Does worry take up a lot of emotional space in your life? As Christians, we “know” we shouldn’t worry, and that it can distract us from our priorities—including our relationship with Christ. But how do you just NOT worry when there is literally so much to be concerned about?
The Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7 are likely the best-known verses on the biblical approach to worry. And yet no matter how many times we hear them, they are still relevant today.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
Seems simple, right? Turn your worries into prayers and God will give you peace. And yet, any of us who struggle with worry knows how quickly it can return when our guard is down, or we’re caught by surprise or when we get out of the habit of presenting our requests to God.
Practical ways to combat worry
Over the past few months, I’ve found myself in an almost near-constant state of worry for one reason or another. And as I’ve searched for ways to alleviate it, I’ve developed a few proactive methods for “letting go and letting God,” as it were. These are both physical and spiritual strategies and while I’ve found them effective, it’s something I must be diligent about or worry creeps right back into my thoughts and impacts my emotions and actions.
Interrupt the worry cycle
When I’m in a mentally unhealthy state I can get super obsessive about the things I’m worried about. These can be real or imagined and are most often quite exaggerated. When left unchecked I turn into an “awfulizer” convinced the absolute worst-case scenario is what will happen and there’s no point in hoping for anything else. Thankfully, I’ve learned to recognize this pattern as a “worry cycle,” which can be halted by creating a physical interruption.
For me, this can work in a few different ways.
- If I’m unable to sleep because my thoughts are cycling, then I’ll put on white noise or a relaxing podcast to distract me enough that I can fall asleep
- When I find myself getting anxious while I’m working, I take that as a sign to get up and do something else for a few minutes. Often, the simple act of standing up and walking around is enough to snap me out of my overthinking
- If I realize I’m withdrawing while I’m with other people, then I make a point to focus on the conversation at hand, and to participate. Forcing myself to concentrate on the present helps me put aside my worrying, at least for a while
Talk about your worries
Keeping your anxieties bottled up isn’t healthy, and stuffing them down and ignoring dealing with them doesn’t make them go away. In fact, they’ll just seep out in the most unexpected ways and at the most inconvenient times.
Talking about your worries can help relieve some of the tension you’re feeling, and it helps put your worry in perspective. However, this tip comes with a caveat—don’t talk about your worries or concerns with just anyone, make sure they’re a trusted friend, family member or therapist. If you end up sharing with the wrong person it could make things worse, so do take care.
In my case, I decided to hire someone to talk through my worries with. While I have a good support system, I realized I needed to rely on a professional rather than friends and family. Why? Because I was getting to the point where I would try and share about my woes and then would immediately obsess about being a burden, being too dramatic or exhausting others with my neediness. While I know this is a side-effect of where I’m at these days and is most likely untrue, I also knew hiring someone I could trust to work through all of this was the right decision for me.
Schedule worry time
This tactic was suggested to me and, at first, I thought it was ridiculous. Scheduled worry time? Come on!
But then I tried it.
Here’s what you do: Reserve a block of time each day for worrying and when you realize cares and concerns are distracting you from being in the present, tell yourself that you can worry about it later. When that time comes, review your list of worries and think about how you can address them. If they’re solvable, great. Pour some problem-solving energy into brainstorming what you can do. If they’re not solvable or global-level and/or existential worries, then pray about it and ask God to take these burdens of worry and then leave it with Him to take care of. Actually, prayer should be part of the entire process. And when your time for worrying is up, move on and let it be.
This takes a bit of practice to get into and can feel a bit weird, but it has worked for me. If my brain knows I’m going to allow it to worry at a certain time, then I can put off the anxiety for a bit. And keeping a list or journaling about my fears and concerns helps me identify what is real and what is not. The extra reminder to pray about these things is also helpful, as when I get into my worry cycles that tend to be the last thing on my mind.
Overcoming worry is not something I have mastered by any means, but I’m getting better at identifying when I’m stuck and implementing strategies for pulling out of my head.
Whether it’s taking a walk, practicing meditation or deep breathing, keeping a journal to process your worries or finding someone to talk about it with, developing healthy coping mechanisms is the key to learning how to pray about everything and allow God to give you His peace.
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:7