Want to reduce anxiety? Have fun. Maybe that sounds so simple it's stupid, but bear with me. When you are having fun, you're relaxed and living in the moment. It's pretty hard to be anxious under those circumstances. Presto, you've automatically cut down on anxiety.
And why would you want to cut down on anxiety? Well, other than all the bad medical juju that anxiety does to you (like increased blood pressure, decreased immunity to disease, lack of sleep and appetite, and other miserable things), God does tell us quite a few times not to be anxious.
I read somewhere that there are 365 verses in the Bible that tell us, in one way or another, not to worry. (Like many of the things I quote here having to do with numbers, I haven't actually checked it out. I'm having fun writing. I can't get bogged down in numbers.)
I don't think God is chiding us or trying to make us feel anxious for feeling anxious. He's just saying, anxiety is really bad for you (if you have anxiety, you are probably clear on this point already). It doesn't have to be this way. Let's make it better.
Medication can help, and so can talk therapy. The Search for Significance and The Anxiety Cure are books that can help. Scripture helps. These are all interventions we should take advantage of. But in my experience, those things usually help OVER TIME, as they sink in and work on our brain chemistry, our habits, our thoughts, our feelings, and our beliefs.
Having fun is something that can help RIGHT THIS MINUTE while you wait for the other stuff to take effect.
Why doesn't everybody just do it, if it's so dang easy, then?
The problem for some of us is best summed up by Dr. Seuss: "It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how."
Some of us were raised in homes where fun was non-existent. We might have learned how to work hard and think incisively about things like Congress and Wall Street and Trinitarianism, but we didn't get a lot of experience in having fun. Deep down, we suspect it's a waste of time, selfish, and probably not very spiritual to have fun.
Others of us were raised in homes where we had to walk on eggshells around one or more family members. If you're going to have fun, everybody has to be able to give a little, laugh at themselves, and not be distressed about every word and gesture. Trying to keep all those eggshells intact puts the kibosh on fun and produces a whole lot of anxiety.
Many of us have spent a lot of time with the Jesus who suffered and not enough time with the Jesus who turned water into wine at a party.
I really do believe that God gives us is freedom to have fun. Fun is not my whole aim in life, but it is part of the "every good and perfect gift" that we receive from our Father in Heaven.
So if you, like me, need to know how, here are some baby steps to fun.
Step one: laugh out loud. Deliberately choose activities that make you laugh out loud.
If you can't think of anything, here are some things that make me laugh out loud. They might work for you, too.
- Books by P. G. Wodehouse
- TV sitcoms (Cosby, Modern Family, The Office)
- Britcoms (Yes, Minister; Jeeves & Wooster; Look Around You; Keeping Up Appearances)
- Movies (What About Bob, The Princess Bride, The Gods Must Be Crazy)
- Online sources like YouTube and blogs can be a good source of funny stuff
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYLMTvxOaeE is my favorite Bob Newhart sketch, making fun of therapy. Cracks me up every time.
Step two: re-energize. Deliberately choose activities that give you energy.
For me, that's anything artsy. Quilting, decorating, gardening, art journaling, scrapbooking--anything like that gives me a happy buzz. Music can be an awesome energizer. Puzzles--like crosswords, jigsaws, and Sudoku--are the short road to insanity for me, but I hear they are fun for some people, so they might work for you. I even know and love people to find running to be energizing. You will know the happy buzz when you feel it. Find it and do it.
Step three: relax. Deliberately choose activities that are relaxing to you.
In my world, this is the daily bubble bath. I got into bubble baths during a particularly anxious period of my life. I have had to cut out a certain amount of late-night television in order to accommodate the daily bubble bath, but for me, it's worth it.
Another thing that helps with relaxation is the simple exercise of tensing up every muscle in your body, then relaxing everything, and breathing slowly for a couple of minutes. This is usually one of the first things I teach anxious clients, and they tell me it really helps at work and at school when they are feeling especially worried.
So, three fun, simple steps away from anxiety: laugh, re-energize, relax. Enjoy!