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
Do you ever respond to a situation in a way that doesn't seem appropriate or helpful? Maybe your response is over-the-top or perhaps you don't have enough of a reaction. In either case, getting to the root of your reaction will help direct you to the most appropriate remedy for the reaction. One way to do this is by identifying how you were feeling about yourself in that situation? This question brings the focus back on self and shows you how you are interpreting the situation. And it is the meaning you make of a situation, rather than the situation itself, which often determines your response. And when you understand the story you're telling yourself, and where that story comes from, you have the power to make a change!
“It has been 4 hours, and you regularly have to go after 2. You WILL go to the potty!” I said firmly, with much greater intensity than I would have liked. My two-year-old son felt the tension in the room and of course, dug his heels in even more and resisted going potty for several long hours after that, not to mention the repeated screaming, melt downs, and time outs that would soon follow.
But if I’m being honest, seemingly the worst part about the situation was the anger rising in me. The “I can’t think straight, nothing else matters, this is the end of the world” kind of anger. The kind of anger that leads you to be the kind of person you would never let anyone else be to your kiddos. The kind of anger that you feel horrible for later, and perhaps most upsettingly, the kind of anger that didn’t fit the situation.
The worst thing that could have happened was my little guy goes potty on the floor. And then we clean it up together. What was so scary about that, that it made me lose my mind?
Well quite literally, that “losing your mind” is exactly what happens on a neurological level when we feel triggered in some way. And this neurological process leads us to feel like we are in a different situation than we are in, that the threat we are experiencing is actually much greater, and thus we may start responding more intensely (or less intensely) than is appropriate for that situation. My reaction no longer fits the present moment because my brain and body are telling me I am somewhere from the past.
Before I go further, I want to be clear that there are many reasons that our reaction may not meet the needs of the moment. Perhaps we are lacking some key information that would help us make a good decision about something, so we respond less optimally. Maybe we’re really hungry, or didn’t get a good sleep last night, or are juggling too much at work, and these things are making us more susceptible to reacting negatively. We’re also human beings with a sin nature inside of us (Romans 3:23; Romans 7:23), and a real enemy outside of us (1 Peter 5:8), that are trying to keep us from living the lives God intends for us to live. These, and many other factors, may be contributing to the negative feelings we experience inside of us and the negative choices we make relationally.
The root of our reaction will help direct us to the most appropriate remedy for the reaction. And sometimes, our reaction doesn’t fit the present moment because the root for our reaction is in an entirely different situation all together.
Think for a moment about the last time you noticed yourself feeling about, or responding to a situation in a way that, perhaps in retrospect, didn’t seem to be very helpful or appropriate for the needs of the moment.
How were you feeling about yourself in that situation?
This is a much different question than “how were you feeling in that situation.” The latter often leads us to answers such as “I felt frustrated because he did that to me!” or “I felt sad because of what happened.” Often our answer to this question shows a focus on the external; what someone did or didn’t do, what happened or didn’t happen, rather than our internal meaning of the situation. When we focus externally, we can end up feeling powerless and out of control to change anything because the outside world often is not in our control.
The question, “How were you feeling about yourself” in a particular situation brings the focus back on self and shows us how we are interpreting the situation. And it is the meaning we make of a situation, rather than the situation itself, which often determines our response. And when we understand the story we’re telling ourselves, and where that story comes from, we have the power to make a change!
So, if you were to fill in the blanks, “I am…” when you think about that time you responded in a way that didn’t fit the situation, what would you say? What was the underlying belief or feeling about yourself in that situation?
Here are some examples sorted into categories:
Self-defectiveness: I am not good enough; I am a bad person; I am not lovable; I am inadequate; I am worthless; I am weak; I am permanently damaged; I am shameful
Responsibility: I should have done something; I should have known better; I should have done more; It is my fault
Safety: I am not safe; I can’t trust anyone; I am in danger; I can’t protect myself; I am going to die; It is not ok to feel or show my emotions
Control: I am not in control; I am powerless; I am helpless; I am weak; I cannot be trusted; I cannot trust myself
When I think back to that potty training moment where I lost my cool, the feeling I had about myself, or the meaning I made of the situation, was “I am powerless.” And truthfully, there was absolutely nothing I could do to make my little guy use the potty. Nothing! No matter how hard I tried, I could not control whether he goes on the floor or in the potty. Bummer!
But this potty training moment of not being in control hooked in a part of my brain which held a memory of another time I was not in control. A time where the stakes were much higher, and the damage was much greater; a moment that caused deep pain. Perhaps the first time I felt “powerless.”
And folks, herein lies a link between the past and the present. Now, my mind no longer thinks am I safe in the bathroom with my toddler entering the exciting phase of learning to potty, but is telling me I am back in the past. Hence, I start responding intensely and inappropriately in the present, to neutralize the threat of the past.
So for your situation, what was the meaning you made about yourself? And when was the first, or an earlier time in your life, that you felt that way? Or, where did you learn that message about yourself? The answers to these questions can often lead us to the root of our reactions. And when we know where the root is, we have greater ability to nourish that root the way it needs to grow.
Our reactions are often the only things we can see. It’s like a plant that springs up from the ground. And when our reactions are unhelpful or inappropriate for a particular situation, we can feel discouraged, embarrassed, or shameful about our behaviors. It’s like noticing a plant that’s leaves are withering, fruit is damaged, and looks ugly, and judging it as a bad plant.
But what if we could see this plant compassionately, and curiously? Rather than judging the plant as bad or wrong or needing to be fixed, what if we started getting curious about what its roots looked like? What kind of soil has it been growing in? Maybe there’s something beneath the surface that needs a kind gardener to nourish and bring healing to, to enable the plant to blossom as it is intended.
So the next time you find yourself responding to a situation in a way that doesn’t seem to fit, try practicing curiosity about the meaning you are making about yourself, and where that is actually coming from. You might find that you are actually responding to a situation from the past, which can lead you to uncovered depths of you that are hurting and need the love of Christ. And it is when we shine the loving light of Christ onto these roots that we have the power to take responsibility for them in effective ways, rather than letting them wreak havoc in our lives beneath the surface.
Bridget Butterworth MA, LPC Intern
Supervised by Sarah Walters MA, LPC-S
Published on Sep 14 @ 11:24 AM CDT
In this time of social distancing, connection certainly looks different. From girl’s/guy’s night over Zoom, to live streaming Sunday morning worship, to virtual school, COVID-19 has certainly had a significant impact on our lives. Whether you're feeling lonely from a lack of connection or feeling overwhelmed by too much time with family, it's helpful to have tools for how to have a healthy connection and interaction.
What comes to mind first when you think about the word “connection?”
In this time of social distancing, connection certainly looks different. From girl’s/guy’s night over Zoom, to live streaming Sunday morning worship, to virtual school, COVID-19 has touched everything. It’s impacted every moment in which connection is valuable – celebrated, even. Weddings, Births, Funerals. School, Summer Camps, Parties. Sunday Worship, Small Groups, Bible Studies. Not to mention what might feel like too much connection for families who are working from home, schooling from home, and lacking options for outings – missing the previous opportunities of spending time with others.
The first couple of months, the collective murmur seemed to be along the lines of, “It’s only temporary.” “We’ll get through this!” Let’s just pause and reflect on what a relief Zoom was at the beginning versus now. Zoom Fatigue, anyone? *raises hand* (BOTH hands). After 6-plus months of everything being different, the murmur seems to be “WE’RE OVER IT.”
“I feel exhausted and I haven’t even done much this week.” Sound familiar? Wondering, “Is it really normal how lonely I feel?” Thoughts of “Surely other people are having an easier time than I am.” Trying to balance how much we seek normalcy and doing our best keeping ourselves, families, and friends safe. We’re getting messages to reduce social gatherings, work from home, wear masks, don’t touch ANYTHING, and sanitize EVERYTHING. Oh, and still take care of yourself and your mental wellness. How in the world do we do that and continue to have a healthy, authentic connection with others? It’s definitely been a challenge.
Research suggests that feeling disconnected not only has emotional side effects but also takes a physical toll on our bodies. We observe a positive correlation between loneliness and physical ailments such as type 2 Diabetes, hypertension, and even Alzheimer’s. Increased stress chemicals in the brain from loneliness influence levels of depression, can affect sleep patterns, and potentially weaken the immune system1. If loneliness can have these effects, it’s no wonder we might feel like we’re drowning in loss of connection. The experience of “I’m so tired and I don’t know why” becomes a little bit more normal and makes a little bit more sense.
Now, I don’t know who needs to hear this (or if anyone needs to hear it, but I surely need to hear it). Your feelings of disconnection or loneliness are not a lack of faith, a lack of worth, or a lack of human value. Our sense of normalcy and how we previously sought connection has been shaken to the core. How society conveys value – busy schedules, productivity, and on-the-go lifestyle – now looks a whole lot different. The loneliness that comes out of that lets darkness creep in and can make us question where our worth is now. Remember that our worth is in the Father and what He says about us!
This knowledge doesn’t make your loneliness go away and maybe doesn’t even reduce it. What it might do, though, is give you more insight to what is happening in your brain and body. It’s okay to pay attention to these things! Our culture tends to guide us towards, “What’s next?” “What’s coming?” “Who needs me/needs something from me?” A myriad of to-do lists and urgent matters that distract and take away from the present moment. What would happen if we noticed, “What is my experience in this moment?” “What is my body trying to tell me?” “What are my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs right now?”
Okay, so I’ve recognized that I’m lonely. I’ve taken a minute to acknowledge that I have emotional, relational needs that are not being met. What do I DO? How do I navigate these feelings of loneliness and loss of connection? Great questions! While I don’t know what is best in your time of life, I can provide some suggestions. These might work for you, these might not. Take what you need, leave what you don’t.
Suggestions for connecting while distant:
1. Let God in!
Talk to God about where you are. When others are distant, our God is always near — specifically when we are hurting (Psalm 34:17-18). He is SO near, in fact, that as believers His spirit is in us (1 John 4:13)! Our Heavenly Father wants a relationship with us so much that he sent his only Son as a sacrifice for our sins so that we could live in connection with him for eternity (John 3:16). Pray. Connect with the Father who meets you exactly where you are. We do nothing to deserve it, but God offers His love freely to everyone who believes (Rom 3:21-26).
2. Tell someone how you’re feeling!
If you’re feeling lonely and disconnected, share how you’re feeling with others. The act of allowing others into our experience automatically creates connection. Recognize a friend, family member, or church member you can trust and talk to them (Gal 6:2). Maybe they are feeling the same way, are good at listening, and/or have ways they have been able to find connection in this time. Many counselors are also doing virtual sessions right now and some have socially distanced in-person availability. Consider if this would be a good option for you!
3. Join a small group, bible study, or book club!
Grow your community by entering in to intentional time with others. Being a part of a group working towards a similar goal can facilitate connection, even when you are not able to physically see each other. Imagine reading a book and knowing that three other people are also reading it? Bam! Connection. To get started, check out the links below. Hill Country Bible Church currently has open registration for Bible Studies! Get more information sign-up: Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood
4. Get creative with your Zoom calls!
Plan with a friend to get the same craft supplies or cooking ingredients. Craft or cook together on a Zoom call in addition to the usual talking. At the end show each other your creative project or share a meal together.
5. Driveway and Patio parties!
Okay, “party” is maybe the wrong word. Call up a friend, family member or neighbor and hang out on the driveway or patio. Foster present moment relationships while practicing social distancing.
6. Serve others!
Think about how you can pour into other people’s lives. Write a kind note, join a meal train, or help a family you know with virtual learning. As Christians, we are called to serve (Gal 5:13, Phil. 2:1-4, 1 Peter 4:8-11) . How better to foster connection than connecting with what were created to do? Consider your bandwidth for this and serve within your current capacity.
Connect with your needs, connect with God, and connect with others. Explore what your current self needs and allow those things to be real and valuable. Give yourself space to enter in to the struggle of loneliness and sadness over lost connection. Notice what you need and contemplate what would help those needs to be met. Find someone you trust and allow them in to your struggle. Reconnect over loss of connection.
1Mushtaq, R., Shoib, S., Tabindah, S. Mushtaq, S. (2014). Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health: A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research (9). https://dx.doi.org/10.7860%2FJCDR%2F2014% 2F10077.4828
Rebekah Capriglione, MA, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Sarah Walters, LPC-S
Published on Aug 31 @ 10:48 AM 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
For most of us, receiving a lump sum of money, such as the COVID-19 stimulus check, can raise a lot questions about the best and most responsible way to allocate the funds. Let’s take a look a six things to do with your stimulus check.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He we will make your paths straight.” (Prov 3:5-6)
As you thank God for providing a Stimulus check, consider how He would have you use it. Here are some things to think about:
1. Cover the Basic Essentials
Have your hours been cut at work or your salary reduced?
- If so, use this money to “make up” the difference for a few more months. Take care of your four walls first (food, utilities, shelter and transportation-in that order).
- Don’t use it all at one time - be strategic about how you spend it and find ways to stretch it as much as possible.
2. Pay Down Debt
Depending on your situation and goals, this may be a great opportunity to pay down some of your outstanding debt. Continue to make minimum payments on all outstanding debt and ask about payment deferrals if you’re not able to make your minimum payments during this time.
3. Build Your Emergency Savings
If you do not have a fully funded emergency fund and you’re able to make your minimum debt payments, saving this money can allow you to use it for future emergencies and have peace of mind knowing you will be able to cover potential surprises.
4. Serve an Individual or Family in Need
If you are feeling financially secure and you’re grateful for a stable job, look for ways to “live and give like no one else!”
- Be generous and help others that are going through a difficult time. Maybe you have a neighbor that was laid off or a friend in need.
- Find ways to bless others. Consider giving above and beyond your tithes and offering to our Benevolence Fund to help those in our church family and our community negatively impacted by COVID-19.
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
5. Support your Local Community
Supporting our local communities is more important than ever. Buy from local, independently owned businesses. Order carry-out. Check out a local farmer’s market. Tip better than you usually do. There are also several ways you can jump in and help through Community Impact. Consider designating an online gift to Community Impact to support their ministry efforts.
6. Invest for the Future
if you already have an emergency fund and your job is secure, you may want to consider using your stimulus check to invest for the future. Take advantage of compounding interest working in your favor. Save for retirement or start a 529 plan for child(ren)’s future college education expenses.
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise, but as wise.” (Eph. 5:15)
Sources and Additional Resources:
- Dave Ramsey and Financial Peace University https://www.daveramsey.com
- Coronavirus: What to Do if You’re Out of Work https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/what-to-do-if-you-miss-a-paycheck
- How to Manage Your Money (and Business Finances) During a Crisis https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/how-to-manage-money-during-crisis
Published on Apr 20 @ 8:47 AM CDT