BY: Matthew Armstrong
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The Free Dictionary defines Anxiety as ?a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.?
Everyone has experienced anxiety and it?s closely related cousins, worry and doubt. These are unavoidable. Sometimes negative self talk, worry, and doubting thoughts that anxiety brings on can be overwhelming. The multitude of thoughts and feelings that invade our mind about different situations or events are called ?racing thoughts.? For those enduring anxiety, the race never slows.
I experienced anxiety just before I took the National Counselors Exam. This exam is a licensing requirement for all wannabe counselors seeking professional licensing. It?s a grueling 200 multiple choice question exam. This exam covers the different aspects of the field of counseling. Everything from graduate school, my internship and graduation pointed to this exam. If I wanted to take the next step in my career, I had to pass this test.
I had spent a few months preparing and studying for the exam. Despite my efforts to be ready for the exam, I experienced a lot of those negative thoughts. I worried about the future if I didn?t pass. In my mind, all the school and hard work I did would mean nothing if I didn?t pass. Sleep was elusive that weekend. The day before the exam, I had gone out to the cemetery where my sister and grandparents are buried. They have a pond and usually it’s very quiet. I went up there to pray and meditate for a bit. But wouldn’t you know. Maintenance was going on and the noise of machinery got in the way of my quiet time.
I was as ready for this exam as I was going to be. But anxiety still continued to be present. The exam was the hardest I had taken to date. I kept thinking while I was answering questions that I was surely going to fail. This test was a struggle and there were a few concepts on there I had never heard of before as it pertained to theory. When I finished, I spent the minutes trying to think how I was going to break the news to my wife that I didn’t pass. I took that sheet that the proctor printed out for me and folded it in half. It was the results. I finally looked at it in the car. I passed. I stared at it in disbelief. Anxiety faded to black.
As a counselor, I have worked with many clients that struggle with anxiety. My anxiety was situational but for some, their battle with anxiety is non-stop. But there are ways to cope and fight anxiety. One way is practicing stillness. In our world, finding time to be still and in the moment is difficult. But it is not impossible.
According to the Free Dictionary online, Stillness is “An absence of motion or disturbance: calm, calmness, hush, lull, peace, peacefulness, placidity, placidness, quiet, quietness, serenity, tranquility, untroubledness.” Many of these descriptive words found in this definition elude anxiety sufferer without help or intervention. Did you know that those that struggle with anxiety have a difficult time with shutting down and just being still? Shutting down means we are attempting to do nothing. When was the last time you went for ?nothing.? We must withdrawal, at least for a short period, from the world. Jesus was proactive in this. When He was in ministry, there were times he withdrew from the people to find a quiet place and have fellowship and prayer with His Father. But most of us have a hard time in just shutting down.
Practicing stillness gives the mind and body a chance to be at total rest and heal from daily stresses.
Mother Teresa said this of stillness and knowing God:
“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature?trees, flowers, grass?grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence? .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
God does moves in mysterious ways. In some instances, God may want to give you a word or commune with you. Not through the noise of this world, our racing thoughts or even the revelation of His Divine, awesome and wondrous power but in a moment of silence that brings out His “still small voice.” If we fail to here it, it could be because we have not found the quiet in our soul to listen to His words.
Maybe that’s the lesson we can all learn. How do we just sit still? We must mindfully practice stillness. This also means the millions of thoughts that bombard our minds daily need to decrease and the never-ending ideas and thoughts need to be silenced.
3 Benefits To Being Still
What are the benefits of practicing stillness? Author, motivator and mentor Michael Hyatt believes that there are three key advantages to being still. I happen to agree with him.
- I want to maintain perspective. If I don?t make time to be still, then I find myself in reactive mode?influenced by hundreds of little voices with big demands.
- I want to stay connected to my true self. I don?t want to get confused, thinking that I am the image I present to the world. They are related, of course, but I want to live from the inside out.
- I want more internal margin in my life. While I have been pursuing external margin in my calendar and finances, I also want internal margin?more room to notice what matters most and be thankful for it.
If you decide that you want to explore this you have to plan for it. This can’t be some random spur of the moment kind of thing. Make it an event. Here are few ideas on how to ready your self.
- Set a time and place. I rarely experience this kind of quiet and stillness at home. I usually experience when I get a massage or an energy session. If that?s not your thing, perhaps it’s going for a walk in nature. Or maybe its just getting away from your standard routine of a busy life. When I was a senior in high school, I went skiing for my first time in Utah. I recall my first brush with stillness came on the ski lift going up the mountain. It was quiet and one of the most peaceful experiences I have had. Going up the mountain was amazingly serine. However, going down it in my first experience of skiing…um…not so much. Kind of painful and a lot of falling!
- Relax your body. Find a comfortable spot where you just let your body go. Deep breathing exercises and learning to practice progressive muscle relaxation techniques can prepare the body and mind to relax.
- Quiet your mind. This is perhaps the most difficult. One technique I teach to clients is visualizing a shape like a sphere in their mind. In my mind it looks like a silver marble. Focusing on that, its shape and texture, weight and color often clears my mind of other thoughts. My entire mental energy is living in that moment of this sphere. This is a therapeutic technique called grounding. Grounding allows us to stay present and in the moment. Usually, it takes 2-5 minutes to eliminate or diminish the racing thoughts. I have used grounding techniques such as visualizing shapes in a clients mind to create focus. Focus allows us to be present in the moment. That leads to the next point.
- Staying present. Hyatt says staying present allows you to not “be regretting or celebrating the past. Don?t be worrying or dreaming about the future. Instead, collect your thoughts and be present?in this moment. It is the most important time you have. In fact, it is the only time you have.”
If you find yourself enduring racing thoughts, doubt and worry. I would love the opportunity to work with you on how to find those moments of stillness, peace and clarity. Contact me today at Armstrong Family Counseling to set up an appointment.