Disrupting your anxiety through spiritual practices: Compass episode 80

All of us encounter anxiety. Current cultural conditions have feelings of anxiety on the rise. And for many, anxiety is not a fleeting feeling. It sticks with us and locks us into a spiral of depression, shame, and mental paralysis.

Rev. Jason Cusick provides a practical and pastoral approach to navigating anxiety. As he shares his story you'll hear hope and compassion grounded in faith. Jason's story might just disrupt your possible spiral of anxiety.

Rev. Jason Cusick is lead pastor of Journey of Faith in Southern California. He has experience in chaplaincy and counseling ministries. He's written a book called The Anxiety Field Guide.

 

Listen and subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Google / Spotify / Amazon

Learn more about Jason Cusick's ministry through is Instagram account. You can also order a copy of The Anxiety Field Guide.


 

Episode transcript:

Ryan Dunn:

This is the compass podcast pointing us to the divine interruptions in our everyday lives. Do you ever feel anxious? That's a trick question. Of course you do. We all have moments of anxiety. My name is Ryan Dunn, and many of us feel that isn't simply a passing or a fleeting feeling. It's something that, that dogs us and it can keep us locked into spiraling cycles of self criticism, mental paralysis, shame, guilt and depression

 The last couple years have really kicked up all kinds of pressures that keep our anxieties dialed up as a culture we're becoming more anxious and high anxiety is on the rise. So I'm gonna cut with all the doom and gloom right there, because that is very much a part of our problem. Instead, I'm gonna interrupt this anxiety, feeding frenzy with some good news. Anxiety is very treatable. Jason Cusick provides a practical and pastoral approach to navigating anxiety, and he'll share his story with anxiety in this episode of compass.

As we speak with Jason, you'll hear a hope and compassion that is grounded in faith, and it's a little infectious and it's our hope that Jason's story disrupts your possible spiral of anxiety.

Jason Cusick is lead pastor at journey of faith in Southern California. He previously served as a pastor of care ministries, overseeing grief, recovery crisis and counseling ministries, and has worked as a board certified hospital chaplain. He's written a book coming out on April 26th, titled the anxiety field guide, which you can order right now. Let's meet Reverend Jason Cusick.

Ryan Dunn:

Jason, your book, The Anxiety Field Guide is coming out shortly. And what happened in your life that inspired you to write this book at this time?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah, I I think I've always grown up with anxiety. I never really identified it like that. I grew up in a home with a, a, a mom that was kind of very she's a self-professed clean and freak. Mm. And hyper-organized and she even talked about having some, maybe some undiagnosed OCD. So our home was always very organized and, and my mom even had certain kind of rituals of checking things. And, and so there was this either by nature or by nurture, there was this anxiety in my home growing up. My dad died when I was 11. So I think that added to a lot of uncertainty in life, but probably the thing that brought it all together was I took this position as a, a lead pastor at a church about seven years ago and it, it just leveled me.

Jason Cusick:

I, I was having panic attacks. I was having insomnia. I was just ruminating on things. I couldn't get stuff. Out of my mind, my people pleasing fears were just going through the room and I kind of hit a wall where I was like, what's going on with me? And then I realized, wait, this is what people talk about with anxiety and O C D and, and rumination. It was just, it was, it was paralyzing for me. And that's kind of what started me on the process of saying, I gotta do something about this. This is an, I think I'd learned to live with a certain kind of anxiety for a while, but, but then I was like, this, this is bad. Yeah. I need to do something

Ryan Dunn:

About that. Well, so what were some of the steps then that you took to start doing something about it?

Jason Cusick:

You know, the, the, the biggest thing for me in the beginning was just recognizing at this is what it was, you know, that this, that this was a problem. Like I said, I didn't really understand anxiety. I knew, you know, hoarders OCD stuff. And I understood people that just couldn't get outta bed in the morning, but I'm always a, a thinking person. I do a lot in my head. I didn't realize I was kind of spinning out in things. Probably the first thing that helped me the most though, is I was reading this book by Jeffrey Schwartz called you are not your brain. And it was like a non medicinal approach to capturing thoughts and being more aware of what's happening in your brain. And that really helped kind of like to normalize that anxiety is, is normal. It's just that sometimes it can kind of get out of control. That was probably the, the biggest first step, because I think I was kind of secretly struggling with shame. You know, I was anxious, but I didn't want anybody to know I was hiding it. And even the, the church that I'm part of is very loving, very accepting, very embracing of people being in process. But anxiety is one of those things that probably gets the quickest verses Bible versus attached to it. Like do not be afraid, do not be anxious. And so I felt like anxiety should be something I should just be able to stop.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Jason Cusick:

And then I'll be fine. Mm. And I think maybe learning a little bit more about the neuroscience behind anxiety was really, really the first step

Ryan Dunn:

For me. Okay. Well, we'll dive into that neuroscience in a second, but I wanna address something first that was going on with you, because I think it's a familiar story to a lot of us, that there are a lot of factors that kind of keep us in a spiral of where we are concerning mental health. So in your case, and there might be like the whole male machismo thing going on where, you know, I've got this I can power through, but also being a pastor, there are expectations that you're gonna kind of have your stuff together. Right. That people think that, that, you know, you are the epitome of, you know, what it looks like to be a, like a, a faithfully focused person. Right. So what, right. Were there, was there somebody that, that you could, that you identified early on that you could speak with about this? Or like what led you to start talking to people about it?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah. I was actually connected with a bunch of different counselors and people that I knew, but, but I hadn't really been connected with somebody that specifically dealt with anxiety. And I was referred to somebody that had actually worked with leaders and specifically about anxiety. So I ended up seeing my counselors name is Scott Simonton with a specialty in anxiety. And I think the thing that was probably most influential for me is I was used to a, a form of counseling that most of us are probably familiar with this more like talk therapy. Yeah. Right. You go in, they ask you questions, you share your feelings, and then they say, tell me more what else are you feeling? My first counseling appointment, I kind of filled out some, Hey, here's what I'm dealing with. And I think he let me talk for about 15 minutes.

Jason Cusick:

And he was like, I got enough. Now, here's what we're gonna do. And it was much more coaching it's, what's called cognitive behavioral therapy. And it's specifically with anxiety, it's called exposure therapy. It's, it's much more like, here's what you're afraid of. Let's stop being afraid of it by facing it. Mm. I mean, anxiety grows through avoidance. So a lot of us feel like, oh, if I'm anxious, I should avoid that thing. That makes me anxious. Yeah. When in fact the key is engaging with that thing and learning to tolerate the anger and then that changes what's going on in our brain. So I think actually meeting with somebody that could not talk to me more about my feelings, because with me, that just causes me to ruminate on it more and gets me more anxious. But somebody that would say, okay, now let's create a plan to kind of reorder life and start moving the healthy direction. That was huge for me actually getting a coach that understood that process.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. You mentioned being a people pleaser then did you have to put yourself into situations where you were running the risk of disappointing people or making people uncomfortable?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah. Well, I mean, the reality is this I'm, I'm, I'm a pastor, which means I am regularly in situations of disappointing people. The question for me, it was like, how do I

Jason Cusick:

Tolerate people's disappointment and not go home and think about it all the time and not try to change in order to make everybody happy. So I have friends that are in leadership roles and, and I think the, the further you move into leadership, the more you have to tolerate people being either disappointed with you or judging you, I think even parenting does that. There's a level of tolerance that you have to handle that your kid is not happy. And so I, I think I have plenty of situations that were already right there. I just needed to change how I was understanding them and then what I was doing in my brain and in my spirit to learn to, again, not get rid of those feelings, but get used to those feelings.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Jason Cusick:

And then adapt to them differently. And I think that was one of those big things too.

Ryan Dunn:

I I've heard of some recommendations about being very deliberate in, in kind of putting yourself into those situations where you might like to a fast food restaurant and ask for something that's not on the menu or ask a stranger for directions and then go the opposite way. Were there any kind of situations like that where you were kind of seeking out like, oh, this is a moment where I can kinda face some anxiety by really putting myself out there and getting comfortable with the, the result.

Jason Cusick:

Yeah. I think probably for me, a lot of it with people pleasing in relationships is I have a, I have a problem if, if I am afraid that a conversation will land with somebody wrong. So I remember one day in particular, I was talking to one of my friends who was helping me through this, his process. And he said, what are you stressed out about it? And I said, I have a conversation that I need to have with a coworker. And I'm, I'm just really anxious about it. And my friend said, how long have you been feeling this? I said, well, at least about a month. And he was like, hang up the phone, that person in, have the conversation, and then call me back. I'll be ready for you in an hour. And I was like, oh, shoot, like I, I have to go do this.

Jason Cusick:

I think that was one of those examples. And it's everything. I mean, if you're afraid of elevators at some point, the, the working through your fear of elevators me means first you imagine yourself in an elevator and you allow yourself to get stressed. And then you calm yourself down. Then you walk over to an elevator and you spend a half an hour, an hour just watching people get in and out of it. And you allow that stress and anxiety to be there. And then you learn practices to calm yourself down. Then it's a point you start getting into elevators. And again, the goal is not to extinguish the anxiety. So you can do the thing. The only way that you reduce anxiety is by doing it. And then by practicing certain skills to lower the anxiety as it's happening. Again, there's this idea of, I need to get rid of anxiety, but anxiety, anxiety is normal.

Jason Cusick:

I mean, anxiety is a God given thing. That's kind of Ana or a cursed in, in, in certain church circles. But I mean, God's created us to have healthy worry. We don't wanna get rid of healthy worry. We wanna get rid of unhealthy worry. So we have to have kind of a process of exposure and what they call habituation. That is where you learn. We learn to tolerate the fear and we've all done this, right? Because we all have things we used to be afraid of. Yeah. And now we're not anymore. Like we used to be afraid of jumping in the water and going swimming. Then we learned how to swim. We were afraid of riding a bike, cuz we thought we'd fall. And then we started riding a bike and we fell a few times and now we're not afraid of it anymore.

Jason Cusick:

No. So all of us have experience of being afraid of things and pushing through that fear and then learning to not be afraid of it anymore. Okay. We're just saying now apply this to an area that you're currently anxious about and it could be money. It could be relationships. It could be your health. It could be your faith. The anxiety that comes with am I does God love me? Am I alone? Am, am I doing something that doesn't please, God, am, am I gonna go to hell? You know, those kinds of religious anxieties that we have all of that can come by engaging it, not avoiding it anymore. Now it's easy for me to say, because even me saying this the people on this podcast right now that are feeling anxiety in their lives, their heart rate is going through the roof right now.

Jason Cusick:

Just, just me ex just me saying, you gotta do what you're afraid of. Now throw this thing off right now. There's no way I'm doing it. And I can relate to that. I feel the same way. That's why you kind of start with those baby steps. You start with those small slow up of being able to accept anxiety and just acknowledge it. It's a practice that some people call mindfulness. Yeah. Or just self-awareness where you just stop in the moment and acknowledge what you're feeling and judge it to be able to go, gosh, I'm, I'm, I'm feeling this right now. Okay. You're just kind of registering what's going on inside of you. I think for years I equated feelings and temptations and anxiety as something that's wrong in Christian circles. It's like when we, when we feel shame because we're tempted temptation isn't sin, but sometimes we associate tempt, oh, I'm, I'm feeling tempted. That's bad. No, that's human. Now what you do with it, that's what we need to work on. And I think if you take some baby steps and move along for me, it was a six month to a year process of working some basic steps toward handling my emotional life and kind of stewarding my emotions differently. And,

Jason Cusick:

And, and that's a good part about like anxiety in particular, in the sense it is so well researched. And there is such amazing treatment methods. This is not something I like, oh, I'm gonna be a train wreck the rest of my life. Nope. There's simple tools. You can work through stuff and you can get better. But it does start with a lot of kind of self, self-acceptance and grace and kind of de shaming. So you can take those

Ryan Dunn:

Steps. Were there some action steps that help you practice some kind of self-acceptance or some extending grace to yourself?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah, I think I think the big thing, and I mentioned it before was just the normalization. That anxiety is part of our built-in neurochemistry. Right? I mean, we're God's designed us to be worried about things or scared of things for,

Ryan Dunn:

For protection if I walk,

Jason Cusick:

Can in the room. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It's how God, I mean, we have an area of the brain called the Amy amygdala, which is primarily responsible for our emotional reactions and the Amy amygdala. We've done brain scans, the Amy amygdala when you are scared of something or when there's something to fear, it lights up and your body is signaled. So if I'm, if I'm in a dark room, if I walk into a dark room and you're in the dark room and you go, ah, you know, and you scare me without thinking my eyes will dilate in order to accommodate the light blood will rush to my extremities to prepare myself for some kind of reaction. My heart rate will increase and adrenaline will come for my renal glands without my choice. It's like an alarm goes on to protect me. So thank God. That's great.

Jason Cusick:

The problem is sometimes the alarm stays on after the initial fright or sometimes the alarm just goes off. I have this in my house. Sometimes, sometimes my fire alarm, just my smoke alarm just goes off and I'm like, wait, what's going on? Sometimes that happens that that's what panic attacks are. It's the Amy amygdala triggering saying, there's a problem when in fact there might not be a problem. So part of it is kind of retraining ourselves and, and so normalizing not panicking in moment is one step of just saying, okay, wait a minute. The fire alarm in my brain is going off right now. I am not my brain. Let me just acknowledge it. Let me just recognize it. Let me thank God. Thank God. My brain is working. Thank God. I do have a brain that's that's sending fire lives. It's just misfiring a bit.

Jason Cusick:

Okay. So that's kind of the first step. And then I, I, I think there's other kinds of things that I was able to incorporate in and, and the book kind of maps out those smaller practices that I've been able to do. Part of it is, is taking a moment and, and deep breathing. I believe God's designed deep breaths as kind of a soft reboot of the brain. And I connect them with prayer to just kind of slow down and pray, not God take away the anxiety, but okay, God, I'm right here. You're right here. Be with me in this anxiety.

Jason Cusick:

And then the other thing is what my counselor talked about as the, the two screen method and that is, he said, he, he, he has old book on this freedom from anxious thoughts and feelings. And he talks about like, imagine a screen in front of you and then a screen on the side of you. And God wants you to be focused on the screen in front of you. But every once in a while, the screen on the side of you will images and thoughts and fears and things to be worried about will pop up on that screen. Our temptation is to turn and focus completely on that side screen.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Jason Cusick:

The goal is you acknowledge that side screen, you recognize those things, and then you gently direct yourself back to the front. Hmm. Now this ice screen doesn't go away. It's still there, but you're just saying, what is the, the focus of my attention? Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

It's funny as you were explaining that, talk about this and I don't know if you caught it, but my phone buzzed off to the side, like, there's that side screen there you that, oh, it's like, I could, you know, pull my attention there, but

Jason Cusick:

You know, oh my gosh. Yes.

Ryan Dunn:

Our attention is right

Jason Cusick:

Here. Everybody has that example of that's right. If you're talking to somebody in your phone rings there's some of us that have the bad habit of saying, hold on to the person that's right in front of me. And, and so that's a conscious choice that we can make, but it's also, so maybe a, a spiritual practice that we have to get used to because we're also designed as human beings to direct our attention to the thing that is most threatening. Right? So, I mean, if, if there's a, a, a dog running at us with its teeth that are sharp, we are built by God to pay attention to that and do something about that over time. Those of us with anxiety we have learned paying attention to that side screen is the most important thing to do. Now, what we're doing is we're telling ourselves, yeah, that might not be true. And that's something we gotta learn because we're kind of, it's a bit counterintuitive.

Jason Cusick:

I mean, when my brain sends me information and says, this is what you need to worry about. I believe my brain, it's my brain. Yeah. It's my thoughts. So there's kind of a healthy separation of, I think the new Testament talks about this when we talk about kind of taking every thought captive or even there's this idea of do not be anxious, but then you shift your attention to whatever is true. Whatever's good. Whatever's praiseworthy. And we think on these things. So there's, there's, there's some ideas about this process right there in, in Jesus's teachings and in, and in the teachings of the new Testament, that kind of invite us to change the way that we've been handling anxiety. In fact, I'm really encouraged a lot, lot of, a lot of times in the new Testament says, do not worry a better translation is stop worrying, Which kind of implies that it's not that worry, that's bad, it's that we need to discover a way to stop worrying. And that might take some, some more time for some of us than there's other people. They're like, yeah, I don't worry anymore. And I'm like, well, good for you. That's not me. Worry is a close friend of mine and we've been buddies for years and I'm have a hard time shaking that. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

So

Jason Cusick:

For some of us, it takes a little bit more worry.

Ryan Dunn:

That's a great clarification about not saying, Hey, it's wrong to worry, but we don't need to dwell. And, and I love how you started with the neuroscience that our, our brains get stuck in these cycles and, and we can trip up these cycles. And it sounds like one of your ways of, of tripping up that kind of anxious cycle is to practice mindfulness or, or maybe even to take it another level and, and utilize contemplation in, in a contemplative prayer practice. Are those are those practices that you have a rhythm of in life, or do you pull out kind of your, your breath prayer practice kind of at, on an as needed basis?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah, that's a great question. I think I think those have been kind of more a part of my spiritual life on a regular basis. A little bit of preventative medicine or a little bit part of my spiritual practice, but the biggest thing is that, is that ad hoc kind of as needed when the situation comes up, I'm kind of pulling out that tool. And most of us with anxiety know when that is one of the things I encourage in the book is, is not only identifying a person's unique triggers, I think each one of us has to say, okay, what is it that uniquely triggers me toward anxiety? And then are there any rhythm? So I encourage people to have a calendar and for a month or two map out their anxieties, oh, I had an anxious day. It started around this time.

Jason Cusick:

And I find a lot of times you map that stuff out. Like I found once I mapped it out, it was like a certain day of the week or two days of the week that were more anxious. And then I could go, well, why, yeah, why that, and then I could start planning in advance. And then if I'm doing these practices and these tools to deal with anxiety, then I can also anticipate the day or two after my anxiety, I'm gonna be having fatigue because I'm gonna be tired from practice seeing a new discipline. And I think that's something that I, I wasn't as prepared for in the beginning, but I learned later just like with any new thing you're doing your body and your mind, aren't ready for it. You start working out and you're like, I love this. And then the day your muscles are sore afterwards.

Jason Cusick:

You're like, what's going on? Maybe I did something wrong. No, you didn't do something wrong. You're just not used to it yet. So I think kind of like post-traumatic fatigue while we're learning new skills and also to learn to tolerate that and be gracious to be like, okay, I might have to take a couple hours off of work or I might need to go for a walk or I might need to just be a little bit more kind to myself knowing that I just, I just went through a boxing match with my anxiety a little bit the night before. And so now I've got some things to recover from. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. That's fascinating that you were able to kind of map it out and then identify that there was almost a rhythm to your higher anxiety times. Was that related to something like a, a sleep schedule or a weekly staff meeting or, or something like that?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah, actually both of those things. Okay. So one there's definitely kind of some meetings that would bring some extra stress. Yeah. Some times of the week, for me as a pastor Monday is a study and reading day, I find I can't take Mondays off or else I sit in the post, you know, an adrenaline drip from Sundays.

And then that kind of gets me going, but you know, Mondays and Tuesdays, there's a little bit more anxiety. So what I have to do is channel that anxiety into something creative. Yeah. By talking in the book about healthy distractions. And, and yeah, sleep is a big one. The relationship between sleep and anxiety is, is very close. I discovered years ago that I have sleep apnea. So I sleep with the C P a P machine. When I don't get good sleep, it affects my brain and my brain has to work harder. And my brain and I'm, I'm kind of objectifying my brain a little bit here, but my brain makes less effective decision as it's managing the energy that it has. And so part of that stewardship is saying, how can I with my food intake, my water intake, my sleep.

Jason Cusick:

My times of resting my time of exercise, how can I take care of my whole self? Because we don't have our body here and then our spiritual life here, and then our emotional life here, they're all just kind of on top of each other. And how can I care for my whole self? So as I found, I was, I was sleeping better. I also changed my eating and, and drinking rhythms. I realized that a couple years ago that a lot of times I felt like I was hungry, but I was just really dehydrated. And a lot of us confuse hung. Our, our brain can't distinguish, we need hunger and thirst. And so a lot of us overeat or eat when we're actually just thirsty. So I started changing how I eat and how I sleep and how I, you know, interact with my own body. And that helped, that was another tool in helping me with anxiety.

Ryan Dunn:

And what kind of spiritual tools then helped you? So you've mentioned the breath prayer, but have there been other practices in reading scripture or even scripture versus themselves that have really kind of helped focus you on, on being mentally healthy like this?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah, for sure. I think scripture reading has always been a part of my life. I started doing kind of one year Bible reading programs because it also helped me focus on something outside of what I was dealing with. For me, I struggle with a particular kind of OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder called pure O. And that is my struggles with OCD are not, I wash my hands too much or I clean too much or I check locks or I count things. Mine is I ruminate on things. So for me, I have to make sure I'm ruminating on the right things. And so having a regular practice of scripture reading helps me have something to be focused on. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

And that's how that

Jason Cusick:

Helped

Ryan Dunn:

Me a lot. That makes sense. And that's why you have found yourself in needing to take that time on Monday to work because otherwise I'll bet it gets you get stuck in that cycle of rumination of, oh, I gave a sermon yesterday. I should have said this. Right. That's great. Okay. Yes,

Jason Cusick:

I see. Yes. And I think for a lot of us, I'm there's a healthy rumination, you know, I think a lot of us there is a place for self-examination and contemplation and things like that. But it is very easy for us to veer off, into thoughts, negative thinking. And if those negative thoughts and feelings come from inside of us, we tend to believe them. But if we believe that we're flawed and imperfect human beings, I could be thinking and feeling things that God does not actually want me ruminating on. And that's the kind of self-discipline that's needed to kind of acknowledge those thoughts and feelings recognize that they're coming up from inside of us, examining them and then, and then choosing what to do with them. You know, one other thing that, that I practice too is scheduling my worry and that is having intentional times with God to give God my worries. But not always in that moment. So for example, for a, a certain period of time, when something would come to my mind that I was worried about, I would pull up my phone on my notes page and I would write a sentence or two about what I'm worried about. And then I had scheduled Friday from 11 to 1230 was when I was going to worry about things. Huh.

Jason Cusick:

And so I would pull out the note page. And of course, if I wrote something down on Monday and I was like, oh, I gotta worry about this. No way I've scheduled it. I'm gonna worry about that. On Friday. Sometimes I pull it out on Friday and I go, oh, I'm not really worried about that anymore. Okay. I'll delete that. And let me go to the next one and then I'll be like, oh, I gotta worry about this. And I'd think about it and process and ruminate about it. And, and then I'd be like, okay, I'm kind of done with that. And I say, well, I got, I got 20 more minutes here to ruminate on stuff. Let me go down to the next one. But then when 1230 hit, I gotta get back to my life.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah.

Jason Cusick:

So what I'm, I'm going, oh, I gotta worry about this. Okay. Next Friday, I got it scheduled. I'm I I'm gonna do it. And this is a technique called having a worry box helps really with kids, we have kids with anxiety and they go, I'm really worried about that. Great. Let's write a note and let's make sure we hang onto that worry and let's put it in a, sometimes they'll decorate a nice box, put it in the box and then we're gonna schedule maybe once a day for 10 minutes. We'll worry about things. So you pull something out sometimes randomly. Okay. Let's worry about this for 10 minutes. Yeah. That way you're not, again, the goal is not worry is bad. Let me extinguish it. I want nothing to do with it. It's about taking control of your life And making intentional choices rather than letting the anxiety rule and run things. So

Ryan Dunn:

What are you doing during that worry time? Are you praying? Are you kind of making a list of all the things that could go wrong? What's happening with you?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah. So a couple of things, one of them, one is praying, it's saying, okay, God kind of like those Psalms in the Bible where God, why are you allowing this to happen to me? And what if this happens and what this happens? You know, it's interesting when you study the Bible that over half of the Psalms in the Hebrew scriptures, what's called lament Psalms or complaint Psalms over half of them are people just saying, God, why is this happening? And I'm really worried about this and where are you and what are you gonna do? So part of the time is me just kind of dumping stuff. Part of the time is me listing worst case scenarios and best case scenarios. For some people They need to remind themselves of the best case scenario. For me, it really helped me to list the worst case scenarios. I was always avoiding those. I didn't want to think about the worst case scenarios, but actually that was really helpful. Like if I'm gonna have a conversation with somebody, they're going to be upset with me, that's going to be difficult. And then I would say, okay, and then what will happen? Well, then they'll be mad.

Jason Cusick:

Okay. And, and, and then what, Well then They may not want to talk to me ever again. Okay. And, and, and then what would happen? I guess they wouldn't talk to me anymore. Okay. And, and then what, well, I could reach out to them. Okay. And then, and then if they didn't want to talk to you, Then I just have to give that to the Lord, I guess. I mean, I'd have to be paid. I wouldn't like it. Okay. But like letting it run all the way through again, so much anxiety is I don't want to think about the worst thing that could happen. Yeah.

Ryan Dunn:

Okay.

Jason Cusick:

But maybe letting it go all the way through, for some people that can be a very helpful process. For other people it's like, let me consider the opposite, said, well, that person could get upset with me and them going to happen. Well, actually they could acknowledge that they're upset with me. And then we could talk about that. Oh, that's right. There is some hope. So I think again, you're just allowing yourself to experience some of those things. I think anger operate operates the opposite way. I think sometimes when we're angry and we want to just vent that anger, I think sometimes that can fuel our anger.

Jason Cusick:

I think anxiety is the op, is it so sometimes if we hold in anger or anxiety, it fuels it. Ah, whereas if we get a chance to work it out, it kind of defuses it a bit. It's still there. But that's been helpful for me in those times of just kind of like giving myself this space and making it time limited. I'll set a timer on my phone. Okay. I'm done. Yeah. I, I'm not worrying. I can't I'm, it's not that I won't worry about it. It's, I'm choosing to worry about it at a certain time. That way it doesn't take me over.

Ryan Dunn:

I, I feel like we, we have we've done a good job in pinpointing how the church can be a, a point of trigger for some of that anxiety. Have there been ways in which the church has, has been the opposite in which the church has come alongside to, to be a staff in, in points of anxiety?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah. I think one of the things there has been more of a movement of acknowledging what I mentioned before that those lament pal, I think acknowledging some of the emotion, the, the pain, the distress of the spiritual life, that that's not, that that's a natural part of the spiritual life. You know, one of the things that comforts me so much is, is the story of Jesus. The night before he was before he died, he's in the garden of GSEM and he is saying, God, let this pass from me. And he is it, it says he is sweating drops of blood. We're not sure what's happening. Could be the amount of stress, the capillaries in his head and in his eyes kind of rupturing because of the amount of stress. And here we have someone who I believe is God in the flesh experiencing a full on traumatic panic attack as he is going into. And, and, and that's, that's my Jesus. Yeah.

Jason Cusick:

Wow. I mean, I was like that. That's awesome. You know, or we even get back in the old Testament and you see Isaiah Elijah, this great Hebrew prophet who actually has this great victorious, spiritual moment of defeating these prophets of a false God. And he ends up in a cave and he goes, I don't wanna do this anymore. I'm I'm the only one here. Kill me now. God. And he's, I think he's has, I think he's having PTSD after this physically traumatic and spiritually traumatic night, the night before. And what does God say? God, doesn't say, Hey, snap. Out of it, deal with it. God says, go to sleep. And then when he wakes up, he says, here's some food Now go to sleep again. And when he gets up, He gives him food like a good Jewish mom, why don't you sleep it off? And I'll give you some food, you know? And then at the end he says, you're not alone. It's almost like God couldn't even speak to his heart Until he had had some F theological restoration and some comfort. So I think if, if we're able to really read the scriptures in a way where we see scripture is not the story of heroes, it's the story of flawed human beings who met God in the midst of their distress. That's one of those things. I also think our services can, can cultivate contemplation reflection. And I think in particular, our messaging to people

Jason Cusick:

Has to have a lot of space for ambiguity and uncertainty. The, the churches, the, that I've been a part of have been conservative Bible churches that emphasize, that tend to emphasize here's what you can know. Okay. And so they're, they tend to elevate the importance of certainty. Anxiety is an intolerance to uncertainty. So if we're really gonna help people with anxiety, we wanna help cultivate a faith that says, here's the things you can know. Here's the things you can't know, and you don't have to know, And that's okay. And you can be with God Without knowing everything. And that that's, that's kind of a Scary thing for some people in Bible churches where it's like, we want more Bible because we want to know everything. Mm. Once you start working with that lens, you start seeing how much throughout scripture You is given to, To mystery, just acknowledging God's incomprehensibility and, and embracing that, you know, my favorite verse in the Bible is Deuteronomy 29, 29. It says the secret things belong to the Lord. The things that are revealed, belong to us and our children. Hmm. I, that's a fascinating versus like God's revealing certain things for us and for our family so we can live. And then there's a bunch of secret things that he just doesn't tell us. And it's like, if I can,

Jason Cusick:

How can I learn to greater tolerate what I don't know? And I think that holds kind of the spiritual key for dealing with anxiety and the way that the church and, and, and people who are moving toward God can make God part of their, of their progress toward long term healing. Rather than thinking, I gotta figure this out and fix it, and then I can have this great relationship with

Ryan Dunn:

God. Yeah. Wow. Hmm. Yeah. There's an interesting well work at play there in which faith becomes something in which we, I guess, embrace the mystery instead of faith being something through which we move into a certainty that I, I hope that that is relieving for some people to hear. So thank you for offering that to us. Why

Jason Cusick:

Was, was listening to your yeah. Well, I was listening to your, your podcast with Brian McLaren and this whole idea of that real faith includes an element of doubt and, and an ability to tolerate tension and uncertainty. We see that even with Jesus.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, well,

Jason Cusick:

Yeah, they said, well, when are you coming back? And Jesus is like, I don't know. I don't, that's not for me to know. I mean, even he in his humanity embraced a, a, a certain unknowingness and it, it didn't rock him because the stuff that he knew for sure he knew for sure. But it was a very lived faith in community. And that's the other part too. I think that the church can do is really fostering, greater, accepting, and loving community of people that are in progress. Sometimes there's this message that you have to have it together or that somebody else over here has it together, or that person, some that's upfront definitely has it together. I think the more we can say, we don't have it together. We're all in this. We're all moving in this direction. The more open we can be to people who are like, I want to be a part of a faith community, but I need to know that it's okay to not be okay.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, thank you for saying that out loud, pastor Jason Cusick and for giving us so many really great action steps in terms of something that we all deal with. Like, we, we may be on a spectrum of, of anxiety, but you've noted several times that we all carry anxiety in some way, shape or form for are folks who wanna know, like, what's next with you. Is there a convenient spot to follow along in the life of Jason Cusick?

Jason Cusick:

Yeah. the our, our, the website for the church that I'm [email protected] That's the place where a lot of my content, you know, comes from I'm, I'm not as prolific on social media just because I'm trying to manage the anxiety of having to be ever present. And people's reactions. I do probably Instagram Jason, the letter Q and the number six is on, on Instagram. And that's where I'm putting up quotes and thoughts and things that I'm processing. And some of my artwork that I use for my own, my own therapy and my own wellbeing. So that's, that's where some of that stuff is if people want to see some of that.

Ryan Dunn:

Great. Well, thanks for sharing that. The thank you so much for spending this time with us. It's been really helpful.

Ryan Dunn:

Again, Reverend Jason Cusick’s book is The Anxiety Field Guide. I appreciated both Jason's recommended practices and his willingness to share from his own experience.

You can learn more about the compass podcast and check out other episodes at Umc.org/compass.

Some episodes you might appreciate include “Powerful peace and contemplative prayer” with AJ Sherrill, and “Simple life rhythms for balance and peace” with Joan Chittister. Both are great follows to this episode.

So glad to have this time with you. My name is Ryan Dunn. Pierce Drake is in the middle of a job change and a move, and he hopes to be back in the next episode. Thanks to United Methodist communications for resourcing this podcast. And I'll talk to you soon. Peace.