Taming the Busy, Anxious Mind

I remember the first time I got on an airplane with my husband. I was a terribly anxious person and a terrible flier. I started gripping the armrests before the plane ever started to move.

We ascended into clouds and the plane began banking sharply. It was probably just turning, but I perceived this to be the beginning of the end of my life and my heart started pounding, hands clenching armrests tightly.

The plane did a little bounce and all of the passengers let out low, audible gasps. At this point I opened my eyes and turned my head to my husband, to see his whole face split into a huge grin.

He was seriously having fun.

This is the moment it became clear to me how different we were. He was completely relaxed, surrendered to the whims of the plane and the pilot and the air pockets. I was…the opposite. My state of mind in the air and on the ground was constantly tangled and often distraught, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

A real picture of my brain. (Actually a Banyan tree on Oahu.)

Cut to today, 3 children later, and many challenges behind us. I have much less anxiety and am a very brave and calm plane passenger. However, I have come to realize that the lens through which I view the world is still markedly different from people like my husband.

Even when I appear to be relaxed or at peace, I often live under a constant barrage of thoughts.

Do you know the ones?

“My kids don’t have enough warm clothes for that trip coming up…
I forgot to meal plan…again…
I have that doctor appointment so today is too busy…
The kids are eating too much junk already…
And what about that terrible conflict in Syria?…
Maybe I can throw spaghetti together?…”

These continual, buzzing thoughts can be helpful when things need to get done, but they can also be a sign of underlying anxiety, or in the least a lack of trust that things will work out in due time.

Even if they never cause me to panic, busy thoughts keep me feeling worried and uptight. They focus too much on the future and try to negotiate the little details of life that are out of my control. Even though there is no immediate need or crisis, busy thoughts keep me in a state of self-induced crisis, taking in every little perceived problem and trying to solve it.

The busy, anxious mind says – something has to be done, and I have to be the one to do it, right now!

Because of this state of mind, there is a constant perception of need, and this need takes the place of what would otherwise be peace.
I need to figure out all of these things.
I need for them to happen a certain way.
I need to be the one to see they get done.

Psalm 34:10 also tells us something about need. This verse relates to when David was running for his life from Saul, was worried he had been discovered, and acted insane so that he wouldn’t be harmed.

In this Psalm David says, “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (emphasis mine, ESV) Even in his dire situation, David kept in the front of his mind the fact that he wasn’t needy as long as God was on his side.

A life of faith is intended to be a life of abundance.

I’m not saying it always feels that way, just that abundance is always available to us. I think that God looks on us and all of our worries and controlling behaviors not in a judgmental way, but in a tender way, similar to how we would look on a toddler who is convinced he will die without the supermarket candy.

Unlike us, God can see beyond what’s right in front of us. He knows that his plans for us are good and our final destination is good. He knows that the whole world is under control even when it seems crazy and on fire and wildly political. He knows exactly what will satisfy us completely, not just temporarily.

He takes us by the hand and says, “I know this makes you sad to not get what you want right now, but come into my rest, and you will never feel hungry or thirsty again.”

My mind is meant to rest as surely as my body is meant to sleep at night.

Much to my disappointment, God does not pat me on the back for being a relentless workhorse. He’s more likely wondering why I keep shouldering a heavy load not meant for me. His burden is light. (Matt. 11:30)

This is why for anxious people, it is not enough to try to curb our anxious behaviors through good, healthy practices. We must continue to go to the root of our sense of lack and neediness and find our wholeness and rest in God. It doesn’t happen overnight for most of us, but it is worth pursuing.

What would it feel like to put your mind completely at ease? Would it be different from what you experience today?

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