- Deep breathing: Take a long deep breath in through your nose. Hold for a count of 2 seconds. Then slowly exhale out through your mouth. As you are exhaling, in your mind say the word “peace.” Say it slowly to match your exhaling. Repeat 5-6 times.
- Progressive relaxation: Tighten your facial muscles and hold for 5 seconds, then relax for 5 seconds. Think about the muscles as you are working them. Do this 3 times. Then do the same for your shoulder muscles. Tighten and hold for 5 seconds then relax for 5 seconds, thinking about the muscles as they’re working. Then move to your arms and hands. Tighten your arm muscles and cliche fists and release 3 times. Next move to your abdominal muscles. Then work your upper leg muscles. Move on down to your calves. End with curling your toes and relaxing them.
- Visualization: Close your eyes. Picture a favorite place in nature that you enjoy and find relaxing. It could be a beach, a field or woods, or up on a mountain. It helps if it’s a place where you’ve actually been. Draw to mind the smells in this place, the sounds. Once you’ve gotten your place well in mind, ask Jesus to come join you in your place. See him in the distance coming towards you. Watch as he gets closer. When he gets to you watch him sit down near to you. Listen to see if he has something to say to you or if he’s content to be quietly with you. Stay in that place as long as you’re able. When you begin doing visualization you might only be able to be in that space for a couple of moments. With practice, it may be possible to be in that place for longer and longer times. If Jesus does tell you something be sure to write it down. You might also write down what you think and how you feel in response to what he had to say.
You may find that one technique works better for you than another. Usually, you will get more proficient with practice. These three you could do just about anywhere. You may also find that you get a stronger response from one that requires you to go to another place, like an actual walk in nature or sitting somewhere listening to soothing music, petting a dog or a cat (or a bunny, goat, llama, or animal of your choosing).
Relaxation techniques typically are not a cure in themselves. But often they return to us the use of our mind to be able to do the work we previously talked about—meditating on God’s truth and mentally rehearsing God’s victory.
Conclusion: choosing bravery
I have found it helpful to remember that anxiety is anticipatory fear for this reason. When I think about anxiety and in my self-talk about anxiety, I don’t like it, I don’t want it, but it doesn’t seem like it’s an option. Anxiety just comes upon me like some overwhelming, irresistible force. I am a victim of anxiety.
But when I think about fear, I have different self-talk. I can say to myself things like, “I’m not going to live in fear. I’m not going to be ruled by fear. I’m going to be bold and courageous.”
When I tell myself those things I understand that to mean that I won’t always be able to avoid feeling afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is feeling afraid and doing what’s needed anyway. Courage is committing to doing what’s life-giving even in the threat of death.
One of my favorite movies is Hacksaw Ridge based on the book Hacksaw Ridge, the True story of Desmond Doss.
Desmond was a man of God and a conscientious objector. He enlisted in the army in WWII and refused to carry a weapon. He entered the military for the express purpose of being a medic. The movie depicts the abuse he took from his fellow soldiers throughout boot camp and training and into the time his company entered into combat at Okinawa in April of 1945.
In one of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, Desmond Doss saved 75 men in a 12-hour period while enemy soldiers continued their attempts to kill every American they could find.
I am overcome with emotion when I see that kind of courage. Seeing bravery like that makes me want to be brave. There are lots of inspiring movies about courage overcoming fear: Braveheart, the Patriot, We Were Soldiers, Miracle on the Hudson.
I know of no great inspirational movies about overcoming an Anxiety Disorder. Until you recognize that anxiety is a type of fear. Then all of those inspiring stories can fuel our determination to make brave, life-giving decisions even in the face of anticipatory fear. All those stories urge us to be disciplined in the practices that nurture courage like telling ourselves the whole truth and remembering that God is our ally.
The solutions to the three problems of anxiety are not complex, but that doesn’t make them easy. Attempting them alone can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for some of us. What makes the solutions more attainable is striving for them in a community.
Bravery is contagious. If you really want to make progress breaking through anxiety, be part of a small group. If you can find an anxiety-support group, that’s ideal. If you can’t, be a part of a life-group or discipleship group where you can give updates and get support with your battle.
Clearly, anxiety is not part of the abundant life Jesus came to bring us. God has given us the light of his truth, the assistance of his Holy Spirit, and the encouragement of his church. In light of all of this, I say, let us dare to be bold and courageous.