I heard a statistic recently which said students today are reporting the same levels of anxiety that psych ward patients had in the 1950’s. Think about that for a second…
There is a chance your 6th grader is feeling so stressed, that if he was around 70 years ago, they might have just cut part of his brain out to take away his ability to worry.
Yea, lobotomies happened. Thankfully, that archaic practice isn’t around anymore, but the issue still remains. People today are finding themselves on the brink of overwhelm 24/7.
When I was born, I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck three times. The doctor had to perform an emergency C-section to save my life. My first experience with life was almost as if there was someone with their hands gripped around my throat, choking me. Sort of a disturbing picture isn’t it?
I share that, because what we have come to learn about trauma, is that it sears our brains. It changes us on a biological level making our fuse very short, unless a considerable amount of work is done. I’m talking years of concentrated work most people don’t have access to.
Today, there are millions of people being traumatized on a daily basis. Finding themselves in cycles of self-hate and overwhelm, because they have started to believe what they think everyone else believes about them: that they are weak.
An anxiety disorder, while it creates irrational fears, has nothing to do with will power or inner strength. I say irrational, but even as I say that, I sort of hate it. I mean, diabetes is irrational. Cancer is irrational. The point is, people who have an anxiety disorder don’t have control. And while our society rewards control (everyone wants to follow a competent leader), it also shames people for not having power over the one thing they are powerless to.
I went on to be a pretty sensitive kid who struggled with school and relationships. It wouldn’t take much to throw me. I felt ashamed over who I was, because when you are a guy who is sensitive, especially one who is playing football, it gnaws at your sense of masculinity.
I have heard from so many people who feel such a sense of guilt about their anxiety. They have been taught it’s a lack of strength or a character flaw, instead of what it actually is: faulty wiring in our brains from genetic predisposition, and traumatizing environments.
So…here are three keys you can implement right now, which helped me play professional football despite having an anxiety disorder.
- Don’t be black and white- Allow for room to be imperfect. Anytime you apply rigidness so that something becomes pass or fail, you create unrealistic stakes with a lot to lose. Be open handed when you find yourself “upping the stakes.”
- Stop being a jerk to yourself- Being anxious is not a character flaw! When you feel anxiety coming on, instead of making a judgment of who you are, just notice the thought. Untether yourself emotionally from your thoughts. There is a Bible verse which says “be anxious for nothing.” I have always been taught that was a command. Which creates shame when we have the slightest bit of fear. But don’t forget that Jesus got so anxious when he was about to be crucified, that His capillary blood vessels ruptured, causing Him to sweat blood. If anxiety was sin, His moment of anxiety would have nullified His death on the cross for us.
- Celebrate the tiniest victory– This has to do with self-compassion. Silence the inner critic. The distortion the anxiety is causing is robbing you of your, joy and ability to try again. I have had to say out loud to myself things like, “Clint, I’m so proud of you for going and talking to that person.” It sounds funny, but it works!
This is part two in my series on mental health. Next week I’m going to talk about addiction. Another severely misunderstood topic. (ESPECIALLY IN THE CHURCH!!!!)
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Here’s to loving the process,