I sat beside a child on an airplane. His mother was seated on the other side of him in an aisle seat. The plane was taxiing on the runway and the child started to act a bit anxious. “Is this your first plane ride?” I asked him. “No,” he said, “but it makes my ears hurt and I don’t like the landings.”
He was anxious because he’d flown before. He had experienced some unpleasant things on previous flights and he was anticipating those same feelings, so he was fidgety and unable to relax in his seat.
“I like to chew a piece of gum when my ears pop,” I said. “Do you have some gum?”
“I might have some gum,” his mom said. She dug around in her purse and found her son a piece of Juicy Fruit. It became just the thing to help divert her son’s attention. Soon he was goose necking across my seat and looking out the window at the earth as it became smaller and smaller. He became less anxious and more excited about the flight.
This child’s scenario is sometimes played out in our lives, too, only the circumstances are different. People are strapped in, ready to take off into their new day, but they are anxious as they get ready to face what the new day will bring. They are anticipating the pressure. A teacher can hear the sound of an angry parent calling, upset about her child’s grades. A mechanic can hear an unsatisfied customer complaining about work that was done on his car. A business owner can see the end of the month numbers and know they will not be good enough again to meet expenses. A divorcee anticipates having to see an ex-spouse for a brief moment to pick up her child, but it’s enough to make anxiety levels rise. A dad will try to communicate with his teenage son who hibernates in his room and refuses to interact with the family.
Even before the day takes off, just the thought of what the day might bring can cause nervousness in the stomach, stiffness of the neck, or a lack of energy. Actually, anxiety can manifest itself physically in over 100 different ways. http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms.shtml
The body acts this way as a way to help protect us from danger. We are alerted to things that threaten us or to things we perceive to be a threat to us or to those we love. This threat can be physical, emotional, financial, or just some general threat to our extended self. It’s a defense mechanism we were made with.
Anxiety in our body acts a bit like a pressure gauge does for an engine. There’s always pressure indicated on the gauge when the engine is running. Pressure in an engine is normal and expected. Pressure is actually good for the engine. The engine was made for pressure. However, too much pressure on the machine can cause the engine block to crack. Watching the gauge is the key. Knowing when there is too much pressure on the engine and how to relieve it will keep the engine from breaking down.
We all deal with a certain amount of anxiety. It’s part of life. We get into trouble when we ignore the warning signs that our body is sending us, telling us that too much pressure is mounting. Then we look for a way to cope with the stress. Wouldn’t it be great if it were as easy as sticking a piece of Juicy Fruit in our mouths to divert our attention?
The Apostle Paul told the church at Philippi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Paul makes it sound easy. Just say a prayer and it makes everything better, like popping a piece of gum in your mouth. No, that’s not what Paul means. It’s more about developing a relationship of trust with God, that no matter what happens, God is with you and will not leave you. It wasn’t the gum that calmed the boy as much as it was his mother’s assurance and his trust in his mother. She was with him and her presence made the difference for the boy.
Many times, when we are dealing with anxiety, we multiply the problem by handling our anxiety in unhealthy ways. People will fantasize in Internet chat rooms, abuse drugs or alcohol, have emotional outbursts, and become emotionally or physically involved with another person.
Anxiety generally takes time to build. A teakettle on a stove doesn’t whistle in the first 30 seconds. It takes a while before there’s enough pressure being forced through the pot to make a sound. The sound of the kettle is a good thing. It announces that pressure is being released. Without pressure being released, there could be an explosion.
To avoid explosions, one of the most important release valves for anxiety is to find a good listener. If the person knows the value of prayer, he or she is extremely valuable. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to pay someone who is trained with good listening skills and counseling skills to help us through a rough stretch of anxiety in our lives.
Even though Paul said, “Do not be anxious,” there will be times in our lives where the pressures of life have built up and are causing us great anxiety. If those times didn’t come, Paul would not have had to write instructions about what to do. None of us need to make matters worse by making poor choices when we are under a lot of stress. God is waiting for us to acknowledge that we want and need His help.
So, next time the day is lifting off but you aren’t so sure you are ready for the ride, take some time, even as the day moves along, to pray. Tell God exactly what’s troubling you. Find something to be thankful for in the midst of your troubles. Allow God to pilot you through the day. If the issues are overwhelming, find a trusted friend to help you share the load.