When You Hear Something that Rocks Your World, 4 Ways to Not Freak Out

There’s lots to freak out about right now isn’t there? From our kids’ choices and business pressures to policy issues we are passionate about, there’s always something. And those “somethings” are often very real concerns.

Yet the bigger concern is one we often don’t see: Are we making things worse, in our mind and heart, by losing perspective? In other words: Are we making things worse by freaking out?

I recently shared a meal with someone who was getting more and more agitated as she described an issue she cares about. A LOT. It is an extremely important issue, and she is doing great things in working with it. But I also notice there’s a lot of tension in her mind and heart these days. It has impacted her relationships with people who love her but may disagree with her. She seems to have slipped from caring about an important issue to being trapped by it.

And I hate to admit this, but as I looked at her that day, I (internally) got a bit judgy. The poor thing just needs to take a deep breath. But then something crazy happened: I felt like God gently challenged me: You do the exact same thing, you know.


My mind quickly scrolled through memories of that business setback that sent me into so much worryabout our finances. And that season I couldn’t stop myself from reading about a particular situation. And the hours and hours I have lost mentally crafting the perfect response to a difficult person. In every single one of those situations I lost perspective, was freaking out, and it was hurting my heart.

We all do this. In many, many different ways.

So, how can we not do this? How can we cultivate a healthy response when we hear something that rocks our world? In future months, we will dive into this topic a bit more, but for now, here are four starting-point methods to not freak out.

Method #1: Guard Your Heart and Affections

We lock our cars when we go to the mall. We want to know security measures are in place at sporting events. From the youngest ages, we even had diaries with little locks on them, signifying that our most personal thoughts are worth protecting.

So why in the world wouldn’t we guard the source of those thoughts? Scripture has something pretty definitive to say about this:

              “More than anything you do, protect your mind, for life flows from it.”

              Proverbs 4:23 (CEB)

More than anything you do.

This sounds pretty important in the eyes of King Solomon, who scripture calls the wisest man ever to live. Thousands of years later, how can we live this out in our own century and culture? That leads to Method #2.

Method #2: Take responsibility for your mental diet

Have you ever had one of those days where you raided the pantry or vending machine one too many times? You were in back-to-back meetings and you ate junk food all day. Or you had uncontrollable munchies and, well, that 12-count variety pack of chips you bought for school lunches? Let’s just say there were no survivors.

I’ve been there. And too much junk food eventually makes us feel like garbage.

Our minds are like that too. What we allow into our minds is essentially our thought-life diet – with potentially negative and positive outcomes.

If we stay up late doomscrolling, guess what? We’re likely to feel a sense of doom! Cue the freak-out the next time we see that that BIG POLICY ISSUE is going the wrong way! We can be passionate, yes, active, yes, but studies demonstrate the detrimental health effects of “ingesting” so much concerning content – especially the news programs that amp us up with anxiety.

By contrast, guess what happens if we purposefully put something life-giving into our mind – like reading the Bible before bed? Even secular studies have found that biblical reading establishes a greater sense of hope in our lives.

Or, let’s look at a totally different topic. Are you dissatisfied with your intimate relationship with your spouse, perhaps in part because you keep watching or reading those steamy sex scenes? What might happen instead if you replace those inputs with something that honors your marriage? For example, perhaps you and your spouse watch a clean comedian together and laugh your heads off!

It shouldn’t be surprising that a steady diet of negative input can make us exhausted, nervous, jealous, critical, and paranoid. The problem is: we often don’t even realize WE are the ones fueling this freak-out cycle. 

So here’s a practical suggestion: Keep a journal of your “mental diet” for a whole week. Note the time spent on social media and news sites. Record titles of movies and articles. Where might you need to reduce or eliminate intake of toxic, negative voices in your life? And what uplifting content do you need to add to your mental diet?

Method #3: Tune out the Trolls

Years ago I wrote a point-counterpoint syndicated newspaper column. (Back when newspapers existed! Remember those?) It was a spirited weekly debate between me – a Christian wife and mom – and my single, progressive, agnostic counterpart.

I took a lot of hits in those days. Some critics were so mad at my Christian-oriented views that they attacked me personally. It. Was. Brutal. My concentration was on the trolls, not on my book deadlines, my kids, or the friendships I could have been enjoying. I constantly found myself checking what was coming in. I was constantly wondering, “What are they saying now?”

Thankfully, my husband Jeff saw the major freak-out in progress. He saw how it was hurting my heart. He stepped in and asked me to trust him to read all the emails and comments instead of me. He would take all that flak, and share something only if he thought I really needed to know it.

His protection allowed me to step back and learn something that Nehemiah in the Old Testament learned, too: it is a trap to engage with toxic critics who are not looking to engage in good faith. I learned that I could (and should) listen to sincere questions and respectful critics, absorb necessary lessons, and change my opinions and practices where needed. But I couldn’t remain productive in my calling if I kept absorbing a steady diet of toxic criticism.

This is so crucial for all of us. If someone on your social media feed is mostly just looking to stir the pot, don’t fall into that trap. Take the ten minutes you would have spent responding – and the hours of back-and-forthing that that might lead to! – and stay laser focused on what God has called you to do.

Allowing the angry opinions of others to steal our hope (and stimulate a freak-out) distracts us from the very good work God is calling each of us to do.

Method #4: Nurture your New Nature

Who hasn’t woken up at 3 a.m. with anxious thoughts? Will we run out of money before we run out of month? Will insurance cover the expensive medication my child needs? Will the call-back test reveal a serious health problem?

But as Christians we have a new nature. And it’s not characterized by anxiousness.

In fact, God tells us what grows as we cultivate our new nature: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Anxious thoughts at 3 a.m. are characteristics of the old nature. Peace and faithfulness are characteristics of the new.

Easy to say, right? In fact, before you start sending fiery emails that I’m going to have to let Jeff read first (kidding!), let me say I know how hard this is. I have a son whose epilepsy rocked our worlds. I’ve gone through cancer. I’ve had more ups and downs in my career than I could count.

So, what’s the trick?

Our old nature has to die. And for that to happen, we have to stop feeding it. We have to stop putting our hope in ourselves to work things out. We have to train our minds to trust God instead. When we do, when we put our full faith in Him, we starve the fear that He won’t come through.

Several of the steps in today’s blog are actually themes I develop at greater length in my new devotional, Find Hope. The book is a carefully crafted 60-day journey designed to lead us toward the kind of unshakeable hope that doesn’t depend on circumstances. I’d be so honored if you ordered it for Mother’s Day. I’m excited to share a full devotion from the book with you next week.

In the meantime, last week I promised a blog on parenting! I didn’t forget. It’s just that as I got into the topic, I liked it so much that I turned it into a two-part series. So, stay tuned for that at the end of this month – just in time to help us navigate summer vacation with our kids!

And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at nowens@shaunti.com.

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