I have struggled off and on with anxiety for most of my adult life. I worried a lot as a kid, too, but my supportive and loving Christian parents helped keep it in check. When I left home to attend college the things and people I had relied on to stay strong were removed and I felt quite alone in facing my fears. There were days that I would come home from class and lay on my bed completely paralyzed by fear. I couldn't even put my finger on what exactly I was afraid of most of the time. It was hard, but I learned a lot about myself and my faith in the process. I still probably worry more than I should. When my kids get sick I tend to think it might be the worst scenario (like vicarious hypochondria?) but over the years I've learned a lot of tools that help me keep an even keel.
Keep good company
- When my anxiety first flared it was so overwhelming that I didn't want to be around people, but I soon learned that being around good friends helped me feel stronger. It was really important to be around the right people, though
. Some people caused more anxiety than they cured. Others meant well, but their words sometimes left me feeling guilty for feeling the way I did, or even that things might get worse rather than better. There were a few good souls who might say very little, but just by being with me would help me calm down.
Fill your mind with scripture
- There are a lot of great verses that help us turn our worries over to the Lord. Meditate on these. Memorize them. When your chest gets tight repeat them until you feel God's peace wash over you. I've listed a few verses below, but a good Study Bible (or a judicious Google search) will turn up many more that you may find helpful.
Pour out your heart in prayer
- Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)
- Psalm 37:3-6 (NIV) Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
- Proverbs 18:10 (NIV) The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.
- I always found journaling and writing out my prayers to be the most useful way to get my thoughts, fears, and worries in order. Simply naming the monster was really helpful. My kids reminded me of this the other day when they asked me before bedtime what color monsters are. I asked them what color they thought they were, and they said brown, and were promptly ready for bed. There's no way to be sure, but I think if I had not answered their question, or if I had dismissed their worry, or even planted my own monster's color in their head the conversation could have led to a protracted discussion, and maybe even nightmares. By letting them name the color I gave them control over the monster. When you can name your monsters at the throne of God, He will give you the strength you need to face them head on.
Find a healthy outlet
- In college I started making digital art on one of my friend's computers. Pre-twins I was exercising three times a week. Now, I write. Find something that helps you feel productive, energized, and hopeful. It is hard for worry and hope to exist in the same mind. Do some art, take a walk, bake, find a service project, knit. Whatever you do, make sure it helps you feel better.
- There are times when anxiety goes from being an emotional problem to being a medical problem. Right after my husband and I were married my anxiety was so deep that I couldn't function well. Doing the laundry was overwhelming, and I felt like I was coming apart at the seams. I knew I couldn't go on like this, so first I made an appointment with my doctor. He ordered a bunch of tests to rule out physical causes, and eventually prescribed anti-anxiety medication. I took them to give myself the mental space I needed to figure out what was triggering the anxiety so that I could overcome it. My next step was to find a Biblical counselor - she helped me get to the spiritual roots of what was causing my anxiety (in my case there were lots of people that I was harboring resentment toward, 20 years worth of bitterness, ouch). The habits I learned in my counseling helped me improve my thought life and gradually I was able to wean myself off of the medication. I know for other people anxiety is an on-going medical challenge and medication is necessary for them to function every day. I believe God gave us medicine, and that we should use it wisely to help us do what we need to do. Don't put off getting professional help if you're in over your head. The sooner you start the sooner you can begin to truly enjoy life again.