Rounding out our soul care series with more from Dena and Jason Hobbs, authors of When Anxiety Strikes: Help and Hope for Managing Your Storm. Last week, they shared that “anxiety is a body-related event” and why it’s helpful to discover ways to calm and settle the body first before addressing anxious thought patterns. I loved Jason’s example that when a small child is crying, you don’t just stand there saying, “Calm down,” but pick the child up, speak soothingly, and help her settle before investigating what made her cry. In the same way, adults suffering from chronic anxiety have more success tackling anxious thought patterns if they can also find ways to soothe the full-body experience of anxiety with all its attendant symptoms. That may include medication and counseling, but can also include many of the practical suggestions in Dena and Jason’s book, such as breathing exercises, body care, and gentle movement.
One simple, foundational tool for anxiety management, for instance, is breathing techniques such as the basic belly breath from Day One of their eight-week guide:
“To practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing, place your hand above your belly button and gradually tune in to the breath. With your next inhalation, let your breath deepen to the point that your belly rises and presses out into your palm. Continue deeper and deeper inhalations so that your belly continues to puff out like an inflated balloon. On your exhalation release all the breath out, nice and slow.”
Simple yes, but five minutes of belly breathing calms the body and mind. What makes the Hobbs’s approach different than others, however, is that they also include space for journaling reflections on companion Scriptures about the gift of breath given to us by God. I found this a reassuring reminder that we aren’t alone in our anxiety. God Himself, who breathed life into the first human, is with us in our storms. Such techniques for soothing and caring for the body, along with God’s Word, then set the stage for later chapters on changing negative thought cycles, nurturing the spirit, and finding supportive communities. I asked Dena and Jason to tell me more about the importance of faith, and specifically Scripture, in this process of managing anxiety:
Cassia: One of my favorite chapters was the one on the mind. I particularly liked how the prodigal son story of awakening to the reality of his own misery became a metaphor for our own journeys toward recognizing negative anxiety spirals. As Christians, how have other passages in God’s Word been a source of enlightenment and healing to you? Any favorites you cling to?
Jason: For me, Isaiah 43:1-7 is one I go back to again and again. It includes verses like, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine,” and “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you.” Without going into my history (maybe that’s another book), there are times when you do feel quite alone, especially in difficulty and suffering. This passage is that reminder that God is with us in the suffering, not causing it, not wanting it, but assuring us of His presence in the midst of the storm.
Dena: Wow, I could probably write a spin-off book on this. Scripture is so precious to me and has been such a balm when I struggle, but also when I’m well. I really love Scripture memorization as a spiritual practice (not because I have to, but because I want to). When the chips are down, you will always have those verses with you. As for my personal favorite passages, I, too, like Isaiah 43 for reasons Jason mentioned, but also because it reminds me I won’t be crushed by my suffering. “The waters won’t overwhelm you.” Matthew 3:17, where God speaks over His beloved son, is a favorite because of my life baggage. I need to remember that I, too, am a beloved child of God. Psalm 23 also never gets old for me or Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.” Basically, the whole book of Psalms is a favorite😊
Cassia: I love that you each have verses you cling to in stormy times, and the truth is, storms come along both for anxiety sufferers and for those who care for them. What advice can you offer for those in a close relationship with someone suffering from an anxiety disorder? What has helped you two in your relationship?
Jason: I know I had to talk to other people, to learn, and to try to understand Dena’s experience, even though that can be frustrating at times. I also had many times where I know I did not react compassionately, where I needed to take care of myself so that I could be in a better place to help her. Again, I go back to the stigma around mental health. If she suddenly had heart disease, then we would look to understand it first, seek the help we needed, then adjust our lifestyle accordingly. With mental health and behavior, we tend to have a block there because it is harder to “see” it. The other piece for being in a relationship is understanding how much anxiety affects that “fight or flight” system. And while we typically think of anxiety as “flight” or running away, there is a way in which people who are anxious can “fight,” too. This looks more like irritability or even anger. There again, it becomes important to focus on soothing physically first. Then, we can all make better decisions about the next steps to take.
Dena: Over the years we have definitely learned that caregivers need to take care of themselves, too. When I am in a bad place with anxiety, I can be very needy because I am really scared and struggling. Jason has to take breaks to care for himself. Also, yeah, that “fight” reaction is baaaaad news. I remember one Easter eve I had an anxiety attack and threw Jason’s chocolate Easter bunny at him in anger. It was not pretty. Of course, I apologized later and bought him a new bunny. We are not ourselves when we are in fight or flight, but it’s not okay to throw Easter bunnies! Even when having an anxiety attack. Don’t be afraid to do marriage therapy or family therapy to talk about these issues. The non-anxious person can learn a lot that will help them understand how to cope, and the anxious person can learn how to manage their behavior. Now, when I feel the “fight” rising, I just try and go to my room and say I need to be alone instead of getting to that point of “fight.” It definitely challenges all parties involved to grow in patience and understanding.
So thankful to Dena and Jason for sharing their story and for allowing God to use their journey with anxiety to be a source of hope and healing for others. Whether you are an anxiety sufferer yourself or love and care for someone who is, I recommend grabbing a copy of When Anxiety Strikes from your local bookseller or online!