Tools to Manage Anxiety

Each December, my sister invites me to a wonderful opportunity to pray and learn during the Advent Season, the weeks before Christmas. This past year, the 2011 retreat was especially meaningful.  The take away message seemed to be the basis for joyfulness and peace and fit perfectly into a few of the life elements, Calmness, Learning and of course, Spirituality.  As my kids finish college and begin new lives out in the world, and I embark on two business initiatives, I can't help but get anxious and worry about our family.  Where are we going, what will happen as we look at re-paying student loans, financing businesses, making the monthly payments all while trying to make wise life choices and staying grounded in reality?  I am thankful for the many gifts and much support from my special love, my children, family, friends and community partners. I thought I would share this presentation from a friend and mentor, Fr. Rolf Tollefson, currently the pastor at St. Hubert's Parish, Chanhassen, MN. 


Inner Peace:  (My summarized version from a presentation from Fr. Rolf Tollefson, Providence Academy Chapel, Plymouth, MN.  Please feel free to comment on anything that you flag as meaningful or that creates a sense of wonder for you.



Anxiety afflicts 40 million Americans each year.  A government study reveals antidepressants as the most frequently prescribed kind of drug in the U.S.  They are very helpful, but they cannot cure unhappiness.  They cannot give the peace that only God can give.  We cannot medicate anxiety away.  It goes much deeper.  Tools to manage anxiety may require a three prong approach - imagine a three legged stool with these approaches; in order to balance the stool (your life) you need all three: 

1. Wellness Approach (leg) - Exercise, Diet, Social Life, Love, Service to the Poor. 

2. Psychological Approach (leg) - Medication and Counseling.

3. Spiritual Contribution - Receiving supernatural grace and generating peace. 


Spiritual Approach Focus for Managing Anxiety:

First ask yourself, "Where are these thoughts and worries coming from?  How do I sift through interior spiritual experiences in order to trace their orientation and so determine their origin?  Each anxious thought has a beginning.  Advent means the beginning, the inititation.  Advent is the season of awareness and attentiveness.  

Using this analogy, when dealing with anxious thoughts, consider a contemplative action plan that includes abiding and remaining in the peace of God.  God is a God of peace. 

"He does not speak and does not operate except in peace, not trouble and agitation" (Jacques Phillippe).  Remember, while we are searching for peace and consolation, God is seeking us out! 

But it is so difficult!  Do you ever feel like you don't have control of your thoughts?  "The (evil one) does his utmost to banish peace from one's heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that God does great things...None of the thoughts that render us anxious and agitated in spirit in any way comes from God, who is the Prince of Peace" (St. Francis de Sales).


Do any of these self-made causes of anxiety sound familiar? 

  1. Impatience in prayer
  2. Spiritual Attention Deficit Dissordor:  A Culture saturated in Media vs. a taking time for a pregnant silence.

When you make islands of silence in your day, silence magnifies the affections. We always feel lonelier when we are silent.  Silence does an excellent job of boiling away the distractions so we can see what the precipitate - anxious, hurried, abrupt feeling - is made of: Loneliness? Anger? Fear? What is it? 

A contemplative gaze is keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, the Lamb of God, not on the waves/struggles. 

 Do you feel a spirit of impatience?  Do you think: "Nothing ever happens in my prayer time; I am so sick of waiting on God!  God does not want me to be happy; He just keeps taking away things in my life-what will He take next?  I will hold back on loving because all it will do is drain me of energy." 

 Or a spirit of pride? "Since God is not doing anything to help me, it must be all up to ME to solve the probem.  I will TAKE CONTROL of the situation/person or FIX the problem."

 An obstacle to peace is the spirit of avarice: A clinging to things or people, rather than detaching ourselves. Is your mind saying: At least I have 'so and so' to lean on. There is a value of poverty as receptivity and openness to the happiness and peace that God is trying to give us. But often we are unable to receive because our hands are already full.

Are we holding on to too many things instead of letting go (poverty) so we have room to receive God's grace and mercy; a lack of an experience of dependence on the reliability of divine providence? 

We cannot experience God's support for us unless we are in need of it.  Unless you jump out of the plane, you will never be able to feel the cords of the parachute, because the parachute hasn't had a chance to open.  One must first jump and it is only later that one feels carried.

Another obstacle to peace is the spirit of envy.  Something special is missing and you gotta have it.  It's the felt nostalgia that another life is much better than the one I have now. The 'real life' is elsewhere.

But, it's a life that doesn't offer me spiritual growth because of limitations or sufferings.  Moving in the direction of this temptation of envy renders me unhappy, sad, and full of discouragement.  Living this way is living an illusion or a lie.  The lie: All would go better if the circumstances around me would change.  The truth: All would go better if my heart was changed!

Lastly, anger is an obstacle to peace.  When have you been frustrated in a situation and felt immediate disproportionate merciless and reprise!  How could anyone ever do....(fill in the blank with the action that made you angry)?  You feel there is no negotiating allowed and you will take no prisoners!  There is an immediate feeling of energy as you entertain the anger; a power emotion to counter weakness. Do you feel like firing off an angry email, letter, text or phone call?  The magnification of the anger can ruin your day or spoil an occasion; the anxiety ramps up.  Try to pray for the person to be filled with mercy and feel the anger and anxiety dissipate.  Now that's powerful!

 How do I pray? 

-Here is a beautiful exercise that Fr. Tollefson shared and I have used it a number of times (not just for Advent):


Suggestions for Prayer:

1.  Pray the Jesus Prayer to permit the Spirit to focus you: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."

2.  Take time to focus.  Breathe in Peace; breathe out anxiety and worry.  Call to mind an experience that you could do for hours and imagine doing that with God.  Share your delight with Him.  Engage your imagination if you prefer to pray that way.

3.  Now tell God all about a source of great anxiety in your life.  Tell Him how it makes you feel and share the feelings with Him.

4.  Read the following Scripture passage .  Think a little; share your reactions with God a lot:

Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you.  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 13, RSVCE)

5.  Stop to savor whatever strikes or makes an impression on you.  What word stands out?

6.  If "nothing happens" that's fine.  Ignore a counter spirit in you that makes you feel as if "you're doing it all wrong!"

7.  Rest in an insight, image, awareness that gives you peace.  Take time to receive it, let it penetrate you and saturate your soul with the dew of the Holy Spirit. (The dew analogy is the quiet message from God, so light, perfectly moistenned, sparkles in the sun and quiet, you hardly notice where it came from, like the morning dew).

8.  Respond to God:  Tell Him all about your reactions.

9.  Journal your thoughts. Keep a record of God's Grace. What time will your prayer take place tomorrow? 


Relational Prayer Experience:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air:  They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 
'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well."  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.  Mathew 6:25-34 (RSVCE)


Journaling Opportunities:

The strongest thought or feeling during my prayer was...

My heart rested when...

I sense the Lord was telling me...

I ended the prayer wanting...


Thank you Fr. Tollefson, for listening to God's call and sharing this powerful message.  And to The Well Place member, I wish you peace on your journey today.


Founder of The Well Place