Can You Be Thankful and Anxious?
They don’t go together. You probably already knew that, but I wanted to highlight it for you. 🙂
Research has shown that gratitude cannot co-exist with fear. It turns out that gratitude and compassion can be powerful natural remedies to anxiety.
In Zulu, we would say that they chase each other. Ziyaxosha. Think of a dog chasing a cat. The cat has no desire to stay put if a huge German Shepard is charging its way.
What a great mental image for us to ponder. If you are consciously pursuing a brain neural pathway of thinking thanks, a natural result is that anxious thoughts move on quickly.
Philippians 4:6 strongly encourages us to not be anxious about anything. Instead we are to pour our hearts out to the Lord with thankfulness. That is our part. But then our living and listening God responds.
The Lord rewards us by infusing our minds with a peace that “surpasses all understanding” – literally, a peace that stands out, rises above, and is better than normal human comprehension, thinking, feeling, or reason. And that peace puts a shield around our hearts (emotions) and minds (ponderings).
I would call that a pretty good deal for us! Just remember that, at times, God’s peace is so beyond understanding that others will think that we are in denial or blocking things out or moving into abnormal psychology. But we’re not. We’re just being resolutely thankful to a God who, in His meticulous providence, ordered things as they are for me right now.
Turning Knowledge Into a Skill
So if I am convinced that it would be good for me to work on becoming thinkful, how do I develop that skill? You have to retrain your brain through repetition – we do this with anxiety, so we can also do it with thankfulness.
Here’s a good idea from Tanya J. Peterson:
Play a Gratitude Game to Help Anxiety
True gratitude is about more than saying thanks. A grateful mindset is developed purposefully and with practice. By playing a gratitude game, you begin to shift your focus away from anxiety and onto other, more positive, aspects of your life.
The game is an ongoing scavenger hunt. You will need:
- The Scavenger Hunt List below (print it or copy them down);
- Something to hold one challenge on each page (like a journal or a ring with index cards).
The Scavenger Hunt List contains challenges – positive things, people, situations, and concepts to purposefully seek out and write down what you’re thankful for. Take the list and write one challenge on each page or card, and you’re ready to begin.
Now, look for at least one thing every day. Approach it playfully. When you look for things to be thankful for, your thoughts begin to drift away from anxieties.
Your Gratitude Scavenger Hunt List:
- Unexpected down time (What did you do?)
- Someone who makes you laugh
- Spending time with a friend
- Something that went well today
- A chance to do something nice for someone else
- A personal trait
- Someone who is a positive part of your life
- A cherished photo
- A talent you have
- Writing a letter of gratitude to someone
- Stopping and smelling the roses
- A chance to do something nice for yourself
- Time spent outdoors
- An opportunity to make someone feel heard
- Something that brought a smile to your face today
- A fond memory
- An evening spent with friends/family with no electronics
- Something that someone did for you
- Your ability to perform a random act of kindness
- A teacher who inspired you
- A kind comment someone said to you
- Someone who listened to you
- Hearing someone laugh
The shift of perspective that comes with gratitude helps anxiety because it changes where you look and how you think. It’s a way of beating anxiety at its own game.
I would encourage you to get a journal of any size or shape and just start recording things that you are thinkful for. Let this simple game be a jumpstart to get into the habit of at least recording one thing a day.
In time you may “up your game” and record five things a day. As you craft this neural pathway in your brain, you may in time even be able to see things to think thanks about in hard things, but let’s leave that for now. 🙂
Th(i)nkful (adj) describing people who choose to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance in their life and to express that thanks orally or in written form.