Life in this fast-paced world can take a toll on us. Sometimes, stressful situations develop into something more serious. Pastor Veronica Tang shares a few ways to cope with anxiety.
Living in an efficient modern society has many perks—travelling is made easy with high-speed transportation, information is available with just a tap of your phone, and instant communication with anyone around the world is possible.
Yet, mankind is paying the price for this fast-paced life. The World Health Organisation estimated in 2017 that 264 million adults around the globe suffer from anxiety. In a 2020 survey conducted by medical website SingleCare, 62 per cent of the respondents reported experiencing some degree of anxiety.
At a virtual missions conference organised by City Harvest Church’s The Harvest Network in November last year, Pastor Veronica Tang, who is also a trained counsellor, conducted a workshop on managing anxiety.
What exactly is anxiety? She explained that anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It is a feeling of fear or apprehension about what is to come. Fear and its associated reactions, like freezing or the need to fight or flight, can be useful responses to a dangerous or threatening situation.
Worry is generally regarded as a form of mental problem- solving for potentially negative future events. Normal worrying is relatively short-lived and leads to positive problem-solving behaviour. However, it becomes unhelpful when one starts to worry about too many things, or starts worrying frequently, and finds it hard to control or dismiss their worrying thoughts.
This type of worrying could evolve into generalised anxiety disorder, a common disorder that involves being anxious or feeling worried about several things on most days, for a span of at least six months. The feeling of anxiousness is often experienced in an excessive and uncontrollable manner and interferes with the person’s ability to focus on tasks.
HOW TO DEAL WITH STRESS AND ANXIETY
Pastor Veronica listed a few things one can do when they find themselves worrying excessively.
Firstly, accept that you cannot control everything and that it is okay. The situation that heightens your stress level may not be as bad as you think, once you put it in perspective. What you need is to simply do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of the things you achieve.
Next, maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. There are certain situations that trigger anxiety—when you learn what your triggers are, you can learn to manage them. Try to identify if it is work, family, school, or something else. If you can’t identify your triggers, whenever you feel stressed or anxious, write it in a journal and look for a pattern.
One technique from cognitive behaviour therapy that you can use is thought challenging, also known as cognitive restructuring. It is a process in which you challenge the negative thinking patterns that contribute to your anxiety and replace them with positive, realistic thoughts.
This involves three steps. Firstly, identify your negative thoughts. Secondly, challenge your negative thoughts. Finally, replace negative thoughts with realistic thoughts.
For example, if you think, “What if I pass out on the subway?”, identify that you’re predicting the worst that could happen. Replaced that with a more realistic thought: “I’ve never passed out before, so it’s unlikely that I will pass out on the subway.”
If your thought process continues and you think, “If I pass out, it will be terrible!”, identify that you are blowing things out of proportion. Replace it with a more realistic thought: “If I faint, I’ll come to in a few moments. That’s not so terrible.”
If you continue to worry and think, “People will think I’m crazy”, identify that you are now jumping to conclusions. Replace it with a more realistic thought: “People are more likely to be concerned if I’m okay.”
Mindfulness is another way to recognise and reassess your patterns of negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts that more closely reflect reality. This is the basic human ability to be fully present. When we are aware of where we are and what we’re doing, we are less likely to be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
The Raisin Exercise is a short mindfulness exercise encouraging present-moment awareness of the senses, connecting with taste, touch and smell while you eat a raisin.
THREE GOOD THINGS
Pastor Veronica also introduced a coping skill for those who are prone to depression, called “three good things”.
1. Write down three positive experiences from your day. These experiences can be small (“The weather was perfect when I walked to work”) or a big deal (“I got a promotion at work”).
2. Choose one of the following questions to answer about each of the three good things:
• “Why did this happen?”
• “Why was this good thing meaningful?”
• “How can I experience more of this good thing?”
3. Repeat this exercise every day for one week.
The pastor ended the session with a list of advice for the participants.
When feeling anxious, you can go outside, ask for help, create something, take a deep breath, write about how you feel, drink water, listen to soothing songs, stay present, or find a positive distraction.
If you have tried all these exercises but need professional help, it may help to engage counsellor or therapist from sources such as Safe Space.
Pastor Veronica is one of the pastoral staff involved in CHC’s ministry that supports family life in the church. No matter which stage of adulthood you are in, if you need life skills to navigate through life or to build a family, join CHC for its inaugural CFAM Conference! The conference offers more than 40 workshops over two days, 4 and 5 August. To sign up for these helpful conference sessions, visit CFAM now.