Calming Anxiety with Dr. John Delony

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults and are the most common mental diagnosis in America. Dr. John Delony, best-selling author, mental health expert, host of “The Dr. John Delony show”, joins Robert and Kim to talk about how to calm anxiety. He has two doctorate degrees and over two decades of experience in counseling, crisis response and higher education. He is also part of the Dave Ramsey team of personalities.

Dr. Delony shares that, “At its core, anxiety is our body telling us we are out of step relationally, that we are in a situation that isn’t safe, or that, as we look into the future, we cannot control what is coming next. It’s not a sign that we’re broken or that our brains are malfunctioning. It’s the other way around. It’s telling us that our brain is working great. It’s designed to tell us we are under a threat and we need to look at our entire universe to find out what is going on.” He also shares that cognitive dissonance is when we have two different competing thoughts or emotions at once. We might be reading scripture that tells us we are loved and accepted as we are while those around us are sending a different message. It can lead us to shut down. If you are experiencing cognitive dissonance, your body might sound an alarm. If we are surrounded by loving people but feel lonely inside, we may experience that dissonance and our brains will alert us. Anxiety can be the result of experiencing that difference.

Many single parents experience chronic anxiety, so what is anxiety and how do we calm it?
Dr. John Delony shares this analogy.  Imagine you’re in the kitchen and the smoke alarm is going off. You get on the ladder and immediately try to get the batteries out to shut it down while your house is burning down around you.  We have to look at what anxiety is trying to tell me. Maybe you find yourself alone, you are not safe, and that you are in a situation you can’t control. He says he can’t think of many situations that check all those boxes except waking up to find yourself a single parent. Where once you had someone to help you in this endeavor, you can’t control what they are going to do when your kids are spending the weekend with them, and you can’t control how your seventeen-year-old is going to act. And this is where anxiety comes in. Dr. Delony says we can’t just try to turn off the alarm. We need to look at what is going on and consider what we need to do to put out the fire. Then, the alarm will stop going off. But we need to respond to the alarm. Not to turn it off but to figure out why it’s going off. If we broke an ankle, nobody would tell us to pray harder, nobody at the the gym would tell us to just push through it. They would tell us to stop, go get our ankle taken care of, get a cast, take a break, and then do rehab, first walking and then running. Sometimes our default setting with anxiety is to try harder, work more, push harder. Other times its to just shut down or get stuck in your head. It’s different for everybody and this is why we need our community. They can help us see what we are doing even when we can’t, and they can help us identify what we need. We may be numbing out or self-medicating in destructive ways and our trusted friends can speak into that. This is how we need each other.
What about when anxiety has been so persistent for us, it’s all we know?

Dr. Delony also addressed what to do when you are someone who has struggled with anxiety for so long that it is almost part of your identity. We can get so accustomed to the chemicals that escalate when we are amped up and anxious that we look for situations that perpetuate that. When we recognize that in ourselves, we need to identify where that cycle started. We need to look back at our history and look at the events in our lives that made us hyper-vigilant. Looking at the roots is part of the journey to calm anxiety.

Dr. Delony also shares the importance of “both/and”. We can look back at our history and accept both the good and the bad that came from how we were raised and how our childhood experiences shaped us. As we look at what is, we also need to accept that we have a decision to make to grow and to address those things.

How can we as parents help our children cope with their anxiety?
Dr. Delony says the greatest gift we can give our kids is letting them watch us do things in healthy ways. He watched his mom buck every convention she had been told and go back to school and create a whole new second life for herself. He watched his dad do hostage negotiations and then become a youth pastor because that’s what he felt called to do. Their example led John to embrace his own path and career growth as well. He wants parents to “be about it”. When we demonstrate to our kids our commitment to work through things and heal, they will see that and take it in more powerfully than anything we tell them. But as we go about it, talk to them about their journey. He says invite your older teens and young adult kids to speak into your world. When they do, listen. Don’t be defensive or go on the attack. Hear what they are saying and let it inform your journey.

What are practical steps to calm anxiety?
As parents, own your anxiety and take steps to seek healing. Decide you don’t want to live with anxiety and that you want to be at peace. Meet with someone who will be honest with you. Share where you are and admit that you need help and want to find peace. We must let someone know that you are not okay. “It will come out.” says Dr. Delony, and if we don’t choose when and where, “it will find it’s way out” and often at the worst times with people we love or on a date.
One of the ways he dealt with his own anxiety was by becoming a consistent steward of his body. He says that 48% of Americans are considered obese. We aren’t exercising and we live inside in air-conditioned spaces. We live in a regulated world and we avoid discomfort, even the discomfort of vacuuming. Instead, we use a little round automatic disc to vacuum for us. We need to confront where we are.
As single parents, we have faced hearing that our relationship is over. We can face hard things. Dr. Delony says find the things that work for you to be healthier and do them and keep doing them.  The tortoise wins the race because he just keeps going! Robert shares that “Being a solo parent is hard but it’s also an opportunity. We often run from discomfort but there is a lot to discover doubt ourselves and about God in the struggle.” When we experience anxiety, we need to resist the temptation to run, to get out of the car, to turn off the alarm and to avoid the fire. Instead, we need to stay in it. Identify why the alarm is going off and find things to do to be healthy while in the struggle. Be aware of the anxiety and do things that are good for you like take a walk, work out, meditate, go outside. Dr. Delony says when you feel your body spin out, ask yourself “What are these alarms telling me?” Usually, the answer is easy to find. You haven’t connected with friends recently. You’ve been eating like trash this week. You just got back from a long trip and need rest. When you identify where the anxiety is coming from, take steps to address it. Call a friend and hang out. Commit to healthy choices. Sleep! Give your body what it needs.

How do we process things that happened to us that feel crippling, like trauma or hurtful events?
Memory is unreliable. We run the events that happen in our lives through our filters. Dr. Delony says, “We think we have these great ironclad memories” but what happened is less important than how our body reacts now. Someone may do a small gesture that reminds us of some traumatic experience in the past and we immediately feel a reaction. The alarms are up, and we try to fight or flee, and if we can’t, we go numb. We can’t solve what happened in the past, but we can teach our body to make peace when we experience a similar trigger or feeling. Identifying those things can help us process why our alarms are going off again. We can take a break, let our body settle down, and then come back to deal with whatever set them off. Recognize when your body spins out.
He also said we need to notice what’s going on “when you reach for a Twinkie”. Maybe there’s nothing more there than just wanting one, but he said, often for him there is something else going on. Often, it’s something relational like feeling slighted by a loved one, being lonely, or feeling sad or hurt. Notice the ways you cope. Check your behaviors and see if they are connected to emotion or a story and event that’s happened to you in the past. When you notice and become more present, you will find yourself able to respond differently.

We can also choose to accept our lack of control and decide what we will do next. We need to stop and acknowledge how we are feeling. Anxiety can be overwhelming, but it won’t kill us. We need to let ourselves feel it and remember that it won’t last forever. He says, “Don’t forget to remember” is a phrase that helps him choose his next step. Don’t forget to remember how you will feel if you choose one reaction over another. That phrase alone can help us make a choice in the moment to take a break, step back, choose differently, and as we do, we will be making healthier decisions that will reduce our anxiety.

As you consider how to calm anxiety in your life, you can follow Dr. John Delony on Instagram, find his books, and start looking at your reactions and why the alarms are going off in your own life. As you self-reflect, take care of your body, and identify what you need, you will find more peace.

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