When I write about my anxiety or my over-thinking as I did last week, I always get a number of responses that tell me to ‘trust in the Lord’ or ‘give it to God’. I will often get scriptures posted for me or even new age posters with wonderful sayings telling me to stay in the present. I know that people mean well, but they don’t understand anxiety. I can have a really intense reaction to it if I’m in a period of intense anxiety. My emotions are on edge and the perceived judgment of my faith really trigger me. I believe faith and the practice of it are very personal and sacred.
Anxiety – or generalized anxiety disorder like I have – is a mental disorder. With many physical disorders, you can see something or find it on tests. They have tests for GAD (It even has an acronym.), but it doesn’t involve blood work. There are drugs that can help it, but, in my experience, they only help a little. And, then when life presents events that are anxiety-provoking, hardly anything helps. I find it most helpful to eliminate as much stress as possible, do mind-body activities like yoga and meditation and apply my spiritual practice on a daily basis. That being said, there are days I feel absolutely great, and there are days when I am gripped in a panic that has no rhyme or reason. The irony is that nothing will have changed. I’m still doing all of the same things, but my body and my brain seem to attack me.
Many women have extreme anxiety during times of hormonal change. Puberty, menopause, PMS, pregnancy and peri-menopause are common times when the body is anxious. I think my anxiety in the last year is a combination of external stressors and menopause. There’s a reason that there are jokes about women’s mood swings during all of these times. When your body and your mind are anxious, it doesn’t take much to put you over the edge.
I don’t know how anyone who doesn’t struggle with anxiety could ever understand this. Your experience with anxiety is relieved by prayer, letting things go and thinking positive thoughts. It’s a very different experience than the anxiety present in GAD. I don’t know what you feel, and you have absolutely no clue what I feel. One of my friends at work who suffers says it’s the worst kind of torture when her anxiety is ramped up. I concur.
How do you speak to someone with anxiety? Know that nothing you say can fix it. You can’t fix it. The medical profession can’t fix it. God can fix it but often doesn’t. So, don’t get your panties in a wad trying to figure out how to help. The best thing to do is just to be present and be in relationship with us. And don’t make it worse by trying to give us suggestions that make us feel as if we’re not believing in God enough or handling things well. In fact, I would argue that my anxiety has caused my spiritual practice to be extremely regular and of utmost importance. It has kept me close to God. You can be assured the anxiety-sufferer has tried every thing possible to alleviate it if they’ve lived with it long enough. You might just try to empathize with how hard it must be to have anxiety and focus them on their condition rather than the problems at hand or the presumed solutions to those problems. That’s just a symptom. The anxiety – the GAD – is the problem.
For spiritual people, I would suggest not giving advice on spiritual matters. It makes sufferers even more anxious. I’ve posted a couple of articles below that detail how Christians can understand anxiety and help fellow Christians. When we are people of faith, and we are told we are not being faithful enough, it makes us even more anxious. Perfectionism is usually one of the anxiety-producing issues we have. Feeling inadequate just makes us more anxious, and you might get bitten. I’m just sayin’. For your own health and mine, just be my friend and try to understand.
Articles on Christianity and Anxiety