Hi friends! This post is part of a 7-week series on overcoming fear in which a few friends will be dropping by as guest bloggers. Please visit their blogs, linked at the bottom of their posts here, if you’d like to hear more from them. Here’s to getting a little more free from fear together. – Bree
Perfection, Performance and Anxiety by Heather Hughes www.mirrormirror05.com
Wearing a mask, building walls, the need to appear perfect, all play into anxiety. When you are a strong Type A personality with some slight OCD tendencies, anxiety seems to be a natural part of who you are. Well, at least in my case it is. Growing up, my family was a hot mess. I took on a great deal of responsibility at an early age. I guess as I grew up the need to look and at least appear perfect along with the need to control everything intensified. It wasn’t until well into adulthood I even realized that some of my behaviors, thought patterns and behaviorisms were linked back to anxiety.
I’m a married, mom of three, who happens to be on a church staff. I also hold a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling. One would think looking at this list, I would have all my stuff together and never waiver in my faith. When I look at where I am in life, while it may not be perfect, I really do have a great life. I have been married to the man of my dreams for a little over 13 years. I have 3, beautiful, healthy, active kiddos. If that’s the case, then why and how does anxiety play into my current life? The answer is deeper than what I can get into in a single post, but it’s a combination of past trauma and biology. Do you know how humbling it is to even admit out loud I have an anxiety disorder and have a therapist?
What many people don’t realize is anxiety falls on a spectrum. Some of what you think of anxiety is what you picture and is often portrayed in movies. Other people are ones you may consider to be “Worry Warts,” or characterize as “high strung.” Not all who struggle with anxiety have panic attacks where you are struggling to catch your breath, crying uncontrollably, or rocking in a corner somewhere. Sometimes the person in front of you may being having a panic attack and you don’t realize it’s happening at all.
For example, a couple years ago I went on girls’ beach trip. It was divine. I was with some of my best girlfriends. The weather was gorgeous. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We were sitting in beach chairs, books in hand, enjoying conversation and listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore in front of us. If I were to describe a perfect moment in life, this would be one of them. All of a sudden a feeling of dread washed over me. My heart started racing and I wanted to flee. It was literally a feeling of fight or flight. The most frustrating thing is there was no identifiable trigger. All I could do was put down my book, get up and jump into the ocean. I swam out a ways and then stood there with my back to the shore doing deep breathing exercises until I no longer felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. My friends all assumed I was hot and wanted to cool off, not knowing anything was happening. Once I felt like I had my body back under control I went back to my beach chair. It wasn’t until later I told one of them what really happened. She wanted to support me, but because I was so embarrassed I couldn’t tell her in that moment.
In a later conversation with my therapist, she told me that in times of complete peace the body, always on guard, took the total lack of issues and triggered a physiological response. There is not always a identifiable trigger to panic attacks. We also talked about how other situations, not necessarily stressful can trigger an attack. Lack of sleep, hunger, intense situations and sometimes even talking to certain people can trigger an attack. Most people assume if people like me would “just quit worrying” or “think positive thoughts” the anxiety would disappear. Like so many other mental health disorders, there is a chemical imbalance and it’s not something we can just “think away.” Trust me, if that were possible I would have done it a long time ago.
Given that it’s something I have to live with, how do I cope on a regular basis? Most days I’m honestly ok. Therapy, the greenway and deep breathing exercises have been the best ways for me to deal with my anxiety. So far I’ve been able to avoid meds. This may not hold true down the road, but for now I don’t take anything.
The Lord and I also have many many long conversations. Please don’t hear me saying this is something that can be prayed away, because I know from experience, it can’t. It’s not that the Lord isn’t capable of taking away anxiety, but He doesn’t always choose to remove it from a person’s life. My faith is important to me and I can’t imagine walking down the road of anxiety without my faith. There are days when the fact that I am a Christian and on church staff the guilt and shame come into play. On those days I have a couple of people the Lord has put in my life I can turn to and lean on. I’m grateful the Lord has put people into my life who can be His hands and arms on the days I need them.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned this year is that I can’t please all people, all the time. There are days when I strive to do everything right and know that I’m going to fall short and it has to be ok. For so long I’ve allowed what others think to rule my life and I notice on the days when my anxiety is at its highest, I am trying too hard to please those around me. As silly as it sounds the song “This is Me” from “The Greatest Showman” has become an anthem for me in coping with life. Yes, the Lord has used a secular song to speak volumes into my heart and life this year. I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to let things, situations and even people go, especially if they don’t accept you for you.
My greatest encouragement to anyone who walks this path is to let things go. Don’t tell people you want to do things you don’t want to do. Don’t continue to try and get certain people to like you. Your greatest value comes from the Lord and not those around you. On the hard, high anxiety days cry out to the Lord. Give it all to Him. He knows how you are feeling anyway, so let it out. His shoulders are large enough to handle it. It may also help to find a trusted friend or therapist to help you walk the hardest, darkest days of anxiety. You are NOT alone. You are NOT broken. You ARE loved. You ARE valued. The anxiety many never completely disappear, but it does not have to define who you are or where you go in life.
Heather Hughes is a wife, mother of three and on staff at The Glade Church. She has been blogging for several years and has a book in progress. Heather’s passion is to speak into the lives of women, assisting them to build authentic relationships with the Lord and those around them. Blog: www.mirrormirror05.com