14. GRIEF & ANXIETY: HOW TO MANAGE THE ANXIETY
Grief powerfully influences our brains, perspectives and anxieties. With every loss, sorrow and suffering comes a reprogramming of our brain’s software. In last month’s post I explained how grief and anxiety become coupled, toxifying our leadership vision. I encourage you to go back and read it first, as today we will pick up and talk about managing the anxiety in our lives.
Last month we said that physiologically there is a good, God-given, and healthy purpose to fear:
First, we should clarify that there is a godly fear, or a God-given purpose for healthy fear. God designed our brains to recognize impending threats, then appropriately address them with solutions. The neurochemical cocktail that does this is fundamentally known in our emotional framework as fear, or anxiety. This healthy fear helps us tackle problems within our organizations. It helps us have resolve to win the day. It motivates our movement forward.
Again, fear in a healthy or manageable form, is a gift from God. Without our brain’s fear circuits, we wouldn’t have the motivation to address threats, innovate, or find solutions. However, when fear moves from a healthy, manageable state, to chronically exaggerating threats with energies from our imagination, we move into a spirit of fear, or problematic anxiety, or panic.
So, what do you do when the wheels seem to be coming off? What do you do when anxiety is interpreting that “everything is out of control”?
Here's the deal: As the famous Christian psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud has shared, we know that when things are going in a direction in life where we feel everything is out of control, our brain registers that as “learned helplessness,” or what is called “intolerance of uncertainty.”
When that happens, we really need to watch and listen for these three thoughts. These 3 thoughts can be categorized as the “THREE P’S”. When things happen outside of our control that affect us, our brain will change the software and will interpret things as one or all of these “THREE P’s”.
The “THREE P” thoughts are…
1. Narrative thoughts that feel deeply PERSONAL
2. Narrative thoughts that feel deeply PERVASIVE
3. Narrative thoughts that feel deeply PERMANENT
LISTEN for these “THREE P’s” in your thought life. Listen how your thoughts frame them with specific narratives. Note how these narratives stimulate associated emotions.
IDENTIFY how these “THREE P’s” are steeped in generalizations. When we haven’t assessed our specific threats, the brain assumes everything is a threat.
DISPUTE the script-narratives with rational and biblical truth that these “THREE P’s” are telling you. When threats are unchallenged, they generate cycles of negative emotional experiencing. When threats are challenged, or rationally analyzed, the brain will eliminate the unnecessary threats, returning us to a more calmed state.
LISTEN. IDENTIFY. DISPUTE. This can be viewed as an acronym “LID”. We are going to put a LID on the “THREE P’s”.
Listen for the Three P's
We are LISTENING for any narrative and emotional energy that PERSONALIZES what has happened.
LISTEN for the inner scripts that are PERVASIVE, or exaggerated.
And the third “P”, LISTEN for what inner-emotions and thoughts are projecting PERMANANCE.
Let’s start with LISTENING for PERSONALIZATION.
1. PERSONALIZE – In general, when someone doesn’t return a call you begin to think, “They don’t like me.”
The focus can move to “There is something wrong with me… that is the reason they didn’t call back.”
As an organizational leader, where you have experienced losses and setbacks, you may think…
“The people I have made the highest sacrifices for are actually bent against ME.”
“The system, the progressive way church is supposed to be done, is against ME.”
“I have tried so hard to lead for fruitful results, and yet have grown nothing. This is so unfair to ME.”
“The whole thing just hurts ME.”
Or, “Something must be wrong with ME, or I would be able to lead better and be more fruitful.”
Then LISTEN for PERVASIVENESS.
2. PERVASIVE – In general you might hear…
“It’s not just the teammate that gave the feedback, it is EVERY leader and member of the church that is against me.”
“It’s not just my team leaders and church members, it’s at my home, with my neighbors and my peer-pastors from other churches. EVERYBODY feels I’m flawed and incompetent.”
“EVERYONE on my team avoids me and thinks my insecurities get the best of me.”
"As I look at my struggle to grow our organization, I begin to think GOD HIMSELF is dismissive and failing to help. Maybe GOD is even against me.”
PERVASIVE is when EVERYTHING goes bad. When everything becomes exaggerated.
Then LISTEN for PERMANENCE.
3. PERMANENT – In general you might hear…
“It’s NOT going to be any different NEXT MONTH, nor the month AFTER THAT.”
In your head it becomes permanent.
These “THREE P’s” become a prison.
What I want to do is help you watch for that kind of thinking. Then help you take therapeutic steps to disempower those “THREE P’s” by…
…each of the three narratives that have auto-looped in your head.
IDENTIFY “THREAT GENERALIZATIONS”
So, after LISTENING for the “THREE P’s”, you BEGIN to disempower them by IDENTIFYING. 16:35
IDENTIFY or scan for how narratives are presenting “THREAT GENERALIZATIONS”.
“THREAT GENERALIZATION” is when the threat is not specific, identifiable or knowable.
The generalization feature always spawns fear.
The brain register’s the generalization as unidentifiable, or unknowable, and therefore EVERYTHING is a potential threat. We imagine the enemy is looming EVERYWHERE, and might appear out of NOWHERE.
Guiding your threat-assessment to identifying exact and specific threats, calms the alert systems.
The brain doesn’t have to focus on SURVIVAL because you know the REAL threat; it is clearly identifiable. So, the brain rests and moves from “survival”; to “bonding with others” and “learning or growing.”
To IDENTIFY the generalization, clarify what the narrative scripts are exactly.
“I’m a loser.”
“People don’t like me.”
“I’ll never have the dreams I imagine.”
“The world is a horrible place to exist in.”
Once you IDENTIFY and clarify these scripts ask,
“What does this script version mean?” The first version we notice is the one that seems at the surface, or most easily accessed in our conscious awareness.
“What does it mean that I am a loser?” This is the second+ version of the script. It is asking what the first version really means to me. Does it mean that I have lost once, twice or three times? Does it mean that if I “lose” I won’t have the sense of value, celebration or respect I long for? WHY do I long for these things? What is my brain desiring out an accomplishment? What is at risk? What am I actually in danger of losing?
When you can narrow down what the specific issue is that is inflaming fear, you will find the brain will reallocate blood flow FROM invisible threats TO only looking for those things that have been identified as enemies to safety.
Bottom line, the brain DOESN’T LIKE wasting energy. Once the threat is evaluated as a specific thing, unknown threats become less of a concern.
If my leadership seems to be struggling to see fruitfulness, and I imagine I can’t have my dreams now, “What does it mean that I’ll never have the dreams I imagine.”
I won’t be able to be grow and multiply our organization?
I won’t be able to have the staff I desire?
I won’t have the church campus I dream of?
I won’t have a happy life unless I have the material results of leadership fruitfulness?
If so, WHY do I think that? What does all this mean in the deeper exploration of my heart?
Once again, when you can narrow down what the specific threat is, refusing to allow any generality to continue driving fear, you will more easily return to a calm, happy and safe emotional state.
DISPUTE THE SCRIPTS FROM THE THREE P’S
The FINAL STAGE of putting a LID on the “THREE P’s” is to DISPUTE the scripts.
Remember the sequence. First you LISTEN. Then you IDENTIFY. And now you DISPUTE.
Once you narrow down what the specific looping-thoughts are that accost your sense of calm, happiness and safety, you then begin to DISPUTE the contents of the scripts, with rational as well as Biblical truth.
When the brain sees what is true or real, versus what is looming in the unknowable ether, it registers the idea as no longer an issue, allowing for calm, happiness and safety to return.
Often, we can THINK a SCRIPT, and FEEL a SCRIPT, and therefore assume the SCRIPT must be TRUE.
We all know logically that many thoughts pass through our minds that aren’t true. No matter what the emotional intensity, it doesn’t equate to the narrative behind it necessarily being credible, accurate or representing reality.
Sometimes I think I’m a great and gifted singer. Alone in the car, I can even feel it. My emotions can feel the presence of the stage as I lead thousands in a worshipful moment. Then I realize, actually singing is my joy, but probably NOT MY GIFT.
So, the FINAL STEP to putting a LID on the runaway scripts is to DISPUTE the narrative-loops underlying your emotional surges.
This is what DISPUTING scripts looks like. First you…
1. DISPUTE PERSONALIZATION
Ask, “Can I think of any rational exceptions or example-memories that would dispute the false narratives I have been believing?”
· “Did the teammate who gave me feedback actually INTEND to exploit my incompetence? Or are they genuinely trying to help the vision of the organization go forward? Do they maybe even believe so much in my competence that they took courage to give feedback that makes me better and more efficient.”
· “Have I ever given feedback to people that was direct, challenging and requiring change, but did it because I so believed in them as a leader? When I gave them feedback, could they have felt I was challenging their competence?”
You are giving margin to the deceitful energy that wants to undermine you.
Then ask, “What does God say about it?”
“You have been crowned with grace and favor with God and man.”
“Grace is God’s strength made perfect in weakness. Even though I still have room to grow, God’s grace empowers me to grow. I am enough right now. My competence is in Christ.”