Milk and Honey Magazine advice on overcoming anxiety, worry, and stress through prayer, solitude, a peaceful spirit, and friendly counsel. Trust in God, darling!

Overcoming Anxiety

Lindsay Knapp

I bear down on my squeaky office chair and stare at 4 yellow sticky notes that are layered on top of my calendar.  This month looks like 10 four-year-olds went tinsel-ballistic on a Christmas tree; appointments, coffee dates and dentist dates scribbled in pen, circled and scratched out - all woven in with deadlines and due-dates. The sticky notes were an added layer when my calendar space gave up capacity.

I’m taking deep breaths, or at least trying to. I feel thin as paper. The deeper I try to breathe, the more tight my chest feels. I close my eyes, I pray under my breath … but I can not get on top of this feeling of overwhelm.  

All of life begins to form into piles, like stacks of disheveled to-do lists with the piles turning into hills that start to tower and press in on every side. Everything feels big, and I feel so small. Too small. My lungs are too small to take the big breaths I need, and my sleep is too short to refresh me. My effort is, at best, a tired boxer in round 13. Hills become mountains, and I'm caught in the crevices of the valley; the place of shadows and hiding.  

There's no anticipation for the overwhelm because so much of it is internal in nature. The things of life only perpetuate the inner storm, but do not cause it. The laundry, library notices, meal planning, playdates, permission slips, stack of clothes that never gets worn, gift certificates that will expire, sales that will end, parking tickets, snow removal, that weird clinky noise in the car, phone bills, credit card offers, the news and all it’s glorious wonder, piano lessons, sunday school prep, printer malfunctions…. the pile. Gets. Higher. And the days feel darker. What can I do in my own strength?  

Unless we know how to strengthen ourselves in the Lord, we will find ourselves hidden in dark valleys of depression and despair; surviving life - but not thriving. Here are 5 steps to move from surviving to thriving, in the midst of anxiety:

Milk and Honey Magazine advice on overcoming anxiety, worry, and stress through prayer, solitude, a peaceful spirit, and friendly counsel. Trust in God, darling!

1. Know Yourself

So many of us plow ahead or isolate away without taking a moment to acknowledge what is happening. The Bible says: “Your strength is made perfect in my weakness.”  How can we invite God’s strength in if we don’t take the time to see we are weak? Most of us fall into 1 of 2 categories:

1)  We “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps” and strive to move forward (only tiring ourselves out altogether and likely exhausting our physical bodies)

2) We retreat into things that bring comfort. So, our dishes sit piling up while we binge watch episodes of The Bachelor and eat our favorite ice cream because “we deserve a break."

Neither of these responses bring about the peace our souls need. Knowing ourselves, our limitations, and our areas of vulnerability is one of the quickest ways to get atop anxiety. We must reckon ourselves weak - face the hard, cold truth that life is too hard right now and all of our efforts to escape or engage are futile.

2. Remember the Truth

Romans 8:15 says: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!" The root of all anxiety is linked so closely to helplessness and a fear of not having control. Whether it’s finances, or health, or plans for the future - anxiety is the feeling that comes when we forget the new Spirit we’ve been given. In fact, ALL the world is a slave to fear, but for those of us who are God’s children, we’ve been given a different Spirit; the Spirit of sonship. We don’t have to be afraid anymore about what will happen or if we will be taken care of because we have been adopted as sons into God’s family. What does a good father do for His children? He provides. He blesses. He makes a way. He dignifies them. He takes responsibility for them. When we remember God Himself has made a covenant with us through Jesus Christ, we can rest easy knowing our lives are His responsibility. He will see to it that every way we will be cared for.  

3. Take Care

Sometime we can over emphasize the spiritual nature of anxiety and undervalue the need to care for our physical bodies. After I had this recent episode of physical anxiety, I started to take a good  look at what was going into my body (and blood stream) and mind. I assessed I had been drinking too much coffee, which made my nerves on edge. I was over-caffeinated, under nourished, and sleep-deprived. My nerves were shot. Also, I was watching the news during vulnerable times emotionally.  My morning routine had all but dissipated (in my weird sleep cycle) and my routines were all off.  Our bodies are so intelligently designed that it’s worth looking at how to care for them as we seek wisdom in emotional balance. Perhaps there are dietary things that need addressed, supplements that can help fill a deficiency, an unhealthy habit that need to be broken.

4. Make a morning routine

If you can start the day well, everything else can follow suit. Waking up early, although not a favorite discipline, will set you on the course for good sleep habits (sleep is intended to be the place where our bodies heal and rejuvinate)!

  • Refuse technology for the first hour of your morning. The MINUTE you scroll social media is the minute you get derailed by the “urgency” of other people vying for your attention. Stay focused. And be picky about what you engage with. Our minds are so complex, and are wired according to what we feed it. Take care of what you feed your mind.  
  • Go outside. Breathe deeply. Walk around your neighborhood, sit on the porch. Take note of the changes in seasons. Let wind blow on your face. Feel the cold. Be alive. Movement for the body is an effective way to push oxygen to the brain- helping you think more clearly. Stretching is another way to get your blood circulating and pushing toxins out.
  • Nourish:  A warm cup of water, or a cool cup of water will help your systems communicate with each other that it’s time to work, and getting the vitamins and nutrients you need are key. These are not separate ideas from spiritual truths! Our body is a house for the Holy Spirit and very intelligently designed to work toward optimal wellness. On a biological level, our endocrine system and neurological system (both of which are directly linked to our emotions and stress chemicals) require specific nutrients to maintain balance. Assess your eating habits.
  • Spend time in friendship with God: This can look like journaling (that practice helps me flush out the negative), or talking with God, or sitting in silence with an expectant attitude. God wants to speak to us daily, moment to moment even! God wants our hearts settled and assured of His kindness and love so when anxiety comes a-knockin', we already know how to answer. Time with God is not another “pile” in our life, it’s the hammock we rest in. It’s the light that comes to our shadows and the sword that levels our overwhelm. Psalm 23 is so familiar - but for the anxious of heart it carries power: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.”

5. Spend time with a trusted friend

So many times in seasons of discouragement, even the thought of “spending time with God” adds to the overwhelm. But spending time with a trusted friend who is walking closely with God can be the voice of encouragement to help dispel the lies of isolation or despair. Too often we hide ourselves away not wanting to burden anyone or expose our vulnerability, but God intended us to live in family and will provide brothers and sisters to come alongside us to strengthen us with encouragement if we are humble enough to receive.

Let me be the first to encourage you - the best is yet to come. Truly, darling. He knows what we need before we even ask. But He loves to hear our trusting voices.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. 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: 6-7