Anxiety Series #3: The practical things.

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I’ve done all of the things in regards to my anxiety.                                                                      I have gone to SO many counselors. I have tried changing my diet. I prioritize sleep. I have begged and prayed for God to take it away. I have sought prayer from people around me. I have a toolbox available when I feel like anxiety is coming my way. I have studied the brain. I’ve tried forms of hypnosis. As I shared in my last blog post, I take medication. Yet, I am still not free from my anxiety. But I live in more freedom than ever and I’ve learned a few things along the way. This blog will be different than most, I’m going practical.
Before I move on, let me remind everyone that I’m talking about what has worked for me. If you try these things and they don’t work-keep on researching, keep on trying until you find the things that do work.
1. I prioritize sleep. I’m one of those that needs 9 hours of sleep. It’s incredibly inconvenient. No one has time to sleep 9 hours a night. I’ve tried so many times to live on less sleep, but it doesn’t work. Those that know me, know that I have a hard time not expressing all of my thoughts and emotions to everyone around me in my most healthy state, so when I’m tired, it’s not even worth the effort. I have 0 filter. I am mean. I get anxious. So when I start feeling my anxiety creeping up, I stop and think-am I really anxious or am I just tired? If I conclude that I’m just tired, I cancel things or rearrange my schedule. And I go take a nap. An hour of sleep can keep me from days of anxiety. This should be a no brainer. I recognize that my schedule is very flexible but I firmly believe that we make time for what is important to us. So at nine o’clock when you decide to watch just one more episode, you need to ask yourself “Is this show more important than a day free from anxiety tomorrow?” If you struggle to answer that question, let’s talk.
2. I prioritize exercise. Most people have heard that exercise is important when you are anxious and depressed. If you hate exercising, find the thing that you hate the least. There are hundreds of ways to get your heart rate up. Weight training is incredibly important, but for emotional regulation, cardio is what you are looking for. And please, if you haven’t been exercising-don’t start with running. You will hate it and you may never exercise again. I can hear people pushing back, “Well, that’s nice. I work full time and have three kids. I don’t have time to exercise.” You do. I always tell my clients if you have time for TV, you have time to exercise. Jog while you wait for your kid’s practice to finish. Run around with your kids at the playground, that will get your heart rate up. 20 minutes is all you need. I would love to help you figure this out.
3. I practice mindfulness. I’m a super practical person and honestly even writing this bothers me. It sounds so out there, so let me break it down. Anxiety generally is worrying about things in the future that we have no control over or agonizing about how to change our present reality. When I say I practice mindfulness, this is what I mean. When I start getting anxious, I pause and I say to myself “What is real right now?” I simply acknowledge the reality of each of my body parts. My feet are on the ground, they are touching the sidewalk. My knees are sore. I am sharing a space with (fill in the blank). My arms are at my sides. I go through as many body parts that I need to in order to bring my thoughts down to reality. When my mind quickly begins to wander away, I start again “Where are my feet?”
4. I tell someone that I’m feeling anxious-in the moment. It’s really vulnerable to share your current emotions, it’s much easier to talk about them after the fact. But I don’t find as much healing when I share later. I make it sound better than it was. I downplay the significance. So I push myself and reach out in the moment. I ask my friends to pray for me and allow them into my moment. This is hard to do in person, but I’m telling you it’s powerful. When you can’t muster enough strength to share in person, text someone. I’m grateful for texting. Everything feels bigger and scarier when you don’t tell anyone. I find that when I share that I’m anxious, it takes the power away. But let me caution you, keep that group small. Share with people that you know will pray for you and will stand with you. I have found that when I have shared with people that don’t get it, I feel like they downplay my feelings and it makes me even more anxious. I feel ashamed. Text me or even tell me in person! I’d love to pray and walk with you through this journey!
5. I create a time to be anxious. I do want to acknowledge that sometimes my anxiety is so visceral that this doesn’t work. But if I can catch my spiraling thoughts early on, this has worked for me. When I find myself getting really worked up about something, I tell myself, right now I can’t deal with these feelings, I will think about these feelings later tonight. I even plan a specific time that I can be anxious, from 3:00-4:00 pm as an example. Personally I have found that one of the worst things I can do is tell myself to stop being anxious. It never works. So for me, I don’t try to tell myself not to be anxious, I just give it a space and place. Most of the time I don’t end up using my allotted time to be anxious.
6. I accept it. The more you fight anxiety, the more it will fight you back. When you are in the midst of having a panic attack the worst thing you could do is try to not have a panic attack. It will just get worse. Ride the waves. Make accommodations if needed. The more you fight it the longer it lasts.
7. I try to remember that my anxiety is not who I am, it’s just a strong emotion I am experiencing. When I feel anxious, it helps me to say out loud “I’m anxious. But I’m also passionate. I’m also friendly. I’m also a fighter and a seeker of truth.” My anxiety is one of the many aspects of who I am.
8. I try to remember that anxiety comes in waves. I have gone up to a year of being fairly anxiety free. When I would go long periods of time without anxiety and then it would resurface, I would feel despair and assume that I was going back to square one and that all the work I have done was worthless. There is nothing true about that. There is a good chance you will experience periods of anxiety your whole life. The less I freak out when a wave of anxiety hits, the less damage it seems to create.
9. I try to refocus my attention. This has looked differently for me in different seasons. When I have an idle mind, that is when I tend to get anxious and crazy. Sometimes it just helps to binge a TV show, which I usually would never encourage. Read a book. Take up a cause. Learn how do something new. Learn about something new. Reach out to someone in need. Anxiety is obsessive thinking, try to obsessively think about something else. Once I was in a deep pit of anxiety and a friend called me and told me she was in the middle of a horrible panic attack and asked if I could come over. The request took my attention off myself and onto to her needs. All of a sudden, my anxiety no longer mattered.
10. The last one is the worst one, but I have to say it has been the most helpful for me. You have to fake it until you make it. Even when I am anxious I do the next planned thing anyway. Even if it means taking more medication for bit, you need to get out of bed, you need to get dressed and fake it until you make it. One step at a time. The first time I heard that, I was appalled. When I am anxious all I want to do is curl into the fetal position and cry. But if I let myself do that, it’s just going to get harder and harder to take that first step. Keep your expectations low for yourself. Celebrate that you showered and got out of bed. Don’t expect to be yourself. Silently be angry at all the happy people around you (I think we would all be surprised at how many other people feel the same way we do). Acknowledge that it doesn’t feel fair that everything is so hard for you. I’m not asking to change your feelings, I’m saying you must act in spite of them. If people ask what is wrong, and they are not safe, tell them that you feel sick. But stick it out. I’m usually pleasantly surprised by how I feel by the end of the event. Then when it’s over, go back into your fetal position and cry and be grateful that you made it. Then get up and do it again. I promise you the more you push on the front end, the less time you will spend pushing.

If you read my blogs, you know that I love Jesus and my world centers around my faith. In this blog post, I have intentionally kept faith out of it. I feel like there are many wounded Christians out there that have been given trite answers to deep agony and distress. So take a breath. We will go there. We seek will Jesus in the midst of our pain. But today, just look at the list, pick one you haven’t tried and try something. Don’t focus so much on changing how you feel, but just focus on changing something you do. Share what you did below and if it helped. We will meet again soon.

We are in this together,

Lisa

Anxiety Series #2: Medication

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As I write this blog post, I feel Iike after every paragraph I need to add a disclaimer. I feel the need to over explain my point. Everyone’s journey with anxiety is so different. There is so much room in this series to be misunderstood.
My prayer is that moving forward God would speak clearly to those that need to hear what I say and for those who are not ready to hear it, that my words will land on deaf ears.

All that said, we are going to dive right in. Let’s talk about medicine. I have been on a anxiety medication for over 10 years. There is less stigma now more than ever around being a Christian and taking anxiety/depression medication, but I still feel like we have a long way to go. To learn more about the beginning of my journey with anxiety, read Stand With Me. Like I shared in my previous post, my anxiety re-entered my life when I was asked to travel for a couple weeks for work. At first, I was able to hide it pretty well. My job was flexible enough that I could go home during the day and take “breaks” (curling into a ball and crying) if I needed to. Bryan’s job was flexible enough that if I needed to physically see him, he could sneak out the back door to calm me down. If people asked, I would just respond that I wasn’t feeling well. I could only fake it so long. Anxiety is an all-consuming force and sooner rather than later I began to crack. My breaks were no longer enough. There were only so many times Bryan could leave the office to see me without further explanation. We decided it was time to take action, this life was no longer sustainable. This no longer felt like a phase that was going to pass. If we let it, it would become our new way of life.
I started to see a counselor.
As a child, I saw several counselors as I was working through my separation anxiety. My vague memories are positive. It felt really different this time. Let’s be honest, I think a huge piece of it was the counselor. The first time I saw him he told me that he actually had not met with a lot of people that struggle with anxiety. He handed me a book and we methodically went through it together. I felt like we kept going in circles with no real progress.
I tried to pray more.
I knew all the verses about fear, worry and anxiety. The bible tells us to cast all our cares on him, I was trying-but it didn’t seem to be working.
I asked other people to pray for me.
When my prayers seemed to go unanswered, I thought maybe God would listen to someone else.
I tried to read The Bible more.
I knew that God’s word has power, but as much as I tried and tried to read the Bible more, all the words seemed to blur together.
I tried to retrain my mind and take my thoughts captive.
But it was still getting worse. It felt as if my mind had been captured by anxiety, not the other way around. My breaks became longer and more frequent. Bryan had to humble himself and tell his boss about what was going on. We were doing all the things that we knew to do, but nothing seemed to be working.
So I started taking Paxil.
I felt so guilty about taking anxiety medication. I felt like I had failed. Myself. Bryan. And God. But I knew something had to change, we could no longer live this way. I had always been a fighter, willing to take on whatever giant was in front of me. I had lost this fight, at least that is how I felt.

I remember the moment so clearly, it was about two weeks after I started taking Paxil. It was morning and it was time to get up. Mornings were particularly hard for me. For the last several months I could tell within minutes if the day was going to be a struggle. I opened up my eyes reluctantly. I felt different. Something had changed. I literally said out loud “Hi, there you are.” My anxiety was not gone, but I felt a little bit more like myself again. I felt a glimmer of hope. Before I move on, I want to make sure to address something. I know I was lucky. The Paxil worked for me and it worked pretty fast. Many people I know have had to try several different anxiety or depression medications before they were able to find one that worked.

Only after that was I able to seek different counsel, read my bible, reach out to people for prayer. Only after I started taking Paxil could I have clear enough thoughts to entertain the idea of taking them captive. Paxil created a pathway for me to begin healing. It gave me the space I needed to begin healing, which I continue to work on today. Paxil helped me get my footing so I could step on the path. It helped me begin my journey, but it was just the beginning.

I do believe that there are people whose anxiety is strictly chemical. If that is you, I rejoice with you that you live in a time when you have access to medication that allows you to live the way God intended for you. But my hunch is that most of us have a more complicated story. Our anxiety is full of genetics, generational patterns, childhood experiences, undealt with grief or trauma and/or circumstances. I think some of our anxiety is exaggerated by not eating well or by not exercising. I think that anxiety is usually super spiritual and super practical. I think it is chemical and it’s mental. I think for most of us it is a combination of several of these things.

For some of you reading today, you have been overcome by anxiety. You have become paralyzed and you can’t seem to crawl out of the pit. Make an appointment. Get on some medication. Create a clear path for healing.

For some of us, we have taken that step, we have worked through our guilt and shame around taking medication. We have some clarity of mind. But if you are anything like me, you just want to stay there. It’s super nice to take a pill once a day and move on with life, anxiety free.

But God calls us to more.

Because as I stated, most of our anxiety is complicated. It’s not just chemical. There is usually more. What is it for you? For me it’s trauma. It’s faulty thinking patterns that I let take over my mind instead of taking it captive. It’s eating sugar when I need to get on my knees. Its pride that keeps me from reaching out and asking for prayer. It’s me controlling my circumstances so I don’t have to be uncomfortable.
The path has been created and now it’s our job to start the journey. Not because we have to, but because God’s kindness compels us to more. I could stay on my medication for the rest of my life and not take any more steps to healing, and God’s love for me would never change. His grace would abound. But I also know that the closer I walk towards him, He meets me there. And my heart begins to change. It’s not just that my paralyzing anxiety goes away, I experience even deeper levels of peace and freedom.

Let me finish by saying this. I’m still on medication. Every year or so I try to lower my dose or go off of it. It hasn’t worked so far. But I also know when I’m not actively seeking deeper healing and peace, my medication can only take me so far. It can create a baseline, a place for me to breathe. But I want more than that. I don’t want to just exist on the baseline, I want to live in the depths of joy and peace that are available for me.

Where are you at today? What is your next step?

1. Are you a Christian who is struggling with anxiety? Have you done all the things? Have you sought prayer? Have you seen a counselor? Have you exercised regularly? Even after all of that is your anxiety paralyzing you? If so, make the appointment. If you need some help, let me know. I would love to walk with you.

2. Were you put on medication for anxiety a long time ago and have called it good? Has medication created a space for deeper healing to occur your life? Are you still seeking healing or are you content with the status quo? I promise you there is more! Dip into the deep my friend…..

We are in this together.

Lisa