By Kelly Wright
I have been a hit-the-ground-running person for as long as I can remember. I wake up ready to go, usually before anyone else in my house does. I love to-do lists and crossing things off my list. I have a constant urgency to fill the day with as much as the day can hold. If my body had a speedometer I think my average speed would be 80mph. I’m an Enneagram 8 – what more do I need to say!
For years, I was racing along at this high speed and intensity until I had a health scare. I started getting these weird migraines with auras that impaired my vision. They freaked me out, but I got really concerned when my doctor ordered an MRI and it was set up for the next day. I thought I must be dying…seriously. After the MRI I had to wait six weeks before seeing a specialist, which was both upsetting and encouraging. I figured if it was something really bad, they’d see me sooner.
It was during those six weeks that a sideline concern arose. That concern was anxiety. My typical jump out of bed and start the day became an overwhelming sense of dread. It was as if my life was eclipsed by darkness and fog. My head was filled with a constant stream of what-ifs and worst-case scenarios.
Anxiety is something we all experience. Sometimes it comes in the form of butterflies in your stomach or feeling nervous or stressed about a test or project at work. Most of the time it leaves as quickly as it comes. But for many people, anxiety can set in and last for quite a while. Symptoms of this kind of anxiety include: tension, nervousness, dread, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, stomach issues, and physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, increased sweating, and weakness.
I often think of anxiety as an indicator light, letting you know you need to make some necessary changes. Like a “check engine soon” light on the dashboard of your vehicle, anxiety lets us know we need to take maintenance seriously or our engine could be damaged.
At this time in my life, I was a professional counselor. When I was experiencing anxiety surrounding the results of the MRI, I started putting the tools for healthy emotional processing to work. Journaling, sharing my thoughts and feelings with safe people, and making space for daily deposits like walking, meditation, prayer, and relaxation became life preservers around my life.
One other strategy in fighting anxiety may surprise you. It’s gratitude. Paul wrote in Philippians 4, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I don’t believe Paul is condemning us for having anxiety. I see this more as an invitation to do something helpful when we do have anxiety. In situations where we feel anxious, we are to take those concerns to God and pray about them. Paul instructs us to recognize and name what we are thankful for and then ask God for what we desire.
With my health scare, I prayed about my headaches and wisdom for the doctors. I also thanked God for His love and care, for the great medical care I had access to, and for the love and care of my family. Then I asked God for His peace and healing. When I would pray, I would feel peace. That peace sometimes only lasted a few minutes, but eventually, as I continued to pray this way and continued healthy daily deposits like journaling, exercise, and time with God, my times of peace extended.
If you battle anxiety, I encourage you to fight it with gratitude. Write down five things every day that you are grateful for. Thanksgiving really does do your heart good.
Other helpful strategies include: exercise, drinking plenty of water, limiting alcohol, stop smoking and consuming caffeine, meditation (the Calm App is super helpful!), relaxation, journaling, counseling (email firstname.lastname@example.org for referrals and resources), and setting boundaries in areas that are causing excessive stress in your life.
May thanksgiving not only be a time of great food and connection, but also a time to manage anxiety.