If you are feeling anxious right now, take the advice of a spiritual master, St. Francis de Sales.
Anxiety can easily cripple our lives, leading us to sadness and, in some cases, despair. How can we grapple with such an intense feeling, especially when exterior events disrupt everything?
St. Francis de Sales, a spiritual master of the 17th century, wrote about how to resolve anxiety of the mind in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life. He starts off by explaining the negative effects of this feeling.
Anxiety of mind is not so much an abstract temptation, as the source whence various temptations arise. Sadness, when defined, is the mental grief we feel because of our involuntary ailments; whether the evil be exterior, such as poverty, sickness or contempt; or interior, such as ignorance, dryness, depression or temptation. Directly that the soul is conscious of some such trouble, it is downcast, and so trouble sets in.
He believed one of the central keys to calm an anxious mind is to rely on God’s power, rather than our own.
If any one strives to be delivered from his troubles out of love of God, he will strive patiently, gently, humbly and calmly, looking for deliverance rather to God’s Goodness and Providence than to his own industry or efforts.
Unfortunately, when we try to get out of our anxiety on our own, we become easily frustrated by the lack of results.
[The person becomes] exceedingly impatient and troubled, which does not mend matters, but on the contrary makes them worse, and so he gets into an unreasonable state of anxiety and distress, till he begins to fancy that there is no cure for his trouble. Thus you see how a disturbance, which was right at the outset, begets anxiety, and anxiety goes on into an excessive distress, which is exceedingly dangerous.
Instead of trying to calm your mind and get rid of anxiety through our own efforts, de Sales suggests daily examining our conscience and seeing if we have successfully placed our troubles in God’s hands.
Examine yourself often, at least night and morning … See whether your soul is fully under control, or whether it has not in anywise escaped from beneath your hand, to plunge into some unruly love, hate, envy, lust, fear, vexation or joy. And if it has so strayed, before all else seek it out, and quietly bring it back to the Presence of God, once more placing all your hopes and affections under the direction of His Holy Will.
In addition to giving your anxiety to God, de Sales recommends telling a trusted friend or spiritual mentor. As he writes, “If you can lay your anxiety before your spiritual guide, or at least before some trusty and devout friend, you may be sure that you will find great solace. The heart finds relief in telling its troubles to another, just as the body when suffering from persistent fever finds relief from bleeding. It is the best of remedies.”
If anxiety is plaguing your mind, consider St. Francis de Sales’ advice and don’t try to do it alone, but look to God and a trusted friend for help.