A Teenager’s Insight on Anxiety

Our anxieties don’t make us faster or more efficient. They simply make us more anxious.

Posted in , Feb 15, 2017

Some advice about anxiety from a teenager.

Our younger son, Timothy, had some fine advice about anxiety when he was just a teen. He was in high school and in the midst of the crush that comes for students their senior year when they’re madly trying to get good grades, do their extra-curriculars and somehow manage to complete college applications.

There was an essay he had to write and the due date was looming. We’re good parents. We do our best at keeping our mouths shut–whenever possible. And Tim was a good student.

But still a 17-year-old is a 17-year-old, and he had a tendency to procrastinate. Weekend homework was never attacked until Sunday night, no matter how much free time there might have been.

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It must have been a Sunday night when his mother asked him in what she meant to be an offhand way: “By the way, Tim, have you worked on that essay you’re supposed to do? I was thinking it’s due soon…isn’t it?”

Tim, in his wise way, looked at her with his piercing blue eyes and said, “Mom, your anxiety is not going to make me get it done any faster.” A line that has been preserved in family memory forever.

Tim hit on something that seems even truer today than when he first uttered it. Our anxieties don’t make us faster or more efficient. They simply make us more anxious.

It seems so obvious, and yet, something I easily forget. How often I let anxiety steer the ship instead of putting it in the hold with a lot of unnecessary baggage. I even disguise anxiety with lists and meetings and organizational strategies that mask what I’m really feeling.

So how to shrink anxiety into a manageable size? Or make it disappear altogether? Prayer. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) When I sit on the sofa in the morning or close my eyes on a subway train, the anxieties are the first thing to speak. They are surprisingly loud: “You need to do this! Have you worried about that? What about that? You’re never going to get THAT done!”

The temptation is to open my eyes, take out my phone and send an email or make a note to myself or put down something in my calendar.

But if I keep my eyes closed, I’m better off–much better off–dropping those anxieties into God’s lap. He can take care of the worries. Let them be His. That is the restorative work of prayer, to set the balance right.

The schedule, the phone calls, the things that need to get written will get done. They always get done. But as a teenaged Tim said years ago, the anxiety doesn’t make them get done any faster.

I make a practice of giving up anxiety every day. I won’t pretend that it doesn’t take a lot of practice. But then it is often called the practice of prayer. You don’t have to be an expert. Join an amateur like me.

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