The Carbon Monoxide Of Anxiety

Carbon monoxide can poison our bodies and our emotions

Carbon monoxide can poison our bodies and our emotions

Our human red blood cells have a unique protein that carries life-promoting oxygen throughout our bodies. Hemoglobin binds to both oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in a way that holds them “loosely” so that they can be released at just the right place and time in our bodies.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the enemy of this respiration process. CO binds to hemoglobin 240 times more firmly than oxygen and CO2. With the CO so firmly attached to the hemoglobin, O2 and CO2 cannot be exchanged properly in our bodies. In other words, CO hijacks the respiration process. The sneaky thing is that CO is odorless, tasteless, and colorless, so it’s subtle poisoning. It simply brings about a lethargy that deepens into death.

As we move past Thanksgiving Day, I believe that a similar process can take place in our emotional lives. Thankfulness is the “oxygen” of our souls, and anxiety is the “carbon monoxide.”

In Philippians 4:6 Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything,” where he is echoing the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:25: “Do not worry about your life.” Anxiety and worry can begin to dominate our emotional life: they bind so tightly that thankfulness and gratitude are forced out. This leads to emotional lethargy, and—if not corrected quickly—emotional deadness.

The cure for carbon monoxide poisoning is to twofold: (1) remove the victim from the toxic environment, and (2) give the victim pure oxygen to breathe. The same cure holds true for emotional CO poisoning—(1) Get out of that environment: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6); and (2) get the pure emotional oxygen: Philippians 4:8 gives us the checklist for the pure oxygen of our emotional thought life: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.“

If you find yourself sighing, or emotionally drained, or even depressed, it could be that the carbon monoxide poisoning of anxiety has snuck in. Get out of that toxic environment by praying and giving thanks to God, and then guard against future hijack attempts by breathing deeply on the things which are pure and lovely and excellent.

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