Trader Joe’s is triggering. It hasn’t always been, but recently, every time I walk through the store I find myself overcome with anxiety. Oftentimes to the point of me fighting back tears or needing to rush out of the store.
It’s humbling to admit that a task as simple as buying groceries can cause me so much confusion, frustration, and disappointment. But it does. I’m trying to engage with it, bringing the Lord into it to figure out what’s beneath the surface that needs to be addressed. I haven’t gotten clarity yet, so for now I know I have to brace myself for what might happen when I get groceries.
There are a few things I do to help calm my anxiety. Sometimes my heart pounds in my throat and stomach and I feel like I’m going to explode. Other times it’s a more sinister, shadowy kind of anxiety hovering over me for a few weeks. Left unchecked, who knows what will happen, so I have invested time and energy to build a toolbox of techniques to help.
I’d like to share these six practices with you. I am not a professional in the medical or mental health field, and this list is not exhaustive. They merely represent practices I have found to be particularly effective in my personal, ongoing battle with anxiety, and which I hope might prove helpful in some way to you.
- Seek Professional Help
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to seek out professional help. There are trained psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors who can provide you with invaluable information, insight, and tools to help you manage your anxiety - whatever level of it you may feel.
Medication might be something they recommend. There are many medications that can help treat anxiety, so discuss with your doctor the best one for you. I have taken anti-anxiety medication for many years now and can attest to their effectiveness.
It is hard to ask for help. Especially with something like our mental health. We might feel defeated. We might feel that people will think less of us, that we can’t get our act together or aren’t strong enough. We might even feel as though we’re a bad Christian and have less faith in God as others. Surely the Lord is enough? Surely I don’t need any other help other than to just seek Him? There is no shame in seeking help. It is Biblical, even.
Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
- Meditate & Pray
Prayer and meditation go hand in hand. When talking about anxiety, I like to include meditation with prayer because when we pray we sometimes forget to slow down, breathe, and focus on the physical aspect of talking to God. And, I like to include prayer when talking about meditation, because I think we can get too focused on ourselves when left to meditate, and lack the grounding, wonderfully humbling practice of centering ourselves on Someone greater than ourselves: the Lord of our souls.
There are numerous studies that have confirmed the benefits of meditation, particularly in managing anxiety. In fact, if you talk with a medical professional there is a good chance they will recommend a meditation app like Calm (and even give you free access). Meditation works because it helps us regather ourselves, to refocus and realign our wandering, speeding thoughts. There is also a physiological aspect to meditation in that it slows our breathing and helps release stored-up tension in our bodies.
What these scientific studies seem to have forgotten is that this wisdom was given to us many generations ago - in the Bible! There are a plethora of scriptures that share the importance and benefit of prayer. (Philippians 4:6-7; John 16:33; Psalm 4:8). I don’t think the goal of praying when we experience anxiety is necessarily to “pray the anxiety away” (though this is certainly possible) - I think it’s more about focusing on God, surrendering our emotions and our desire for (or lack of) control to Him. It’s taking time to Pause, Reflect, Ask, and Yield.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
- Get Moving
Another common remedy for anxiety is to exercise. As someone who is offended at the thought of exercise and has decided it is against my personal value system, I always turn my nose at the thought of moving my body to combat my anxiety.
But as much as I hem and haw about it, it’s true. Numerous studies have proven the benefits of getting your blood flowing, your heart pumping, your body moving - not only to your physical health but to your mental state and overall mood.
So get moving. Get outside for a little walk. Soak in some Vitamin D from the sun, even for a short while. And if you’re snowed in, or there’s a zombie apocalypse, or you can’t get outside for whatever other reason, just change rooms and move around your apartment. You’ll be surprised what even a little movement can do.
Listen to this, Job;
stop and consider God’s wonders.
Do you know how God controls the clouds
and makes his lightning flash?
Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?
- Share The Load
Do not isolate. Reach out to someone. Call a friend. DM a coworker. Snapchat a Gen-Z bae. Whatever your communication method and social circle, don’t go through this alone. Shared pain is half the pain. Find someone to share your anxiety with, talk it out, pray it out. Or sit in silence and just hug it out. Grab your cat, your dog, or your plant if you have to. Just don’t isolate and bottle everything inside.
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…
Friends always show their love. What are brothers for if not to share troubles?
- Make A List
This is a good practice to employ in a general sense, but especially so if anxiety is fueled by work or home tasks in particular. Making a list of everything you need to do helps center and organize your thoughts. Then scratch them off one by one. It feels great!
In terms of general anxiety that isn’t brought on by work or home tasks, making a list still helps. But instead of making a list of To Dos, you could make other kinds of lists, like things you’re grateful for today, things you know are true, things that bring you calm, or a random list of capital cities around the world that start with the letter C. The act of writing something and focusing our brain on that activity helps shift our mind and our mood.
Or maybe you’re more a doodler than a list keeper. That works too.
I will ponder all Your work,
and meditate onYour mighty deeds.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.
- This Too Shall Pass
Above all else, remember that no anxiety will last forever. It will end. The deadline will come and you will still be alive, whether you completed everything or not. Your value is not in what you do - ever. Or if the Dark Cloud Of Gloom settles on you with all its depression and anxiety for seemingly no reason at all (as it so often does with me), strap yourself in, and get ready to ride the wave. But however long it lasts, remind yourself that it will end. You will not feel this way forever. You may not even feel this way in 30 minutes from now. It will end, and you will be ok.
Whatever you do, and wherever you are, know that you’re not alone.
“When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you;
your troubles will not overwhelm you...”
...being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ