What It Feels Like to Be an Anxious Churchgoer

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I grew up going to church multiple times a week and it was one of my favorite things to do. Now I still love church, but it’s one of the places where I feel anxiety the most. It’s a strange thing though because my anxiety usually rears its ugly head in situations that are new to me and make me very uncomfortable, but I’ve been in churches all my life.

To some degree, it doesn’t make sense that it is affecting me here, but once again, this is what happens when you have an anxiety disorder. You’re not sure when anxiety is going to creep up and suddenly there you are, sitting in a church pew trying to fight off a panic attack. I want church to be like it was when I was a kid and anxiety-free, but lately that doesn’t seem like it is ever going to happen.

The two things about church that cause me the most anxiety are the activities in church and the people. I would like to say these things make going to church easier for me, but unfortunately it’s the exact opposite.

The many activities that go on during a church service can bring a lot of joy, but they tend to stress me out. From the beginning of the service when I walk in the church and go to sit down, I feel so anxious that my heart starts racing and my hands shake. My mind always worries about where I am going to sit even though I usually sit in the same place every Sunday. What if someone is sitting where I usually sit? What if I get trapped and can’t get out of the pew? Yes, this is a legitimate fear of mine. I fear I will be trapped somewhere, so I try to sit in the back of the church at the end of a pew in case I have to make a quick escape, even though I never do.

I get anxious when it comes to singing in church because I think everyone around me is judging how I sing. I don’t think I have a bad voice, but for me, social anxiety is feeling like everyone is talking about or judging me.

My least favorite part of church is always the sharing of the peace. If you don’t know what that is, it’s where everyone gets up and shakes hand or hug to share the peace of Christ and say hello. It can last anywhere from five to 15 minutes and it feels like the longest couple of minutes in my life. I’m not a fan of hugs or handshakes and I always find it hard to greet people — even people I have known for a long time. I have to psych myself up for it and it takes a lot of energy out of me.

When communion time comes around, I’m still just as nervous and on edge. It’s hard for me to walk up to the altar in front of the whole church even though everyone else is also doing it. I’m always really concerned about what I’m wearing and what everyone thinks of me. I try to pray during that time or focus on something else, but it takes everything in me to breathe while walking up there.

Like I mentioned, the second thing causing me anxiety at church is the people. Pretty much all the people I have ever gone to church with are wonderful and not judgmental, but for some reason they make me restless. Maybe it’s the fact I see them every week, but I always feel like I have to be the “perfect Christian girl” around them. I’m not talking about just one church body in particular either. I have 24 years of experience with this in different churches in different parts of the country. I feel I have to put on a front with church people and not show I’m anxious or nervous to be around them.

You may wonder why even go to church if it’s so hard for me. The answer is pretty simple. It’s because I love God and He loves me. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t believe. It’s what keeps me coming back. Even when I feel anxious at church, I also feel God’s presence and this is enough for me to keep going. He accepts me as I am, anxious mind and all. Because after all, He made me. I just wish people at church could also see not everyone is comfortable at church and try to be more loving towards people who are struggling.

I also think mental health should be talked about more amongst church goers because having anxiety or depression or any other mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Church will probably never be an easy experience for me, but I will continue to be there every Sunday because anxiety will not win this fight. So that’s where you’ll find me. Sitting in a church pew praying with an anxious mind and an open heart.

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The Arrival of Spring Gives Me Hope for My Journey Through Anxiety

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The arrival of spring signals growth and renewal, a time that is encouraging and hope-filled. I find great inspiration in the journey of a budding flower, one that seems to parallel my journey through anxiety. I imagine a tiny seed beneath the ground, ready to pierce through the soil and face a new environment. This change can be scary. Leaving the comfort of the familiar and heading towards the unknown can be intimidating. Yet, when surrounded by love, this transition becomes more comfortable. This tiny seed develops into a beautiful flower on account of its own strength and the nurturing care and support provided by others.

I can identify with this tiny seed. My anxiety often makes me feel depleted, because I use so much of my mental energy on analyzing my decisions and reassuring myself. Thus, I usually don’t have the courage to break out of my shell and blossom. I struggle to recognize my own value when self-doubt is like a dark cloud hanging over my head. Yet, like this tiny seed, I know I have a purpose. Just like the sun welcomes and nurtures the seed’s growth, my family and friends fortify me, helping me realize my full potential.

With each new day, I strive to move forward in managing my anxiety. Some days, I make great strides and other days, I find myself frozen in the same place or even a few steps back. I recognize growth involves setbacks, which aren’t permanent roadblocks, but rather are stepping stones. I admit I have a tendency to be hard on myself, but I try not to let that discouraging voice be my only soundtrack. By using positive self-talk and reminding myself of encouragement from loved ones, I feel motivated to start climbing my personal mountains. As a seed, my family and friends saw my inner strength – the flower that I would become. Now, as that budding flower, I yearn to open my petals and greet the sunshine.

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Thinkstock photo via Julia_Sudnitskaya.

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How I've Learned What to Say to My Adult Daughter With Anxiety and Depression

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My 22-year-old daughter is truly wonderful. She is bright and beautiful and kind and considerate — all of those qualities I prayed for in a daughter. I am a lucky mom. She has recently moved out to a nearby city, and she is succeeding in a job she trained for in college. Perfect, right?

Well, not really.

Since she was 17 or so, my daughter has experienced extreme periods of self-doubt and anguish, partnered with contrasting episodes of extreme determination and competitiveness. It is a continuous roller coaster — well, two roller coasters if you can imagine it, running side by side. When one climbs the other dips, sometimes simultaneously. That’s what it’s like for her, what her life is like. And because I am her mother and I love her, my life is like that too.

I really believe that a mother’s first instinct is to help her child. And along with that we try to take away their pain. And we will do or say anything to try and help our children reach a conclusion or a solution, a compromise or even reconciliation. We want them to feel better. As babies they receive a cuddle and a spoonful of medicine. As adults they get advice and soothing words. And maybe we offer a distraction.

But this is the last thing my adult child with anxiety and depression wants or needs. She doesn’t want me to tell her everything is going to be OK or that she is better and bigger than her problem. At least in the case of my daughter, she doesn’t want me to try and evaluate the situation, or to feed her compliments, or to try and distract her from the pain.

For a long time I didn’t know this. And I failed miserably.

Until the day she started sending me blogs about what to say when she turns to me. And what not to say. And I have these handy lists saved in my phone to refer to when I text with her. And when I forget or falter, she lets me know. And I go back to the prompts. And it works. She doesn’t want or need me to solve her problems. She just wants to know I am here. And I am listening. And I care about her. This time. And the next time and the next time.

My point is, listen to your child. They can tell you how to be. And that’s helpful because, even though we always think we know better, we don’t.

Listen. And believe. And care. And stay on track.

It’s OK. I am sorry you are going through this. I am hear. I care.

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Dear Anxiety: It's Time for You to Go

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Hey, you!

Yeah, you — I’m talking to you. You’ve interfered with my life for long enough. It’s time for you to sit down and listen to what I have to say:

Anxiety, you have got to go. You have overstayed your welcome, that is, as if you were ever welcomed in the first place. You’ve held me down. You’ve got too involved. You’ve hurt my relationships and friendships time and time again, and you are now getting too involved with my relationship with my son. You have got to go.

Years ago, when we first met, I was around 15 and I thought you were a product of my teenage hormones. Together with your good friend depression, you’ve toppled right over me and led me on this ridiculous roller coaster of emotions and mental illness for the past 20-plus years. You started out slow and then totally took over. You’ve grabbed the steering wheel to my life and I want it back for good.

Sure, you come and go, but the problem for me is how you always come back. I do not want you to come back. You make me feel physically ill. You choke me. You suffocate me. You overthrow me. I sometimes feel weak against your strength to have that much control over my mind. When you get help from your buddy depression and you both hit me at once, I feel like I’m drowning, like I’m done for.

You make me feel like a failure, like I’ll never amount to anything. I started writing to help me deal, but then you come along and make me worry about how much I am writing. You heighten when I haven’t submitted a piece, or when a piece I wrote has been rejected. You make me doubt myself and my abilities. You increase your hold on me when I have to go to work that day and don’t have time to write. How is that fair? I literally cannot write from work.

You quicken my heartbeat, and not in a good way. I’m convinced you are the reason for my stomach pains. I’m worried about developing an ulcer because of you. I take a pill every morning now, again because of you. Do you not care?

Obviously not. Now that you’ve become over-involved in my life with my child, I am starting to get a bit angry. I worry about what behaviors I’m displaying, which you are responsible for might I add. I worry about how you and good ol’ depression will affect my relationship with my son. He sees me crying. He feeds off my aura. He has started noticing when mommy isn’t feeling good and I don’t like it. I get impatient with him quickly in order to calm you, but it only ever makes things worse.

So please, anxiety — and by association depression — get out of my mind. Get out of my life. Leave me alone.

Sincerely,

Karen

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I Couldn't Function Today, but That's OK

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This morning, I woke up at 4 a.m., 30 minutes before my boyfriend’s alarm goes off. After having the flu all weekend, I felt surprisingly well, energized. I laid there until his alarm went off, we woke up with a kiss good morning like we always do. And then, he started making the coffee.

We sat outside and drank our morning coffee, he got ready for work, he took the dogs out on a walk. I started feeling kind of bad again so I rested and watched the news. 

I took him to work, came home and took a nap. I spent most of my morning waiting on the maintenance guy to show up to my apartment. While I waited, I made pizza and then I tried and failed at writing, I responded to old emails, and I tried writing some more. I even tried to plan out a blog post, and that’s when it all started.

I ended up not being able to process things anymore. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine writing the post I was working on. I sat on the floor and cried with the company of my boyfriend’s dog. I couldn’t breathe. Eventually, I got up to smoke a cigarette.

There was no writing left in me anymore. I couldn’t bear to think of what I’d have to do. I tried and tried but nothing was good enough. I tried working with clay, but I wasn’t good enough at that either. I tried painting my nails, and guess what: I ruined them. Not good enough to even paint my nails.

After the maintenance guy left, I was a wreck. Now, suddenly I was anxious that I had done something wrong. Maybe I messed something up, surely he found something wrong with my apartment and now I’m going to be kicked out. I don’t know what he would have found, I don’t know what in the hell is so bad that it’s worthy of my eviction, but I’ve been kicked out of so many places before that it’s one of my biggest anxieties now.

Between that and not being able to process things, I started breaking down. Crying at the simplest of things, growing violent at the smallest of things. Even now, I want to break my phone but I push through this feeling and keep writing.

I don’t know why I get this way, I don’t know what causes it; I can’t even begin to describe it. I just want the pain in my mind to go away. I want to create something and be good enough at it. I want to be able to process my thoughts so that I can write amazing pieces.

I can’t function right now, and that’s OK. I can’t do the simple things, but it’s OK. I wrote this and that means I’m still somewhere in there, alive. I was able to write this.

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Thinkstock photo via Fly_dragonfly

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6 Things That Help When Anxiety Makes Me Overwhelmed

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I know a list like this is going to be different for just about every person who makes one. But that doesn’t mean what works for me won’t resonate with anyone else. In fact, I have connected with so many bits and pieces of posts from other people that I was inspired enough to want to write my own. So whether one person connects with one thing I wrote or no one does, it’s out there working to help break the stigma around anxiety and every other mental illness.

Here’s my list of things that help me when I get overwhelmed:

1. Reassurance.

I doubt myself. The simple act of someone telling me it’s going to be OK goes a long way. Also, sometimes it’s my physical health that’s scaring me and again and hearing it’ll be OK makes a big difference.

2. Being held.

My greatest love language is physical touch. In other words, I love hugs. And sometimes I just need someone to wrap their arms around me and not let go until I pull away. It makes me feel safe and calms my mind down. Also, science has proven it helps, so … science. Yep.

3. Understanding and patience.

Sometimes all I need is to know you’re in this for the long haul and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I know my fears are irrational and what feels like a crisis to me may seem trivial to you, but please understand I’m not in control of my mind and I care so deeply about you, even if I can’t show it.

4. Honesty.

Tell me the truth. If I am being unreasonable, expecting too much, not seeing the whole picture or not getting social cues, just tell me. It makes things worse when I know you’re lying to protect my feelings.

5. Presence.

Most times I do want to talk, but not always. Sometimes I don’t need or want to talk, but if you just put on some music or a movie and sit with me, the act of you simply being there is helping.

6. Questions.

If you don’t know how to help, ask me! I want you to speak up and feel comfortable enough to ask me anything. I’m very gentle and I promise I wont bite. In some cases, this is the best thing you can do. Just be prepared for me to say I don’t know, because I might not have an answer for you and that’s OK!

Anxiety looks different for everyone who has it. When my mind gets racing, I often wish my friends or loved ones just know what I need or how to help. And although I never expect that, this was the list I put together for myself to have when someone asks me “What can I do to help?” Before I wrote this, I never knew what to say. It’s not perfect by any means and it’s not a solution or cure, but my hope is that this resonates with someone in one way or another.

Peace, love and blessings.

Follow this journey on Rising and Falling.

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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

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