As a clinician in private practice, one of the phrases that I hear myself saying over and over, often in this way is this: “Remember, anxiety is a body event.”
So what does this mean?
First, this statement, “anxiety is a body event”, reminds us that when we feel anxiety, it is made up of physical sensations. While you may not have all of the symptoms, people often describe an increased heart rate, sweating, tingling fingers, chest tightening, chest pain, nausea or pain in their stomach, feeling hot, and changes in breathing that usually show up like quick, short breaths.
These symptoms are often followed along by a deep sense of fear, of feeling closed in and needing to get out. You may feel as if you are about to die. This can also show up like an overwhelming irritability that may lead you to lash out at people around you. Anxiety is about “fight or flight”, so some of us are likely to want to run . . . …
I saw it again while I felt a steadying breath against my chest, the rising, filling, the exhale and falling into my arms, tiny thin hair brushing my face, tiny fingers on tiny hard wrapping around my shoulder.
We were in church this morning, a church where we have been since my own two children were small enough to hold in my arms. I remember holding them in my arms while the voices around us, breathing, inhaling and exhaling, collectively held the tune of the hymn.
The occasion this morning was the Sunday after the Epiphany, a celebration in the Western Church (Roman Catholic, Protestant) that has generally been about the arrival of the Magi, this moment of following and seeing this “newborn king”. In the Eastern Church (Orthodox), there was a different sort of “I see it” moment, one involving Jesus coming forward to be baptized by John the Baptist. …
As a clinician in private practice, one of the phrases that I frequently hear myself saying is this: “Anxiety isn’t good with statistics.” Usually, this phrase pops up when I am talking with someone about their worry that “x” is going to happen even though they know that it is statistically unlikely.
While there is the temptation to argue or rationalize about the mathematical probability of “x” event happening … that is not a generally accepted or therapeutically useful approach.
However, what can help is understanding how a stressed brain does not like nuance. Fear favors efficiency; we want to survive. And there are ways to pause to allow the more thoughtful parts of our brain to take the reigns from the fears about sharks and lightening and asteroids hitting the earth. …
So I’m wearing a mask in my office full-time at this point and have been for about a month. We had our own COVID19 scare in my family as the cases were climbing in my home state. Although the test itself was not exactly enjoyable, the wait from testing to results for me and my family member was worse.
I don’t want anyone else to have to go through testing and waiting and worrying, especially if me wearing a mask can help.
That is how I think … but then there are others, the anti-maskers.
Many of us feel exhausted by the events demanding our time and concern. Far from confined to a calendar that deludes us into thinking that was 2020 and this is 2021, the creeping tendrils of political and social unrest, economic anxiety, and COVID-19 extend out to us …, reach into us …, wrapping themselves around our hearts and minds.
We can only attend to so much at one time.
There is only so much “crisis” we can tolerate.
If there was ever a year for a blue Christmas, this is the year. Many of us have been challenged by external struggles with the chaos that we see in our world and in our nation. But then that conflict has also been internal, between family members and communities and at times even inside our own selves.
And as our anxious minds are apt to do, we begin to worry about what could happen next . . .
My wife’s friend was graciously posting an interview she had conducted with my wife and me about our recently released book on anxiety. As of late, Cassia had been writing toward self-care during difficult times. Accurately she intended to write the phrase “world gone mad” … except what I read as I reviewed the post was “world gone made”.
I tried to stay out of the fray. My instincts have been honed through my work in the church and years as a therapist. I’m typically pretty good at moving back to what is actually important, avoiding “straw man” diversions or attempts to bait me into an argument.
My default is to return to the relationship between us versus simply trying to be “right”.
But that part, about being “right”, is where I got stuck recently.
The context was on someone else’s Facebook page, a post about hydroxychloroquine's ineffectiveness against COVID-19. This was immediately followed by several people posting responses detailing how the “real” results are being covered up in a worldwide conspiracy to sink the reelection of President Trump … or more generously that we should “keep an open mind”. …
We do not know each other yet; we have not dared to be silent together.
Keep open the door of thy heart. It matters not how many doors are closed against thee.
from Howard Thurman’s The Inward Journey
Our circle now meets underneath a large old tree behind the church, next to a labyrinth formed of large stones. For group spiritual direction, we had been meeting in the church library, with air conditioning, a couch, and cushy chairs. Our chairs are now foldable, camp-style, toted from our vehicles to the space where we sit together, in intimacy, but “socially distant”.
Most of us arrive with masks made of fabric; but as is our human nature, we all wear masks of some sort. …
When profound changes happen to us we often find ourselves mouths agape and struggling to understand what this change is. What we had is now gone. An anticipated future will be dramatically different. Our present is a sticky pause where our self is unsure what to do next. The breath moving in and out of us fluctuates between quick and shallow as if we are getting ready to run or fight … and then a long and deep signaling that this is a time to stop, … to rest, … and to wait.
As have many with whom I sit and talk, I find myself moving back and forth from sadness about what seems to have been lost in this pandemic … to worry about what this new future will be. …