The first time I went through the temple, I threw up. And the second time, and the third. There was a feeling of panic that welled up inside me when I learned that if you have to get up and leave, they will stop the whole endowment session and make everyone wait for you to return. Ironically, that very fear caused me to leave the session and make a beeline for the women’s bathroom on three separate occasions.
You see, I have anxiety. And certain things, such as feeling like I’m trapped in a room, cause my body to panic. My brain tells me I’m perfectly fine, but my body won’t listen. Most of the time, when my body goes into fight-or-flight mode, I can make it stay and fight. But in some circumstances—like at the temple those first few times—my stomach forces me to flee.
That’s just one example of what it’s like to have anxiety in the temple. And as a faithful Latter-day Saint, it’s frustrating!
I want to love the temple and feel the peace I know others feel when they walk through those doors. People talk about it with fondness and pure joy all the time, but that’s not how I feel at all. Every time someone spoke about the blessings of the temple in Sacrament meeting or Relief Society, I immediately got defensive and bitter.
There is, however, one particular memory I have of actually feeling peace throughout my entire temple experience. I was serving in the Arkansas Bentonville Mission, and my entire Zone (plus, the surrounding Zones) piled onto a bus and drove 3 hours to Kansas City, Missouri. The temple had been reserved just for my mission, so we were the only ones there, and were able to do every ordinance (baptisms through sealings) in one day.
As I look back on that experience, I wonder what it was that caused my anxiety to completely disappear. I can’t say for sure, but I remember looking around the endowment room full of people I knew and loved well and thinking, “This is what Heaven looks like.”
So, from that experience (as well as others) I have formulated 7 tips to help those with anxiety also have a more positive temple experience:
1. Sit outside
The exterior is just as consecrated as the interior of the temple, I promise. Take time to sit on the grounds with your thoughts and take your concerns to the Lord. Sometimes, it feels like too much pressure to schedule 3 hours out of the day for an entire session. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to enjoy the Lord’s house from the outside along with His beautiful creations. He will still listen and bless you for your efforts.
2. It’s okay to do baptisms if you are endowed
Just because you can now do a session, doesn’t mean you have to. If baptisms make you feel less anxious, do them! In my case, baptisms remind me of the days in Young Women’s when I used to go on youth temple trips with my friends. I have fond memories of those times, so baptisms don’t typically make me anxious. If this is the case for you, take advantage of it! You’ll receive all the promised temple blessings no matter what ordinance you perform.
3. Attend with close loved ones or friends
I’ve found that when I go to the temple with one close friend, I’m more likely to have a peaceful experience than if I go with my ward. If you have social anxieties, this will probably be the case for you, as well. However, some may feel more comfortable going with a large group of people they know. Others do best alone. Find out what your preference is, and stick to it when you can.
4. Planning is key
My biggest anxiety trigger is wasted time. Whether that’s waiting in line, getting stuck behind a slow walker/driver, or not being able to see a clock, my brain presses the panic button. Am I saying that attending the temple is a waste of time? Of course not! But I tend to freak out if I don’t plan a wide window of time to go. This includes ample time to get ready, probably do some waiting while at the temple, and drive home in traffic (depending on the time of day).
If I were to attend the temple before work (or any other scheduled event, for that matter), I would be stressin’ hardcore. So, I typically go when I don’t have much else planned during either the 1st or 2nd half of the day. I don’t actually need half a day, but it gives me so much more peace of mind.
5. Change your “waiting” mindset to “resting”
Again, waiting is anxiety-inducing for me, so the temple can be a pretty rough place. There is so much waiting that goes on whether you’re in the dressing room, the chapel, the tail end of a session, etc. Certain times are less busy than others, but you should still expect to wait at some point during your temple visit.
When chilling (a.k.a. wasting time) at my apartment I don’t feel anxious, so what’s the catch there? To me, there’s a difference between resting and having to stay in place against my will. This can be applied to waiting periods at the temple. Try to focus on resting your mind and body rather than the fact that you have to wait.
6. Purpose is everything
When I go to the temple with a purpose, anxiety is less likely to creep in. Doing ordinances for your dead ancestors is a purpose, yes, but seeking answers to questions that have been troubling me tends to be more motivating (sorry, Grandma Zeeman.) Find out what purpose encourages you the most, and focus on that.
7. Be patient and seek help
I’m not talking about professional help (although that can be beneficial in some cases.) I’m talking about seeking help from God (who, technically, is THE professional.) He wants you to love His house and feel at home there. Recognize your limits, but strive for improvement. Be patient with yourself and trust in Him.