by Carol Nelson, September 28, 2023
Navigating the Anxiety Wave
It's on the rise. Both anxiety and depressive disorders are increasing, especially since COVID. Who is effected most? Younger age groups (The Lancet). This underscores both "an increased urgency to strengthen mental health systems in most countries" (The Lancet), and our own need to find ways to help those who struggle with anxiety, especially the young.
Navigating anxiety is not just possible, it is necessary - so that we can find hope during our own struggles, and also so that we are equipped to reach beyond ourselves to provide hope and help for those around us.
In this day and age where anxiety statistics (see below) reveal new truths about the rising problems associated with mental health; we need to cultivate empathy and not just statistical awareness. This helps us see mental health issues, like anxiety, as "our issue" instead of "their issue."
Why? Because it could be the difference between life and death. It's not just anxiety on the rise, it is also suicide, and this rate is increasing among the young. Reaching the next generation includes addressing our own issues, and then reaching to our kids to make personal connections, build relationships, and offer practical help and hope to those who is tossed, bruised, bullied and bandied by the waves around them.
Narrative Connections: Learning from Others & Finding the Courage to Share Our Stories
It is not just statisticians who are documenting anxiety. Others who struggle with anxiety are writing about their own personal journeys. Narrative voices are powerful. They help us know we aren't alone. Of course, it is also helpful to remember that mental health journeys are very personal, which means that what "works" for someone else may not "work" for us.
Consider Sarah Wilson, author of First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey through Anxiety, who has written a book about her own fight with anxiety. In this book, she offers a variety of strategies to better manage anxiety including:
Exercise: “Studies show any movement, but particularly walking, will ease anxiety when we’re in the middle of a stress hormone surge. Indeed, the studies show that a mere 20–30 minute walk, five times a week, will make people less anxious, as effectively as antidepressants. Even better, the effect is immediate—serotonin, dopamine and endorphins all increase as soon as you start moving.”
Gratitude: “Alex Korb writes in “The Grateful Brain,” “Gratitude can have such a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli.” Literally, you can’t be grateful and anxious at the same time. Once again, the threat system in our amygdala is overridden.”
Spirituality: "I point out this nexus - between my spiritual yearning and anxiety - because it’s helped me understand my restlessness ever since. Anxiety and existential curiosity are connected. Yes, absolutely, it can become medical when it spirals out too far. But its origins are far more fundamental./ i’ve done this since my early teens - revisited my spirituality on and off. And it’s always occurred in tandem with my anxiety. Indeed, I listed the help of a spiritual counsellor during this time."
Wilson is not alone. We all have journeys, and for those of us who have faced anxiety, the journey may not be one we would have signed up to take.
My Journey with Cancer, Anxiety & Depression
One of the darkest seasons of anxiety for me followed a battle with thyroid cancer. My journey began a decade ago, after my thyroid was removed. I found myself in a prolonged battle with anxiety, and depression. It was during this time that I realized that anxiety doesn't come with a rule book. Before thyroid cancer, I wasn't aware of the many ways that the butterfly shaped thyroid gland in my neck regulated everything from metabolism to mood. I soon found out, though, that even after my cancer was addressed through radiation, that the struggle with anxiety and depression lingered.
Cognitively, I was grateful that my cancer was identified, I was grateful for treatment, and I was grateful for more years with my young children, my husband, and friends. But, my gratefulness, though comforting, didn't ameliorate my anxiety symptoms. For over two years as doctors helped me find the right dosage of thyroid hormone to replace my thyroid.
After cancer, I learned not to look to my defective thyroid, or the right dosage to replace my defective thyroid. I also learned some coping strategies for walking through life when there are organic issues in play. However - I want to be clear - it wasn't just a "strategy" or "spirituality" that helped me.
What helped me most was learning how to look beyond the storm, beyond the anxiety, beyond my thyroid, to the one who made them all. I found it incredibly helpful to know that the words of scripture assured me that hope was possible, and that there was indeed a way to overcome: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV)
Like Sarah Wilson, I discovered that gratitude and exercise were also helpful. During my roughest moments - I turned away from anxiety to pray, to walk, and to weigh the words of scripture over the emotions of anxiety.
Interestingly, today I would characterize my fight with anxiety not so much as successfully fighting against anxiety as it is fighting for joy. So, even when there's sorrow, or pain, or trouble - I'm less near-sighted. I have found ways to look beyond today to tomorrow. A big part of that tomorrow is rooted in what Wilson calls "spirituality," and what I call simply "Jesus Christ." In Jesus Christ, I've discovered some measure of joy that seems inexplicable. This is a lesson first penned in the pages of scripture, and expressed by Jesus who was willing to endure "for the joy that was set before him." (Hebrews 11:1-2)
Anxiety Wave Chart (Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - CCBT)
Navigating Anxiety Isn't Luck, Legend, Positive Affirmations, or Being a Superhero
The fight against anxiety, and the fight for joy can be both cognitive (what we think about) and behavioral (what we practice). One caution - for the Christian, learning strategies for managing anxiety isn't like finding something magical or mystical that will help you finally get control.
Navigating Anxiety isn't like finding a lucky surfboard that will help you shred the waves like you're Duke Kahanamoku (the legendary "father of surfing") so that the prowess and dexterity and athleticism eventually makes you legendary.
Navigating Anxiety isn't about mastering positivity so well that you find the perfect positive affirmations as a mantra, so that eventually you feel so good about yourself so that at last you can become rich, successful, and famous like Jennifer Lopez (who dedicates 15 minutes a day to positive affirmations).
Navigating Anxiety isn't about living a myth and becoming a superhero like Aquaman in order to wield your trident-talisman so well that you will always be a superhero over anxiety.
For the Christian, overcoming anxiety is about finding your joy in Christ. It's not about becoming legendary, positive, or shredding waves like you are a superhero - nor is it about constructing any kind of myth that makes anxiety disappear. Instead, it's more humble than that - it's about learning, improving and growing. It's about navigating well enough so that you can give glory to God for each day. It's about remembering with Jerry Bridges that "our worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace."
So, that is why we offer a strategy that is rooted in a Christian model (CCBT) and biblical worldview.
What is CCBT (Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)?
Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of therapy designed to focus upon the Bible, the scriptures, and a Christian Worldview. Secondarily, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) integrates strategies and techniques with scripture to help individuals address and manage their emotional and mental challenges. CCBT aims to foster personal growth, resilience, and healing by encouraging individuals to align their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with their Christian faith, ultimately promoting their well-being and a greater dependance on Jesus Christ.
Free Resource for Anxiety
As a small business, we don't ask that everyone believe what we believe; but we do acknowledge where we see the most powerful tools, strategies, and connections at work. This worksheet follows the CCBT model, and it's a model that we appreciate, practice, and value. That's also why we offer Christian coaching.
Our vision is also to be generous with others, so we provide resources that we use during our coaching sessions for free because we know not everyone can afford coaching. We offer you this tool in two formats as an image and a printable worksheet so that you can use it as freely as you like. We've also provided follow up questions as a PDF below.
Click below for a printable copies of the above Anxiety Wave Chart Worksheet (Model: Christian Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and extended questions for this worksheet.
Conclusion: More than Mere Anxiety Strategies
As we conclude, let's consider the anxiety wave metaphor a little further.
When I ponder the metaphor of anxiety as a wave, there's some similarities: Sometimes, anxiety still catches me unawares. Anxiety makes me want to readjust, it makes me feel disoriented, and to be honest - a little panicked. When I recover from anxiety, I'm sometimes embarrassed, like somehow I should have had better control of that circumstance, or I should have surfed my anxiety better like Duke Kahanamoku surfs Hawaii's best waves.
But then I remember, I'm not Duke Kahanamoku. I'm not legendary. And I'm certainly not in control of the waves. Anxiety humbles me. It reminds me that I'm not in control. I don't get to choose whether I have cancer or not, or whether those I love most will be okay, or even if I can manage today's events. It's important that we teach this next generation that we don't have ultimate control and they don't have control - there are days where we need more than the right strategy.
But there are other days, sweet days, where with the little control that we have - we can strategize, we can choose how we spend our thoughts, and we can find new ways to think and behave in today's storms. We can even help others get safely to shore with us.
We're walking with people who do this. And we want to send a little encouragement your way: You can do this. You you can rise above the waves by strategizing and finding help and hope and joy in the one who controls the wind and the waves (Matthew 8:23-27).
Mental Health by the Numbers, National Alliance of Mental Health, accessed September 28, 2023.
Mental Illness, National Alliance of Mental Health, accessed September 28, 2023.
Mental Health Statistics, Forbes Health, accessed September 28, 2023.
https://www.esv.org/Global prevalence and burden of depressive and anxiety disorders in 204 countries and territories in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, accessed September 28, 2023.
Wilson, Sarah. First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety,Pan Macmillan, 2019
ESV Bible, ESV Bible Online, accessed September 28, 2023.