Did you know that your body has a "reset" button for anxiety?

by Katherine Bell, LPC

Anxiety.  To me, it’s always a “double-whammy”.  First, there’s the anxiety itself, which is bad enough. But on top of that, I feel the stigma of knowing that as a Christian I’m not supposed to be feeling it. (See my previous post for more.)

The “Fear Not!” commands are all over the Bible – in fact, no other command in Scripture is given more often. (God must really mean it!)

  • “… do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God….”  Philippians 4:6-7

I don’t know about you, but these verses used to trigger a lot of guilt and shame on top of the anxiety I was already feeling. What’s wrong with me that I can’t just “turn off” my anxiety?  Am I a bad Christian? Why can’t I just “give it all to God” and be happy?

Now, I won’t pretend that I have this thing all figured out.  I won’t say I never have to… well… worry  about worry any more. I doubt I’ll be able to do that entirely this side of heaven.  But I have learned that when clinical anxiety hits, there are things I can actually do about it (besides “white-knuckle it” and question my own faith).

Trusting God is always a good thing (and sometimes it really is all you need). But clinical anxiety is not always a simple “lack of faith”. It is a physiological response to a real or imagined threat that is sometimes rooted so far in the past that you don’t even remember how it started. It even has a name—"fight-or-flight”.

And you can learn to turn it off. Or at least turn it down.

When your body goes into “fight-or-flight”, it is trying to protect you. And it really doesn’t matter if you’re just having an argument with a family member, or if someone has pulled a gun on you in a dark parking lot—it responds the same, predictable way:

  • Your brain floods with the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Your “emotional brain” overrides your “rational brain” so your life-saving reflexes can act quickly.
  • Your heart rate and blood pressure increase. You may even have chest pains.
  • Your breathing becomes faster and shallower. You consume more oxygen. You may even hyperventilate.
  • Your adrenal glands dump adrenaline into your bloodstream.
  • Your liver dumps its glucose reserves and your pancreas decreases insulin. This raises your blood glucose levels to give you a surge of energy (and if you don’t think high blood sugar can affect your behavior, just ask me about my diabetic child).
  • Your blood supply is diverted from less-urgently-needed systems to your muscles so you can run away or defend yourself. This slows or stops your digestion, sometimes causing indigestion or even nausea.

As uncomfortable as this full-body response feels, it is exactly as God designed it! It can literally save a life!  But if we don’t learn how to manage the stressors that trigger it, we can get “stuck” in a chronic fight-or-flight state. Over time, it can even depress the immune system and cause long-term health issues.

This is clinical anxiety.

So back to What can I do about it? I can’t just tell my heartrate to go back to normal. Well, as it turns out, you can.

Look at all the physiological responses listed above. Most of them are involuntary. You can’t consciously turn your insulin back up, or your cortisol back down. But you can control one thing—your breathing.

When you consciously begin to make yourself take slow, deep breaths, it’s kind of like entering “CTL-ALT-DELETE” in your central nervous system. Your brain starts to notice that you’re breathing slowly, as you would if you were in the “rest and digest” state. It notices the increased amounts of available oxygen.  And it suddenly realizes, “Oh! I must be safe now!”

So it sends out the “all clear” signal, and the body starts to gather up all that extra cortisol, adrenaline, glucose, and other stress chemicals and dump them into the bladder where they no longer affect you. It takes a minimum of 20 minutes to finish the job, but once it does... ta-da!—you’ve "turned down" or even “turned off” your anxiety....

...at least for now.  This breathing trick is a great tool to have on hand, but sometimes it is like an asthma inhaler. Albuterol is a life-saving rescue tool, but it won't cure your underlying problem. Anxiety can come from any area of our lives, and sometimes, it is rooted in events so far in the past that we don't even think to connect it.  Talking with a counselor can really help uncover the roots of your anxiety and help put you on the road to true healing (with God's help!). Call me today for your free 15-minute consultation, and find out if Connections is right for you!

So does all this mean that all you need is breathing techniques and someone to talk to? that the Bible is irrelevant today?  Absolutely not!  In my next post, I will give more specific details about how to use breathing to calm anxiety, and talk about how to combine it with soothing verses that will solidly bind this method to your faith!

Shouldn't Christians be Exempt from Anxiety?

by Katherine Bell, LPC

"Anxiety?!" My friend gave me an accusing look. “You do realize that means you’re in sin, right? Because the Bible tells us not to worry. You just need to give it all to Jesus!”

Have you ever received advice like this? Or maybe... “You shouldn't be so negative. Just look on the bright side!”

I’ve even been told, “There’s never any excuse for a Christian to be depressed because we have such joy in Christ. Maybe you were never really saved in the first place.”

Uh… not helpful, guys.

Friends like these mean well. But if they have never experienced clinical anxiety or depression for themselve, they can find it difficult to understand or identify with these struggles. I know that after these conversations, I would end up feeling even more depressed, more anxious, and in deeper shame than before.

It's no wonder that sometimes even deeply devoted Christians hesitate to seek faith-based counseling.

On the other hand, the Bible does tell us not to be anxious. In fact, it gives this command more often than any other in Scripture. So maybe we should—as Bob Newhart’s skit famously suggests — "Stop it!"   [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw]

But of course, that’s much more easily said than done. How do you just “stop it”? How do you “Fear not!” when your hear is racing, your chest feels tight, your palms are sweating, your stomach is upset, and you can’t sleep? You can’t simply “flip a switch” and turn it off.

Or can you?

I struggled with clinical depression and anxiety for so many years that I eventually lost hope that I would ever be free of it. I had finally resigned myself to believing that I was simply defective, unable to do what other people seemed to be able to do easily. But in time, with the help of God and some very patient mentors, I began to learn what is actually happening in my body when I feel this way... and things I can do about it!

Now, as a Christian counselor, I am passionate about finding processes that work in parallel with Scriptural truths. I don’t say, “Here’s what the Bible tells you to do. Now figure it out.” Rather, I strive to understand (I’m still learning!) how our minds, bodies, and emotions work during our struggles, and to discover methods that work in harmony with God’s design to manage life’s stresses.  (Check back for new blog entries that will talk about some of the practical strategies that can really help calm your anxiety!)

It would be my privilege and honor to walk that road with you if you are experiencing these same discouragements.

Your 15-minute phone conversation is free. Call or email me today, and find out if Connections can help you achieve your goals, with God’s help.

Parents of Prodigals

by Debbie Collins

“If you just disciplined your children better, they wouldn’t have these problems.”

Ugh. Sound familiar? Few situations make a parent feel more helpless than watching a child struggle with painful issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, learning differences, social difficulties, or mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. When two or more of these problems present at once, the panic and isolation can be debilitating – a parent just can’t make any sense out of it. And when domestic abuse is also a factor (which it often is) the chaos can feel hopeless.

I get it. 

Years ago, this was me. I was a newly-divorced single mom facing some of these issues alone. Raising teens without a father-figure (or financial support) is difficult enough. But I soon found that no one in my circle could identify, much less offer practical help. Over and over, I found myself subjected to ridicule and shame in the disguise of advice (like the unhelpful quip about discipline, above).

I began to feel like Job sitting in the ashes while his friends blamed him for his own troubles.

I could find no professional help in the area, either, and I found myself having to travel for hours, sometimes out-of-state, to get the help and support I needed.

Over time, I learned about tough love, codependence, chemical dependency, eating disorders, and the Twelve Steps. I attended groups, worked with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), sought the advice of LCDCs (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselors), and trained as a leader in Celebrate Recovery (a Christian 12-Step program).

I learned to use tools such as the Life Recovery Bible to address all kinds of “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” (after all, Jesus taught the original principles of today’s Twelve Steps right there in the Sermon on the Mount).

I learned that when parenting prodigals, the usual parental support can end up being codependent (and what to do instead).

And I came to understand how people try to fill in the “holes in their souls” with anything and everything 𝘣𝘶𝘵 God, then find out when they reach rock bottom that God has been there all along.

I have learned what it takes to get through this.

As a Christian Life Coach, I draw on my own extensive experience and my community college career to design individualized plans to help young people and their parents shorten the painful emotional journey and return to a state of wholeness. 

While my groups and individual life coaching sessions are not a substitute for work with an LPC or LCDC, I can help provide a safe emotional environment to work through many of these issues.

There is hope. Parents of Prodigals don’t have to “go it alone”.

The initial 15-minute consultation is free. Call me, or visit HeHealsMe.com. Let's make a plan together!