The Five Minute Antidote for Anxiety

I’m an anxious person by trait. It is a common trait, especially in graduate school (in combination with narcissism. I say this also in self-disclosure; both features support successful completion of doctoral studies). Anxious people tend to spend considerable time ruminating through “What if…” questions along with should, coulda, woulda thinking. We worry about our past failures coming to light and whether we’ll be up to the challenge the future presents.

Sound pretty negative way to live? It is. The only way we differ from depressed people is that we still have some thought that our worry might save us from disaster. As you can imagine, such worry robs us of joy. It keeps us from enjoying the present or seeing God’s gracious hand on our lives. And we compound our problems by then shaming ourselves for failing to follow God’s command, “Do not be afraid.”

The Five Minute Antidote

Part of the problem with anxiety is that we are trying to control/manage every possible outcome in order to avoid future disaster(s). Fearful people know that the answer to their anxiety will not include,

  • Just not caring anymore. We’ve tried that…it doesn’t work.
  • Making sure we get it RIGHT. Tried that too. Didn’t work.

So, what might work? Try this on for size,

What is God’s plan for me for the next five minutes?

Most of us have no clue what God is planning for us next year or even next week. But, I suspect most of us can discern what we need to do right now…for the next five minutes,

  • I need to make dinner
  • I need to read this assignment for school
  • I need to attend to my child’s homework
  • I can call a friend who is grieving

We usually know the one thing we can do for the next five minutes. Do that with as much focus as you can. Here’s what you are likely to discover: your anxiety decreases, or at least does not increase. When we stop the ruminations or internal conversations, our anxieties decrease and our ability to be present increases. So, when you find yourself in an anxious stew, try to ask yourself, What is one thing I can do for the next five minutes or What does God want me to do for the next five minutes? Consider this your method of living out Psalm 131, where you are are stilled and quieted like a weaned child, content with what He has for you for the next five minutes.

Oh, did you think this will solve all your anxiety problems? No, of course not. But where God does give you something to focus your attention, call that a success. Part of the Christian life is repetition–repeated worship, repeated repentance, repeated obedience, repeated trust. So, do pray for God to remove your “thorn” but look for five minute relief. Notice when it works and then ask God for another five minute focus on the thing he has for you RIGHT NOW.


Filed under Anxiety, biblical counseling, christian counseling, counseling

15 responses to “The Five Minute Antidote for Anxiety

  1. Fabulous Post!! So much relatable truth in it… As a Christian who suffers from anxiety I have found these tips really work, I also keep a powerful prayer in my phones Memo’s, which I wrote while I was feeling strong in faith and in a place of certainty and trust with God. This helps a lot too, especially when I am close to breaking point. Being present is a new joy, I practice being present while driving and not thinking of where I’m going or what I will do when I get there, keeping focus for long is difficult but these days I try not to give myself a hard time for getting distracted, and go back to focusing on the present again. Thank you and Keep sharing I really appreciate your blog. 🙂 Blessings to you!

  2. emilie

    wow. I really needed this. I started a new job and I have been so anxious trying to control everything to the point of appetite loss. I do think that worry protects me from disaster. Because I am ALWAYS prepared for any outcome, if it goes right, I’m glad. If it goes wrong. I knew it would happen. I really don’t know any other way and I have been like this since grade school. What I never remember is that it’s kind of out of my hands anyway. Let go, let God sort of thing. If God wants me to keep this job or not, it’s bigger than me. It would help if I enjoyed the journey, which currently I am not.
    I am going to try to focus on the next 5 min and see what happens. This is kind of like AA when you would focus on the next right action to not get stressed or fall back. Have a good day.

  3. Very helpful plan for dealing with anxiety, Dr. Monroe. As always I enjoyed your blog and was blessed.

  4. D.S.

    Wow. I’m impressed. I don’t think I can do any of those things in 5 minutes. 😉

  5. Thanks for this post. My counseling clients usually want things that don’t involve medication for anxiety. While I support it in some cases, I would rather recommend this kind of help.

  6. Thanks for this advice. I have worked on a similar technique in therapy—but this post helped me blend that technique with my Christian faith. Thanks!

  7. Robert

    Thank you so much for this Phil!!! You pretty much described my inner world to the tee lol I am a champion second-guesser and think up all the possible scenarios, thnking it somehow helps-until I realize it doesnt. The verses that talk about not having fear and perfect love cast out fear tend to be like hammers nailing me since i DO have fear. Any thoughts on how you have dealt with those verses when anxiety-ridden??

    • What “voice” do you hear those verses? Is it harsh? Demanding? Read how Jesus talks to “little sheep” when he tells them about the birds of the air, the lillies (Luke 12). Notice his voice and then compare that to the “voice” in Luke 11 where he says “woe” to the Pharisees for their failure to lead and love well. Yes, we should not fear and God is reminding us not to fear, but more like a parent who encourages a child to not fear the monsters under the bed–with compassion and repetition, rather than with accusation and attack.

      • D.S.

        I once heard “Why are you angry Jonah?” from a loving tender voice rather than God angry and frowning. It startled me.

        I had an answer for Robert until I read yours. Yours is a counseling response, asking a question, yet teaching with the question. I suddenly realized that I had never thought of these verses as said in that same loving and tender tone. Apparently I had not generalized the Jonah verse. I suppose too many years of sermons speaking these verses as from an angry, judging God makes it difficult for me to hear God speaking with tenderness.

        Although very different, my answer isn’t incorrect. As I began to think about how it is different, I was brought up short as I suddenly recognized that my answer is ‘logical’, reasoning through the doctrinal truths involved. Your answer touches emotions. I think this is the first time I noticed that my defense mechanism of intellectualizing against emotion extends even to what I ‘hear’ from Scripture(God).

        – and it continues…, this reasoning through things. However, not all reasoning is bad. Right?

      • Right, not all reasoning is bad. In fact most is very good…just not everything.

      • Robert

        Phil- I hear the *voice* in a tone like Ds said, angry,disappointed,judging. A parent who is has an attitude of,*can’t you do anything right* as opposed to tender and gentle. The weird thing is I only hear it that way for MYSELF!!! For anyone else I hear it as you said Phil. Just a personal note, I went to seminary seeking an MDiv in pastoral care & counseling. I think my own awareness of my shortcomings makes me hear Jesus voice in harsher tones for myself. I wonder if you have some posts on a *theology of emotion* Phil??? As DS said, in my experience around preachers,teachers and professors, emotion tends to get pushed aside in favor of intellect and rational thought. Would you concur in your experience Phil??/ Thanks again so much for your reply.

      • No posts on a theology of emotion. Sam Williams at Southeastern Baptist Seminary wrote something on that once. I would suggest you don’t need a new theology as much as you need to practice experiencing what you *know* to be true. Remember, your logic isn’t less fallen than your affect.

  8. Kim

    Thank you so much for commenting that God is teaching us with compassion and repetition as we Christians that have anxiety disorders don’t need some well meaning ministers, etc. to tell us we are sinning if we sometimes have fear. I believe God knows we are trying and is with us, cheering us on , just like the good parent you mentioned above. It is such a comfort to have this reaffirmed.

  9. Pingback: Why are Women more Anxious than Men? | HeadHeartHand Blog

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