Anxiety: A Red, Yellow or Green Light?

For many years, when we traveled beyond the boundaries of the familiar roads that my husband and I normally take, he did most of the driving. That’s not because I was incapable of navigating more crowded highways; it was because John enjoyed driving, and I enjoyed relaxing or reading books. The problem was: I gradually lost confidence in my driving ability. I didn’t realize this had happened until he needed me to make an eight-hour trip by myself.

My immediate thoughts were “I can’t handle it! I’ll have an accident!” I felt almost panic-level anxiety. Were those feelings a red light, signaling me to stop? In some instances, intense anxiety could be warning me of danger, and it would not be wise to proceed. Often the opposite is true. Anxiety is a green light, telling me to go ahead; it’s safe to proceed. I need to do what Susan Jeffers says to do in the title of her book—Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.

I like the title of this book because it includes both “feeling’ and “doing” as parts of anxiety. That fits in with my definition of emotion (chapter three in Emotional Freedom)—it’s a “tree” with roots (core beliefs), limbs and branches (conscious thoughts), leaves (feelings) and fruit (attitudes and behavior). If we focus on the feeling-part of anxiety, it can overwhelm us, and we will automatically act as if it’s a red light and stop forward movement. When we continue to allow feelings of intense anxiety to determine our direction in life, these are the consequences. We become more and more anxious. We withdraw from people and avoid doing things. We stay home. Our world becomes smaller and smaller. And we feel increasingly incompetent and unable to handle anything unfamiliar in life.

Instead of focusing on the feeling-part of anxiety, it’s helpful to turn our attention to the thinking-part of anxiety. We can ask God to show us if what our anxiety is about and whether it’s based on truth or lies.  By asking appropriate questions and considering all the possible actions (behaviors) we might take, we can determine whether our anxiety is a red light, warning us of actual danger; a yellow light, telling us we need to slow down and prepare ourselves for success; or a green light, telling us it’s wise to ignore our anxious feelings and keep moving ahead.

I decided my driving-related anxiety was a yellow light, signaling me to slow down—not a red light, signaling me to stop.  I looked at my destination and determined the route that would be easiest for me to drive. I scheduled the time that I would be driving through large cities so that I could avoid rush hour traffic. I asked friends to pray for me. After that, I decided that anxiety was a green light. I made the trip without my husband. Did I feel totally at peace while driving? No, I did not. A couple of times, I got lost. My heart pounded. I felt like crying. I stopped, prayed, felt calmer, and got back on the road. When I finally reached my destination, I felt very tired, very thankful, very happy, and much more confident in my ability to drive.

Questions to consider:

  • In what situations do you think of anxiety as a red light? A yellow light? A green light?
  • If it’s a red light, what good things is it keeping you from doing?
  • How could you prepare yourself to safely “feel the fear and do it anyway”?

Words to meditate on:

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your [God’s]consolations delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19 NASB)

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