I have always known the stranglehold of anxiety in my life. This unwelcome guest bullied our family at every event and gathering for as long as I can remember. Looking back, I realize how both my parents struggled with the burden of anxiety. My mother shared her list of worst-case scenarios on repeat, and my father snapped, threatened, and exploded so often that it began to feel normal to me as a child.
Psalm 11 showcases a potential anxiety reaction when the psalmist feels threatened.
1In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain… (Psalm 11:1 ESV)
The voice in my head shouts, “flee like a bird!”
Anxiety sneaks in like a silent assassin and quietly wreaks havoc within me. Quick, startled, beating wings threaten to carry me off. I long to escape. Tables and chairs may be flipped in the process of exiting. Anxiety does not keep company with graceful moves or grace-filled actions.
The fight or flight response sends my body into action before making good decisions. My mind has perceived a real or imagined threat.
This is the sticking point. Perhaps there is an actual clear and present danger. Or maybe I think there is because I have been triggered by past trauma. The calm decision-making part of my brain is disengaged by the fight or flight response.
2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart. (Psalm 11:2 ESV)
The darkness disorients me.
Dark enough for the wicked to have an advantage but light enough for me to see where the arrows are pointed.
The arrows pointing my way may be from an actual enemy, someone criticizing me, or someone trying to sow seeds of dissent. However, the enemy could also be inside my head. My inner critic could be activated.
3 if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3 ESV)
Everything becomes unstable and unsteady. How can I regain my equilibrium and re-engage the calm decision-making part of my brain?
What can I do when I find myself being hijacked by anxiety?
Trying to apply logic fails. Typically, anxiety does not dialogue well with reason. Something is needed to bring about a reset.
Author and counselor Aundi Kolber offers a variety of resources for managing stress and anxiety in her new book (see below for more information). Kolber suggests “trying softer” with your attention by using various techniques. One she offers is known as “Pendulate with Beauty.”
Pendulate with Beauty Exercise
- Find something in your immediate surroundings that you notice is soothing, calming, or empowering.
- Spend a few minutes observing it. What is its shape? Color? Texture? Smell? What do you enjoy about it? As you observe, allow yourself to sink into the soothing connection with this resource. Is there a name you could give the experience you are having you connect with this pleasant object? Spend as much time with your resource as you want, and if you don’t want to move into something uncomfortable, you can return to that challenging piece at another time.
- Next, release the pleasant experience you’ve just had. Now begin to notice where emotions or part of your body feels uncomfortable. Remember if at any time this experience feels too overwhelming, you can stop and practice grounding.
- In your mind’s eye, do a body scan and notice where you feel sensations or emotions.
- As you identify the sensations or emotions from the last step, notice if has a texture, a color, a size. Give yourself a moment to simply a moment to stay with it briefly (thirty seconds or less). Can you give a name to this sensation?
- Now return to your resource. Allow yourself to breathe and fully focus on the comforting object. Notice yourself letting go of the uncomfortable emotion/sensation for now.
As Psalm 11 continues, I noticed how the psalmist shifts his attention away from the moment’s anxiety to a detailed description of the LORD that ends with focusing on drawing near to the LORD’s face. Perhaps that was his way of practicing a version of pendulating beauty?
4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. (Psalm 11:4 ESV)
Despite how I feel right now, the LORD still has authority. He sits on his throne and rules.
5 The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5 ESV)
Do I feel like I am being tested or tried? Perhaps God is assessing my dependence on Him?
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. (Psalm 11:6 ESV)
Raining coals? Apocalyptic imagery? Judgment? Fire and brimstone?
It seems the last few years have been filled with end times warnings.
My soul grows weary of constant alert.
Can I choose not to be surprised or panicked by what I see around me?
I can stay calm amid the chaos by focusing on God’s presence.
7 For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face. (Psalm 11:7 ESV)
Finally, can I choose to focus my attention on drawing near to the Lord and coming face to face with His presence?
I’m not sure if you ever struggle with anxiety or feel overwhelmed with fear. If you do, consider trying to refocus your attention on the beauty of something outside your current circumstances. Take a moment to recalibrate, and perhaps the vicious cycle of anxiety can be broken.
What do you do to break out of the hold of anxiety? I would love to hear about your experiences.
p. 137 -138 in Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode- and into a Life of Connection and Joy by Aundi Kolber, MA LPC
I wholeheartedly recommend this book. I listened to it on audio and then purchased it for future reference. It is indeed full of tools to try.