I’ve struggled with anxiety for the majority of my life and have been so anxious (ironic, right?) to share this with others until recently. Society places a stigma on mental illness and labels those who suffer as weak, crazy, or just avoidable. The world tells us that what we suffer from is not as important or as serious as suffering physically, largely because our pain is invisible. We are told that if we pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, if we toughened up, or if we “just had enough faith,” we wouldn’t have this issue. But we cannot let this hold us back from the abundance of life that we are promised.
I want to note that we aren’t called just to live with anxiety. It’s not something we just carry around forever – it’s something we have to fight and struggle against until we overcome, whether that’s this side of heaven or the other. We are called to live an abundant life in spite of our sin, and I hope that my openness can help those in a similar situation know that they are not alone and they can overcome, too!
First of all, anxiety is scary. It’s kind of like having a voice at the back of your mind that constantly tells you how things could go wrong in any given situation. I mean, as a positive result, I’m almost never surprised since I’ve already thought of a thousand different scenarios of a situation before I’m even faced with said situation, but that’s not the point. It’s also a pretty consistent feeling of knots in your stomach that twist tighter when your anxiety increases due to a given situation. Anxiety is not imaginary, it’s not a cry for attention, it’s a real illness that affects mind, body, and spirit and shouldn’t be ignored.
I can hardly remember a time where my life had no anxiety apart from childhood. In fact, my first big symptom of anxiety began around the fifth grade when I started biting the skin around my nails. Since then, my symptoms have expanded, especially after having a few panic attacks. Symptoms of anxiety are different for everyone – they can range from something as simple as just overthinking a situation to something as serious as a hospital visit. For me, symptoms of anxiety and/or an anxiety attack include:
- Dermatophagia/Wolfbiting (aka biting or picking at the skin around my fingernails)
- Biting the insides of my cheeks
- Increased heart rate
- Gastrointestinal issues (…we’ll leave it at that)
- Racing mind
- Muscle tension
- Feeling a tightness or pressure in my chest
- Bursting into tears/being emotionally volatile
My anxiety can manifest in a few of these at a time, but only when I’m having an attack do I experience all of these symptoms at once. Anyone who has had an anxiety attack knows how scary it is, and though you know in your brain that you are freaking out over essentially nothing, your mind and body cannot help but react differently. Thankfully, I haven’t had an attack in quite a while, but it’s only when I take a few simple steps that I can truly help deal with my anxious thoughts and reduce my chances of an attack occurring again!
HOW I’M LEARNING
I understand that these methods are not universal (for example, I currently don’t take any medication for my anxiety, though I am open to it – I know that medication can be a cure-all for one person but not work for others), but here are a few different ways that I find help relieve my anxiety and make things a little more manageable:
Bible Study: As a Christian, I get the most peace out of simply spending time with God. It’s even as simple as reading my daily devotional (She Reads Truth is my favorite) or praying in the car on the way to work. Having a time I can dedicate simply to focusing on hearing from the Lord helps calm my mind and is largely the reason why I’ve yet to lose my sanity. My favorite verse comes from Matthew 6:25-34 where Jesus addresses anxiety outright:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you,even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the flowers of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
How comforting it is to know that Jesus knew there would be people like me who would walk this earth with such uncertainties and that He took the care and time to reassure His people that He is a God who intimately and deeply cares for them. He meets us where we are, in our brokenness and our doubt, and He reminds us that we don’t need to fear. God is a God who cares so immensely for things as small as the birds and the wildflowers – what is there to hinder Him from caring even more for me, being made in His image?
The Pacifica App: This is such an awesome app for anyone who has anxiety, depression, or feels over-stressed. It has a daily log where you can input your mood, your goals, and a section where you can specifically point out why you’re in that specific mood. This app specifically focuses on relaxation techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT – if you’ve ever been to therapy for anxiety, you’ve probably done a few CBT exercises), and overall wellness (because what you’ve eaten and if you’ve exercised or slept are proven to play huge roles in your mood!). It also has a section on the app where you can share your thoughts and encouragement on a board with other Pacifica users!
Talking about it: I have definitely slacked on therapy for the past few months, but I find that I feel so much better after I leave my sessions. There’s something about being able to ugly cry and vent to a person other than your closest friends and family and know that they’re not going to judge you. And CBT has helped so much with identifying my triggers, helping me understand why certain things make me more anxious than others, and dealing with those thoughts accordingly! But it’s not just therapy that helps, but also talking about it with friends and sharing it with you here! I know how great it is to not be alone, so letting people know about my struggle not only (hopefully) helps others, but helps me, too.
Limiting caffeine: So you know that saying “death before decaf”? I could not disagree more. I love coffee. I really do. I love it for the taste, I love it for the energy, I love the feeling I get when I walk into a coffee shop and take in the smells. But too much caffeinated coffee sends my anxiety over the edge and I’m more likely to have a panic attack if I’ve had more than three cups. And more anxiety means more aggravation, which means I’m a terrible person if I’ve had too much. Now, what I do is limit my intake of caffeinated coffee to about 2 cups for the day, and then drink decaf if I still get the craving. Seriously, anxious coffee lovers, try to limit your caffeine intake and see the kind of effect it has on how you feel!
Exercise: The one thing I do the least but what helps the most! Whenever I muster up the will to do it, I always feel so much better after a good workout. It doesn’t even need to entail pumping mad iron at the gym – the least I can do is run around in the back yard with my pup and have fun while burning energy (and calories) and I’ll feel better. Consistent exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve your sleep, but even just one exercise releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals in your body) that give you positive feelings and help you feel great for hours after! While I exercise, I also like to practice mindfulness that gets me to feel in the present moment and focus on things other than anxious thoughts. It helps a ton!
Before taking a few of these steps, I was a nervous wreck. I still am, sometimes, and I don’t live “abundantly” 100% of the time. These steps don’t guarantee that I won’t fail miserably, act according to my flesh, or have another anxiety attack, but they have helped me manage my anxious thoughts and have brought me very far from where I started. I hope a few of these can help someone reading this make progress and move closer to living a life of abundance!
What are some ways you deal with everyday life/mental illness/stress? Do you have any encouragement or tips to offer? Let me know in the comments!