How to Make Friends with your Anxiety

I know what you are thinking – Did she write that title correctly? This has to be some kind of mistake.  No, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not an error. One of the key ways I learned to live with my chronic anxiety is to realize its presence and accept it for what it is. When I stopped seeing anxiety as the enemy, it helped me to find coping mechanism so that anxiety does not stop me from living my life.

I was in my late teens when I first discovered I struggle with anxiety. I was a senior in high school and had a panic attack during a computer exam.  I felt like the floor was being pulled out from underneath me, my heart thumped in my chest like a timpani, and it was hard to catch my breath. As I finished out my senior year of high school and started my first year of college, I realized the constant worry and on edge feeling I experienced was not a “normal” thing. Everyone does not walk around imagining worst case scenarios or feeling like the world is shaking beneath their feet. I always used the word “stress” to describe these feelings.  I am just stressed and it will all pass when “x” situation is over. For example, if I can just make it through finals, then this feeling will go away and life will go back to sunshine and roses.

As the years passed, I read more about anxiety and started to learn what it was and how it can affect your body. I also learned about high functioning anxiety. Here I was thinking if I can make my way through life and be successful, it can’t be an anxiety problem.  But a person with high functioning anxiety looks completely put together on the outside and is a raving mess on the inside.  Yes, raving mess is my professional term for the turmoil inside my brain. Let me give you an example.

Picture it, spending a delightful day hanging out with one of your closest friends.  You and her chat, while your kids play. You catch up, talk about life, and control the chaos that is kids at play. We say good bye, pile into the car and start the 20 minute drive home. By ten minutes into the drive, I am reliving all our conversations and analyzing my responses.  Did I talk too much? I should be a better listener. I hope she was not offended by my saying “xyz”, I really didn’t mean anything by it. Etc, Etc, Etc. My mind can roll like this for hours after a perfectly lovely afternoon with a friend. My dear friend was shocked when I admitted this phenomenon to her when we were talking all things anxiety. She had no idea, but this is how my mind rolls on a regular basis.

As I realized all that anxiety entailed, I began to figure out how it manifested itself in my life. For example, my sense of overwhelm has a hair trigger. A trip to home depot with my husband and kids can go from perfectly fine to “we must leave right now” in about 30 seconds. I am grateful my friend anxiety is not debilitating. It is a blessing that I can move through my day and be successful the majority of the time. I found ways to cope when anxiety takes over the conversation. At those moments, I need  a plan to make it more of a conversation and less of a screaming match where anxiety gets all the say.

Movement

Movement is a huge coping mechanism for me. It can be any kind of movement. Sometimes a simple walk around the office or the house can calm my mind. Keeping regular movement a part of my schedule, running, walking, yoga, piyo, helps to keep the anxiety down to a low rumble instead of a roar. Movement has the added benefit of helping your health in many others ways as well. It is a win-win situation.

Prayer and Meditation

My faith is a driving force in my life. Faith keeps me grounded and gives me strength. Relying on our Loving God takes some of the pressure off of me. I do NOT have to handle it all. It is NOT my job to handle everything and control everything. God has it all under control. I just need to play my part. When I feel the sense of overwhelm coming over me, I try to take a moment to pray specifically for the emotion at hand.  What do I need right now? I give that need to God and focus on the next step I need to do in the here and now.  I also like to meditate on my favorite verse from Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not, In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NAB)

I find this verse so comforting. I do not need to know everything. I do not need to have all the answers. I can rely on my Heavenly Father, my Savior Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity will help me down the path. My understanding is limited and the Lord God is limitless.

Medication

Two years ago, I started to lose the high functioning part of my anxiety. My friend anxiety was in full control 24/7. I felt like I was falling, while sitting still at my desk. I yelled all the time. I lost it on my kids for just being kids and I really lost it if heaven forbid they push their limits. I realized to the extent my anxiety had taken control when we were on vacation and I was in a constant state of panic. Panic on vacation! We had no schedule, nothing we had to do, we were just spending time together as a family and I could not breathe. Everything overwhelmed me. I had a minor medical procedure requiring anesthesia prior to this trip. I told my husband, it must just be a side effect. I’ll ask the doctor. When I presented my theory to the doctor, he smiled and said “No. I don’t think it’s the anesthesia. Tell me what is going on.” So we talked. He asked me to try some medication and see if it made a difference. I did not want to do it. I made it all the way to 38 being able to muddle my way through, why give in to meds now? I agreed to give it 30 days. In my mind this was silly and really was not going to help. I was WRONG! It took a couple weeks to get the dosage right, but now I cannot imagine life without my Zoloft. My friend anxiety is still always with me, but I can cope so much easier. I cannot even imagine how much easier life would have been in my late 20s and early 30s with this tiny little pill. I am grateful my doctor encouraged me to give it a try.

Making friends with my anxiety has not been easy.  It has been a process, a friendship that has grown over years and years of collaboration. I found it freeing to accept anxiety’s presence in my life, instead of pretending it was not there or feeling guilt and shame over its presence. The relationship is still a work in progress. We have good days and bad days. We have days where anxiety takes over the whole conversation and days where I feel like I take the lead. If you struggle with anxiety, I encourage you to form your own friendship. It is important to find the resources you need to feel comfortable in your own skin. Maybe it is a weekly yoga class, coffee with a friend, a steady appointment with a new counselor or therapist, a new bible study, or talking to your doctor about medication; find the things that help you cope and live your fullest life. Let anxiety be a passive friend instead of a controlling enemy.

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But for God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26 NAB)

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