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Anxious? Here’s St. Francis de Sales’ calming advice

MAN,ANXIETY
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It's good to know that even those who excel in holiness have to battle with their nerves.

Sometimes, no matter what we’ve done to avoid it, anxiety sets in. It might be the passing anxiety from overflowing “to do” lists and looming deadlines. It might be something more serious, requiring professional evaluation and assistance.

But whatever type of anxiety we might be experiencing, it’s consoling to know that even saints feel anxious.

Here’s what St. Francis de Sales recommends to avoid anxiety and find peace.

Don’t underestimate the problem

St. Francis believed that

with the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul.

You probably already know anxiety is a problem, but you may think that God isn’t that interested in it because He cares more that you evangelize, or do your duty, or pray. After all, shouldn’t you be concerned with others and not yourself?

St. Francis wouldn’t agree. And neither does God.

Our Lord commanded that we love others as we love ourselves. When you are anxious, loving yourself means doing what you can to remedy the anxiety. It doesn’t mean ignoring it in the mistaken belief that God cares little about it. He wants us to have joy in doing His will.

St. Francis writes

if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy.

Understand the cause

While it is natural to focus on the circumstances that cause anxiety, St. Francis believes that the cause can be deeper. For him, the root of anxiety is “an inordinate desire to be freed from a present evil or to acquire a hoped for good.”

In other words, anxiety arises when we desire something too much. Our desires are good, but they can be too strong sometimes, which causes anxiety. This point is crucial because it makes anxiety something we can have some control over, although it doesn’t always feel that way.

Make interior peace the priority

When you begin to recognize that your heart is anxious, he says,

look for it before doing anything else and bring it quietly back into God’s presence, subjecting all your affections and desires to the obedience and direction of his divine will.

4 Steps to regain peace

Bringing your heart into God’s presence isn’t a magic formula of course. But, if we follow these four steps, many times anxiety will decrease gradually.  

  1. Ask for God’s help.
  2. “Resolve to do nothing that your desire insists on until your mind has regained peace, unless it is something that cannot be put off.”
  3. “You must meekly and calmly try to check the current of your desires,” which is best done by accepting them as they are.
  4. “If you can reveal the cause of your anxiety to your spiritual director, or at least to some faithful and devout friend, you may be sure that you will speedily find relief.”
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