When I was about four or five, the pediatrician told my mother I had childhood anxiety. She had sought out help as I had been complaining about frequent stomach aches, as well as having a hard time doing things by myself. My sweet mother stretched me to overcome a lot of these difficulties by showing me how and then pushing me to do the rest. I remember a lot of anxiety turmoil during my growing up years – the tears coupled with the panic, along with feelings that would completely overwhelm me. Things just seemed too big. Too scary. Too much for me to handle alone.
I gained more confidence and life experience, and anxiety took a bit of a backseat for a handful of years. There were a small number of panic attacks, but the anxiety really was manageable and not a problem until college. However, long story short, I decided to talk to my doctor and got on a low dose antidepressant my first year of marriage – I was 23.
A little more about me. I am independent, an introvert more than an extrovert, an achiever, a planner, organized, type A, enneagram 3, color blue personality, a teacher, a naturalist, a minimalist, a daughter of God, a loyal friend, proactive, dependable, and a deeply compassionate person. I also embarrass easily, over-analyze, self-criticize, swear frequently, become withdrawn when I’m upset, am avoidant/dismissive when it comes to confrontations, prideful, stubborn and make decisions based on emotions.
But I also know that I can change the dance I’ve always danced. I know I can grow. Can adapt. Can stretch. Can reform. Can become. I can show up and work to heighten my strengths, and work on my weaknesses. Those tendencies or traits don’t define me, my choices do.
All of these things play into how my anxiety ebbs and flows within me. All of these things also play into how I have learned to manage it. The more I have learned about myself, the more I understand how to handle my anxiety. The more that I have learned about myself, the more grace, space, and compassion I have allowed myself to have.
It was really hard the first three weeks.
Loss hit me hard. Change hit me hard. Feelings of overwhelm hit me hard. Fear hit me. Uncertainty hit me.
I love to look forward to things, and I very much like to be “on-the-go.” So to wipe away my calendar and see all that space gave me anxiety. Finding the time to prep homeschool preschool for my oldest gave me some anxiety. Finding space for alone time was harder than ever and that gave me anxiety. Finding ways to entertain, having more patience, managing to not bother daddy now that he is working from home, creating a new home time schedule, being at home almost all of the time, having the house be messier (because we are always here and creating more messes), not being able to have social outlets, not being able to take care of all of my families needs (as some were outsourced before: playdates, recreation time, etc) all gave me anxiety. And then just the world situation/pandemic that we were in gave me anxiety. Going to the grocery store gave me anxiety. Just being still gave me anxiety.
But I have felt these feelings before. I know what to do with them. I know how to face them. I know how to learn, pivot, endure, stretch, or do whatever my anxiety is bringing up in me.
But it’s never easy.
Sometimes I let it consume me. Sometimes I hide from it. Sometimes I have to sit with it awhile before I figure out how to get through it. And sometimes I am mad, sad, or completely burnt out.
The same things I did before COVID. I’m feeling anxiety because of all of the feelings and new situations brought about by COVID, but I’m handling the anxiety in all the same ways I did before it was here.
And do you want to know what is the coolest part about having a handle on your mental health? Once you get to a place where you have tools that work for you, where you know you are not your ailment, and where you know you are divine, you deserve it all, and that you are enough…then something beautiful happens. Even in those dark moments, the ones that seem to completely consume you…you know that there is an end. That even if it lasts a few hours, days, or weeks, that there will be light. That the sun will rise again in the morning. That you can try again. That you are not alone. That those thoughts and feelings do not define you. That you can endure, prevail, and breathe. That there is love and help for you if you reach out your hand. That everything in life is temporary. Those feelings included.
I hang onto that.
I’m going to share my top five things that help me combat my anxiety. While I use many things, these are my foundations and the things that help the most.
1. First and foremost, I have to take care of myself. I can only put out to others what I put in for myself. Self-care caliber is different for everyone, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our own. For me, self-care needs to be alone. I need deliberate movement for my body, at least an hour of quiet time to myself to do what I please, and a shower.
2. Affirmations; Repeated in my head. All the time. Here are some of my go-to’s: “Trust the process,” “I am strong enough,” “All things are temporary,” “Deep breath,” “Relax your shoulders,” “Love first.”
3. Going to therapy. It is worth every single penny. I invest in myself. In my family. Because of the things I learn there, I bless them and those around me forevermore.
Finding my higher power. I believe in Christ. I believe in God. I foster my relationship with both. I do it in my own way, as everyone can. Find your higher power, whatever yours is. Connect with it. You have to know that you are not alone in this universe. You are divine. You deserve everything and more. There is purpose in your life and that you are a part of a bigger whole.
4. Nature and Sunshine. I feel more grounded. Closer to God. More myself. More still. More peaceful. Healthier. Better. Whole.
5. Asking for help. By far the hardest thing to do, sometimes last on my list, but ALWAYS the one that prevails. That truly helps the most. Asking for help and speaking my truth out loud into the world to someone else denies my anxiety the power of secrecy, shame, inferiority, isolation, and the feelings of absorption. To have someone to talk to, to tell them exactly how I am feeling without holding back, unquestionably eases the burden. I can find help, time, space, relief, sustenance, empathy, and process the emotions and circumstances. People naturally want to help. Find the right ones and trust in them. Surrender all your hesitations and just do it. Ask for help.
And let me tell you, others have shown up for me asked and unasked already during this turbulent time. I think this is also significantly important to share. It’s what gets us all through. It’s what is beautiful about this whole mess. It’s not how I’m doing it, but how we are doing it.
I have received a care package from a caring mother-in-law. I have received check-in text messages, emails, and DM’s. I have received a case of organic strawberries and tulips, because my friend knows that they are my favorite. My husband has sacrificed his time to give me more – long walks alone, trips out to run a couple pick-up errands, alone time in my room, putting kids to bed on his own, letting me take a nap, getting up before me to entertain the kids while I get twenty more minutes in bed. My friends have been diligent and caring, but doing what they can for me from where they stand. My therapist has showed up for me even virtually and focused completely on me. Family zoom calls. Prayers prayed on my behalf. Facetime chats with neighbors and ministering sisters. Invitations to sit six feet away on a lawn chair in the sunshine. Friendly waves, cheerful smiles, and so many people asking, “how are you hanging in there?” Taking the time. For me. For us. For you. Serving from where we can.
Anxiety never thrives when I forget about myself and think about those around me.
And that’s what it is all about.
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