All of us experience some level of fear in our lives. The degree to which fear shows up and impacts our lives depends, in large part, on how we observe and even engage it. You see, the moment we begin to observe fear, we have given ourselves some distance from it, a little bit of separation from it, and we can begin to see it from a little bit of a higher perspective. By doing so, and incorpporating other techniques, we can begin to put fear in its proper place — the backseat.
Right now, there is a lot of fear pulsing through our collective veins. In talking with friends and clients, I’ve heard many people express concern for the future of their children, the future of the church, and the state of our country. On top of that, there is the fear of getting sick or passing the virus to someone who is compromised. There is no shortage of things to feel threated by today if we’re looking. I asked my 4 year old the other day what she is scared of and she replied, “Monsters.” I asked if she had ever seen a monster and she said “No, I just feel like they are here.”
The truth is that we are all fighting different monsters. We’re all pretty sure that something is around the corner, waiting to take us out. None of us are exempt from this feeling, though we experience different levels of it. So know that you are not alone.
I want to make the argument that we don’t have to make what we fear go away in order to continue to flourish as people, and to continue to move towards being the person we each want to become, to move closer to the people that God wants us to become.
But before we talk more about that, let’s FIRST talk about the function of fear or — I’d like to say — the gift of fear.
Fear is a biological response that our body has when it senses real or perceived threat. Fear is helpful and beautiful as it’s meant to help us survive and do what is necessary to stay alive. Fear tells our bodies to do everything you need to do to stay safe even if there is no actual threat to our lives. What each person experiences as threatening is completely unique to that person. One scenario will send one person into a tail spin of anxiety, while the same situation hardly affects another.
In truth, you can’t really get rid of your fear. It is hard-wired in you, and that’s a good thing. God created us this way. However, you can learn to live above it. You can learn to get “higher” than the fear you feel.
You get to know it. You engage it, and get curious about how fear shows up in your life. The moment you begin to observe fear in you, you have given yourself some distance from it, a little bit of separation from it, and can begin to see from a little bit higher perspective than you could before.
And so you get know to know this fear, in the same way that you might get to know a person. What is this character like? How does it see the world? What does it want and how does it try to drive you to behave? What does it feel like in your body?
Fear moves through you in the form of biological sensations and thoughts that drive us to protect ourselves and loved ones, and you have the ability to observe it, and get curious as to the way it may lead you to act.
Here’s the thing you start noticing when you get face to face with your own rising fear. It tends to be a very one-dimensional character. Fear has a way of missing the forest for the trees and has no way of seeing the full picture. It can only see in black in white. It magnifies threat, expects the worst case-scenario and catastrophizes the future. Why? That’s its purpose. Its only job is to keep you hypervigilant so that you will stay safe, reduce your risk, and ensure your survival.
What is so profound about doing this very intentional observation of your fear is that you begin to realize that you are not the sensations of fear that run through your veins or the thoughts that run through your mind. You also are not the character that fear would have you play.
You are not a captive to it, nor are you its slave.
So get to know your fear in a non-judgmental kind of way. Acknowledge it, befriend it, extend grace to it, and it tends to calm down. It tends to lessen in intensity when we bring a watchful, kind eye to it as it arises. It feels less of a need to take control.
Anxiety and fear are contagious. Guess what else is contagious? Calm.
As a society, we collectively drink from the same pool of emotions, and everyone also contributes to it in what they bring emotionally. If you bring fear or anger towards others who are fearful (which is essentially just your fear of other people’s fear), then that is what is added and rises in the collective pool from which we all partake. If you bring calm, reason, compassion towards the fearful, then these qualities mix into the pool. The pool changes by the quality of what each of us bring. Each person is responsible for what they contribute.
In short, you don’t have to be fearless to be who you want to be. I don’t think that’s always possible. The trick is to be in a better relationship to fear. Take it with you. Let it be in your backseat, without letting it drive.
Know that what you do matters. How you respond today matters. You are not small. You influence every person you come in contact with on a day-to-day basis. So we each must ask ourselves — what does the world need more of right now? How does God want to use you to bring heaven to earth?
Go and give that.
Sarah Walters MA, LPC-S
Published on Sep 18 @ 10:04 AM CDT
Feelings are hard. And right in the middle of them is fear. It is interesting how many of our actions are based on fear: fear of the unknown and the uncertain, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of rejection, and the list goes on. To deny that we have fear is not the same as denying fear its power and authority. It requires courage to do so, but, like all of our emotions, it can be helpful to lean in and discern what our fear is telling us. In order to do so, it's helpful to understand what the Bible has to say about fear as well as to have some tools to tap in to.
I've been thinking recently about the feelings I'm feeling. And the feelings I see other people feeling.
Feelings are hard, y'all. Seriously. And right in the middle of them is fear.
It is interesting to me how many of our actions are based on fear: fear of the unknown and the uncertain, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of rejection. Feel free to add to this list; there are plenty more.
By the way, our actions, and the actions of others, that are based on fear don't always look like fear. In fact, most of the time, we as human beings have learned to disguise our fear as hostility, aggression, dismissal... But, if we dig deep enough, there's almost always fear in there somewhere.
Do not be afraid.
It has always been comical to me that the Bible so often says, "Do not be afraid." Oh. Ok. Thanks.
I'm not sure I would go so far to call it a command, but it is certainly a heavy theme throughout scripture. In fact, there's a popular notion that the Bible reminds us to not be afraid 365 times. I would argue that it is really more than that, but, regardless of the number of times we're reminded, the fact that we're told not to be afraid implies two things:
- Somehow, we have a choice.
- Just because we feel afraid doesn't mean there is something to fear.
Don't worry about digesting those things yet; we'll unpack them later. First, let me also say this:
- Emotions are real.
- Emotions are legitimate.
- Having emotions is not evidence of weakness.
All emotions — fear included — are natural and necessary parts of our existence. "Emotion" is a Latin word, combining two roots: "e" or "ex" meaning "out" and "move?" meaning "move." Emotions are important because they are part of the mechanism that God placed within us to create movement. Emotions tell us when something needs to be done. Emotions tell us when it is time to "move out" of ourselves and to initiate change in our environment.
But that doesn't mean our default reaction is our best reaction. In fact, it rarely is.
OK, so if we're not supposed to "be" afraid, what are we supposed to be? What are we supposed to feel? What are we supposed to do?
Great questions. Consider this:
"Fear" in Hebrew is yare', and in Greek is phobe?. Both simply mean to be afraid, but there's also an element of reverence. Reverence, of course, is a recognition of power and authority, which leads us to an interesting idea: if we're operating out of a place of fear, and we allow ourselves to continue to operate out of that place, we're granting and recognizing the power and authority of fear and of our circumstances.
Operating out of a place of fear feels restrictive and limited. Part of the reason it feels so scary is because we feel like there aren't any options, and there's nowhere to go. I'm not suggesting that "the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself." In fact, just the opposite.
To deny that we have fear is not the same as denying fear its power and authority. It requires courage to do so, but, like all of our emotions, it can be helpful to lean in and discern what our fear is telling us. Fear, as an emotion, is not to be feared. The fear that FDR spoke of in his inaugural address is paralyzing, nameless, and unreasoning. That doesn't mean we have to be those things, too.
Let me say one more thing about choice: it may be hard to see our choices around fear, but let's consider these ideas in light of other common emotions. Consider, for example, anger. It's ok to feel angry. Ephesians 4:26 doesn't say, "don't get angry." It says, "Be angry and do not sin...." As hard as that is to do, we're not designed nor intended to act on our every emotional whim.
That being said, what are we supposed to do with our emotions? If we're not to allow them to dictate our actions, what are they there for?
I like to think of emotions as a sign. As I mentioned earlier, emotions create momentum and a drive to act — much like an exit sign on the highway points to a place to go. But these signs don't always point to the right place; if you followed every sign you saw, you would never get anywhere. In the same way, following the direction of every emotion is not going to lead us to the places where we are meant to go.
But, unlike exit signs on the highway, emotion signs are always meaningful — not necessarily because of what they are pointing to, but often because of what they are pointing from. More accurately, emotions can be thought of as a two-way sign — while part of the emotion is pointing outward, part of it is also pointing inward. And there is almost always value in exploring what our emotions are telling us about ourselves.
Why? Because, as Colossians 3:15 tells us, we are to "let the peace of Christ be in control in [our] heart[s]... and be thankful." That's hard to do if we are allowing our emotions to tell us where to go, or if we're suppressing our emotions and pretending they aren't telling us anything at all.
I feel like it is important to add a point of clarification here: if you touch a hot stove, your body, in an effort to protect itself, will attempt to resolve the situation before you even have a chance to think about it. Similarly, there are times where our fear is telling us to do something very immediate because, if we don't, we'll be seriously harmed. Please don't read this post as an argument that you need to delay or postpone action — and endure further harm - just because you sense fear. Like every other emotion, fear comes from a place within us that wants to keep us safe. It doesn't always know how to do that, though. If you're afraid, and you feel trapped, please don't feel like you have to figure it out all on your own.
Get some perspective.
One of the key characteristics of fear is paralysis; if you or someone you know is paralyzed by fear, recognize that that is a really hard place to be. And it is totally normal. For many of us, our desire to fix (and avoid) the feeling kicks in, and we miss the opportunity to hear what is really going on. The scriptures that tell us to "not be afraid" might give us the impression that we shouldn't fear - but the real message is that we don't have to. If we're stuck in fear, that doesn't mean we've done it wrong. Maybe it just means we haven't read the sign. So let's slow down, take a deep breath, and be kind to ourselves. It is worth noting that some of the most reassuring and comforting phrases in the Bible come after a reminder that we don't need to be afraid.
Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart...
Interesting. "Let." This isn't something you do. It is, instead, something that you don't do. Get out of the way by practicing self-kindness, seeing yourself as your Father does, and giving yourself space to feel what you're feeling. In doing so, you can begin to feel less paralyzed by your emotions and, instead, begin to find the courage to discover parts of yourself that you might not otherwise see.
...and be thankful.
Bear with me here; this reminds me of Philippians 4, where Paul tells us to, "not be anxious about anything" (6a). Anxiety is a precursor to fear, like fear's little brother or something. Paul says when you notice yourself feeling anxious, let that anxiety be a reminder to you to take very precise action: "through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God" (6b).
When we're paralyzed by fear, "just pray about it" feels pointless — but remember this: when you're struggling to take action, even a little action in the right direction is better than no action at all. Paul's prescription here is not to just pray, but to petition — which means being very direct and clear with what you're requesting — and to surround your requests with... wait for it.... thanksgiving.
Thank God for what he will do. And for what he has done. And for who he is. And for the fact that he's always, now and forever. And that, even though anxiety, fear, and life circumstances often feel incredibly overwhelming and powerful, God is infinitely more powerful. And, he loves you.
Thanksgiving is a struggle, but it is important for lots of reasons. And here's one: Paul says, if you follow his advice, "...the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).
Scripture isn't telling us that our feelings don't matter. The Bible doesn't say that our fears and anxieties are unimportant or that we should just ignore them or push them down and deny them. Nor is it suggesting that we should be able to muster ourselves and overcome our fears by our own will.
But there is something amazing that happens when we can step away from our fear, recognize what is going on inside of us that makes it feel so potent and so powerful, and then find the capacity to be thankful despite our circumstances: we gain perspective. That perspective allows us to hear what we could not hear, to see what we could not see, and, more often than not, to recognize options that we did not know were available to us.
So, take action:
In this moment or season, what are you afraid of? How are you struggling to try to control or minimize your fears? Be kind to yourself about those struggles, then ask God to take them. Be specific, honest, and vulnerable.
What has God done that you can choose to be thankful for? Make a list. Keep it handy.
Finally, what characteristics of God are you most thankful for right now?
Bryan Snead, M.A., NCC, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate
Supervised by Cristy Ragland, M.A., LPC-S, LMFT-S
Published on Aug 31 @ 1:20 PM CDT
One thing we can be certain of in life is that there will be uncertainty. And, for most of us, with uncertainty comes fear and anxiety. Since living with anxious thoughts is not only exhausting, but it is also not God's desire for us, it is helpful to understood helpful tips and tools for experiencing peace even when our life, and even our world, feels uncertain.
If you are anything like me recently, you too may have thought or felt that the world is spinning entirely out of control. We have suffered through the pain and challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing wrongs, and sins of racial and ethnic prejudices and add to it the societal instability. It feels utterly overwhelming and hopeless at times.
A few months back, I remember waking up feeling overwhelmed by all the chaos in the world. I vividly remember driving into work, telling myself, "Certainly today will be better," only to find that our circumstances grew worse throughout the day. Again, I told myself, "Well, tomorrow will be better," only to wake up to more pain and uncertainty. What became clear to me was that I was looking to the circumstances around me for my stability.
The truth is we all seek certainty. Our brain craves it. Many studies have shown that we are calmer anticipating pain than uncertainty. How fascinating that uncertainty can feel scarier than actual physical pain. On some level, I think we all know this to be true. Anticipating a negative outcome can so often be harder than the result itself. I recently had a personal example of this struggle while waiting for biopsy reports to come back for my husband. In many ways, the waiting was worse than receiving the diagnosis.
Why is this? When we face uncertainty, the brain reacts with a fight-flight response. It will often overestimate danger and triggers hormones that tell the body to watch out, leaving you anxious and worried about the future.
So, returning to my anxiety during these uncertain times, I recognized that I was seeking certainty in my circumstances. As a believer and a mental health professional, it could be very tempting to berate myself for these experiences. Instead of ignoring or shaming myself, I asked myself, "How do I face today's challenges with gracious uncertainty?" These thoughts came to mind.
1) Remember Jesus's compassionate instructions to us. Uncertainty isn't new. As we read in the Bible, God's people faced uncertain circumstances throughout history. His disciples, those closest to Jesus, faced anxiety and fear as He told them He would be going to the Cross. With loving words, Jesus spoke to them, "Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." Remembering God's kindness and compassion toward our fear enables us to face them. I believe the degree I can meet my struggles with kindness and compassion is the degree I can offer the same to others as they struggle.
2) Clinging to God's loving word during anxiety anchors us to His faithfulness. I have heard it said of ships when they get into a storm, drop anchor and be still. Staying in the present moment keeps us from future tripping about what might or might not happen. One beautiful way to stay anchored in the present is to take God's word and literally breathe it in. I invite you to stop throughout your day, breathe in His Peace and, breathe out fear. Anchoring God's word to the breath is a beautiful way to hold on to the hope of His word.
3) Stay connected to God and His people. Did you know that when we talk to family and friends, it releases all those good oxytocin chemicals in the brain? I know you’re thinking, "You don't know my family," but it's true. God has designed us for connection, and part of that beautiful design is the benefits our brain receives from connecting with others and Him. Our Church family is also a considerable resource God has given us during these challenges. I encourage you to invite your friends and family to be a part of our online services, or if your health permits, attend one of our in-person services. This connection is vital to our hearts, souls, and minds as well.
4) Give gratitude for the fleas. What? One of my favorite stories is from the book The Hiding Place. Corrie Ten Boons' sister is challenging her in a concentration camp to practice gratitude. What follows is a less than half-hearted prayer of gratitude for the fleas. What God makes clear later is the reality that Corrie and her sister were able to share the gospel and lead women to Christ before they died all because the guards would not enter their barracks. Later, Corrie sincerely thanked God for the fleas. Part of gratitude is the practice of thanking God amid the fleas. Gratitude may be a challenge for you right now. It's not easy, but it allows us to change our perspective, brings us back to the present, and anchors us to His love and faithfulness.
Staci Reichmanis, MA, LPC
Published on Aug 10 @ 12:24 PM CDT
The COVID-19 quarantine is a different experience for each of us. While there are likely some similarities, each of us has a different and unique take on how we’re being impacted — our daily routine, our family, our friends, and our mental health. Simply put, we’re all experiencing a storm, but we’re not all experiencing the same storm. By identifying your “storm,” you can lean into resources that might be helpful during this time.
My wife shared a great Facebook post with me the other day, and I can't stop thinking about it. The post compared our common experience of stay-at-home to riding out a storm. The fascinating point is this: we're all experiencing a storm, but we're not all experiencing the same storm.
For some of us, this is a period of rejuvenation. Life's pace is slowing down a little bit, priorities are becoming clearer, and we're using technology to connect with friends and family. This seems less like a storm, and more like those times when the rain clouds kind of lighten up, and the sun's rays shine through.
For others, we're waiting for a break in the weather; the rain is present, but maybe not constant. We're ready for the rain to stop and, sometimes, grateful for the refreshment. We're enjoying having dinner as a family every night. Watching movies and playing games. Taking walks. Riding bikes. We're thankful for the opportunity to spend time together, and, if we're honest, kind of ready to have some of our old routine back.
Then there's the thunderstorm: some of us are haunted by loud, ominous clouds of anxiety or anger. The people we live with are driving us batty and we're fairly certain that we can't stand another day with them. And, of course, we can't focus on anything other than the news. Or our aging parents. Or our children. Or our grandchildren. Or groceries. Or...
Still others of us are feeling helpless and hopeless, watching as the hurricane tears apart the life we've built. The roof is coming off, the foundation is washing away, and we can't find any way to stop the damage. Our marriage is crumbling, our kids are floundering, and our incomes and savings are disappearing.
a spectrum of experience
This storm is a wide spectrum of experience - and you may find yourself at many points on that spectrum throughout the day. One minute, you're delighted to be connecting with a friend on FaceTime, and the next you're screaming at your kids and beating yourself up over it. (I know because I'm having that experience, too.)
But here's something we should all remember: all of these experiences are normal, as is everything in between. Feeling these things makes sense in our current climate - but that doesn't mean we're out of options.
Consider what your storm looks like; review these resources and ideas, and, even though it might seem silly, give some a try. You might be surprised.
|If your storm is....||...try...|
a heavy rain
Published on Apr 14 @ 10:26 AM CDT
During this time of quarantine brought on by COVID-19, you’re likely spending more time with your kid(s) than usual. With that, you’ve probably noticed that they have a lot of feelings… and with that observation, you may be having some feelings of your own! And while understanding and processing your feelings might not always be comfortable or even come naturally, God designed you to have feelings so that you can better connect with others and Him. By tapping into some tips and tools, you can help your kid(s) more easily understand and manage their feelings.
With all the time that we have been spending with our kids lately, it’s likely that you have noticed them having some feelings…and with that observation, you may be getting some feelings of your own! Understanding and knowing our feelings can seem rather difficult to do at times, and sometimes we may not be sure how to decipher them. Sometimes we may even wonder if it’s even Biblical to give our emotions attention.
Before we go into some practical steps on how to help our children process and understand their feelings, I want to encourage you that God has wired all of us as emotional beings, and He doesn’t ask us to hide from them! He actually created and designed us with feelings and emotions IN ORDER TO connect us further together. In fact, the Psalmist David, known as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), is a wonderful example of someone who expressed a lot of emotions! But he was evidently so in tune with God’s heart and felt freedom to be himself with God as God shapes and directs him. This is who I want to be as a parent—safe for my kids to share, in tune with what’s on their hearts, and have an open communication in which they desire to learn and grow.
From a psychological standpoint, feelings are a part of our senses that help us understand the world around us and learn more about what is going on for us in our own minds and hearts. These feelings are like energy that move in and through us, ebbing and flowing, and changing as we experience our day. Our brain even shifts gears from being in protection (having a flight/flight response in the amygdala) to being thoughtful (having a calm response in the prefrontal cortex) based off our perception and our feelings (Siegel, 2012).
Often times feelings are a challenge to understand, much less manage, and I’d like to provide you some tips to helping your kids, and perhaps yourself, really tap into this powerful resource.
- BREATHE! This may be the best tool in our tool boxes, but perhaps one of our most under-utilized resources. Job describes the power of breath this way: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breathof the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). So no matter where you are or what is going on around you, God has given us this resource that is a quiet, constant frequency of calm. This is a vital energy source of calm and allows our body to push PAUSE before we react. Pausing can help shift the gears in our brain from protection to a thoughtful, calm place. When feelings feel big and out of control, invite yourself and your child to start the discovery of their feelings with a full breath of fresh calm.
- Help Name The Feelings: When we are able to identify what is going on inside of us, it removes the scary mystery of the experience, and allows us to shift gears with full eyes of curiosity verses narrow eyes of fear and judgement. “There is no fear in love. But perfectlove drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18) When our hearts are scared of something bad happening, we close off in fear. And some feelings feel…bad. They feel uncomfortable, confusing, overwhelming, and who wants to feel that way? But when we invite God’s loving gaze in our introspection, it transforms our feelings from being hidden and confused inside us to a new perspective that is surrounded by the light of God’s love and compassion. To start, go online, grab a feelings chart of your choice, and print it out to use to help your kids start to identify and voice these emotions.
- Discover the Feeling’s Voice: Once we figure out which type of feeling we are experiencing, get even more curious and figure out what that feeling is trying to say. David asks God to help him do this very thing when he says, “Searchme, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). It’s incredible the kinds of unhelpful, untruthful things we can be thinking about, and those thoughts can produce some pretty powerful and even crippling feelings along with it. But God invites us to think of “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think of such things” (Ephesians 4:8).
I read a brilliant kids article that labeled this fear the “Worry Monster” (252 Team, 2019). You just simply ask the child what the worry monster is saying to them, and through this externalization of the feelings, we start to have real, deep, and meaningful conversations with our kids about what’s going on in their hearts. And here we have an incredible opportunity as parents to provide comfort, encouragement, or to help reshape our child’s perspective. We’ve now transformed a scary feelings moment into a powerful moment of connection and learning.
- Hunt for Feeling Clues: Children are slowly developing the fine skills needed to verbalize their feelings into words (Cherry, 2020), and this is a skill many of us still are working through into our adulthood. To help them, and us, along, we can teach them context cues of our non-verbals, which is our tone, facial expression, body language, posture. These are all clues to what is going on inside of us, in our hearts and minds. If you feel you can remain calm, try asking your children in the middle of their emotional response questions like, “I am noticing your tone is loud right now. Do you feel that?” “I am noticing that you are jumping up and down.”
- Remember this is all practice. When our emotional world is out of control, it is very difficult for us to learn or grow new skills in the moment. David trusted God to teach him with patience and kindness, and God promised David, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 23:8). Often times their inner world and our inner world is so full of anxiety that it is difficult for us to calm down enough in this moment to have a productive learning time. So take a break…pray…and calm down! Then when things are calm get back to practicing, trying to find playful ways to help them discover their feelings and stretch their breathing skills through exercises. See resources below for more ideas!
252 Team (2019, Nov 19) OKP 022: Helping kids navigate anxiety – naming the worry monster. Retrieved from https://orangeblogs.org/252basics/okp-022-helping-kids-navigate-anxiety-naming-the-worry-monster/?fbclid=IwAR0qH4CbfmyU_JqQ4Xzg3_y2W9HkAQW1K5sf02j4FKK1kClRn3OCvXxHvw8
Cherry, K. (2020). The 4 stages of cognitive development: Background and key concepts of Piaget's theory. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development-2795457
Seigel, D., PhD. (2012). Dr Daniel Siegel presenting a Hand Model of the Brain. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gm9CIJ74Oxw
- For breathing skills, apps, and self-regulation tips, check out https://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/seven-self-regulating-apps-for-kids-that-teach-mindfulness
- For feelings charts and practices, check out fhttps://www.funwithmama.com/feelings-and-emotions-for-kids/
- Another great resource to help parents, kids and teens work through feelings and identify challenge areas is Kids Helpline. https://kidshelpline.com
- For more on Child Development: https://www.verywellmind.com/piagets-stages-of-cognitive-development-2795457
Published on Apr 14 @ 9:59 AM CDT