The Anxiety Alert

Kyle IdlemanBy Kyle Idleman8 Minutes

Excerpt taken from When Your Way Isn’t Working: Finding Purpose and Contentment Through Deep Connection with Jesus by Kyle Idleman

How’s your way working?

I know a lot of different readers have a lot of different things going on in their lives. I’m just wondering how your way is working for you? I know some of you are married, but a lot of you aren’t married. What if you never get married? Have you ever thought of that? What if your way leaves you single for the rest of your life on earth?

Or what if you get married and wish you were still single?

Or what if the person you were supposed to marry already married someone else?

Or what if you believe you’ve married the wrong person? Doesn’t that necessarily mean you’ll end up having the wrong kids?

Or what if you marry the right person and have the right kids, but you live in the wrong city?

Or what if you marry the right person, have the right kids, and live in the right city, but you send the kids to the wrong school?

Or what if you have the right spouse and the right kids and the right city and the right school—but the wrong career? What are you supposed to do now? You can’t quit. You have a spouse and kids. You’ve got a house payment, car insurance, student loans, and a coffee habit you have to feed. How are you gonna pay for your kids’ braces? If you can’t pay for your kids’ braces, then they’ll end up marrying the wrong person, and they’ll have the wrong kids, which means eventually you’ll have the wrong grandkids. And that’s an awkward conversation to have with grandkids.

But you can’t think about any of that right now. You probably shouldn’t even be reading this book because you have all kinds of emails to respond to and text messages you’re behind on. And what about your retirement plan? How’s that going? You’d be a millionaire by now if you just saved the money from your coffee habit. It’s too late now, so you may as well get a grande with a double shot of caffeine. You’re gonna need it since you’ll be working for the rest of your life.

So how’s your way working for you?

One of the most predictable emotions that surfaces when we’re not living a connected life is anxiety. Typical symptoms of anxiety are fear, nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. But the list of symptoms caused by anxiety can go on and on—breathing difficulties, chest pain, concentration problem, digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, and low energy. Anxiety can also cause memory loss and forgetfulness and insomnia, muscle tension and memory loss and forgetfulness.

Anxiety can have a strong effect on other emotions. It often surfaces in agitation, anger, and annoyance. It can make us feel moody, lonely, sad, and depressed.

For some people, anxiety is more likely to present with physical symptoms. I have a friend who says he never feels anxious. He would say he doesn’t feel stressed, but he has migraines and hypertension and blood pressure issues. Anxiety can contribute to weight gain or loss and can even cause body odor, hair loss, and excessive armpit sweat.

The long list of anxiety symptoms includes ringing in the ears, increased sensitivity to sound and smell, and “bad taste in mouth.” The list goes on, but the point is that when the anxiety alert is going off, it’s best not to plug your ears and ignore it.

I know most of us aren’t waking up in the morning and purposefully ignoring God’s way while consciously deciding, I’m going to do things my way. We don’t always realize that’s the path we’re on, so when we start to consistently feel anxious, we’re being alerted to stop and consider whose way we are following.

It’s not surprising that anxiety is one of the warning signs that our way isn’t working. The reason some of those questions about what might or might not happen in the future create anxiety isn’t just that we are uncertain about the future; it’s also the weight of knowing how little control we have over what happens.

Dr. Edward Hallowell is a psychiatrist who gives this equation for anxiety (or toxic worry, as Hallowell calls it)¹:

Heightened Vulnerability + Lack of Control = Toxic Worry

Anytime we find ourselves in a situation or facing a future in which we feel especially vulnerable and we can’t do much about it, we can expect to feel some level of anxiety. We start to feel anxious when our way isn’t working, when we feel powerless to control a situation or outcome. This helps explain why we live in what Dr. Robert Leahy calls “the age of anxiety.”²

We live in a time and a culture in which people have never been more determined to be autonomous and yet at the same time, everything feels extremely uncertain. Thanks to the internet and real-time news notifications, we’ve never been more aware of just how vulnerable and powerless we are. We instinctively know our way is never gonna work. It’s not surprising that statistically there’s never been a time in history when we’ve been more anxious than we are right here and right now. (This would be a natural place to give evidence of this by citing some statistics, but the dramatically increasing levels of anxiety mean that by the time you read the data, it will likely be irrelevant.)

1 Edward M. Hallowell, “Managing Toxic Worry,” adapted from Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition (New York: Ballentine, 1997),

2 Robert L. Leahy, “The Age of Anxiety: Are We Born to Worry?” Heal Your Life, May 2, 2010,

Taken from When Your Way Isn’t Working: Finding Purpose and Contentment Through Deep Connection with Jesus by Kyle Idleman. Copyright © (June 2023) by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan,