What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when someone tells you, “Don’t think about pink elephants!” Right…pink elephants. That’s why, when you try hard to not feel anxious, you enter a vicious cycle.
Dealing with anxiety is like dealing with insomnia. You can’t try your way into a good night of sleep—and you can’t try your way out of worry.
What you need is a change of focus.
According to Dr. Earl Henslin in This is Your Brain on Joy, your brain contains one neural pathway on which the emotions of either joy or anxiety can travel.
There’s literally not room enough for both of those feelings to be in your brain simultaneously–so if you choose joy, anxiety has no room in your thinking.
You may wonder, But how do I “choose joy?” That seems hard when I feel this way.
It can be done.
As a human being created in God’s image, you have a brilliant mind. You have choices about your thought patterns. Here’s a Scriptural key to choosing joy and peace:
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:6-7
After Paul tells us not to worry, he instructs us to pray with thanksgiving as we let our needs be known—and that’s when the supernatural peace of God guards our minds.
The opposite of worrying isn’t working to achieve calm—it’s giving thanks!
This really works. Here’s a story I’ve told before:
One evening, my husband Scott and I were both downcast, overwhelmed with concerns. Life felt heavy and hope seemed far away. So we tried something counter-intuitive.
We offered a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God (Psalm 107:22). That means we began to thank God even though we didn’t feel like it.
At first, it felt super awkward. We had to push through the idea that it’s “dishonest” to say things that don’t match your feelings.
Here’s the thing: our feelings can lie.
However, when we choose to agree with God’s word and character, our feelings eventually submit to the truth.
That’s exactly what happened.
As Scott and I thanked God, our problems shrank, and God was magnified. Before we knew it, a whole hour had gone by and our perspective had completely changed.
Our feelings followed our choices. Our joy returned.
A worldwide pandemic is certainly fodder for anxiety. While some of us may need to see a counselor or doctor, all of us could use some basic tools for maintaining peace of mind.
I recommend you get practical and intentional about sacrifices of thanksgiving. Not only will this get your mind off a certain virus—it also gives God glory.
Thank him for things large and small. Record your blessings in whatever way you prefer.
I’ve made lists in my journal, put colored slips of paper in a jar, and written on river rocks with a permanent marker, then displayed them in a clear vase.
Thank God for a breath-taking sunset. For that time he healed your loved one. For the trill of a robin. The friendly wave of a neighbor. (Need ideas? Read Ann Voscamp’s One Thousand Gifts.)
Every day, God gives us multiple reasons to thank him. Capture those gifts. Give them back to God as a fragrant offering. Let him know what you need.
He loves you, he’s got you, and he wants you to be at peace.