choose your own adventure

Anxiety. Just when I think it’s gone. Just when I feel confident. Just when I feel like I can breath, it comes creeping back in. I open the door in my mind just a little bit and anxiety kicks the whole thing down, wreaking havoc wherever it lands.

One anxious thought suddenly spreads and makes everything around me seem much bigger and scarier than it did before. It is a feeling I hate. You can be anywhere when it happens–standing in a hall way, sitting across from a friend, mid-laugh, or driving in your car–when suddenly your chest gets tight and you can feel a nervous energy flitting through your veins.

You hope that you can find peace in the cover of sleep, but your mind is wide awake–thinking off all the things that could go wrong, or what you should have done or said. It’s a fear of the future and massively overthinking the decisions of the past.

The other night, I laid in my bed and suddenly had the thought “one day my dad is going to die and I am going to miss him.” Then I thought of how I need to take advantage of the time I have before I run out and regret not asking him questions about his childhood and the things he thinks about. I was overwhelmed by a weight that felt physically suffocating on my chest, a mixture of anxiety and grief connected to the loss of a relationship that matters to me. It’s been several years since I have borrowed grief from the future—but here I was spiraling as I tried to drift off to sleep.

The silence was so loud.

I rolled over, grabbing my phone resisting the urge to just scroll, and turned on an audio Bible. It took everything in me to mentally jump over the things my brain wanted to think about and focus in on the words being read to me.

Writing this right now, I almost want to cry because verbalizing it makes me look at how debilitating these moments, hours, or days of anxiety have been.

For me, it is a frustrating and weak feeling to suddenly be so overwhelmed by fear. You’re fine one moment and then the next the walls are closing in around you, making it hard to breathe. When it happens I pray, I tell a friend, I try to distract myself, but often the feeling doesn’t go away and the thoughts keep pounding at the door. It’s a mental battle that is so exhausting it makes you want to lie down and not get up.

Have you ever read one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books? You’re the main character in the story and every so often you come to a point where you have to decide what to do or where to go. In this sense, everyone’s life is like this because we all make choices that lead to desirable or less than ideal outcomes.

With anxiety, instead of choosing one or two options and following that story, an anxious mind tries to think through every single option possible and predict every outcome. It wants to be prepared for every scenario, it doesn’t want to be caught without everything together.

Choose Your Own Adventure books

Is thinking through every scenario supposed to give me confidence when I approach a person or situation? I guess that’s usually the thought behind it, but rarely do I feel like I gained any confidence by thinking through it so thoroughly. It’s more likely that my initial anxiety is now exponentially greater because I’ve made myself even more aware of all the different ways a conversation or situation can go.

By trying to gain control over factors I can’t control, I also end up losing control over what is my responsibility. Such as my ability to respond rationally and voice my opinion kindly yet confidently, not watering it down due to fear, as well as owning that I ultimately make my own decisions. The response that we have to overthinking could be different for each of us, this is just what my experience is like.

What I am discovering is that anxiety is something I will probably always face. I know that statement can sound really heavy and discouraging, especially if you also face anxiety, so allow me to explain why this is actually encouraging to me. Anxiety is a mental illness, that for me is a symptom of a broader chronic illness I face. I might still face anxiety without the presence of a chronic illness so everything said after still applies to those of you who face anxiety disconnected from another illness. Recognizing the cause of anxiety helps me because then I won’t be shocked every time anxiety comes to call. Its uninvited presence is a likely event, which in turn helps me to know what to do to walk through it until it leaves, rather than heaping shame and disappointment on myself that somehow I have caused my own anxiety. I also recognize that these moments are ones the enemy takes advantage of, so it’s often also a spiritual battle at the same time. It’s not either a spiritual battle or mental illness but both intertwined together.

There will be times when it’s bad and times when I forget it exists. I would love for it to not exist at all, and I pray that would be my reality someday, but in the meantime here are some things that I do to help me slow down and regulate my bodies nervous system.

In no particular order:

  1. Go to a counselor. I have been going to a lovely counselor once a month or so for the past three years. I just moved and currently don’t have a counselor, so I can tell that that is one thing I need back in my life pronto!
  2. Have a list of friends that you know are people you can ask to help talk you down from the cliff anxiety placed you on. I try not to text-dump my anxiety on someone, but sometimes that happens. What I am trying to learn to do instead is send a text saying “Hey I had an anxious day, do you have time to talk about it on the phone?“.
  3. Walk and pray. Sometimes you just need sunlight and movement. Running is sometimes even better–it feels like you’re physically leaving your anxiety in the dust.
  4. Figure out what kind of rest is a good idea during this anxiety episode. Sometimes staying at your house by yourself might not be the best idea, other times it’s exactly what you need. On the contrary, quality “people time” can also be the best rest. A mini trip, a movie, a coffee date, a concert, a good conversation, watching a sunrise, a long drive—all things that could fill your soul and help your mind to rest.
  5. Reading a fun book. One of my favorite mind distractions.
  6. Writing down Bible verses about anxiety and hope then reading them out loud as a way to help your mind focus on truth

There’s probably a bazillion more, but those are my main ways of coping with anxiety. What are things that you have found helpful as you have battled anxiety? I would love to hear! If you try anything from the list above, I’d also love to hear how it goes for you!

I pray that as you finish reading these words, that your heart would slow down and you’d exhale all the anxieties swirling around in your brain. Anxiety is bigger than us, and God is bigger than our anxiety. He cares and sees it—he’s there even if the weight on your chest doesn’t go away. Rest in knowing that someday all these things that are so heavy now will be lifted from our shoulders and we’ll spend eternity surrounded by peace that is everlasting.

Other posts on anxiety:

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