If you’ve heard me share my story, you know two things about me: I’ve struggled with worry and I’ve struggled with negativity.
God has used those struggles to teach me so much about my mind and how to CHOOSE the simplest of things to protect my thoughts. It’s written all over his Word: renew your mind (Romans 12:2), think on whatever is lovely (Phil 4:8), take your thoughts captive (2 Cor. 10:5).
I’m learning how these biblical truths fit into my every day. That’s so much of our heart here at VMP, to help you know what the Bible says and what that practically means for our everyday. It should change us! God does have a bigger part in this. He’s the one who transforms us, but He also asks us to participate. This is how I’ve been participating in finding freedom from anxiety.
I’ll start at the beginning.
My husband and I were talking about anxiety one night over dinner at Chuy’s and I was just telling him how strange it was to me that, as a culture, we find it entertaining to watch betrayal, murders and heartbreak, kidnappings and even rape. If this wasn’t true, shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, Breaking Bad, the Saw movies and even just highly emotion-driven shows like This is Us or Real Housewives would not be as popular as they are. (Side note: This is not just about TV shows, but we’ll get there!)
Tyler suggested that this makes total sense because shows like this are crafted specifically to evoke a feeling from us and we like to feel something real.
Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht, said “People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you.”
This tells me something that might seem really basic and what Scripture already says–what we let in WILL affect us. Maybe we do need to understand the very real threats in the world and not ignore everything. That’s an argument a lot of people will make but I don’t think we were intended to consume nearly as much of it as we do today. When we do, we are initiating fight or flight type emotions that were intended to be felt far less often.
Stress can actually be a good thing for our body, but it’s not good in the amount we typically get in our world today.
This article says “When the brain perceives some kind of stress, it starts flooding the body with chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. This creates a variety of reactions such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, the senses suddenly have a laser-like focus so you can avoid physically stressful situations — such as jumping away from a moving car — and be safe.”
In a genuinely stressful situation, this can save our lives, but watching a stressful show makes us hyper-aware of every sound or possible threat even when there is none, which in my opinion contributes to anxiety.
Tragedy should seize our hearts. We aren’t supposed to block it out completely, but I think we are supposed to experience those things in community. If we are so filled with anxiety that we can’t sit with a friend going through a divorce, diagnosis or death of a child, then we need to cut out the materialized drama so that we have space to experience the small bit of stress that means we get to love someone else well.
With all this, my challenge for those of you seeking freedom from anxiety is this.
I’m proposing something similar to a detox diet which is followed by reintroducing the things you were fasting from one by one to see what triggers you specifically. It might be one of them or it might be all. I’m not here to tell anyone you have to cut all this out of your life permanently but to prayerfully consider what’s serving you and what is not. Commit to cutting it all out for 7 days at least (I’d recommend longer but wanted to keep this simple) and then reintroduce slowly.
7- DAY ANXIETY DETOX EXPERIMENT
Take a break from all content that involves:
1. VIOLENCE, HORROR, SUSPENSE AND ABUSE
I’ll reiterate here that if you’re struggling with anxiety and you’re not ready to give up these shows, just experiment! It may have nothing to do with your anxiety, but if it does, it might free you from the depression we can feel anticipating an anxious life. I always get depressed when I’m anxious. Carole Lieberman, MD, Beverly Hills–based psychiatrist said “It may seem counterintuitive since it doesn’t make sense that someone would want to keep watching a show that makes them feel anxious or depressed, but they are drawn like a moth to a flame… When the show ends, they can feel reassured that they [the victims] survived and that the bad guys were punished.”
Show examples: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, crime shows, even action-figure films, suspenseful movies, and true crime podcasts
2. HIGHLY EMOTION-DRIVEN CONTENT
This quote from a Forbes article was fascinating to see how the emotion is not for us, but a means to reach the bottom line. AKA show-makers aren’t looking out for our mental health. “Emotional connections are critical to a show’s success,” said Feldman. “We found that Season Two of This is Us received 3.6 times more ‘Cried’ reactions than any other broadcast TV dramas during the same time period. By tapping into emotions such as sadness, creators are building deeper relationships with audiences that translate into increased viewership.” And Feldman said it’s not just about making people cry, even if that’s what This is Us is known for. Strong emotions of many types can be catnip for audiences. “In TV dramas, for every 1 percent increase in emotional reactions conveying ‘hate,’ there is a 0.7 percent increase in viewership,” Feldman said. “Tapping into emotions such as ‘hate,’ ‘sadness,’ and ‘beautiful’ is proven to drive results for networks and creators.”
Show examples: This is Us, Manifest, New Amsterdam, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and Real Housewives–because I’ve seen personally how their cattiness and arguments have heightened my blood pressure and made me angsty.
** If you don’t want to cut out entertainment completely pick some lighthearted things for your watch list. My favorites? The Office and Frasier.
We can’t live under a rock forever, but we can and should filter where we get our news and limit it significantly. A 24-hour news channel needs to create drama to fill 24 hours of content. It’s why stories repeat with little more information. Cal Newport, in his book Digital Minimalism, recommends not watching breaking news for this reason and instead reading a story the day later with all the information instead of immersing in the story all day re-clicking to see new information.
Examples: Don’t get news from extreme sites. I’ve noticed over the years that The Weather Channel’s main story normally includes an armageddon-level word to grab attention even when it’s not needed.
4. ONLINE COMMUNITY TRAGEDIES
This one might seem really heartless but this goes back to being able to respond to the needs within my community. Is it bad to pray for a people group or kid you saw someone share on Instagram? Of course not! How cool that we can do this!! And man I would love to know so many people would be praying for my kids if they were sick. But I also know we heighten our anxiety when we see countless stories of children’s cancer because we begin to see these things as everyday and normal. Again, if you don’t struggle with anxiety, keep clicking. I clicked on a picture of a kid in a hospital bed in my Instagram explorer late one night recently and it didn’t encourage a heart of prayer but of anxiousness for my own kids. I can’t stress enough, this is not about ignoring the pain around us. We are finite beings and to think that we SHOULD be able to handle every devastating story on the computer that’s three people removed is not embracing those limits. We weren’t made to carry the burdens of everyone we could reach by the internet. It’s said that Jesus never traveled more than 200 miles from his birthplace and I think this is a good reminder of the world people lived in before the internet.
Examples: Go Fund Me links on FB for people you don’t know, sick kid posts on Instagram
Music is designed to draw out emotions too. I think this is why K-LOVE is popular. Its motto is positive and encouraging and to hear the stories of lives being changed as people switched from other music to their station reminds me of the power of music. I’d consider making a playlist of songs that are uplifting or positive.
Examples: Cut the depressing, angsty, drama-filled music and make an uplifting Spotify playlist. See this post for some of my playlists and Spotify graphics.
Journal throughout the week and I’d encourage you to add them back one by one and record how that goes. I personally think all these things affect me but I know we can be more susceptible to different things! Pray for God’s clarity and even courage to surrender something you may love that could be contributing to anxiety.
Leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know how it goes!!