As a young mom,my niece, Sarah, has faced some pretty intense physical struggles and as a result, she has battled anxiety. I asked her to share her story. If someone reading this ever feels like anxiety is taking over their life, I hope that Sarah’s words encourage and help you.
I never categorized myself as an anxious person. I didn’t typically spend my days worrying about the million ways catastrophe could find its way into my life. That all regretfully changed in the summer of 2018. Amid a multi-state move, while I was carrying baby #4 in my constantly nauseous body, my 35-year-old husband was diagnosed with cancer.
I immediately went into survival mode, handling the logistics of buying/selling a house five hundred miles away, packing up our lives, and dealing with health insurance logistics (while also caring for three kids under the age of eight). But once the dust settled and my husband was declared cancer-free, crippling anxiety became part of my everyday journey.
That anxiety only intensified when, two years later, I was also diagnosed with a chronic cancer that at any point could progress into something fatal.
Add to that a son with chronic respiratory issues and skin infections and I had a recipe for regular panic attacks and debilitating anxiety.
I wish I could say that I have my anxiety perfectly under control. I surely do not. Just as those with a shopping addiction may find it difficult to put down the credit card, I struggle to put down my worry.
In the midst of the fight, I’ve learned some coping and calming techniques that help me see the bigger picture and allow me to go days between rabbit holes of worry. The war within me still rages but I have found victory in the battles.
Keep in mind, these coping techniques work for me, but may not work for everybody. I can’t stress enough the importance of seeking help from a counselor if your anxiety is impacting your daily life.
When a panic attack or rabbit hole of worry strikes, I first talk to myself. I must scope out the source. “Why am I worried right now?” “What is at the root of this?”
Sometimes the answer surprises me like “company is coming over tonight and I don’t know what to cook” and other times it’s expected: “my husband is going in for his bi-annual cancer scan.”
My anxiety isn’t saved only for the bigger things in life. I can find myself worrying about minuscule details that have very little earthly bearing. Talking to myself allows me to ask the necessary questions to get to the root of the anxiety, even if the attack strikes in the grocery store aisle (I got fewer odd looks when masks were still required and no one could see me talking to myself).
Once I’ve identified the root of the issue, I talk through possible outcomes and actions. What can I do to help the situation? What is the worst that could come from this? What’s the best? I tend to focus on the worst-case scenarios instead of remembering that a whole host of other outcomes are more probable. Talking myself through that can help with the panic when it strikes.
It may sound too easy, but deep breaths can have an instant calming effect. Breathe in for five seconds and out for five. I trace my hand on an infinity sign, breathing in while tracing to the left and out while tracing to the right. I focus on my lungs and bodily systems, not on the anxiety. I do this until the problem seems a little more attainable and I can think clearly.
Voice the worry.
This one is tricky. I must be very careful with whom I share my worries. Sometimes they are so outlandish that the wrong confidant will laugh instead of listen.
There were nights when I was sure that my house was going to cave in because I saw a hairline crack coming from a doorframe. It was a large leap but, in my mind, entirely possible. I didn’t tell anyone about this fear (only the foundation companies I had coming in for quotes) until I finally broke down and voiced it to a trusted friend. She listened and didn’t judge. She asked rational questions and brought me down to earth. Voicing the specific worry helped to put it into perspective and allowed someone else to speak truth into it.
For me, as a Christian, prayer has been equally helpful and frustrating in my anxiety journey. I don’t believe you can just “pray away your worries” and I’ve bristled at those who tell me so. But voicing my worries to God and then striving to leave them with Him has been incredibly helpful.
I can’t control most of my circumstances. But I believe in a higher power who can and will intervene. So even though we’ve faced some truly unbelievable and unprecedented difficulties, I believe there is someone walking with us and teaching us some valuable, albeit hard, lessons amid the fire.
This is certainly easier to say than do and most times I fall back on my human worry and efforts to control the situation. But occasionally, I’m able to pray and walk away from the anxiety, knowing there is nothing else I can do to change things at the moment.
The final coping technique I’ve used for my anxiety is simply the reality of time. They say time heals all wounds. And while that’s an overly simplistic cliché, it does come into play.
When I was initially diagnosed with chronic blood cancer, I spent hours every day researching and worrying about the progression of my disease. It was consuming hours of my day and compounding my anxiety. But as the months went on and I realized my diagnosis wasn’t an immediate death sentence, things got easier. The more distance I put between myself and the initiating event, the better the anxiety became.
Anxiety is something I never really understood until I found myself waist-deep in it. It’s still a constant and daily battle that I have to keep in check or it will paralyze me. But I’ve found small victories through the above techniques and I pray others do as well.
If you are struggling with anxiety as a parent, I encourage you to seek help from a counselor or at the least talk to a trusted someone. If you’d like help from a parenting coach, please schedule a free intro call here.
Sarah Gurley serves as Director of Student Life at Indy West Christian School in Indianapolis, IN. When she’s not planning chapel services and meeting with students, you can find her singing on her church worship team, DIY-ing her house, writing and spending time with her husband and four children.