A friend of mine told me recently that he had a toothache and he was going to the dentist. He said it was the first time he had experienced this and thought maybe he had chipped a filling. The dentist told him that he was grinding his teeth. Furthermore, his dentist told him that she had been seeing more problems with grinding teeth than ever before. Quite simply, we are grinding our teeth more because of an increase in our levels of anxiety. And so, I responded to him, “Anxiety, it’s a grind”…
We have never had more reasons to be anxious.
- A global pandemic
- Civil unrest due to race and justice issues
- A contentious election that may never be resolved
- Business failings in the news every day
- Non-Traditional Instruction in the homes of almost every family with children
- Unemployment impacting almost every family
And the problem goes far beyond anxiety. Depression is up. Suicide attempts are up (I have had three friends lose their adult children to suicide this year). Drug overdoses and alcohol abuse is on the rise as AA and NA meetings have had to go virtual.
What can be done about anxiety?
Besides grinding our teeth, what can we do about anxiety? After all, we as individuals can do little to nothing to impact the items on the list above.
I have had to deal with anxiety several times in my life. From unemployment to financial hardships, I like so many, have had to wrestle with the challenges put before me. I’ve learned that there are three things we must do in order to handle anxiety and move past it.
First, Show Some Gratitude
Recognizing our blessings is one of the first steps to fighting anxiety. I like to start each day thinking about three things that I’m grateful for. If you practice gratitude, you will find it slowly easing your anxiety.
But, beware, it is not as easy as it sounds. Here are my rules for practicing gratitude. For it to be effective, you must:
- Think of three things that you are grateful for each day
- You cannot repeat any item during the month
- You must write them down in your journal
This suddenly got a little harder, didn’t it? I find it easy to do for the first half of the month. But somewhere in that second week, it gets a little more difficult. And while I have plenty of “minor” gratitudes (“for the sunshine today”, “for yesterday’s rain”, “for low gas prices”). It’s when you come up with those reminders of those special things in your life is when it makes a difference. Being grateful for your spouse, a good friend, a kind word that someone shared, a new client…. these are things that put a smile on your face and help you appreciate the things you have…. big and small.
And, if you are a praying person (which I am), give praise to God for the blessings.
Second, Do Something for Someone
The next item gets a little more difficult. If you want to stop worrying about yourself so much, practice doing stuff for others. Years ago the term RAK came into vogue. RAK stood for “Random Acts of Kindness”. I love the concept, and it’s something we can all do.
I know I don’t do this enough. But it is something I try to remember to do each day. Just like the items of gratitude, these can be big or small. The defacto example of RAK is to buy a meal for the person in the drive-thru lane behind you. But here are some other examples:
- Say a kind word to someone you usually don’t talk to
- Send a “thinking of you” text to a friend you haven’t seen in a while
- Offer your services for free to someone who could use it
- Do something proactive for your spouse or parent
- Call and check on a senior person
- Go visit someone in need (after COVID)
It’s interesting that when we put others before ourselves, we suddenly recognize that our problems aren’t so bad. And that’s certainly a big step toward fighting anxiety.
Third, Address What You Can, Accept What You Can’t
This is a two-parter. After we’ve thought about our blessings and given our attention to someone else, our problems should be gone, right? Wrong. They are still there. So what do you do about them?
Address what you can
Some items that cause you to stress are things that you just don’t want to do. Perhaps it’s making cold calls if you are in sales. Or maybe it’s dealing with a complaint from an employee or a customer. Maybe it’s paying your bills and worrying about how much money is left in the bank. Whatever it is, it’s still there. So deal with it, the best you can.
If it’s doing a task you don’t want to do, do it first thing in the morning. In his book “Eat that Frog”, Brian Tracy reminds us that if the worst thing you have to do in a day is to eat a frog, then do it first, so everything else in the day will seem easy.
If it’s something that stresses you out because you aren’t good at it, consider how you might be able to delegate it to someone else or find someone to help you share the load. I encourage my clients to focus on the things they are great at and offload the things they aren’t. These things stress us, zap us of our energy, and typically waste our time.
Accept what you can’t
There are some things that you simply can’t change. One person cannot change the outcome of an election or reduce the racial tensions in our country. So what do you do? Accept it. Just admit that you cannot do anything about it. By accepting it, we allow our minds to move on.
I used to find myself stressing over things I couldn’t change. The serenity prayer has been adopted by addiction groups like AA, but they also help us deal with anxiety. It goes like this:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The serenity prayer was penned by Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 1930s. Ironically, this was in the years following a global pandemic and the Great Depression. This prayer crystallized the idea of accepting what you cannot change.
Be Anxious For Nothing
Scripture tells us to “be anxious for nothing”. The key to this is in putting our energy toward more productive things and not allowing the stressors to take our energy away.
Anxiety, yes it’s a grind…. on our teeth and on our mind. Don’t let it do this to you.
I hope this was helpful. If you’d like to chat about it, post a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.