It was spring of 2011; I was sitting in speech class. About 20 minutes in, I started to feel my heart beat a little faster than normal. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but then it started to beat faster to the point where it was hard to catch my breath. I raised my hand in the middle of my professor’s lecture and said, “I can’t breathe.”
Puzzled and not knowing what to do, my professor asked if I needed to step out. So, I did. The problem was that my heart was still beating extremely fast. I went to the nurse’s office and she told me my pulse. 145 beats per minute. She panicked and called an ambulance, which then caused me to panic even more. The ambulance arrived, and I was rushed to the hospital. This was the beginning of my anxiety story.
Some of you reading have had a similar situation happen to you. Some of you have people you love who struggle with anxiety. Some of you have been present when someone you love has had a panic attack. Some of you know what it’s like to have panic attacks and be filled with fear because it feels like you are going to die.
Anxiety is an indicator of our fears, rational or not. Fear of never being loved again, fear of being left or rejected, fear of getting a life-shattering diagnosis, fear of being alone, fear that something bad is going to happen all the time, fear that no one will show up. So, what do we do? How do we combat our anxiety?
First, embrace your anxiety
If you are anything like me, I hated having anxiety. I couldn’t stand not being able to be calm in a movie theatre, a classroom, when I was at a friend’s house or home alone. I wanted to reject the fact that I had anxiety because I was ashamed of it. I didn’t like having panic attacks and wondering if I was having a heart attack.
As one person put it, “Anxiety is difficult because you don’t know if what you are thinking/feeling is true or not.” This is hard. For those of you who struggle, you understand the depths of what I’m saying.
However, hear me loud and clear: You are not bad, disgusting, or worthless because you struggle with anxiety. Your anxiety does not disqualify you or keep you out of reach. You are not your anxiety.
You are loved, worthy, valuable, and accepted just as you are. Period. You are a dignified human being who struggles with anxiety, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you need to take medication. It’s okay if you need constant reminders that you are loved. The more we are ashamed of this, the more we will believe that anxiety is who we are. It’s not.
As Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” You are an image-bearer of God himself. Embrace your anxiety. Allow it to be your teacher. Because once you can embrace it, it loses its power over you.
Second, study your anxiety
It is helpful and vital to know you have anxiety and embrace it, but it doesn’t stop there. Anxiety affects us and our relationships in deep ways, and if we don’t deal with it, know what triggers it, and put intentional steps in place to combat it, we will always feel defeated by it.
Just like we take the time to get to know someone else, study for a test, exercise, and rest, we need to be aware of what sets off our anxiety and take the time to deal with it. One way we can study our anxiety is by reaching out to a trusted friend and sharing our struggle with them so that we have someone who is in it with us.
Another way is seeking out professional help from a therapist. Let me say that not every therapist is right for you. You get to be picky on who your therapist is and what you need from them. However, the counseling room can be a helpful tool in understanding your trauma, childhood wounds, and what triggers are affecting your anxiety or why you have it.
Also, be aware of when your anxiety is triggered. When you are feeling your anxiety come on, what’s happening? Where are you? Where do you feel it in your body? Did someone say something that reminded you of a hurtful experience? Having some awareness in the moment can help prepare you so that when something triggers your anxiety you become less reactive to it.
Sometimes we can’t physically do this on our own, and that’s why medication is often prescribed. If that is something you need, it is okay. This is why it’s important to have a trusted professional who can come alongside to help and give you the space to discern what you might need.
Dealing with your anxiety is not a one-time deal, it’s a life-time study. Be patient with yourself. For those who are in a relationship with someone who struggles, be patient with them. Do some research on how anxiety works and have a posture of grace and understanding. As Proverbs 12:25 states, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” Anxiety weighs heavily, and we need people who can come alongside us for the long haul ready to lift some of the weight.
Lastly, release your anxiety
There’s a verse in the Bible that people often use to help those who are struggling with anxiety. It’s Philippians 4:6-7, which states,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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.”
It’s an amazing verse. However, some have used it to say to those who are anxious that you are bad or sinful just because you have anxiety. That’s not what this verse is saying. Paul is talking about release. In fact, to command someone to not be anxious presupposes that we will struggle with being anxious. Paul isn’t saying that if you are anxious you are sinning, but instead he is saying that when anxiety creeps in, remember that there is Someone who can give you peace in the midst of it.
Friends, some of us will struggle with anxiety for the rest of our lives. The beauty about being in relationship with Jesus is that He carried your anxiety and died for it; so that every time anxiety comes, He welcomes it and is ready to carry it with you and extend peace. You can release it to Him. He can handle it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that releasing it will automatically remove your struggle with anxiety, but it does mean that we can hang on with confidence to the hope that one day we will be given eternal peace. Our hearts and minds will forever be at ease. Oh, what a day that will be. The magnificent part about it is that we get to experience a taste of that peace here on earth.
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
May it be so.