trust his emotions, and his neighbor, and his God.
In this process, this person can make a great step forward in obeying the supreme law of love.
For at the core of anxiety is an absence of love.

Minirth and Meier, in their book, "Happiness Is a Choice," provides a list of 10 patterns
and attitudes taken from Scripture that will help top decrease anxiety.

They use the fourth chapter of the Philippians and provide 10 ways
in which a person can overcome anxiety.

1. Determine to obey God.
God commands us not to be anxious. (Philippians 4:5)

2. Pray (Philippians 4:6)
God told Daniel not to fear because God had heard his prayer from the time
he first started praying and He would answer. (Daniel 10:12)

3. Realize that God can keep our minds safe as we obey Him. (Philippians 4:7)

4. Meditate on positive thoughts. (Philippians 4:8)
People who catch themselves worrying can say to themselves,
"Stop, relax; anxiety is a signal to relax, so relax."

They should go over and over a verse like Philippians 4:8.

Anxiety is usually a signal to become more anxious, but using a simple technique
of behavior modification the brain can be conditioned to use anxiety as a signal to relax.

The best thing that one can do at this time is to meditate on the Scriptures.
Scriptures such as: Psalm 34:4; 86:15; Proverbs 1:33; 3:25, 26; Isaiah 40:28-31;
Matthew 6:33, 34; 11:28-30; John 10:27, 28; 14:27; 2 Corinthians 11:3;
Hebrews 4:15; 1 John 3:20; 4:10.

5. Focus on godly behavior. (Philippians 4:9)
Often we tell anxious individuals to avoid sin (Proverbs 4:15),
and to be a part of small fellowship groups. (Hebrews 1024, 25)

6. Divert attention from self to others. (Philippians 4:10 and Philippians 2:3, 4)
As an individual gets his mind off his own problems by helping others,
his anxiety often decreases.

7. Work on being content. (Philippians 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:6)

8. Realize there is a twofold responsibility (that of yours and of Christ's) in doing anything.
"I can do all things through Christ…" (Philippians 4:13)
An individual can overcome anxiety through Christ.

9. Eliminate the fear of poverty. (Philippians 4:19)
God promises to supply all our needs -- not all our wants.

10. Realize that the grace of God is with you. (Philippians 4: 23; 2 Corinthians 9:8)

In addition to the ways for overcoming anxiety that are taught in Philippians,
Minirth and Meier also provide some common sense suggestions.

1. Listen to Christian music. (1 Samuel 16:23)

2. Have adequate exercise, and three times per week is ideal.

3. Get adequate sleep. (Psalm 127:2)
Most people need eight hours of sleep every night.

4. Do what you can with the fear of the problem causing the anxiety.
Examine different alternatives or possible solutions, and try one.

5. Talk with a close friend at least once a week about your frustrations.

6. Get adequate recreation.
Two or three times per week would be ideal.

7. Live one day at a time. (Matthew 6:34)
It has been said that probably 98% of the things that we are anxious about
or worry about never happened.

8. Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen.
Then consider why that wouldn't be so bad after all.

9. Don't put things off.
Putting things off causes more anxiety.

10. Set a time limit on your worries.

There are individuals who have been programmed all their lives to worry about something.
One good way to stop reinforcing bad programming is to limit the amount of time
spent each day in worrying.
Many individuals worry every moment of every day.
Their life contains constant misery and they are continuously experiencing emotional pain.

There is a very simple, but yet profound technique, that has helped such individuals.
Such individuals are encouraged to set aside a definite period of time each day,
such as 15 minutes in the evening, to consider and ponder whatever
their particular problem might be.

Then, any time during the day when that issue comes to their mind,
they simply say to themselves: "I will not consider that issue right now.

But I will consider it later in that time that I have designated to do that,
but I refuse to consider it at this moment

When they do this, they set free much of the mental energy that would otherwise
be wasted in worry, and that would also reinforce their bad programming;
and would also add to their depressive mood.

Such individuals are wasting many hours wearing about things that might never happen.
Remember, m
ost of the things we worry about never happen.

In Matthew 6, we are exhorted not to worry about future events,
and to live one day at a time.
Jesus states that each day has enough trouble of its own without borrowing from the future.

Worrying is a choice.

Paul commands us to "be anxious for nothing."
We need to live one day at a time.

If worries continued to intrude into our consciousness, then use the simple technique
of putting time aside, a limited time, to consider the issue.
This helps us to regulate ourselves, and then we won't worry about the problem all day long
and utilize all our mental energy to reinforce our anxiety, depression, and negative thinking.

(Much of these two articles on the anxiety have been gleamed from the book,
"The Art Of Understanding Yourself," by Cecil Osborne.

And also from the book, "Happiness Is a Choice," by Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier.)

[Home] [The Pastor] [As Counselor] [Characteristics] [Recognizing  Problems] [Introduction To TA] [Benefits of TA] [Ego States] [Behavior Clues] [Contaminated Egos] [Egograms] [Egogram Examples] [Transactions] [Strokes] [Scripts] [Script Checks List] [I'm OK, You're OK] [OK IF] [Games] [Drama Triangle] [Trading Stamps] [Unhooking] [Conflict Resolutions] [Parent Stoppers] [Parent Shrinkers] [The Process] [Development Stages] [Attachment] [Exploration] [Identity] [Competence] [Concern] [Intimacy] [Cycle of Nuturing] [Childhood Memories] [Types of Families] [Life Plans] [Depression] [Anxiety] [Overcoming Anxiety] [Disorders] [Overcoming Depression] [Premarriage Counseling] [Marriage Counseling] [Why This Site] [Books To Read]