I’ve always been an anxious person, always worrying about one thing or another. Often this would lead to excellent productivity in school, at work, and even in relationships. But productivity, though highly valued in our culture, can also come at a substantial personal cost.
With school, I was terrified of doing poorly. Terrified. I didn’t know if, or how, I would come back from a bad mark. What would my teachers think of me? My parents? My friends? In work, I was always terrified of supervisor reviews or evaluations. I feared any kind of correction from a boss, or disagreement with a co-worker, because it left me unsure of how they viewed me. And in relationships, conflict was panic inducing. Letting someone down, or hurting them, or not knowing if I had done either, was often enough for me to pull away in fear of losing face.
Then I had a kid, and my anxiety hit an all time high. I felt clueless and struggled in my new role and the responsibilities that came with it. Once I started experiencing daily panic attacks, I finally started getting some much needed help to address my anxiety.
It was through counselling that I realized that my anxiety is rooted in wanting control. Or, rather, it is the fear of losing control (or thinking I have it, and learning that I don’t), which produces anxiety in me. Circumstances that are unpredictable and unexpected–and the resulting feelings of weakness and powerlessness–can feel overwhelming for me. Since learning this about myself, I’ve developed new awareness and tools that help me recognize and respond to anxiety in ways that help me manage it, and sometimes, even eliminate it.
I think we can all agree that every Canadian, and most people around the world, are living in very uncertain times. We are all probably experiencing new degrees of powerlessness. As necessary as the changes and precautions in our national response to COVID-19 has been, it has also been challenging, confusing, and scary.
In some ways, I feel a little like I spent the last year preparing for this. As I’ve faced my own struggles with anxiety and have received so much help and support from my doctor and social worker, I feel oddly calm and prepared.
I noticed it early on. As soon as my Facebook newsfeed went from sunny vacation pictures and photos of my friends’ kids to everything COVID-19 related, that familiar anxious feeling started bubbling up. I quickly started limiting my time on social media, knowing and trusting that I would hear and know what I needed to, without being consumed by the news at every moment. My learned self-awareness regarding anxiety has helped me recognize it for what it is: a stress response. I’ve learned that I don’t need to lean into my anxiety whenever it pops up.
Something else that I knew would be really hard for me was grocery shopping. Through my experience with anxiety, I knew that Costco on a Saturday is something I find extremely difficult—–and that’s without the long line ups and social distancing measures being enforced. So, instead of doing the shopping like I usually do, we decided it would be better for my husband to go out for that first shop. Since then, I have gone, but I go early in the morning, at a time when the stores are not as busy, and I make sure I don’t go to Costco. This has been really helpful for me.
I’ve also come to know, love, and depend on the power of the outdoors. The beauty, fresh air, and blood flow have been monumentally helpful to me in my darkest moments of anxiety. I am so thankful that this situation we are in is happening during spring! With nowhere else to go, my family has been hitting up every trail in town – and we aren’t the only ones! Being out, seeing others (from a safe distance!), and just having some fun has a way of reinvigorating hope.
Another tool that I use (especially at night) is colouring! Night time is especially difficult for me when it comes to anxiety. There is something about the dark and loneliness of night that gets the unhealthy, worry-filled thoughts flowing. I used to turn to my phone when I couldn’t sleep, even though that never helped. Sometimes, if I have a good, light-hearted book on hand, I’ll read that for a while. However, with the libraries closed for weeks now, I’ve been kind of stuck since finishing my last book (and I don’t have an e-reader because I try to avoid looking at screens before going to sleep). So I colour! Now, I know that colouring might not be for everyone–though I do suggest giving it a try–but I think the greater principle is finding a fun, creative, and artistic outlet that relaxes you. Maybe it’s reading, music, writing, drawing, or, like me, colouring. I find art is a way to step away from my difficult thoughts, and into another reality, which is really helpful.
I have to be clear here: I still have questions and worries about all that’s going on. But I’m thankful for the experience, awareness, and tools that have helped me cope with it all. For me, the biggest factor that amps up my anxiety is feeling like I lack control. And in coping with my anxiety, I find it really helpful to take the time to figure out what is in my control, and what’s out of my control. All of the strategies above come out of doing just that!
I also find it really helpful to talk to God about my anxiety, especially through prayer. I’ve discovered the serenity prayer is really relatable:
As I spend time meditating on this prayer, I do what I can about what’s in my control, and work on letting go of what I don’t have control over—all with God’s peace, strength, and power.
For those of you that previously did not struggle with anxiety and have perhaps have felt some new or higher levels of it in your own life through our current reality, I hope my experience offers you some hope to know that our anxieties can be managed. I hope that some of the tools that I have used to manage my anxiety will be helpful to you as you look to start rebuilding some health and hope in your life.
[Editor’s note: You may be able to relate to Mandy’s experience of anxiety. Struggling with anxiety doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.
How have you addressed your anxiety in the past? We would love to journey with you in your struggle with anxiety and suggest some tools and resources that may be helpful as you process, grow, and heal.
If you are feeling alone in your anxiety and need to talk to someone, we have online mentors ready to journey with you. Connect with one by filling out the form below linked “I don’t want to suffer alone.”
If you are in a mental health crisis or are considering self-harm, please visit the Are You in Crisis resource with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Struggling with anxiety is hard. Even though it may feel lonely, you are not truly alone. Here are some additional resources from our Official Blog that offer a glimpse of how others have processed their struggles with anxiety:
- When “Just stop worrying” doesn’t stop anxiety
- A Christian primer on anxiety and depression
- Graduation gave me crippling anxiety
- Supporting your friend through mental health struggles
Know that whatever you are facing, you matter. You are not alone, and we care. You are human, and we were designed to need others in our struggles. We would love to join you in yours.
Erin Ford, Editorial Manager with Power to Change – Students]