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Twenty-Four Anxiety Indicators

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

Number 220

How Anxious Are You?

How anxious are you? Perhaps this "Anxiety Inventory" by Karen Randau may help identify if you are prone to anxiety.

1. I strive to impress others.
2. I believe I must live up to the expectations of others.
3. I am often unable to cope with daily activities of life.
4. I accept guilt for events beyond my control.
5. Feelings of inadequacy dominate me.
6. My stomach is often upset or acidic.
7. A tight band frequently seem to encircle my head.
8. I am a perfectionist.
9. I am often afraid or tearful, even when I don't know why.
10. I sometimes feel paranoid.
11. I have bouts of diarrhea or constipation.
12. I use prescription or illicit drugs to settle my nerves.
13. I use alcohol to calm my nerves.
14. I am quick to anger.
15. I suffer from insomnia, or I sleep too much.
16. I have a tendency to sabotage personal and professional relationships.
17. I refrain from displays of emotion, fearful that I might lose control or go crazy.
18. I am ashamed to let others see below the surface of my personality.
19. I believe that my problems are too big for God to solve.
20. I believe I am unworthy of God's love and forgiveness.
21. I feel unworthy of love.
22. I often feel that I am stuck in quicksand, and the more I try to get out, the deeper I sink.
23. I panic easily.
24. I sometimes feel that I'm walking around in a dream.
From Randau, Karen. Conquering Fear. Dallas: Rapha Publishing, pp. 14-15
 
The Anxious Reality
 
The reality is that everyone bears anxiety at some level. Perhaps the greatest indicator of your anxious ministry and/or lifestyle is Frank Minirth's assertion,

"The more insecure we are, the more we strive for attention, fame, and success."

Hence, the more insecure you feel, the harder you will try to impress others. In order to impress others one needs to 1) be consistent, 2) be perfect, 3) be overtly seen as "successful", 4) be driven to meet other's expectations, and 5) be willing to sacrifice your own self-esteem and well-being for other's acceptance of you based on their external standard.

Anxiety-Driven Clergy

Perhaps some of the most anxiety-driven people on this earth are Christians. Among Christians, perhaps the highest levels of anxiety, insecurity and emotional unrest is among the clergy and church professionals.
 
Considering the pressures and expectations of churches and pastors, it is no surprise. There are a myriad of opportunities for creating, fostering and increasing anxiety among church leaders. Some of these anxiety-provoking opportunities include...

1) Beginning of a new pastorate and working through all the expectations.

2) Trying to lead a church to become the "perfect" church

3) Seeking to implement mechanisms of control (e.g. bureaucracy, legalistic procedures, etc.) to guarantee harmony and success.

4) The expectation that the results of what our work is must be better in each successive year.

5) The notion that we control resources, means, tools, programs to the extent that we can guarantee the return, effectiveness and success these efforts.

6) Feeling as if we must always succumb to the will of every squeaky wheel and be driven by every dissident voice.

7) Feeling as if our security and well-being depends on our ability to "fall in line" with antagonists' will.

8) Taking a risk on a new style of ministry or change in ministry program.

9) Fearing expressing a bold, Biblical vision for the church for fear of being branded "unorthodox," "crazy," or the like.

10) Trying to do everything in the church while neglecting the joyful use of your special God-given passion and expertise.

11) Subjecting yourself to unfair, unwarranted, unsolicited, and anonymous criticism.

12) Feeling as if one cannot directly counter or address criticisms and comments, etc.

13) Wondering if the finances will be sufficient to make budget...including salaries.

14) Dealing with some "mysterious" membership changes or threats to that effect.

Where Does This Anxiety Come From?
 
Anxiety can come from numerous sources.

1) Parental Influence: Studies have estimated that as many as 25% of all children grew up with at least one phobic parent. Anxious parents directly teach or indirectly project this anxiety to their children in the form of perfectionistic expectations, rigid discipline, maintaining facades, sheltering children from grief, hurt and other aspects of the "real world" appropriate for their age, encouraging a legalistic understanding of God and the resulting religious lifestyle.

2) Childhood Experience: In general, those who recall their childhood as happy, spontaneous and enjoyable are less anxiety-prone than those with difficult or painful childhood. Those who grew up with a sense of security, love, belonging and unconditional acceptance often has less anxiety than those with vivid negative images of their childhood.

3) Genetic Factors: Research with twins has demonstrated that identical twins have a high probability of sharing anxious disorders. Some studies indicate that this can be as little as 31% or as high as 88%. Whatever the actual percentage is cannot yet be determined. Yet this research suggests there is a genetic component to the propensity to anxiety.

4) Birth Order: Kevin Leman's The Birth Order Book suggests that first-born children are often over-parented. Conditioned by praise and external encouragement, they are frequently subjected to a conditional, controlling love which says, "We will love you if you..." The results? They take life very seriously, they strive for extremes as perfectionist, they seek constantly approval, and they are driven by stress. Of course, one does not have to be an oldest child to be conditioned to anxiety. Last-borns, for example, were often told they were "not old enough" or "too little" or otherwise ignored by parents pre-occupied with older siblings. Anxiety for them may be rooted in a sense that they are unable to achieve.

5) Personal Temperament: Among the four major temperaments, it is no secret that those gifted Melancholics with their constant self-scrutinizing and obsession with detail are most subject to anxiety. Though Phlegmatics are perceives to be able to quickly acquiesce to their fate in life, Sanguines, those "Let's have a party" types are often so driven to approval that they will do anything to maintain their popularity, acceptance and overall favorable regard. As Randau accurately pointed out, "A sanguine is an anxiety attack waiting to happen" (p. 24).

Cholerics, generally rather self-centered and fearless, are not normally anxious unless they are subject to being dominated by others or frustrated in the attainment of their vision. When this occurs, unhappy Cholerics can result. Unhappy Cholerics can become vicious, outspoken, cutting, insensitive, angry and anxious people.

Closely related to Cholerics is the "Type A" personality. Type A personalities can be reflected by a number of possible combinations of the four classical temperaments. Whatever the profile, Type A's are most subject to anxiety attacks. These hard workers are those who obsessively pay attention to every single detail.  The drive themselves to success in everything at all costs. Their characteristic impatience and controlling, driven manner are key indicators of heightened anxiety.

6) Peer Pressure: Ministry professionals are not immune from the pressure of others to perform. Threatened by the success of other ministers and ministries, anxiety levels often rise. Unless they, too, can have a church of 20,000 members they feel as if they are failures or, at best, wholly inadequate for the task of ministry.

7) Immature Spirituality: Just because one reads and knows the Bible does not guarantee that they will have lessened levels of anxiety. In fact, some pastors are driven to greater Biblical knowledge because of their anxious fears that they may not know the answers.

"Spirituality" refers to a level of spiritual growth that can turn the ministry over to God daily. It refers to the quiet confidence that even when things go wrong, God is in control.

Though desiring to passionately aspire to the maximum use of God's gifts, a mature, Biblical spirituality recognizes that God controls both our outputs and outcomes. Both are His and so are we.

8) Original Sin: Perhaps the most obvious cause of anxiety, it was Adam and Eve's hiding after their sin that started it all. Unfortunately, original sin affected everyone for all time. The church and its ministry professionals are not immune. All have anxieties of some sort or another.

9) Inability To Live The Joy of the Gospel: It is the nature of the Gospel to live without fear and anxiety. Of course, insofar as we continue to sin we will be subject to weakness. We will experience anxiety. But the more we understand and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, live the Gospel we become less bound to guilt, fear, and anxiety and more prone toward living in the spontaneous, confident joy of the Gospel.

How to Deal With Your Anxiety
 
Perhaps that's the greatest challenge. Years and years of practicing anxiety may have perfected anxiety's hold in your life. As you checked-off the Anxiety Inventory, which ones most typified you? Which ones indicated your greatest areas of anxiety?
If you have trouble determining which anxieties are most troublesome, listen to yourself. If that doesn't work, listen to your spouse, your family, or your best and most trusted. Ironically, critics and antagonists can painfully point out our greatest weaknesses.
 
Your Anxiety Is Visible!
 
If, for example, they call you a dictator, it could point to an anxiety related to perfectionism and meeting the expectations of others. Indeed, isn't that what makes their criticisms most effective, namely, that they play on your perfectionistic expectation-driven anxieties?
 
Your angry, anxious, insomniac responses are not your enemy. They're your friend. They are your antagonist's unanticipated greatest gift. These anxious responses point out your "fatal," anxious flaws. Don't deal with your anxiety by attacking the critics. Instead, deal with your anxieties by changing yourself. It can be extremely painful. But it is one of your best strategic defenses against antagonists.

Why Deal With Your Anxieties?

Of course, there are several good reasons to address these areas.
First, because your anxiety affects your church, your leaders, the kind of leadership they offer, the kind of acceptance and support they offer, the kinds of criticisms they give, etc.
 
Second, your anxiety also affects your family, even as your family anxiety affected you.
 
Third, your anxiety also affects you and, most importantly, your relationship with God.
 
Fourth, managing your anxiety enables you to stand firm...and then some in difficult situations.
 
Fifth, when people sense you are not moved by anxieties, they gain grow from your witness and also gain confidence to counter those who attack the ministry, grow in greater eagerness to support those who move it forward, and themselves learn to move forward in faith steadfast, unmoved, and non-anxious.
 
Sixth, because it is a faith issue. To be anxious about everything is a key indicator of a weak faith which is hindered from rejoicing in the Lord alway (Philippians 4). More significantly, anxiety can divert us from seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness for us.
Begin With God
 
Where shall you begin? Begin with God. He calls you to cast all your anxieties on Him. He calls you to trust in Him who is your Rock and Fortress. He lovingly tells you not to worry about tomorrow but to hand it to Him.
 
The message and normal response to the Gospel is to no longer fear. If tomorrow is His, only one other thing for which we strive: to seek First His Kingdom. Seek it in all its fullness without anxiety and with God's ever-present confidence for you!!
Thomas F. Fischer  

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:55 PM