"Letting Go of Worry and Anxiety"
LPC with NW Counseling Services, Gresham, Oregon
an exerpt from Pam's recent book: Letting Go of Worry and Anxiety.
This book has been featured on national radio and T.V. during the
last months, following 9-11.
"A safe relationship multiplies our joy
and divides our grief."
There isn't a person alive who isn't vulnerable to worry and anxiety.
We live in an unpredictable world that evokes fear. But acknowledging
our anxieties takes courage. We don't easily admit feelings of weakness
and vulnerability. For the most part, we harbor a subtle contempt
for the debilities or deficiencies we perceive in ourselves and
others. And as a result, we end up rejecting key parts of our humanity.
We gloss over our needs rather than admit them. We deny, minimize,
or at least sidestep many forms of suffering. And we become very
creative in the ways we medicate our worries. In the end, we are
left to struggle with our anxieties alone in the dark.
God never intended for us to suffer alone. From
the very beginning of time, He has wanted people to enjoy intimate
relationship with Him and others. He longs to walk arm-in-arm with
us - and to provide empathetic friends to walk with us- through
the sorrows and sufferings that are an inevitable part of life in
this world. Connections matter. When we withdraw, detach, or close
God and others out of our suffering, we cut off our source of life
and derail our own healing. The bottom line is, God never intended
for us to try to handle our worries and anxieties alone. Peace comes
in the context of relationships.
God knows our propensity to worry and anxiety
and He wants to experience His comfort in our troubles. One of His
names is The God of all comfort. The word comfort is mentioned fifty-nine
times in the New Testament. In literally means "to call near."
The original meaning of comfort evokes a picture of one person calling
out to another person to stand alongside them. Fortification comes
as we risk reaching out, are transparent in our pain, and allow
others to come near.
I recall a final counseling session with a woman
I had treated for an anxiety disorder following a radical mastectomy.
After several months of therapy, during which she grieved her losses,
established new goals, and tried a variety of anxiety-reducing medications
before finding the right fit, she was ready to put closure on counseling.
I'll never forget her final remark. With tears in her eyes she grasped
my hands tightly and said, "Thank you for befriending my pain."
It had indeed been my privilege. Witnessing her progress spoke volumes
to me about the healing power of connection with safe people to
whom we can disclose our deepest conflicts.
As a professional therapist, I spend a lot of time with people in
their pain. To help them sort through confusion. To respond to their
suffering. To strengthen their will to live when they have been
diminished by the cruelties of life. To help them get unstuck when
they become arrested in their grief. To validate their afflictions
and create a safe place for them to process their pain and let it
go. Whether or not a specific problem is solved during a counseling
session is sometimes irrelevant. Many issues are not resolved quickly.
But healing often happens when someone is allowed to share their
suffering with someone safe.
I recall an occasion, years ago, when I was overcome
with worry. In spite of using all the anxiety-reduction tricks I
knew, I was unable to shake the fear. It all started with a letter.
After the death of our first baby in the womb,
I wrote a book to encourage others who were suffering similar losses
called Empty Arms: Emotional Support for Those Who Have Suffered
Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Tubal Pregnancy. Cards and letters
poured in from ladies across the country who thanked me for the
book and shared their stories of loss. Four weeks prior to delivering
our second baby, I received a letter from a woman who found out
her baby had died during her eighth month exam. The doctor had been
unable to detect a heartbeat. The details of her story were nearly
identical to our experience with our first baby. As I read her letter,
all the memories of our loss came flooding back like a tidal wave.
I tried everything I knew to quiet my fears.
I prayed. I sang. I used thought-stopping methods. I scrubbed the
kitchen floor. I tried reading my Bible and some other good books.
But the anxiety continued. My imagination was toxic with worry.
Not wanting to burden my husband, or evoke any unnecessary fear
in him, I carried the anxiety alone. That, by the way, was not a
smart move. And if there is one thing I learned in that three-day,
fear-filled episode it was:
Never worry alone!
A few days into this fearful frenzy, I went to
Sunday morning church service and asked to talk with our pastor's
wife. Even thought she and her husband were new to our congregation
and I didn't know her well, I felt I could trust her. "I am
riddled with fear," I told her. "I received this letter
. . . and I'm afraid the same thing is going to happen all over
again." I knew the anxiety was irrational. There was no evidence
that the baby I carried was in danger. But, I also realized my powerlessness
to find relief on my own.
Diane listened attentively, and I could tell
from her responses that she empathized with my struggle. We joined
hands and she prayed for me, and for our baby. Although that connection
took five brief minutes, it made all the difference in the world.
Peace went home with me that day. Healing happened as we connected
with God and with one another.
Jesus said, "When two of you get together on anything at
all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes
into action. And when two or three of you are together because
of me, you can be sure that I'll be there" (Matthew 18:19-20,
When I think back over the times in my life when
I've been overwhelmed by worry and anxiety, my greatest moments
of relief came when I sensed that God and a trusted friend were
truly present with me in my pain. It was as if they opened the door
on my darkness, walked in, sat down with me, and with full acceptance,
waited. My brokenness was our meeting place. An inner peace and
healing was birthed within that connection. Their companionship
in my suffering brought relief, even though the circumstances evoking
the pain remained the same.
The same is true for you. There is a Companion
who is always awaiting your invitation. God sees. He cares. Your
worries matter to Him and to others. You are not abandoned in your
pain. God said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come
to you" (John 14:18, NIV). Your anxiety is not an obstacle
to God's work in you. It is the very place He wants to meet with
I have learned that whatever we deny, repress,
or hide in the dark cannot be healed. But that which is shared openly
and exposed to the light can lead to growth and peace. May God enable
us to resist isolation, withdrawal, and shrinking in the shadows.
May He give us ears to hear Him whisper, "Peace, be still."
In our moments of desperation, may He grant us courage to reach
out to Him and humility to reach out to others who can help us peel
the death grip off our worries, and let them go.
The deepest need of man is the need to overcome his separateness,
to leave the prison of his aloneness. --Erich Fromm
In the book Letting Go of Worry and
Anxiety, Pam chronicles 10 tools that can help people who are
struggling with worry and anxiety. This chapter is entitled Reach
Out, and underlines the important idea: never worry alone. There
is a good appendix on anxiety correlated with Hormone fluctuations,
and the role of medication. The book is published by Multnomah Publishers,
Sisters, Oregon, 2001, 125 pages, $9.99. It is a 3 part series:
Go of Disappointment and Painful Losses, 2. Letting
Go of Worry and Anxiety, 3. Letting
Go of Frustration and Anger (released July 10, 2002). All are
available at Christian books stores and on-line at Amazon.com. (Click
on the book titles or book covers listed to purchase from Amazon.com
through LoveTakesTime.com's link.)