The Present Moment

“We need to be fully aware and awake in the moment. Too much time in the past leads to depression: regrets, bad memories, shame, guilt, bitterness, old wounds— all that lies in the past. Too much time in the future leads to anxiety: what if that happens? What if this falls through? Fear. Worry. Concern. It’s all in the future.”

-John Mark Comer, My Name Is Hope 

This book has been so central in my healing journey. In My Name is Hope (highly recommend!), author and pastor John Mark Comer writes about anxiety and depression. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of living in the present moment.

Now I do believe that it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the past in order to learn, grow, and even heal from painful experiences.

However, I know from personal experience, that dwelling too deeply on the past can lead to persistent sadness and regret. I can waste precious time rehashing painful memories, analyzing past conversations with people, and regretting wasted moments and opportunities. The truth is that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. It has already happened. Therefore, all I can do is invite God into the pain of my past and choose not to let it define me.

The same thing is true about the future. On the one hand, it is important to consider the future and set goals and plans.

However, I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend way too much time lost in future possibilities. I can always find something to worry about. And the truth is that most of the things that I worry about never even materialize. Even more importantly, I miss the beauty of the present moment because my mind is caught up in future moments.

Recently I’ve discovered several strategies for being fully present in the moment. The following are some ideas that are helpful to me:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness: This is a fun exercise for getting into the present moment. I discovered it by reading many online articles about fighting anxiety. Basically, I go through each of my 5 senses and notice what my body is experiencing. I call it “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness” because I notice 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste.

For example, right now I am sitting in my bedroom.

I see tiny rays of light coming through the partially closed window blinds, the soft glow of lamplight, my blue beta fish swimming in its tank, my waterfall photograph on the wall, and my tall, white bookshelf full of my favorite books.

feel the soft pillow behind my head, the cool comforter that I’m sitting on, the scratchy carpet beneath my feet, and the smooth keys on my laptop keyboard.

I hear the soft buzz of my box fan, the tumble of the clothes dryer, and the clicking of my laptop keyboard.

I smell the calming scent of lavender room spray and the subtle odor of sunscreen that I wore earlier today.

I taste cool, refreshing raspberry sorbet that I am eating as I write this blog post.

I love this exercise because it helps me to notice all of the things that are happening right around me and to thank God for them.

Exercise: Exercise always helps me get into the present moment. Although I’m not the most athletic person, I love running. When I run, I find myself focusing on my breathing and my running pace. This helps me to stay focused on the moment. I also am a major hiker. I love getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m out exploring all of the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail.

Worship: I love listening to worship music. Especially when I’m feeling anxious and afraid, music always brings me into the present moment. Especially when I’m driving, I like to sing along to worship songs and really focus on what the words are saying. These are such peaceful times with the Lord, spending time in His presence.

Written or verbal prayer: As someone who struggles with anxiety, I find that my mind often wanders when I try to pray. Therefore writing prayers to God in my journal helps me to stay focused on my conversation with Him. Sometimes I find it even more helpful to actually speak my prayers out loud to God. When I’m driving in the car, sometimes I’ll simply talk to God out loud and process life with Him. It’s amazing how this helps me to stay focused and present with the Lord.

Silence and solitude: I’ve mentioned this before, but silence and solitude are such important practices in my life. In many ways, silence and solitude discipline my mind to stay present. When I remove all of the distraction and noise, I’m left with just myself and God. It’s then that I can most clearly hear His voice and experience His presence.

Intentional time with others: Although I’m an introvert, I love spending time with people, especially in one-on-one settings. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m face-to-face and communicating with someone I care about. Something I try to practice is intentional listening— seeking to hear what the other person is truly saying and feeling without just waiting to jump in with my own thoughts. It’s amazing how fully present I feel when I get outside of my own mental orbit and seek to truly understand what’s going on inside another person.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some strategies that you utilize to more fully engage in the present moment and experience God there?

The Next Step

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I regularly get overwhelmed with the big picture in life.  Especially in seasons of uncertainty, I find myself over analyzing and over thinking. Sometimes I feel paralyzed to take action because there are so many potential outcomes and possibilities.

Recently my pastor shared some simple advice that I can’t get out of my head:

“When you’re not sure what do next, simply obey the last thing God told you to do.”

What a simple but profound thought.

God doesn’t need me to analyze every possible outcome. He doesn’t want me to waste time worrying about the things I can’t control. Instead, He invites me to listen to His voice and simply obey the last thing He told me to do.

Sometimes trying to understand the big picture in life is just too much. And it causes me to become overwhelmed and weary. In times like these, God reminds me that He is God and I am not. He has the big picture of my life under control.

I don’t need to worry about the mountain that rises before me.

I simply need to take the next small step that is right in front of me.

The Link Between Anxiety and Control

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

– Psalm 37:7a

I’ve always been a careful planner. I like to know what to expect. As a result, I love organizing things, making lists, and creating plans. Although these are good qualities, I think that sometimes control is actually a coping mechanism for my anxiety.

There are so many unpredictable things that happen in life. And I feel safest when I try to control what I can.

My desire for control affects the way I plan my week. I’ve noticed that I can be fairly inflexible about my daily and weekly schedule because routines make me feel safe. As a teacher, this also impacts my classroom. I spend too much time over preparing for lessons and often miss out on spontaneous moments of fun with my students. Control impacts my relationships as well. I regularly rehearse difficult conversations with people in an effort to be prepared for any possible outcome. My desire for control even affects my relationship with God. I struggle to just be quiet and let God speak to me whatever He wants to say.

I can say from personal experience that controlling my own life is exhausting. It leaves me tired, weary, and discouraged since I’m living out of my own strength.

However, I’m learning that God doesn’t call me to control and manipulate situations just so that I can feel better.

He calls me to be still.

He reminds me that He is God and I am not.

He invites me to surrender control because His ways are so much higher than mine.

He helps me to open my fists and let go of the things that I think will make me happy so that He can show me true joy.

I’ve been discovering that solitude is a powerful tool for releasing control. This can be as simple as taking just 10 minutes a day to be quiet before God. During this time, I don’t bring my own agenda or questions. Instead, I ask God to speak to me whatever He wants to say. Sometimes He encourages me to pursue an activity that I hadn’t planned for that day. Other times He invites me to reach out to someone in my life. And most of the time He simply reminds me of who He is and who I am.

In these times I feel truly secure in the love of my Father.

And I remember that out of control is actually the best place to be.

Vulnerability and Courage

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

-Brene’ Brown, Rising Strong 

In an earlier post I wrote about vulnerability and how it has been an important tool in fighting my social anxiety.  However, the more I practice vulnerability, the more I realize how much courage it takes to be truly known by people. I’m learning that vulnerability is risky business and that practicing vulnerability carries no guarantees.

Vulnerability often begets deeper connection, empathy, and intimacy.

However, vulnerability can also result in rejection, disappointment, and pain.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with what to do when I risk vulnerability and it doesn’t work out.

I think that for people with social anxiety, experiences of rejection are especially painful. In moments of rejection, it’s so tempting to shut down the heart and vow not to risk vulnerability again.

However, I know that this isn’t the way God intends for us to live.

God intends for us to live in community with others— to know and be known. Although relationships can lead to hurt and disappointment, they are also one of the most powerful ways that God brings healing to our lives. Vulnerability is truly worth the risk.

It takes courage to get back up after a disappointment. 

But I’m determined to keep practicing vulnerability, even when it’s painful.

Think on These Things

“Finally, brothers, 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 about such things.”

-Philippians 4:8

As someone who is no stranger to anxiety, I’ve discovered just how important it is to guard my mind.  I think that everyone struggles with negative thoughts from time to time. However, for people with anxiety, this battle can be especially intense.

In an earlier post, I wrote about strategies I use to fight the battle for my mind. In this post, I want to share some specific ways that God is teaching me to combat negative thoughts. 

Being wise about entertainment: The honest truth is that for much of my life I didn’t give enough thought to the media that I consumed. However, several years ago, the Lord challenged me that the TV and movies I watched were affecting me more than I realized. I asked God to make me more sensitive in this area and I quickly realized that most media focuses on things that are completely opposite of Philippians 4:8. Rather than filling my mind with lovely, pure, and peaceful things, I was consuming negativity, impurity, and anxiety. Now I’m not saying that I think that all movies and TV shows are evil. I think that film can be a powerful tool for conveying important stories and messages. However, I do believe that as Christians we need to be a lot more careful about what we’re consuming and the way that the things we watch affect our minds. Although, I definitely still watch movies and TV shows from time to time, I am much more careful about what I’m consuming. And this has done wonders for decreasing my anxiety.

Reading/listening to uplifting content: While I’ve found that many TV shows and movies are harmful to my thought life, there are other types of content that support good thoughts. I’ve always loved reading, especially books about faith, psychology, and personal development. Reading opens my minds to enriching ideas and perspectives which have such a positive impact on my life. The same is true about listening to podcasts and sermons. Over the past few years I’ve become a bit of a podcast junkie. 🙂 I always feel so encouraged and inspired by my favorite podcasts. I’ve found that this is a much more positive and productive way to spend my time than on other forms of media.

Limiting social media: I have such a love-hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, I love the way that it connects me to dear people in my life, especially people that live far away. At the same time, I’ve noticed that when I spend too much time online, I end up feeling discontent, self-critical, and restless. I think that for people who struggle with social anxiety, social media magnifies our sense of unworthiness. Seeing the “highlight reel” of everyone else’s lives quickly causes me to feel like not enough—not social enough, not pretty enough, not busy enough, not successful enough— and this is a very unhealthy place for me to dwell. Additionally, social media is such an inauthentic representation of reality. Social media fails to show the mundane, ordinary, and unexciting parts of life that we all experience. Therefore, I’ve realized that in seasons of anxiety, it’s helpful to limit my social media use or take a break completely. It’s amazing how much more peaceful and comfortable with myself I feel. And I also have more time and energy to invest in meaningful relationships with the people around me.

Spending time with uplifting people: This one is so important. As someone who tends to take on the feelings and emotions of others, I am very impacted by the people around me. Although I strongly value having ministry relationships in my life where I can pour into others, I’ve realized that it is vital to also prioritize mutual, life-giving relationships. I need time with gracious and compassionate friends who will listen and seek to understand. I need to be surrounded by people who are also pursuing peace and joy in their lives. Finding this balance is challenging, but so critical in maintaining a positive perspective.

Prioritizing beauty: Spending time in God’s creation does wonders for my anxiety. There’s something powerful about getting away from the day to day worries of life and soaking up the beauty that God has made. In these times I gain new perspective about the things I’m worried about. I also have such a profound sense of peace and rest. The same is true about listening to beautiful music, reading a well-written story, or watching a beloved movie. God’s world is overflowing with beauty and it is such a healing remedy for my mind.

Practicing gratitude: Although I mentioned this in an earlier post, I think it’s worth mentioning again. Having a daily (or at least weekly) practice of gratitude has revolutionized my thought life. It’s so much easier to focus on what is true and lovely when I’m operating out of a posture of thankfulness. It’s almost impossible to be self-critical or anxious when I’m thanking God for all that is good in the world.

Spending daily time with the Lord: This is by far the most important way that I combat negative thoughts. I believe that daily time with God is a necessity for all Christians. However, as someone who struggles with anxiety, solitude with the Lord is absolutely vital. In the quiet place, I remember who I am and how God sees me. I gain God’s big picture perspective on life and get out of my self-centered orbit. And my soul finds true rest. Honestly, in seasons of busyness and stress, daily time with God seems to be the first thing to go. However, I’m realizing that during these times, it is all the more essential! I am definitely still a work in progress on this one. However, I’m slowly discovering that daily time in prayer and in God’s Word radically transforms my thought life.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some practical ways that you fight negative thoughts?