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Hold Things Loosely, Reduce Anxiety

I like to tell the story about the worst panic attack I've ever had. I had been married about a month and couldn't bring myself to go back to work. The work at a cancer support center was very triggering for my anxiety. A cancer survivor myself, I found that I couldn't listen to other people's stories and remain mentally and emotionally "okay". So I left my dream job with nothing to go to. I had been married a month, right. I feared my husband would wonder what he'd gotten himself into! But he was kind and patient. He did not experience anxiety the way that I did so it was hard for him to understand, but he was good about being available and checking in with me as much as he could while he was working.

I felt pretty good when I was at home because it was an environment I could control. I wouldn't do anything unless I knew EVERY aspect of the thing or was sure I had control of every aspect. If I went somewhere, I drove. If I was invited to an event, I would be sure there was some caveat so that they knew "I might have to leave early" just to give me an easy out. This lasted for a time until I couldn't drive without having panic attacks, even thinking about accepting an invitation stirred up anxiety and I didn't even want to communicate with anyone outside my husband and my parents. (I was too afraid that they would want or need something from me!)

This particular day, my husband came to our room and kissed me goodbye. I was looking in my closet for something to wear and heard the door close behind him. In that moment I had a full-on panic attack. I clutched my chest, felt like I couldn't breathe, was crying hysterically and thought "I'm going to die". In that moment something else happened too. It was as if God was speaking to me and said, "You aren't afraid you're going to die, you're afraid he will".

Anxiety makes us grasp tighter, control more and over extend ourselves beyond what is reasonable or realistic.

Without realizing it, I had been holding my happiness and my husband in a vice grip, trying to control everything in hopes of preserving it, but in reality I was only increasing my anxiety. Anxiety causes us to grasp tighter to things in effort to control more. We will over extend ourselves in different ways beyond what is reasonable or even realistic. I recognized in that moment, I hadn't been living my life fully, I had been consumed, choked, cut off. And now panic and anxiety were closing in around me. When I heard those words whispered to my heart I knew I was afraid of losing my husband. I had been holding on too tightly. So, I let go.

In the midst of my tears I held my arms open, palms up and said, "I can't control this. He is a gift from you and I have to hold him loosely and trust You with our future."

This is how the posture of surrender, holding things loosely, started for me. It might look different for you. I prayed that prayer to God. You may need to make that confession to a trusted relative or friend. But until you learn this practice of holding things loosely, anxiety will continue to drive you and choke the life out of whatever it is you are grasping in clenched fists.

Some ideas for learning to hold things loosely: Practice pausing to check in with yourself throughout the day. Stand with arms open and palms up. Breathe deeply. Remind yourself there is little you control anyway (your attitude, actions and response).

Begin to recognize and acknowledge that you are trying to control things out of fear. Anxiety wants to keep us safe. This built in survival system causes us to act irrationally at times. But we can become more aware of this stress response and familiar with our tendencies in reaction to it. What do we control anyway, other than our attitude and actions?

When we practice holding things loosely, when we better understand our stress response, we will be well equipped to ease into the unknown with grace, hope and love. Life is much simpler when we don't live as if everything depends on us and when we loosen our grip on those things not within our control.

Simply put, holding things loosely brings freedom and reduces anxiety.


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