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Bible Reflections View Comments

Stop Anxiety Before It Starts
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014
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“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” Jesus puts this question to his listeners and we can almost picture them scowling a bit as though preparing to argue and then realizing the truth of what he’s saying.

We know that worry is more often than not completely pointless. And yet overcoming anxiety seems to be something that many of us struggle with our entire lives.

Infants grapple with separation anxiety, a sudden sense that the person they rely on for their very survival is suddenly no longer attached, not near enough to see, smell and touch. The seemingly vast emptiness around them is terrifying.

When we start school we have to deal with peer pressure and fitting into a social world that doesn’t revolve around us and our needs. Children adapt to this in different ways. In high school and college we’re anxious about tests and grades and having a social life. As young adults, we face concerns about starting a career, a family and all the responsibilities that go with making our way in the world.

As we move through middle age we begin to worry about health and retirement and younger people passing us up and dismissing us in the workplace. Then we retire and we worry that all our friends are dying and our families are too busy to care about us and we become acutely aware that death is just around the corner.

If all these things (and a hundred others) aren’t enough to worry about, many people struggle with free-floating anxiety and dread that grabs hold of them in the middle of the night and they find themselves worrying about something to which they can’t even put a name or face.

Sometimes anxiety becomes so much a part of us that when we’re not feeling worried and anxious, we worry that we’re not worrying. Anxiety can become a habit, and we all know how difficult it can be to break habits. It’s difficult to know what to tell people when they’re caught up in anxiety.

But one of the most effective things— whether for ourselves or others—is to simply stop the worry before it gets started. Whether we use a few words from Scripture or a quick prayer or just a few deep breaths, it can be enough. It may not always work. It might take some time before it becomes a habit.

We might also return to Jesus’s words in the Gospel. So much of what we worry about is in fact the very things he addresses with his first-century audience: food, clothing, shelter. Granted, these are the basic necessities of life. But it’s rare that most of us are truly without these, at least for any length o f time. We might wish they were more elaborate, fancier or tastier. But this isn’t cause for anxiety.

It’s no accident, I think, that Jesus sets the natural world against our material, production-oriented concerns. Study after study has shown that time spent in nature, even something as simple as looking out the window or stepping out the door, can calm our anxious minds and hearts.

The natural world is one of the clearest signs we have that the same God who set the planets—including our own blue marble—in motion continues to watch over us and provide for us. If we can focus on this, most of the things we dread will never happen. God will see to it.


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Anthony Zaccaria: At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Church, a reformation within the Church was already being attempted. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Anthony Zaccaria. His mother became a widow at 18 and devoted herself to the spiritual education of her son. He received a medical doctorate at 22 and, while working among the poor of his native Cremona in Italy, was attracted to the religious apostolate. He renounced his rights to any future inheritance, worked as a catechist and was ordained a priest at the age of 26. Called to Milan in a few years, he laid the foundations of three religious congregations, one for men and one for women, plus an association of married couples. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy, religious and lay people. 
<p>Greatly inspired by St. Paul (his congregation is named the Barnabites, after the companion of that saint), Anthony preached with great vigor in church and street, conducted popular missions and was not ashamed of doing public penance. </p><p>He encouraged such innovations as the collaboration of the laity in the apostolate, frequent Communion, the Forty Hours devotion and the ringing of church bells at 3:00 p.m. on Fridays. </p><p>His holiness moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice it was exonerated. </p><p>While on a mission of peace, he became seriously ill and was brought home for a visit to his mother. He died at Cremona at the age of 36.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, help me make my life more about you and less about me. May others see you in me—your image and likeness. Teach me ways to increase my time with you, my service to others, and my love for my family, for strangers, and for the poor. You are the light in the darkness. With each new day, may we be light to one another.

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