There’s a strange thing about worry.
It’s this: we aren’t fully convinced we should resist it. Worry seems a fitting response to a situation. It shows we realize the gravity of a problem and are taking it seriously.
Worrying can even feel like a constructive thing to do. Without realizing it, some of us are subconsciously saying to ourselves, “I may not be able to do anything, but at least I can be really concerned, which acknowledges a real problem and shows my sympathy and who knows? It might help, or bring about a resolution. At the very least, I will not be surprised by anything bad that happens.”
Unfortunately—as we all have experienced—the situation will not be changed or improved by worry. (And we're not talking about clinically-diagnosed anxiety, but the more common anxiety occasioned by everyday fears.)
The sad thing is, worrying makes things worse. It doesn’t support good habits, it doesn’t get us to bed early, it doesn’t encourage peaceful prayer, it doesn’t soothe digestion, it doesn’t support heart health. Nor does it make us pleasant to be around.
This is not meant to downplay anxiety. Families are facing very real problems and even crises. But the awful thing is that worry increases the weight of our burdens—and people with massive burdens don’t need anything to make them heavier.
Hard as it is, it’s important to remember that we are never in control. Only God is.
In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.
My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs.
—St. Isaac Jogues
We aren’t “in control”—we can’t force results from any circumstance—but we aren’t helpless.
So what can we do when we feel anxious?
Here are thirteen tips—thirteen small but real things you can do—when feelings of anxiety wash over you.
1. Tell Our Lord, conversationally, about your fears.
This is not sentimental. This is real.
The God-Man is our savior, our hope, our everything. He is terrifyingly real and powerful. He is also mercy itself.
Emmanuel means God-with-us. He came to be with the children of men. Even in parishes whose doors are locked, the Word Made Flesh is there in the monstrance, being with His people.
Speak honestly to Him, whether during established prayer times or as you go about your day. Speak as you would naturally express yourself; as you would confide in someone you trusted implicitly. Discuss your fears and concerns with Him. If you don’t trust Him and His plan, admit this to Him openly, and ask Him to grant you needed graces.
2. Say Mother Teresa’s prayer to Our Lady.
Mother Teresa turned to Our Lady in her troubles. She said:
“If you ever feel distressed during your day—call upon our Lady—just say this simple prayer: Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now. I must admit—this prayer has never failed me.”
Say this beautiful prayer to Our Lady whenever you feel anxious.
Mary, Mother of Jesus, please be a mother to me now.
We can’t crush anxiety through willpower. But we are not alone in it.
3. Make spiritual reading a daily habit.
“What is spiritual reading?”
Spiritual reading is the slow, prayerful reading of a book that nourishes the spiritual life. This means the Sacred Scriptures or books by trusted writers, such as saints and good theologians. Frank Sheed, for example, is a layman who wrote powerful books that are worthy of every Catholic’s attention. And the saints’ writings are always trustworthy.
“I thought only nuns did spiritual reading?”
Nope. Everyone should do it.
What do you say? The reading of these good books does not concern you? But I find this duty more incumbent on you, than on those living in the security of the cloister. For you who sail on the open sea, whether you [choose] it or not, are beset by a thousand occasions of sin. Thus the aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity...you who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.
—St. John Chrysostom
Don't neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.
—St. Josemaría Escrivá
How is spiritual reading done? Choose a book. Decide how long you will read. Ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes is good. Begin with a prayer. This is the traditional one:
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.
V. Send forth thy spirit and they shall be created.
R. And thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray. O God, who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in his consolation. Through Christ our Lord.
Read for the allotted time. When something strikes your attention, discuss it with Our Lord. Your reading should be slow and reflective, but don’t hold yourself back if you’re naturally a fast reader. Just don't rush and you’ll be fine. Click here for a treasure trove of spiritual books.
4. Ponder Sacred Scripture.
Here are some verses to ponder that seem fitting for our present anxieties:
...the Lord, your God, carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. ]If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
5. Have a daily routine.
You’ve probably seen people everywhere commenting on the importance of a daily routine during quarantine.
Do you have one? Will you establish one? What practices, habits, and schedules can you adopt or continue? Is prayer a crucial part of your daily routine?
If you discover personal benefits from sticking to a routine, write them down. Share them with others, if you like! We all appreciate encouragement, and it’s helpful to know what is helping someone else.
6. Choose cheerfulness.
This is harder for some of us than others. God gives some people a disposition of cheerfulness that bubbles over like champagne.
The rest of us find it much harder to behave cheerfully when doing so seems to go against everything we’re experiencing. We’d rather steep in those genuine emotions.
Like love, cheerfulness is a choice. We have to choose it. This takes effort, but the effort seems to decrease the more we make it.
So many people can benefit from our cheerfulness! Even ourselves—and especially those who live with us.
Try to fulfill each day’s task steadily and cheerfully. The life of a true Christian should be a perpetual jubilee, a prelude to the festivals of eternity.
—St. Théophane Vénard
7. Focus on the present moment.
Jesus Himself told us to focus on the present moment. He said that today has enough troubles of its own without us looking to the future for more (Matthew 6:34).
Don’t ask yourself, “But what if…?”
Don’t think about what “might happen” or what is “likely to happen.”
Don’t listen to the predictions of reporters. Don't get hung up on the predictions of “experts.” The fact is, no one really knows what’s going to happen. (God is the only true Expert. He doesn’t make educated guesses based on the data at hand—He simply knows.)
Be prudent in the moment. Focus on the present need.
Fulfill what is required of you right now. And that is all.
8. Think outwards rather than inwards.
When you become aware that you’re focusing on yourself, practice thinking “outwards.” Try to think of at least one person who has needs that you might be able to address. Maybe think about someone who is more anxious than you. Consider how you could serve someone in your household. Send a handwritten note to someone who lives alone. Maybe there is an elderly person who needs groceries.
Small but important: when you are at the store, smile at fellow shoppers and checkout clerks. Many people are feeling stressed when they go food shopping. There’s tension in the aisles. So give a cheerful smile to people you see—you may be surprised by how much it lifts you out of your own anxiety!
9. Make a list of projects and take action.
There’s a cluttered cabinet under the sink calling your name. A closet of disorganized chaos that smacks your conscience when you open the door.
And how about all those clothes you know you’ll never actually wear? They need to be gathered up, and washed, and prepared for donations. Even if the bag just sits in your car for now you’re one step closer to getting these things donated.
What projects around the house have been waiting for attention? Now is definitely the time. There’s nothing like getting dirty and accomplishing tasks for pushing anxiety out the door.
10. Read a book at the same time as a friend. Call to talk about it and share thoughts.
Do you have a friend with similar reading tastes to your own?
Why don’t you each decide to read a practical book at the same time? You can pick a favorite title or try something new. Ideally, keep pace with each other as you read.
Then set up a call to talk about it. Discuss what strikes you. When you call, make a cup of coffee or a pot of tea. Pour some wine. Or whiskey. Have a drink and a lively discussion across the miles, whether they be three or thirty or three thousand.
11. Get fresh flowers.
Next time you’re out for groceries, grab some flowers from the store’s florist section. There are usually some ready-made bouquets that are relatively inexpensive. Carnations, for example, are some of the cheapest you’ll find—and those chipper little flowers manage to look good right into the third week!
Flowers bring life, hope, and beauty to the home. It is amazing how much something like this can make a difference in your mood, especially on a wet or cloudy day. It might sound silly, but try it!
12. Go for a walk outdoors.
If you are able to where you live, go for walks outside. If not daily, at least a few times a week!
Look up at the sky, look around you, breathe deeply, listen to the birds. Don’t bring headphones and music—save that for inside. I suggest being really present to the world around you. Let the beauty of creation penetrate you.
Studies are proving that walking outdoors works wonders for the mood and the mind. And if you walk briskly, with good posture, you’re getting the best kind of exercise for your body.
13. Find the stamps. Write a letter.
Now is the time. It doesn’t matter what you think of your handwriting or whether you think you’ll have anything worthwhile to say: write a letter. It can be two paragraphs long. Or five pages. You can write it on that stationary you bought five years ago, or you can tear pages out of a notebook. Talk about the weather, if you like.
I can attest, from personal experience, that there is nothing like getting an unexpected handwritten note in the mail. Think of it: you go to check the mail, glumly, and pull out the odious ads and the unpleasant bills and then...you see very human writing, perhaps very familiar handwriting…you see your name written with affection, not stamped by a heartless machine...and you realize that there is an honest-to-goodness letter for YOU. That calls for a pot of fresh coffee and a treat.
We’re so disconnected in this supposedly-connected world that you might not even have your friend’s address. Well, be mysterious. Send them a text or email asking for their current mailing address. Don’t explain. It’s quite intriguing, actually. Friends won’t even ask why you want their address. They get a sense of expectation, though, for they know not what; and that’s pleasant in itself.
Gratitude is an important practice, and one that is a powerful source of encouragement. When you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to count up the blessings that you have and are surrounded by.
And for your own sake, limit your news intake! Many people find that listening to news updates in small bits every few days—rather than for hours at a time (or constantly) through the day—is enormous in relieving stress, fear, and pressure.
Hopefully these tips were helpful, if not original.
Keep your chin up, and your eyes on God.
...we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
What have you been doing to channel anxiety?
Is there something you would add to this list?
Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below!