“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
-Romans 8: 5&6
This verse has had such an impact on me lately. Oh how I want a mind governed by the Spirit, filled with life and peace!
Since anxiety always begins in the mind, I think that as Christians we need to pay more attention to our thoughts. I once heard it said that our minds can be one of two things. The mind can be a Wild West where anything goes and criminal thoughts are allowed to enter and wreak havoc. Or it can be a Garden of Eden, disciplined by the Spirit and ruled by truth and peace.
This sounds ideal but in reality, a mind governed by the Spirit requires so much discipline and intentionality. I know from personal experience that controlling the mind is a battle that is not easily won! In this post, I want to share some practical ways that God has been helping me win the battle for my mind.
Questioning anxious thoughts: When I’m overcome with an anxious thought, I first try to carefully examine it. It’s almost like I’m putting my thoughts on trial to see if they actually hold up.
In her book How to be Yourself: Quiet your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety (highly recommend!), author Ellen Hendriksen suggests two important questions to ask oneself in an anxious moment:
- What is the worst that could happen? Although this might seems dramatic, sometimes playing out an anxious thought to its end is actually very helpful to me. It helps me to realize that no matter what happens, I’m going to be ok. As a Christian I can rest in the truth that no matter what happens, I always have Jesus and He is all I need. This may sound simplistic, but honestly this reminder is so important when I’m in the midst of anxiety.
- How would I cope? This question is equally important because it takes away feelings of powerlessness. I remember how much support and love I have in my life through dear friends, family, and especially my faith. Remembering my support system lessens the power of anxious thoughts and ideas.
Distinguishing truth from lies: There is so much power in identifying lies, many of which are the root of social anxiety. However, I’ve learned that I have to be close to the Lord in order to recognize lies from the Enemy. Only by spending time in God’s presence, reading His Word, and studying His character can I be equipped to identify thoughts that are harmful and untrue.
I’ve also realized that it’s not enough to simply identify lies. Victory comes through replacing those lies with truth. Sometimes I’ll keep a list on my mirror of truths from God’s Word. I will read them each morning as I’m getting ready for the day. In another season, God laid it on my heart to journal every scripture I could find about His love for me. This is something that I can go back to when I feel overcome with lies and need to remember the truth about myself.
Healthy processing. I don’t think it’s every helpful to wallow in anxiety. However, I have found that healthy processing can be a good strategy for releasing anxious thoughts.
Journaling is one of my favorite tools. If I go to bed feeling overwhelmed with anxieties of the day, sometimes I’ll write an “offload list” in my journal. This is a place to write anything that I feel unsettled about that is absorbing my attention. Sometimes I’ll even draw a picture of a present next to each item as a visual reminder that I’m giving that anxiety to God and refusing to dwell on it any longer.
Sometimes processing with a friend or family member is also helpful. We aren’t meant to walk through challenges alone. Sometimes it’s so relieving to speak out the things that are swirling around in my mind. Additionally, I’ve found that someone coming from an outside perspective can more easily identify the lies that I’m accepting as truth.
Self compassion: I am a big fan of self compassion, but I don’t love the terminology. I think that a better term might be “God compassion”. When I’m in the midst of anxiety, I need to talk to myself kindly, treating myself with the compassion that God has for me.
As someone who is very self-critical, this is a challenging strategy to implement. Sometimes I find it helpful to imagine that a dear friend is experiencing the anxiety I’m facing. I then try to to talk to myself in the same way that I would talk to them— with grace, compassion, and validation of their feelings. The following are helpful phrases to speak to myself:
“This is hard for you right now and that’s ok.”
“You’re feeling really anxious and that’s not a good way to feel.”
“This anxiety is going to pass.”
“You’ve been victorious over anxiety before and you can do it again.”
Gratitude: This is probably my favorite strategy for reclaiming my mind. In my opinion, gratitude is the most helpful remedy for critical, negative thoughts. A few years ago, I started documenting “evidences of grace” in my journal. My habit is to daily (or at least every few days) make a list of the places where I’ve seen God’s grace in my life. This could be anything from a warm cup of tea to a moment of connection with someone. This practice has been revolutionizing my mind. I am more aware of the beauty, gifts, and blessings in my life that I so easily miss. When my mind is filled with thankfulness and gratitude there is no room for anxieties and worries to enter.
The battle for the mind isn’t easy, but it’s so worth fighting. I don’t want you to think I have this figured out. The truth is that sometimes my mind still feels a lot more like a chaotic Wild West than a peaceful Garden of Eden. However, I no longer feel powerless when unruly thoughts enter my mind. I have tools that I can use to discipline my mind, allowing it to come under the government of the Spirit, not my flesh.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do you combat anxious thoughts in your life?