Two years ago, I was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and a relapse of Lyme Disease, and my autonomic nervous system fell apart. I suffered from immense anxiety and panic attacks for a year straight.
I never imagined this could happen to me, EVER.
To clarify, everyone experiences some worry and fear in certain situations. But anxiety disorders cause so much persistent physical, mental and emotional distress that it interferes with a person’s ability to lead a normal life.
But did you know? Anxiety plagues nearly 20% of the population, sometimes as many as 1 out of 8 children? It is also no stranger in the church. It is a hidden problem, and a destroyer of lives. If you’re not struggling with anxiety, chances are, you know someone who is. This breaks my heart!
It was not an easy process, but I am doing really well (praise God), and have experienced much victory over the anxiety that overwhelmed every fiber of me just less than a year ago.
So this brings me to the reason for this post.
As Christians, if there is ever a time to be a light of hope to a fearful world, this is the time. There is fear everywhere. We fear our future, our health, our children’s future, their health, the safety and security of a flight overseas. The problem is, despite a genuine intent to understand anxiety through biblical lenses, sometimes sufferers within the church walls can still feel alone, ashamed for not being able to “get their faith together” like everyone else.
So I want to share some hope. Even if my words are just a drop in an ocean, I feel it can’t be said enough — that there is hope. It is possible to come through this, and in some ways, emerge even stronger on the other side.
As a disclaimer, I am not writing as a medical professional or biblical scholar, just as someone who has come through this and who still has more to learn. But here are some of the things that helped me through, even when my anxiety was complicated by physical illness. This is not a magic bullet list, only some thoughts:
1. Understand your anxiety. Anxiety can have numerous causes. Do not be embarrassed to seek out medical help if you have not already done so. You may be surprised to find a medical cause for your anxiety-related symptoms. Many neurological illnesses, environmental stressors, and hormonal changes can actually trigger brain changes. After a year of distressing symptoms, I was able to understand that I had POTS which was perpetuating my panic attacks. Sometimes anxiety can follow a significant life change such as a loss of a loved one, job or home. Understanding what is happening in your body is half the battle.
2. Examine your heart. Any way you look at it, we live in a fallen world where no one is immune from sin. Humbly consider if there is any unforgiveness, pride, shame, unresolved anger, or unbelief that needs to be brought to the open and to His feet for forgiveness. This is a continual, imperfect process for me, but it has given me a deep peace to experience His mercy over my life.
3. See yourself through grace. It is easy to suffer from anxiety, and then add more self-condemnation to the fire, by believing you are worse than everyone else, weaker, faithless, and more sinful than those who seem to live normally. I assure you, no one is without sin. No one has the right to cast the first stone at you (John 8:1-11). We are all being sanctified, refined, and tested in many ways. But He thankfully offers grace and compassion to help us through. See yourself through His eyes.
4. Learn to deny your emotions. Emotions are important, but they can lie to you, especially in the throes of anxiety. Act on what you know to be true, despite how you feel. Faith is not a feeling; it’s a decision to trust even when you don’t understand. This was the hardest yet most powerful thing I learned to do — to make decisions based on God’s love and faithfulness according to His Word even while my emotions hurled all over the place. My body would literally be shaking, and I would feel like I was dying, and yet I would quote, “He has not given you a spirit of fear … ” (2 Timothy 1:7)
5. Heed words of life. There is so much cynicism and negativity in the world. What you allow to sink into your spirit becomes your very thoughts and eventually what you believe to be true. So whatever is true, worthy of reverence, honorable — think upon these things (Philippians 4-8). I had no idea at the time that listening to music would be one of my first steps to healing. Out of desperation, I filled my home with a continuous stream of praise and worship songs. Looking back, I see that these words of life and hope were slowly lifting my spirit out of fear and into praise.
6. Fight for gratitude. When we are in the grips of fear, we have to fight to see what is good and what graces we have been given, no matter how small. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
7. Find purpose. Remember that many times, God allows someone to be broken in order to be used in meaningful ways. 2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us that we are fragile jars of clay, a vessel in which God can use to show His all surpassing power even through our weaknesses. Even in the darkest moments, I knew that God was doing something in my life. There were many times I doubted, but I always held on to that. It helped to begin blogging, in fact.
8. Connect with others. I know it’s hard to reach out, but it’s part of the healing process to let others into your life to come alongside you. We are called to be there for each other in rejoicing and suffering (Romans 12:15). Some, however, will not know how to, and you will have to pray for wisdom to determine when it is best to have some distance from certain people who may be hurting you. But overall, there is strength in the support, prayer and counsel of others.
9. Remember God’s promises — trust in every word. Place it on your walls, in your car, by the bathroom mirror. Do not let it slip from your mind and secure it in your heart. The one I held on to was Psalm 27:13-14:
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.
10. Remember who you are. Underneath the fear, you are still you. Anxiety may be what you are facing, but it’s not who you are. You are above all, God’s child. In time, I believe you can find freedom from fear by trusting Him, moment to moment, because He truly cares for you.
There is hope. You can face whatever waves may come your way. Don’t give up!
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ~ 1 John 3:1