Overcoming My Battle With Anxiety
Anxiety Disorders affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54).
- (National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH))
Anxiety – the most common of all mental disorders – currently affects about one in 13 people.
-(The University of Queensland, Australia)
The definition of anxiety according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.
Every human being feels anxious at some point. If you asked me a year ago if I struggled with anxiety, I would’ve said no. But today, I know the truth and see that my struggle with anxiety was real. I look back and see that over the last couple years we have seen our speaking schedule grow, our projects expanding and the demands ever-increasing. Of course, I am thrilled with this and am so thankful for the growth that we have experienced, but I also see that there was a part of me that was struggling as these changes were happening. I understand that some people have anxiety much worse and harder to manage than I did, but I thought it might be helpful to share my experience in hope of helping others.
I saw my anxiety began to grow as the numbers on my list did. I have always been a list person… I’ve got a list for everything. A list of what I need to accomplish today, a list for what I need to finish after that, a list for my caregivers, a list for Doug, a list for groceries to buy, and even a list for what I want to do on the weekends. I just counted all my lists and see that I have 24 of them that are constantly ongoing and changing! This is crazy! But just as I cross a few things off, something else comes onto the list. This is my way of organizing and keeping things in control. If you are a list person like me, you love the feeling of crossing something off that list… It’s such a satisfying feeling, until something else must come onto that list. I have come to realize that these lists are never ending… But I have also come to realize that it can also be a good thing! I’m so thankful that we have all the opportunities that we do have.
A couple years ago, I read the book “There’s Not Enough Time and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Jill Farmer. This helped me organize my life a little bit and help me to compartmentalize all the things that were swirling in my brain that I needed to get done. This is a great book and I recommend it for anyone that feels disorganized, too busy, and that they will never get caught up. Because of this book, I finally stopped telling myself and saying out loud “There’s not enough time,” and really overcame some of the negative cycles in which I was struggling with. Fast-forward a couple months, and I began to get overwhelmed with all the things that were expected of me, with people that wanted to meet with me, and with the demands of being a wife to Doug and a friend to others.
It was here where I began to lose sleep at night, and where I dreaded looking at my list, along with always feeling apprehension, tension, and an increased heart rate. This became so frequent that it started to become normal. I didn’t realize the changes that were happening and began to feel that this had been my life all along. Nothing was wrong, these feelings were normal, and this is how life is supposed to be. However, the more I began to live like this the more I saw the negative effects of anxiety. I was tired a lot because I was not getting a good night sleep, I saw it affect my relationship with Doug in a negative way, and I was dreading every upcoming speaking engagement. For everyone who knows how much I love speaking, clearly, this was not right and I began to see that if I didn’t change something, my next step was a full-blown panic attack. I have never had one of these, but know many people that have, and it really scared me. So many times, I felt my heart racing, but the fear of having a panic attack is what really woke me up. I knew I needed to deal with this head on or this anxiety was going to consume me. Now keep in mind, a lot of this was on the inside of me. Many people would not have noticed this or even known that I was struggling with this, because from the outside everything was great... And it was because there were so many great things that WERE happening. On the inside, it was a different picture and I knew it was time to work through this. I knew that peace was what I was searching for, and that it was possible… But how? After many months, I feel like I have begun to figure out the answer to that question. I am definitely still a work in progress and have days where I have to start over and challenge myself to continue to live free of anxiety. Knowing that I am not alone in this, I thought that I would share a few things that I did in this journey:
1. Slow down and think about my thoughts
A lot of people think that they have no control over their thoughts. This is not true. We do have control of what we think about, we just must slow down and take the time to listen to our mind and examine what we are thinking about. I have shared this many times in other blogs, but I have seen this to be a huge part of my journey and what has made me overcome so much. When I had my accident, I forced myself to change my thoughts and my thinking patterns. This took a lot of time and a lot of energy, but today I see how important it is and how it helped me get to where I am today. I challenge you to write out what you’re thinking about… What thoughts are toxic and what thoughts are healthy?
“The average person has over 30,000 thoughts a day. Through an uncontrolled thought life, we create the conditions for illness; we make ourselves sick! Research shows that fear, all on its own, triggers more than 1,400 known physical and chemical responses and activates more than 30 different hormones.”
– Dr. Caroline leaf
2. Determine what I can control and what I can’t control
Many of us who suffer from anxiety are anxious about things that we have no control over. In other words, we are worrying and anxious about things that we can do nothing about and we are wasting our time! We could be spending this time on much more important things! I encourage you to write out the things that you are anxious about and realize what you have control over and what you don’t have control over. If you don’t have control over what you are anxious about, realize that if the time came where you actually experienced what you are being anxious over, you are stronger than you think you are and you will make it through.
If you do have control, lay out a game plan on how to overcome this obstacle so that you can no longer be anxious about it. For example, as I mentioned earlier, I have a very long list of things that I need to accomplish. Whenever something arises that I need to do, I add it to this list. I used to let this list get me so anxious, but I began to limit the number of items that I was going to tackle each day… Usually six. Sometimes I will have more on this list, but most of the time I try to keep this to a reasonable number and what is the most urgent. When I focus on those six items, it takes my anxiety away knowing that it is doable to accomplish in that workday. Also, if you are a person of faith like myself, I wrote out the things that make me anxious, and instead of worrying about them, I pray over them. This has made a huge difference!
3. Realize that my list is not as big as I think it is
The older I get, the more I realize that sometimes I get overwhelmed by things that are not worth getting overwhelmed by. I now see that with my daily list. For many months and probably even years, I would look at this list and instantly feel that it was SO long and that I would never be able to get everything done. I looked at each item as taking hours to accomplish and that I would come up short with time to get all my tasks finished. One day, I looked at my list and started to realize that each of these items were quite small. A five-minute phone call here, a short email there, and my list would begin to dwindle. Once I realized that I was letting this list be over exaggerated… I was making a molehill into a mountain! It was here, that I began looking at it differently. Realizing that yes it was long, but it was definitely doable. It was here that I noticed that I have felt overwhelmed with my list for many months and never came up short, and always got my projects done on time. These things that I was fearing were never happening! I began to realize what power I had given this list and how I had to realize that it was not as big as I thought it was. I also gave my list to God, and began asking for his help. The second I did this, my list began to dwindle down and be the shortest that it had ever been. Also, the things that were big or that lingered on my list, I began delegating people to help me with them and to take that project off my hands. Delegating it is so important! If your list is too long, you need to find someone that can help!
4. Anticipate awesome
Last summer, I heard my friend Tiffany Thompson speak. She was so amazing! In this session of hearing her speak, she talked about how all of us have something that we are struggling with. She asked us to think about what that was in our lives. Once we identified it, she handed out a piece of paper and asked us to write it down on one side, and on the other side write down what the opposite of that was. For example, I was struggling with anxiety. I wrote that on one side of the paper and on the other side of the paper I wrote peace. I knew that a life without anxiety would be a life of peace and that was what I was searching for! As people finished up this exercise, she told a story about a girl who had done this exact same exercise in a previous meeting with Tiffany. This girl was from Germany and could not put to words what her struggle was. Finally, Tiffany helped her by looking in a dictionary and came to realize that her struggle was dread of the future. I think so many of us struggle with this… Fearing what could happen and what will happen. As her and Tiffany searched for the opposite of dread, they came up with anticipate awesome. Think about that… Anticipate awesome. I cannot tell you how much my life is changed since I have been anticipating awesome! So many times, I would have so much fear about my next speaking engagement… That I didn’t have enough time to prepare, that I wouldn’t remember what I was supposed to say, that the people wouldn’t like me, etc. It was causing me so much anxiety! About a week after hearing Tiffany, I was lying awake worrying about a speaking engagement in the middle of the night, and I heard “anticipate awesome." Her words came back to me and I clung to them so quickly! Immediately the anxiety was gone and I had such peace. I have continued to think on this saying whenever anxiety tries to come on me and it has made a huge difference.
In the recent months of working on overcoming anxiety, I have seen such a difference in the quality of my life. I have done some of my best speaking, my lists have diminished immensely, I can live in the moment with joy, and most importantly, I truly have peace. I have seen what a waste of time anxiety brought to me... I thought it would help me be more productive and have more control but it did the opposite. Please know that this is a daily battle as anxiety constantly tries to creep back in, but it is worth it to work through these steps to be free and I will continue to overcome.
If you are struggling with anxiety today, I want you to know that there is hope! This is something that can be overcome! Please let me know your thoughts on this and I would love to hear things that you have used to help you get through your anxiety struggles.