Let’s talk about Anxiety.
The word alone sends people different directions. Some respond to the word by quoting scripture. “Cast your cares onto Him.” They consider anxiety to be something that only happens when someone dies or you go bankrupt. Maybe you haven’t been saying your bedtime prayers sincerely enough. I can’t count how many times people say “just chill out.”
Other’s respond with complete understanding because there are more people than you’d think that sometimes “just can’t be calm.” They can mentally cast prayers into the sky, fully trusting that they are heard, but, physically, feel the sickness taking over their mind and body.
As a psychology-counseling major, I looked at this disorder as one of the lighter ones. Before anxiety hit me personally, I thought anxious people just needed to go to the mountains for a while and experience Jesus. I thought anxiety could be an easy fix. It wasn’t a disease, after all.
I didn’t know how wrong I was until it happened to me.
Anxiety is real and, at times, crippling. It’s not an easy-fix and it’s not a matter of lacking faith. No matter how badly you want to feel joy and calm, anxiety will fight you at every turn. Anxiety is the thief of calm.
But that doesn’t have to be the end.
*disclaimer- I am not an expert in this subject, and I do not claim the rights to what I am about to say.*
Here is my best attempt at describing my worst days:
Example one: Before I knew that I had anxiety, I would feel pains in my chest throughout the day without any noticeable reason. This pain I now describe as caged moths fluttering in my chest, rattling the cage. There weren’t many other symptoms at this point. I thought I might have had a heart murmur or asthma.
Example two: The “cloud.” On these days I feel as if there is a dark fog clouding my mind. I cannot process information easily, my thoughts gets jumbled in my brain and seem to get stuck at the end of my tongue. One of the most major downsides is my inability to process joy. I am physically unable to laugh at a joke. Even if I mentally consider something humorous, my spirit remains cold. I distinctly remember a day when I went to a huge church gathering out in a field. I walked around with my family, looking at all the other smiling people, but all I could do was stare. Like I was inside of a dark cloud hovering above all the happy people. Even when I mentally wanted to “snap out of it,” my spirit could not liven. I felt like a statue.
Example three: Sleeplessness. This one has just recently shown it’s ugly face. Tossing and turning in the bed until one in the morning, I stumble to the livingroom couch to try and change environments. I listen to some music, play mind games, but the moths in my chest and the hovering thoughts keep me in a state of insomnia. In the morning I will hide my tired eyes with cold cream and concealer.
Example four: The voice of fear. This one is my worst enemy. The guy that tells me everything negative about myself. The guy that tells me I can’t be fixed and I need to find an out. Run away, it whispers. It’s the only way! It screams. This fella almost gets me in a bind because shutting him up seems to take outside help. Choosing the outside help correctly is critical, though. It’s the difference between addiction and progression.
This is vital to anyone who experiences this disorder. Triggers can be anywhere, but knowing them can be life-saving.
Here are some personal triggers within my seasons of anxiety and ways I combat them:
Crowds: Living in an over-populated country is difficult for this reason (and part of the reason I fought God when he told me I was coming here). As I write this, I am in the small compartment of a K train with about ten others surrounding me. Breathing deeply.
Defense: Discerning the best days/times for traveling. I know that the buses will be crowded at lunch and dinner time. I avoid the malls on the weekend (if possible). If I happen to be on a bus that starts to crowd, I get off at the next stop and take a taxi. I don’t take chances.
Overstimulation: Crowds are kind of linked to this one as well. Again, this one is tough to combat in a second-world country. Even in America, we are constantly hit with distractions. But overstimulation, to me, can be found in my classroom. Loud conversations and sudden bursts of laughter. Someone jumps from behind me yelling, “surprise!” My mind turns into a minefield. How much can I take before something blows? My eyes dart in every direction. Who do I look at? Should I just stare at the wall in the back?
Another culprit can be found on the very screen I look at now. Media of all shades and descriptions sends my mind through a whirlwind, twisting and turning until all I can think about is everything right and wrong with the world. After hours of this thinking, I realize it’s four in the morning.
Defense: In public situations, I am intentional with my choice of attention. If there’s chatter, I either scan the room, looking at each face and think prayers over each one. Or I find a distraction in mind hands, whether it be writing or reading an article. Tuning out is usually the best option.
As for the technology, I have recently implemented a “safe zone” in my bedroom. My bed is an oasis from technology. No phones or iPad allowed. The bed is for sleep. This, I found, has worked wonders.
Disorganization: As an “INFP” personality, organization is kind of on the end of my list (if I actually write one). This leads to forgetting where I put things and actually losing important information. The most disorganized place, though, is my mind. I call my mind a hostel for thoughts. They come and go as they please and most are staying in mixed dorms (only travelers will get that one). Memory loss plagues me and this only increases the uneasy feelings about what I am accomplishing throughout the day.
Defense: During these times of jumbled thoughts, writing down a to-do list seems to be the perfect remedy. I started this in college and it has proven to be an easy and healthy technique. One might call it a “de-cluttering of the mind.” I also keep a journal bedside just in case I have reoccurring thoughts that I need to release.
Other defenses aren’t linked to any one trigger, but have been found helpful. For example, talking to a friend about my current battle. It takes humility and courage, trust me, but I have found that going at it alone is much harder.
Another defense is devoting myself to something I am passionate about; even if it’s is multiple things! Being open to trying new ways to combat my stress and checking off the list of what does/doesn’t help.
“The only way to be sure that you fail at something is to never try.” -Unknown
In other words, anxiety is a struggle but it is not something that can consume you if you don’t allow it. Take care of yourself and you will be surprised at how much more you can take care of others.
**Important: If you have any symptoms that relate to what I have mentioned, please visit a health professional. Mental health is important and should be considered as much as physical health.
**Disclaimer: I am not prescribed any medications. I do not have severe anxiety, therefore I do not claim anything aforementioned as viable information for all anxiety sufferers.
These are just a few examples of known triggers. If you want more data-based information, you can visit the American Psychological Association’s webpage and research further.
The most important piece of information the I can tell you, though, is that I have figured out something wonderful in my “falling apart” stages: I am not my brokenness.
Even when I am down in the valley, He is with me. I know this, and it gives me strength. “Because when I am weak, THEN I am strong.” 2 Cor. 12:10
You don’t have to feel 100% to know that you are 100% in His eyes.
This is why we are told not to lean on our own understanding. Because when we see this picture, we see gray clouds, but He can see the beauty in all that will come from the momentary storm. Lean on Him, trust Him.