How I Conquer Anxiety
Anxiety can look very different from person to person. I’m going to tell you about my experience with anxiety and how I conquer it. The first time I had anxiety was after 9/11. I was in the 5th grade and the event really opened my eyes to how unpredictable the world can be and that we really aren’t in control of anything. I struggled with anxiety for a couple years after that. I never saw a therapist, just prayed through it and eventually it went away. The way it manifested back then was in catastrophizing thoughts, fear and crying. Whenever my mom wasn’t with me, my mind convinced myself that she was probably going to die so I lived in fear of that.
Throughout high school I developed a habit of trying to control by restricting what I was eating. This was how I coped with life and my anxiety never really reared its head because I was coping with it by trying to control things. The ways we instinctively learn to cope are often unhealthy but they do the job to suppress the anxiety which is why sometimes we can become addicted to them (like drugs) or obsessed with them (like eating disorders).
I never knew that what I was dealing with was “anxiety” until I experienced it in my 20’s. I was no longer controlling my diet the way I had in high school, so when I began to experience some anxiety, I didn’t have a way of coping. It came on very strong and would linger for days or even weeks at a time.
The Triggering Events:
- my grandma’s passing
- relationship trouble
- realization of past trauma
Keep in mind that for me, there are different levels of anxiety. There’s the underlying type that I can live my daily life with, albeit uncomfortably, and then there’s the more severe kind that I guess would be described as an anxiety attack, although I’ve experienced multiple kinds of attacks.
- a constant urge to cry
- increased heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- complete loss of appetite
More severe/ anxiety attack:
- severe sadness + loneliness
- feelings of darkness
- feeling out of control
- craving love but in a way that no human can give to me
- deep feelings of shame
- catastrophizing thoughts
Don’t worry, there’s hope.
Something I realized early on, was that no matter how low I felt, the low would always be followed by a high or at least a highER. It would pass, eventually. I wouldn’t feel like that forever. What I was feeling, wasn’t reality because my brain was blowing things out of proportion. The root of anxiety (at least for me) is largely mental, but the good news is, we can re-train our brains. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s possible.
How I Conquer It:
(For severe anxiety):
Counseling was a game changer. The most helpful thing about counseling was the ability to get to the root cause- figuring out my deepest fears (feeling unsafe, unloved or unlovable, being misunderstood and unheard), exposing them, and understanding how I came to believe them and how this relates to my anxiety. I was able to understand the things that trigger my “pain cycle” and why, as well as gain tools to break that cycle and enter my “peace cycle”. For me, there are many things rooted in my past that are at the root of my anxiety and I’d argue that this is the case for most people. False core beliefs develop over years of our childhood and adolescence. They are usually connected to a family wound that’s never acknowledged or redeemed. It gets buried deep within our soul and comes out later in life often in the form of anxiety or depression.
Rebuke the Lies/Renew your mind
Satan is called the Father of Lies in the Bible. He tries to speak lies into everyone because he came to earth to “steal, kill and destroy” #realtalk. The World is full of lies and we’re told them every day. When I’m suffering from anxiety it’s usually because I’m letting myself believe lies and what I need to do is actively rebuke them. What I mean by that is, when I start to think, “I’m worthless”, “I don’t matter”, “No one will love me”, I have to take my thoughts captive and say (out loud if possible) “These thoughts are NOT true, I am worthy, I do matter, I am lovable. I am loved by so many people and most importantly, I’m loved by Jesus. My life matters, I’m here for a purpose. I rebuke you, Satan (NOT TODAY SATAN)”.. I know it sounds weird but I really say this, usually drenched in tears. It might sound silly but saying it out loud slams the breaks on your thoughts running wild into darkness. Or maybe your thoughts look something like, “I’m never going to make enough money to support myself or my family” or “My boyfriend is going to cheat on me, it’s only a matter of time” or “I’m going to be alone forever.” Whatever it is, there are always catastrophizing thoughts linked to anxiety. It is possible to reel your thoughts in. It’s extremely hard in the moment, but it’s possible. The lies come at me HARD during an attack (I think anxiety attacks and spiritual attacks are one in the same) and are more subtle, slowly creeping up during mild anxiety. The KEY to conquering anxiety is RENEWING THE MIND, you MUST re-wire your brain.
Call a friend
The times that I’ve been brave enough to call a friend when I’m having more severe anxiety have been the BIGGEST blessings. It goes against every fiber of my being to call a friend during an anxiety attack because my mind is telling me “ I don’t matter, I’m not loved, I’m not worth it”, so it’s also extremely hard to do, but I promise you, you will never regret it. It helps immensely to have someone who is more [at the time] level headed and can help gently speak truth and sense into you. The last time I was feeling really anxious was the day before I left for Costa Rica. That night, I knew some of my friends were getting together for girl’s night. I texted them and asked if they would pray over me if I came over. It was the BEST and it really helped me feel at peace before my trip. Even with mild anxiety, seeing and talking to friends really helps.
Suffering in silence is NOT the key. Suffering in silence only prolongs your suffering, heightens your symptoms, isolates you, intensifies negative thought patterns and reinforces the belief (lie) that no one cares and no one can help you. This being said, it is important to understand that there is no one besides YOU that can get you through anxiety. YOU have the greatest impact on your thinking and behavior. It also helps to take responsibility for your anxiety. Don’t blame it on someone else or a circumstance. You have the power to overcome it, no matter the circumstance and no matter what anyone else is doing.
Be Honest and look inward
My anxiety is the worst when I’m not being honest with myself and those in my inner circle. Emotional intelligence comes into play here, big time. It’s the ability to recognize your feelings and thoughts and realize where you failed to managed your emotions and WHY you got to where you are in this anxiety. I need to examine what’s going on in my life that is making me anxious and ADDRESS IT. Not sweep it under the rug, not hope that it will just get better or randomly change. Even if your anxiety is regarding your significant other or a family member, even though you won’t change them, you CAN change the way you react to the situation and the way it affects you and your mindset.
I tried this the last time I was experiencing anxiety per a recommendation (thanks Abbie) and it was a game changer. After feeling anxious for about 2 ½ days, I gave myself the time and space to sit down, alone and write down all my thoughts. Here’s a sample of what I wrote:
“ You need to let go of ___________. As soon as________ happened, you immediately felt _______ and tried to control. When you do __________ it does help you cope but it doesn’t bring you true, lasting peace. You want to know __________ but it’s because __________. It could almost be considered selfish and insincere. Of course____________ but protecting yourself comes first but in order to _________ you need to LET GO. Why do I feel the need to ________? Because I don’t believe God _________. God please_________.”
….kind of praying/ journaling/ talking to myself, but it helped so much. I was able to process through my thoughts and rationalize with myself. Truly, the hand will write what the mind cannot speak, so it is extremely important to journal in order to be honest with yourself.
(For more mild anxiety)
[everything above applies as well]
Workout/ be active
Working out is very circumstantial with anxiety. Sometimes, it’s not good for me because my heart rate is elevated so when I work out, my heart races and I feel very out of breath without doing anything. Whenever I suffer from mild anxiety for over a week, it starts affecting my heart this way and I usually lay off the workouts. BUT, when I’m having a shorter bout of mild anxiety and it’s not affecting me specifically in my heart rate, the gym feels SO good. It feels like I can really work off some of the anxious energy and setting my mind on my workout helps get me out of the downward spiral for an hour. It provides relief.
I talk about self-care a lot and it’s important for everyone, anxious or not, but I’ve realized, when I’m having anxiety, it’s really helpful to respect my limits and honor what I need. This can look like: going to bed early, taking a day off work (Yes, I’ve done this before, only once I think. My boss calls them “mental health days” and he’s totally a fan), saying no to someone, making space for alone time/ journaling, praying, being with Jesus, spending time cooking food that nourishes my body etc.
It helps immensely to lay off processed food, alcohol and excess sugar. These foods cause inflammation and can aggravate the brain making it difficult to control emotions and be level headed. Your gut microbiome is constantly communicating with your brain and therefore, the foods you eat directly affect it. I believe it’s always important to nourish your body with food but I pay extra special attention to what I’m eating when I’m feeling anxious. Especially because, emotional eating is a real thing and sometimes I just really want to eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s but need to remind myself that apart from the – in the moment- intense satisfaction that it brings, in the longer run, it will make me crazy (not really but you know what I mean).
I advocate a morning routine for everyone but I find it to be especially important when I have anxiety. The three things that help my anxiety the most in my morning routine are:
- Affirmations: part of re-training your brains involves feeding yourself positive thoughts. Affirmations are positive statements you say to yourself that challenge your self-sabotaging and negative thought patterns. Just like you do exercises over and over to train your physical body… affirmations are exercises for your mind. Research shows that positive mental repetitions can reprogram our thought patterns.
“ I am worthy of love”
“ I am a daughter of God”
“ The actions of others can’t break me”
“ I am smart and mentally stable. When life is stressful, I handle it with confidence and peace”
“ I am safe because God is watching over me and he knows everything that’s going on”
“ I am right where I’m supposed to be”
“ I am loved unconditionally”
“My future is bright and it is GOOD”
“ God has so much in store for me, more than I can ever imagine”
- Prayer: God is my ultimate healer; he is the Great Physician. My tears move heaven and he sees every single one. He understands me better than I even understand myself and he wants to listen to me. Imagine for a moment, a PERFECT father. The best one I can imagine with would be something like this: He would be sensitive to his daughters needs and thoughts, he would ALWAYS make time for her and ALWAYS listen. He would be sad when she was sad because he loves her so much that it hurts to see her sad. He would teach her new things every day, important things that will change her life. He would hold her tight when she cried and wipe every tear from her eyes. He would reassure her and encourage her. He would always tell her the truth. He would be patient with her when she slipped back into bad habits. He’d be right there to pick her up when she asked for help. He would watch out for her, protect her, care for her and love her to the very best of his ability. Times this perfect father that I just imagined by 1,000,000,000 x infinity and that’s how good of a Father God is to us. That’s why I talk to God, especially when I have anxiety.
- Reading the Word: Reading the Bible fills my mind with TRUTH. Being filled with truth helps me combat the lies more easily, it sets me straight, it tells me who I am and who I am is pretty freaking amazing. If only we could see ourselves the way God sees us, we could conquer every lie that comes against us.
I hope that this was helpful and encouraging to some of you that struggle. It’s important to realize that you’re not alone in your anxiety. I hope that through my words you can gain insight and tools to conquer your own anxiety. If you don’t already, follow me on Instagram, say hi! Let’s be friends. Community is important and in my world, Instagram counts.
Katie // She Talks Detox