Day 2: Rewire Your Worried Mind - Parenting with God’s Peace

Day 2: Rewire Your Worried Mind

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

Statistically speaking, 63.1 percent of adults with anxiety never receive treatment. Maybe this is even your first attempt at some kind of help. I’m honored if this devotional is the beginning of your journey to battling worry and anxiety. But I certainly don’t want to diminish the impact your untreated past has had. The average age of onset for anxiety is seven. Take your age and subtract seven. That is likely how long this anxiety storm inside of you has been brewing. And I believe becoming a parent strengthens the storm significantly.

Our brains develop and strengthen neural pathways based on use. The scientific term is neuroplasticity, defined as “the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.” In fact, some theorists call it a “use it or lose it” phenomenon. Doctors and authors Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson say that “where neurons fire, they wire, or join together.” Basically, we create well-worn paths in our brain. The paths that are used most frequently become easier to use. That circuitry strengthens in our brain. It’s why you likely have no idea which pant leg you put on first each day, but my guess is that if you paid attention, it would be the same leg. Getting dressed is a well-worn neural pathway in your brain. As are brushing your teeth and making coffee. And, for many of us, worry has also become a well-worn path.

Worry is not only a well-worn pathway, but it works for us. Or so we believe. Worry often serves a purpose. Many of us try to use worry as a coping skill. We overthink because we believe we’re coming to a more helpful conclusion. Or maybe we believe worry motivates us. It energizes us to do the task in front of us. Maybe we worry to keep ourselves from being blindsided by bad news. Worry makes us, somehow, feel more in control. And, in some families, it can even be a way of showing that we care. I often told my mom not to worry when I was growing up. It could have been about any situation. She was quite the worrier. It didn’t matter if it was telling me to call her when I arrived at my destination, keeping tabs on me if I was sick, or even asking if I was okay when I coughed from the next room. With all the independence I could muster at six and sixteen, I’d tell her I was fine. Her response, however, was always the same: “It’s a mother’s job to worry.”

You may feel the same way. You may subconsciously wonder, Where would I be without my worry? Or even, Who would I be without it? Worry can eventually become a way of life. But the truth is that worry interferes with our lives much more than it enhances them.

Anxiety left untreated only gets worse. The same is true for worry. The neural pathways are strengthened, and we spend more time worrying than we do experiencing. We feel anxious more than we feel confident—or even brave. In order to beat worry and anxiety, the truth is pretty plain: We have to fight. And we’ve got to fight on all levels.

Reflect: What are three ways you have believed worry helped in the past? What are three ways it interferes with who you want to be as a parent and as a person today?

From the Book: