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.