Getting rid of ANTS: tips for anxiety

image by Asif Akbar

A couple years ago, my mom gave me a book that she thought was very insightful. I should reword that. It  WAS insightful. However, at the time it went over my head like my husband’s explanation of how fertilizer works.

The book was about “ANTS” : “Automatic Negative Thoughts.” And you had to squash them. Certain thoughts were “red ants” because they were so dangerous. Clever.

Although at first I thought the list of “ants” was obvious and unhelpful, I don’t think so any more. In fact, I have that list sitting next to my nightstand. It’s dog-eared, with drippings of coffee and afternoon snacks and watermarks all over it, because I love it so much.

It’s funny how God works. During the same time I got busy conquering the ants in my head, our formerly adorable and clean kitchen became infested with millions of the real thing. I am not trying to sound ungrateful that the Lord provided me with an object lesson, but it was disgusting. Just disgusting. “Honey, just try to keep the crumbs up,” my husband offered helpfully. Oh, sure. Because it’s not like two us of eat 75% of our meals with our hands, throw spoons of oatmeal on the floor when we’re bored, smoosh up jelly sandwiches on the crevices of our high chairs, open the jar of raisins and jam them under the wheels of a pretend shopping cart. No, it’s not that easy!!!!

Anyway. Point being, my house was a jackpot for these things. They would literally throw parties off the rooftops of the traps we placed.

Over the weeks when I battled the ants, literally and figuratively, here are some things I learned about them. I guess it was God’s way of punishing me for not taking the “ANT” book seriously the first time around. 🙂

-At first they’re a nuisance. But if you don’t deal with them, eventually they interfere with everything.

-They keep coming. The battle is never-ending.

-You can’t let your guard down (aka leave splatters of chicken broth unattended) for a minute.

-In their full-blown aggressive state, they are so disgusting. And embarrassing.

-Sometimes you need professional help.

-Even one ant is a problem. You know why? Because there’s never one ant. There are 34,942 of them in some invisible mountain behind your outlet cover. And eventually you will see all of them in shifts.

Luckily, I found some things that do work in fighting these ANTS. In this part of the blog series, I’d like to share a few things that have (and haven’t) been helpful to me. For this post, I want to focus on one particular thing I learned that has been really helpful.

In short, I have learned that while I can’t control my feelings of anxiety, I can control my thoughts. And thoughts change feelings.

Read that last paragraph again. Really, do it. I cannot put into words how revolutionary this one fact has been for me. I realize that to some it’s the emotional equivalent of discovering facebook. Hellooooo, old news. But not to me. For years I felt powerless against my anxious feelings because I couldn’t change them. And I was right, I couldn’t; sometimes I just feel anxious.

I can’t control those feelings, but there is hope if I change my thoughts. The book on “cognitive therapy” for anxiety (where I got this information) pointed out that every time you have a thought, it affects your body in some way. Think about something troubling, and a flood of negative feelings comes into your body. Remember a fun vacation you’ve had recently, and your heart rate slows, endorphins enter your blood stream, and you take nice deep breaths. In other words, you feel better.

How wise our heavenly Father is. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) And, “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Prov. 4:23)

This next part may sound confusing, but I’ll try to say it. I think I used to think this meant I should be more positive about a situation. You know, if I’m worried about Sam getting sick, to try to tell myself it won’t happen, etc. etc. Now there is probably a place for that. And, heck, maybe that is best. I don’t know. All I can say is that for me, what worked best is just to stop thinking about the thing altogether. Period. To dump out that whole batch of cookie batter, throw it away, wash the pan, and begin again. (Geez, my life is narrow. My analogies are really suffering. But you get the point.)

So if I am worried about Sam, I clean out the closet. I plan a party. I book a vacation. I paint my toenails.

I switch gears.

And I guess I’m jumping ahead of myself here, because this is my next tip. If thoughts control feelings, then actions control thoughts. At least this works for me – I put my hands to work on something. My brain follows, and then my feelings.

In the process, I have discovered something remarkable: People who are suffering can still get things done.

I would be lying if I said that anxiety medication didn’t help tremendously in this process. Also, I would be lying if I said that every time I felt anxious, those feelings dissipated when I redecorated the guest room. But you know what? Sometimes they do.

There are quite a few other things…more to come. I am sure you are all hanging on the edge of your seat here for “tips from the anxious person #3.” Oh well. 🙂

Oh, and ps. We did eventually call Terminex. So, rest assured, my house is not party central for ants anymore.

See you next time!

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