I’ve had this conversation often recently. Sitting face to face or on the phone with a friend who is struggling with anxiety. As someone who knows what anxiety feels like in the heat of a panic attack and in the slow creep of the moments in between, I find myself offering advice and encouragement on this battle often.
If that’s you today, I wish I could have you over for coffee. I put whipped cream in my coffee every morning; how do you like yours? We’d sit on my back porch, listen to the birds sing, and feel the breeze roll through as we shared hard moments and encouraging hugs. My backyard birds are the best, by the way. They are guaranteed to make you smile.
But since I can’t have you over for coffee, I’ll tell you here. These are the four things I say to any friend who is struggling with anxiety.
You are not alone.
I’ve said this before here, but its worth saying again. In fact, it’s worth saying over and over again. You are not alone in your struggle. One of the greatest lies we can tell ourselves is that we are alone in our suffering. And it’s just exactly that: a lie. I dare you to look a stranger in the eye today. When you do, I bet you’ll see that you carry the same burdens. No, they won’t have the same label, but we live in the same broken world and we carry the same broken hurts. And given that 1 in 3 Americans suffer from anxiety, chances are good you won’t have to look too many strangers in the eye before you are met with an anxious stare.
But because we are here to change that stat, I’d also tell you that your fellow humans aren’t the only ones who understand what you are going through.
Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.
Luke 22:41-44, emphasis mine
The word used to describe Jesus’ emotions as he prepared to face the cross is anguish. The Greek transliteration used here for anguish is agonia, which means – great fear, terror, of death; anxiety, agony.
Jesus understands anxiety. He knows what it’s like to feel the heart pounding between uneven and shallow breaths. He even knows what it feels like to sweat blood. Not once does He hear your prayer for relief and respond with trite and pithy instructions to “shake it off” or “get over it”. When you think that no one around you understands, remember that your Savior does because He’s lived it in the flesh.
You are not alone.
Anxiety operates like a snowball rolling from the top of a giant mountain until it completely runs you over as you stand near the bottom. At least, that’s what it feels like for me. It will start small and eventually build into something that feels unmanageable. It’s not unmanageable, but that’s the way it wants you to feel.
If anxiety has grown into something that feels impossible for you, remember that it’s probably not something you will be able to tackle all at once. I say this to you not to discourage you, but to prevent you from heaping piles of discouragement onto yourself.
So…start small. Take baby steps. I’m a huge fan of baby steps. Build your toolbox for battling anxiety (spoiler alert: that’s next) and address one item in it at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a complete overhaul because that might lead to more anxiety.
And as you take those baby steps, remember that nothing is impossible with God. Since my diagnosis of Vascular Ehlers-Danlos, I have never seen God’s Word come so tangibly alive before me as I have in the truth that God is a God of the impossible.
Everything about vEDS screams impossible! And yet, here I am, having coffee with you as we move forward together in God’s Word to battle anxiety. Start small and trust Him to move mightily.
Build Your Anxiety-Battling Toolbox
I’m a big believer in toolboxes. All of our efforts must start with God’s Word, but we need practical tools and strategies to support what it says if we want to move forward. Enter the anxiety-battling toolbox. These are actions and items that help you in the moment, in the baby steps, and through to the other side of relief. Here’s a glance at mine:
Intimacy with the Lord – Prayer, the Study of God’s Word, and Worship
This has to come first. We cannot expect to receive heavenly comfort if we are not comfortable in the Lord’s presence. My most profound moments of relief from anxiety always come in times of earnest and heartfelt prayer, Bible study, and worship. These aren’t obligations to the Christian faith, these are mechanisms of blessing.
Community – Time with Family, Friends, and the Church Body
Being a part of a community is an in-your-face reminder that you are not alone. Fellowship and community is God’s design for us.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Your family, your friends, your church body – spend dedicated time with them. Eat together. Laugh together. Make memories together. Share prayer requests with one another. Lift one another up and encourage one another.
Physical Health and Wellness – Eat well, Move well, and Rest well
I’ll confess that this one is sometimes the hardest one to do well. It takes a lot of time and effort to do all of these things. But for me right now this one looks like walking for a few minutes every morning, planning my family’s meals, and making sure I go to bed on time.
Nourish Your Soul – Spend time doing what you love
This one will look differently for everyone because we are not all wired the same way. What feeds my soul might not feed yours. For me, this includes time alone (introverts, unite!), reading, getting outside, and creating something new. Put taking care of yourself near the top of your to-do list. If you are not sure what self-care looks like for you, my dear friend Lauren has a wonderful list here.
Start with intimacy with the Lord and then build your toolbox one step at a time and know that the rest will be there when you are ready for it. As you begin to feel comfortable with the whole of your toolbox, train yourself to look for balance. When pieces of my toolbox are overly neglected, it’s a good warning sign that anxiety may start to creep in.
Things Won’t Stay This Way
I think it’s important to remind ourselves that bad, ugly days do happen to all of us. I’m guessing that for some of you reading this, courageous living is a thing you’d like to embrace. I’m not just talking about living boldly and fiercely towards all that God calls us to do. I’m talking about the courage it takes to plant two feet on the floor on a morning you’d rather stay in bed. I’m talking about the courage it takes to move forward in life when life presents its most difficult circumstances.
I think it takes great courage to lift your chin when days are hard. That, and the desire to give you tools that help you trust in God’s plan for your life are pretty much the main two reasons I started The Rescued Letters. If you’ve had a bit of a day with anxiety and we were sitting in front of each other right now, I’d gently pick your chin up and I’d expect you to do the same for me. I’d look you in the eye and remind you that the sun will set on this day and that it will rise for tomorrow. And like my dad always said, everything looks better in the light of the sunrise. Most importantly, I’d pray Psalm 30:5 over you as we hugged and promised each other to carry on.
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Take heart, sisters. Lean heavily into God’s Word. And know that I love you.