Young adults gathered at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in West Chester to hear Christine Wittman, a Catholic licensed professional counselor, speak about anxiety. The Jan. 23 talk, sponsored by the group Catholic Young Adults of Chester County, combined the Catholic faith and proven therapeutic strategies in an educational workshop.
Wittman, who has 15 years of professional experience, said her mission is “to give you tools you can use in real life. I won’t propose anything I don’t use.”
In her talk titled “Kicking Anxiety to the Curb,” she encouraged her audience to tell her what makes people anxious. The young adults answered broadly, citing the past, present and future. Indeed, anxiety can take many forms. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 31% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Of these, only one-third seek treatment.
Wittman provided practical ways to conquer anxiety and challenged the young adults to be nothing less than who God created them to be. She offered proven therapeutic strategies with the Catholic faith at the heart of her practice.
Part of handling anxiety is working through and understanding one’s past, Wittman advised, and said it is important question to ask oneself, “now what can I do with the present?” To unpack what is going on inside, Wittman suggested looking at what you are telling yourself, and then asking if these statements are true.
Our thoughts are important because changing our thoughts changes our feelings, which changes our behavior, Wittman said. To do this, she proposed a strategy called “the spectrum of what’s true.”
A far cry from relativism, this spectrum acknowledges the whole truth, both the positive and negative aspects. According to Wittman, it calls us to be rooted in reality by embracing the positive part of what’s true and acknowledging — and problem-solving — the negative part of what’s true. By accepting the entire truth about ourselves, we can identify and avoid lies that cause anxiety, and thereby move forward.
The first part of the strategy is to root yourself in the positive part of what’s true. When an anxiety-producing thought comes, first stop and name five things you are grateful for, Wittman said. It could be anything from your best friend to your toothbrush. Doing this places one in the positive part of what’s true, which produces positive feelings and allows one to better approach the problem at hand.
Following that step, Wittman advised to identify five ways to problem solve and be open to solutions. With a joyful smile, she affirmed her audience: “You can actually do something about it!”
After problem-solving, Wittman advised that one stay close to God by offering five prayers, including interceding for others. “(God) cares about what troubles you deeply,” she said, recommending that people bring their troubles to God, offer their sufferings for others and give thanks for God’s goodness.
She used an example of the strategy in action. Sal feels lonely and wrestles with anxiety-producing thoughts such as, “No one likes me.” To start the strategy, he stops and says to himself, “Thank you God for my faith, my family, the sunrise, Oreo cookies and running water.” Doing this takes him out of anxious thoughts and places him in the positive part of what’s true.
Next, Sal does some problem-solving. He can challenge the anxiety-causing thought. He acknowledges the idea that “no one likes him” is simply not true. To combat this thought, he makes a list of people who love him. To go one step further, Sal makes weekend plans with someone on his list.
Sal then observes that he hasn’t seen his family or friends much since he started a new job. He decides that throughout the week he will call some of his family members and friends to catch up. In addition, Sal chooses to eat lunch with his coworkers instead of at his desk. He also decides to join a hiking group in the area to meet new people and enjoy God’s creation.
Finally, Sal ends the strategy with five prayers. He unites his suffering to Christ’s and offers it up for others experiencing similar struggles. Next, he asks God to place three people on his heart who he can call. Sal says a Hail Mary for his family. A powerful prayer taught by Wittman is, “Holy Spirit, what do you love about the person in front of me?”
After saying this prayer, Sal listens to the Holy Spirit’s response with his heart. Sal prays this about himself and about the family member he will call later that day. When he calls his relative, he will share what the Holy Spirit put on his heart.
Wittman described her strategy as one that can not only decrease anxiety but can also help us bear fruit from our struggles. As she told the audience, “The Lord means for us to capitalize on these issues.”
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