40 million people in the United States are estimated to be affected by an anxiety disorder and this is just in the 18 and over age bracket. In teens alone, it is estimated that around 25% suffer from some form of anxiety. Anxiety disorders come from a very complex set of factors so I am not going to suggest that there is a one size fits all cure. I do however believe that for many people there are habits that can be developed that will certainly help. And regardless of how careful or deliberate we are in developing good habits, it is still inevitable that we will all experience anxiety or stress in our lifetime. First of all, let us recognize the difference in each: stress is a response to a threat in a situation and anxiety is a reaction to stress. Next, it is often found that many who suffer from anxiety disorders will also suffer from physical illnesses and other co-occurring disorders. This is not surprising as I often speak to my students about how interconnected our physical, mental and spiritual parts are to our overall being. There are many standard treatment options in the medical world for anxiety and other mental and or physical disorders but one will have to seek out a doctor they trust to learn more about those. I am not a medical doctor and so I will focus on a different direction within this blog.
To me, life is a gift, each person being a once in a lifetime creation. One of the most beautiful realizations of the gift of life is that one does not have to go anywhere to get what one has already been given. And as human beings, we are distinct from most if not all of the other life forms we know of in that we have the clear cut ability to choose. It is this ability to choose that I will try and focus on. Namely, how do we choose to live the life we are given. Lets start with the small things: do we pray? do we give thanks or do we complain? do we judge and condemn others or do we show compassion and forgiveness? I start with these as the small things because I believe that all of these things are within our control no matter what. One of my coaching strategies is to always focus on what I/we can control. For example, I explain to my students that we may not always be the smartest, strongest and the fastest but no one can ever stop us from being the kindest and hardest working. I mention this because kindness goes hand and hand with compassion and forgiveness and hard work through consistent effort results in a constant improvement of one self and this is especially true in regards to prayer. Of course, one can improve their knowledge, strength and even speed through hard work but the key here is where we place our focus. For I would venture to say that the stress that may lead to one's anxiety often comes from either things outside of their control and or the misplacement of one's focus.
Time is certainly a huge part of the gift of life, and I often remind my students not to waste it for you never know when it is going to run out. This is important for many reasons not the least of which is to avoid getting stuck wasting our time focusing on the things outside of our control. For the more we do this the more frustrated and anxious we will find ourselves. The more we use our time to focus on the things on which we can control the more useful we become to ourselves and thereby to society in general. When our usefulness grows so does our self worth and self esteem, both of which help counter any anxiety and depression which may loom near the many disappointments and sad moments we will have in our lifetime. A very useful lesson I received in this regard is that regret lives in the past over things I cannot change and anxiety lives in the future over things that may or may not happen, love lives in the present through my ability to learn from the past and to prepare for my future both to the best of my capability. Furthermore, we may not be able to control what others say, think or do to us but we must control how we react. In this regard, the maxims of being polite, grateful, cheerful, speaking simply and kindly or just remaining silent are important. Learning to accept criticism gracefully and to test it carefully can be very helpful. Also, not to seek the praise or pity of others, don't compare yourself to others, don't judge others, don't worry about defending or justifying yourself and be merciful to both others and yourself. We cannot control the facts of aging, illness, injury and the inevitable painful losses in life but we may develop our ability to face reality by being honest especially to ourselves. Also, we can eat good foods in moderation, maintain cleanliness, exercise regularly, and avoid all immorality at their first appearance. Even with all of this we will still have emotions, feelings, thoughts and sensations that will sometimes come out of our control. So, we must not engage these when they are intrusive and negative and try not to think or talk more than is necessary. This is certainly easier said then done and so it will be helpful to have a trusted person who we can share these thoughts and feelings to(in the orthodox church we have a father confessor and spiritual father). Speak simply, clearly and directly. Finally, flee imagination, fantasy, too much analysis, and avoid always trying to figure everything out.
In conclusion, if and when we can find ourselves living in this manner then we will certainly find improvement in our physical, mental and spiritual selves and in this we should find a certain satisfaction in that we are doing all we can possibly do to maximize our own potential. If and when we fall or fail to reach these or any other of our goals then get up immediately and start over. Beyond this is where faith, hope and trusting in God come in and this is further developed through our continued communion with Him found through the mysteries of the church and the grace given to us by God himself. This is the gift(grace) within the gift(life) we are given and all we need to do is allow it to work in us the way it is intended. This is the way to acquire peace.