I could feel it rising like an inky black tide.
I tried praying. I tried focusing. But it was swallowing me anyway until I knew I was about to go into that uncontrollable shaking.
I think anxiety is like the mean girl at school. You can’t stand her, but you learn to live with her.
But a panic attack is a bully.
I was able to make it through the night without being consumed, but it was a rough few days.
After that little episode, I reached out through social media to others who might understand these feelings. Some of my friends shared their coping methods with me like prayer, journaling, music, Scripture, mental exercises, and activity. Others said they remember worrying drains them and doesn’t help anything or that they turn their thoughts to God – every day.
As I thought about it, I realized these aren’t just answers we’re expected to give…they’re hard choices. Wrestling between good thoughts and bad feelings can be a very difficult discipline. And apparently, it’s also a science.
In an article featured on DailyStrength.org, Dr. Oz wrote about brain research and its relation to anxiety. He said studies have shown the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in the brain “plays a key role in feelings of anxiety and optimism…and is important in decision-making and emotional control”.
He went on to say some research showed people with smaller OFC’s were more anxious, while people with larger OFC’s were more optimistic. But what was really interesting is the indication that either smaller OFC’s made it harder to fight anxiety or that anxiety was actually shrinking that part of the brain.
Is it possible that our thought patterns can cause us “brain damage”? At the very least, it’s thought provoking since medical research shows depression damages parts of the brain. This helps explain why depression puts our thoughts into a downward spiral that gets worse.
But what if being deliberately positive would reverse this?
Now, of course people who need medical or professional help should get the treatment they need. But the article described 61 healthy people who were studied with personality testing and brain scans. The research team found optimism was what kept people from being anxious, and they hope their findings will aid therapists in developing new treatments.
While modern medicine allows us to study brain activity, the power of good thought patterns is ancient wisdom. Philippians 4 talks about the peace of God and reminds us:
“whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest,
whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure,
whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report;
if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things.”
We all have weak moments. We all get overwhelmed. We all need outside helps sometimes.
There’s so much in life I can’t understand, but I can have peace that passes understanding if I will focus on what is true and lovely.
Life isn’t always pretty, but Jesus is always beautiful.
When I make Him and His story my focus, I am able to think on things that are lovely. And my anxious thoughts begin to still.
And, who knows…I may also be developing my orbitofrontal cortex as well.
If you are feeling anxious right now, I hope you can find something good to think about. It is my prayer that you can think on Jesus and find rest for the deep aches in your soul.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.”