Calming the Anxiety Storm

I have always had anxious tendencies. I would have anxiety attacks with the typical “elephant-on-the-chest” feelings. I would feel like my heart was pounding and I couldn’t catch my breath. But also, I would make up scenarios and conversations in my head that *might* happen and worry about every possibility. I would make lists upon lists that could never be completed in a timely manner, which served to increase my anxiety rather than organize it. I would begin to literally sweat when asked a simple question, such as, “How are you today?” I would be so consumed with overwhelm that I would complete less important tasks and sweep aside more pressing tasks with actual deadlines.

One of my greatest tells that I was in a season of anxiety was a recurring dream. I am no stranger to recurring dreams. When I was a toddler I suffered from night terrors and when I was slightly older I had two recurring nightmares for at least two years. I still can vividly remember the details of these dreams and still have irrational fears due to them. After I learned how to better manage my anxiety, I wouldn’t always feel the physical effects of anxiety but my subconscious knew it was building. My anxiety induced dream would begin at my high school locker. The locker was very messy and disorganized and I only had five minutes before the tardy bell for my next class. But I couldn’t remember my schedule! Did I have history next? Maybe Bible class? Oh no, is it English class on the complete opposite side of the building? I would run through the halls popping my head into each classroom to see if that was correct, while praying I had the correct books and completed assignments. Within the past decades, I had a breakthrough moment and faced my anxiety. I put some boundaries in place in real life and then dreamt that I printed out my high school class schedule, organized my locker, and sighed in contentment. 

I still feel the effects of that sigh. If you haven’t experienced anxiety then it might be difficult to understand just how freeing that moment was. The point of this post isn’t how I have worked through anxious periods in my life in the past, but some of my main helps have included a very supportive and caring husband to talk things out with, being involved in strong, Christian community to encourage and lend a helping hand, prayer and more prayer, and rehearsing the truth to myself of who God is and how He has provided so richly for me throughout my life. I know those sound like the “right” answers and there is much more to dissect in each of those areas, but truly those are the pillars of my mental and emotional health.

The thing about anxiety: you don’t beat it once and it disappears forever. Just turn on the news and there are about ten anxiety producing images within just the first five minutes! But knowing that I am prone to anxiety, I try to maintain good boundaries and have accessible tools for when my heart begins to churn and my mind feels like it is literally a spinning top.

Today was one of those days. I have a deadline tomorrow and the project hasn’t been as fluid as I would prefer. I have a major presentation to give next week that isn’t a difficult subject matter but I am out of practice. We have visitors arriving next week, which means my home cleanliness standards are raised! There are some heavy things weighing on our family and it’s hard for me to compartmentalize. Then the situation of the world- so much destruction and pain from sin. It all piled together today and pretty early on I could feel the pressure growing. 

I tried to block my time so the “musts” would get done. The deadline is still fast approaching, but the work is nearing completion. I did some practice on my presentation and know I will have time to do more of that the next couple days. But then I spent excess time cleaning the kitchen. Yes, there were dishes to be done and oh so many crumbs to be swept up, but I rearranged a couple cupboards that would not be opened for our guests. I moved on to re-shelving some of our children’s books that had made their way downstairs over the past couple weeks. Of course, I then had to go through our play room and purge some toys. Was purging old toys on the spring cleaning list? Yes! But is today the day to accomplish this task when so many other “musts” have priority over it? No! 

The kitchen is extra clean and our play room has been reorganized, but those were just distractions. Did it help to calm my racing heart or resolve any of the strain I have been feeling? No. Did it bring insight to my situations or help me in the creative process for my projects? No. Why am I like this and what is the answer?

I tried to busy myself. I tried to distract my mind. I am not generally a procrastinator, but anxiety hinders me from making the best choices. What would have been a better answer this afternoon as I reached an anxiety tipping point? So simple and yet so often overlooked, the answer is the steadfast Word of God.

When my pulse is racing and I can’t catch my breath, I should sit down, be still, say a prayer for rest, and open my Bible. God is readily available and He alone provides the peace needed to calm the raging storm in my heart and mind. He is the same God who calmed the storm in Matthew 8 when the disciples were worried they would perish. Just as Jesus spoke to them, He still whispers to me, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26). 

The anxiety tells me I have to do, but my Savior tells me “It is finished”. The anxiety tells me it’s not enough, but my Lord tells me He is sufficient. The anxiety tells me to go, but my Master tells me I need only come. 

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