Anxiety

I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. I didn’t always have a name for it, but looking back there is no mistaking all of the signs that were there. See, anxiety is a word that gets thrown around a lot and everyone always has advice on how to handle it. The thing is, sometimes anxiety isn’t just simply something to handle.

Anxiety creeps in. I’ve never just out of the blue begun to feel anxious. It builds. This is where anxiety is different from stress. For me, I’m stressed when I need to do something and haven’t. I’m stressed when I am trying to figure out how to balance all of the tasks I need to complete. I was stressed a lot in college but the nice thing about stress is that is goes away. When the tasks are all complete, when the week is over, when I get to sleep in and wake up naturally, the stress dissipates and takes with it all of its nasty symptoms.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is often irrational. It is gradual. Anxiety preys on fears and deeper insecurities. Stress gets me to get my butt in gear and apply for a job that closes tomorrow but anxiety lies right underneath and whispers lies. Anxiety tells me that I am not good enough, that if I don’t get an interview there is something wrong with me. It tells me that I will never get a job, that I am worthless in the working field, and that everyone is disappointed in me because I don’t have a job. Anxiety keeps me up at night by just ever so slightly raising my heart rate and making my thoughts run wild. My body starts pumping out adrenaline and it becomes harder to breathe and everything starts to feel uncomfortably heavy and nothing feels right anymore.

It becomes an itch you just can’t scratch, a knot in your shoulder you just can’t loosen, and a weight that drags you into a tailspin.

Anxiety is every bit physiological as it is psychological. It is a weight in my stomach that makes it hard to eat. I get headaches when I’m anxious and it hurts to keep my eyes open. Anxiety keeps me in bed in the morning. It cripples me and holds me down telling me that I’m not going to be able to get anything done, I’m not going to get a call for an interview, I’m not going to read a book, and in the end I’m going to be a failure.

See, in my rational mind I can look at all of those things and say “oh, that’s just silly,” but anxiety thrives in what is irrational. It is a beast that stalks its victim all through their life. It looks for any chance to break through. It discourages breathing techniques, tells me that self care is overrated and useless, insists that I am ultimately alone and if I share what I’m going through I’ll be labeled a drama queen and a cry baby. It tries to convince me that everything I know about psychology, about God, and about life is completely wrong.

In a lot of ways the Devil is in anxiety.

So I fight it. I cope with it. I wrestle with it. I sit and breathe and count my breaths and check my pulse to see if I’m making any headway in soothing the physiological aspect. I tense and relax various parts of my body to try and trick myself into being calm. I have a beer, watch a funny TV show, and try to convince myself that it will all be okay. I let my rational brain take the reins.

But that’s anxiety, at least for me. Not a cop out, not anything terribly dramatic, just anxiety. 

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Keep your Eyes Open

It is really easy to get lost in the stress of a busy life.

I fall for this too often. Between work, classes, scheduled fun, school events, leadership activities, and friendships, I find very little time to take a minute to breathe. It is easy to fall into old patterns of coping, specifically putting off dealing with stress and letting it pile up. 

Lately though I have been realizing, with the help of a lot of solid people in my life, that it is very important to take time to reflect and accept everything that is happening. My counseling skills professor claims that one of the more important things we can figure out as people is how to sit in a room with all of our issues and let them just be for a while. To be able and sit in a chair, lay in bed, stare at the ocean and acknowledge all of the things that have to get done, that are coming up, all the things that take up time and energy, are simply there and they aren’t going to crush us. 

In order to do that, however, I believe we need to be actively engaging in fellowship. I am the greatest offender of this concept, as I have a tendency to avoid anything except shallow fellowship and keep all my problems to myself. It is safer that way a lot of the time, easier even, yet my lack of vulnerability leads to more stress and just encourages the problem. It leaves me stuck in a nasty cycle of trying to take care of everything myself and never letting anyone in, which leads to stress, which leads to greater attempts to take care of everything myself, which eventually leads to more stress…and I think you get the picture. 

With all of this in mind I’ve been trying something new recently: Being honest about where I am. Maybe this seems like a completely elementary concept, but it is one I have never been able to grasp. I’ve always lived in a world of my own making that dictates I keep things to myself and don’t trouble other people. There is a lot going on behind this thought process that can be left to another blog someday in the future, but for the moment the important thing to know is that this thought process exists for me. 

Being honest has been hard but each step of the way I find affirmation from people I care about and who, get this, care about me in return. They actually find joy in helping shoulder the burden of stress. They actively pursue a relationship with me because they care, completely and genuinely. That’s the beauty of true fellowship: We find joy in helping each other. It isn’t merely a duty (you shall love your neighbor as yourself), but is something that we can find joy in. They get excited when I share with them and that means the world to me.

So, in saying all of this I guess my point boils down to one thing: Don’t get lost in the stress of life. It might be easy to just keep pushing through and going it alone, but in the long run it is going to leave you beaten, battered, and powerless to help others. Let people in, let them love you and care for you in the same way that you care for them. Life is a little easier when you’ve got friends by your side helping you along. 

The Art of Play

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Sometimes life is really stressful.

I’m the type of person who likes to have all her ducks in a row before moving forward with a plan. Unfortunately that is not usually how life works. When everything is a big question mark and when all my plans are in the air waiting to solidify, I get stressed.

I will be the first to admit that I have handled stress very poorly in my life. Often times I will push away whatever is stressing me out and try to ignore it. Or else I will stress myself out all the more as I try to take control of an uncontrollable situation. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to take on a position of submission when everything seems to come crashing down.

Today, I’m throwing my hands up in the air. There is nothing that I am able to do about the situation I am in currently. I have done everything there is to be done and it is time to let other people do what they need to do and get back to me. It is harder said than done because the “doer” (control freak) in me wants to be able to hold onto everything and puzzle it all out. I do not want to have to wait for other people to come through for me because I want things done in my time, on my schedule.

Yet in the moment, I have exhausted all of my resources and now have to sit and wait. I have to have patience even in the stress and anxiety that uncertainty brings. I have to wait for work situations to resolve, for school issues to unfold further, for life to take its course. I have to wait, even when waiting is stressful.

So on Sunday I bought a big, bright red bouncy ball. It is one of the ones that are in those big cage-like bins at Target. Tell me that you the reader were never tempted as a kid by one of them and I will call you a liar. They are the crème de la crème of childhood desire and I went out and bought one. Why? Because in the midst of all the stress, all the anxiety, all of the things I have to do and the things I have to wait for, I decided to indulge my inner child and play.

I do not play enough as an adult which is a tragedy really.

There is something in the art of gathering a bunch of friends and creating some sort of inane game that relieves stress. It takes me back to a time when I was a kid and did not have to worry about work, schools, my future, my family. It does not fix the situation but it gives me some room to breathe and enjoy life for a little while. When I have a big red bouncy ball in my possession, it is hard not to crack a smile and let the stress melt away.

Therefore, my challenge to anyone reading this is as follows: PLAY! Go do something fun this week with other people. Go pick up a basketball, get some friends together, and go shoot hoops. Get some squirt guns (if you live in Southern California like I do) and stage a neighborhood or campus squirt gun fight. Go and get some finger paint and a poster board from the dollar tree and create something.

Or you can do what I did and pay $3 for a giant red bouncy ball at Target.

Whatever choice you make, try to engage in play this week. I promise you will not regret it.