Finding Peace (in My Struggle with Anxiety)

Earlier this year, I met my new doctor with a long list of questions.

  • “Why am I so tired all the time, and have been for years? No matter how well I sleep, I feel exhausted all day.”
  • “Why have I been getting chest pain?”
  • “Why do I often have trouble breathing?”

Of course my underlying, unspoken question was: “What’s wrong with me and is it fatal??”

Within thirty minutes, my whole life made sense. My doctor explained that I didn’t have heart issues; I was having panic attacks. My exhaustion was caused by living in a constant state of anxiety.

Anxiety.

A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. -OR- A nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

I went home and started reading about anxiety and trying to learn mindfulness. This spring, I made a video about what I’d learned so far.

When summer arrived, the anxiety became overwhelming. Coupled with another health development called silent acid reflux, I often felt a lump growing in my throat, to the point where I struggled to swallow and felt like I wouldn’t be able to breathe.

Fear paralyzed me time and again, until it felt like I couldn’t see past it, couldn’t go a day without feelings of panic. I didn’t even want to eat alone. It felt like I was walking through a fog, in that it was very difficult to think clearly or see outside the anxious feelings.

But at least I knew what the fog was. At least I was no longer afraid that I was dying of heart malfunction. Now I was afraid I would die from the lump in my throat!

Finally my medication for acid reflux started working, and as I began cutting dairy out of my diet, the lump in my throat began to disappear. Immediately, my anxiety began to get better.

Over the past few weeks, my husband and I have been amazed and grateful that the fog has cleared. My anxiety is still very real, but its intensity has broken. And I am so thankful for that.

But as I began to feel less anxious, I began to feel like something was missing. I’ve felt so much panic for so long, that it feels like something is wrong if I’m not feeling panicky. And that’s when I realized:

I don’t know how to function without feeling anxious.

I’ve felt anxious for so long, that my mind subconsciously searches for something to feel anxious about.

My husband has been telling me this for months, but I only realized it a few nights ago: James (my hubs) had just gotten back from a few days away on business. I was laying in his arms, with all the anxieties and deadlines of the week now over, and my mind was searching in the dark: What’s missing? I kept wondering. What am I missing?

I started telling myself, “You’re safe; you’re warm; you’re with your husband; you’re home. It’s okay.” But my mind kept reeling, What am I missing that I need to be on high alert for?

And then, as I wondered why I felt the need to be anxious, I had a stunning revelation:

If I’m not anxious or excited, I feel empty inside.

I don’t feel totally empty, but I become aware of empty places inside me.

So basically, I’m using anxiety to cover the places in my heart that feel sad or empty — like using a Bandaid.

But instead of using anxiety like a Bandaid, I could allow Christ to fill those empty places to overflowing with His love and peace and joy! I just have to take off the bandaid and invite Him into those spaces with  me.

Now, please let me clarify, I do NOT think everyone’s experience with anxiety boils down to this same conclusion. In the church, we often oversimplify mental health issues and say you just need Jesus. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Some people also need medicine, just as you would need for strep throat. Others need counseling. Others need to learn positive coping mechanisms. Anxiety is caused by various factors, many of which are medical and hormonal, which means that different forms of treatment help different people. I’m just saying that for me personally, this was my shocking revelation: I was essentially using anxiety to fill the empty spaces in my heart, when I should have been allowing God to fill them.

My favorite encouraging passages and quotes:

Do I think the rest of my anxiety will miraculously disappear? That would be awesome, but now I will have to learn how to take off the Bandaid each time I’m tempted to put it back on. Each time anxious thoughts come into my head, which is still on a daily basis, I have to consciously return them to the Lord. Will it be easy? No way.

But I do think this revelation will begin to heal the anxious part of me, while bringing me closer to the Lord. And for that I am so grateful. I love how He will use anything to draw us closer to Himself.

So, in closing, here are a few of my favorite passages/quotes/thoughts that encourage me in my search for peace — and I hope they can encourage you as well:

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in  You.” – Isaiah 26:3, NKJV.

Lord, help me fix my thoughts on You, so I can be filled with your peace.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Luke 12:25, NIV.

I thought my worrying would save me, but it won’t. Worry actually steals moments from me, rather than adding moments to me.

“Let the goal of this day be to bring every thought captive to Me. Whenever your mind wanders, lasso those thoughts and bring them into My presence. In My radiant Light, anxious thoughts shrink and shrivel away.” – From the devotional “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young (Day: January 29)

Beth Moore’s study on the Psalms of Ascent says that Yahweh means “covenant keeper.” I treasure this. My Father God is my protector and my keeper.

“Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” – Philippians 4:7, MSG.

Yes, please, Lord! Amen.

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