I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a very anxious person.
It’s not a quality I’m particularly proud of — I’m not exactly bragging about the ridiculous scenarios that run through my mind every time my husband is late coming home from work or the moments when my parents don’t answer a phone call. My brain instantly defaults to the worst-possible situation and assumes that everyone I love is in grave danger. Worry has left me sick to my stomach and brought me to my knees more times than I can count.
I’ve been this way since I was a really young girl. I remember when I was little — maybe five or six years old — watching my sister walk to her best friend’s house, which was just up the hill from us. It was very close, literally about a minute’s walk, but as she traveled up the street, there was a certain point where I could no longer see her because a house blocked my view. As soon as she reached that point, I would nearly become physically ill. I was terrified that something would happen to her and that I wouldn’t see her or be able to get help.
Many of those feelings of helplessness and anxiety have carried over into my adulthood. I know it’s irrational and silly — truly, I know that — but it’s like my body doesn’t. It reacts to any unknown situation with doubt, fear, and panic. Plus, living in a society that is increasingly dangerous and unstable doesn’t help.
I’ve heard over and over throughout my life, “Just stop worrying!” or “Don’t worry!” or “There’s nothing you can do, so there’s no point in worrying!” I know I shouldn’t worry, but having someone tell me to stop — like I’m choosing to be sick with worry — feels like rubbing salt in an open wound. I already feel foolish and faithless for worrying so much, and having someone emphatically state that I need to “chill out” has the opposite effect on me, stressing me out even more.
Lately, I’ve tried to get my anxiety more under control and I want so share my tips with those of you who similarly struggle — and to provide a few tips for people who want to help their loved ones battling anxiety.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up for Being Afraid
We hear all the time that fear is the opposite of faith and that fear and faith cannot coexist — and while yes, we should try to dispel fear, we’re not faithless because we feel it. In fact, it’s facing fear that makes us courageous! If you don’t feel fear, it doesn’t really take courage to do something — it’s the fear that makes an act courageous.
So instead of beating yourself up for feeling fear, try to acknowledge those feelings and show yourself compassion. You can say to yourself, “Yes, I’m afraid and that’s okay. It’s natural for me to feel this way and there’s nothing wrong with me. Now I’ll try to think of reasons why things will work out.” When we tell ourselves we’re foolish or silly for being afraid, we exacerbate the anxiety — on top of being anxious about an event or situation, we’re now anxious about being anxious! We don’t want to feel stupid, so we tell ourselves franticly to stop worrying — and that only makes it worse. On the flip side, by being kind to ourselves, we’re issuing ourselves comfort and understanding — something we so desperately need when we’re feeling fearful and anxious.
Try not to beat yourself up for being afraid. It’s totally natural to feel that way and it doesn’t mean you are faithless. Acknowledge those feelings and try to move on the best you can, understanding that trying to move forward even when you do feel afraid shows incredible faith!
Figure Out What Calms You Down
One thing that has been really helpful for me in reigning in my anxiety is understanding what does and doesn’t help me when I’m feeling nervous and afraid. Here’s what helps me:
Having Someone I Can Turn To
For me, this is something that is huge! I told my husband that when I’m afraid, I just need him to tell me that it’s going to be okay. Hearing reassurance from someone else (especially someone who I know is reasonable and has my best interests at heart) soothes my worried soul in a way that few other things can. When my husband isn’t available, I turn to my parents or friends. I strongly recommend telling the people you love what helps you when you are feeling anxious (like I did with my husband) so that they’ll be prepared and know what to say when the time comes.
Praying has calmed me down so many times when I’ve felt helpless, vulnerable, and frightened. Elder Rex D. Pinegar, an emeritus general authority, once told a story at general conference about a time when he felt horrible fear. As a young teenager, he and his friends were lighting fireworks one summer night — only to have things go horribly awry:
Not all of our fireworks worked as they should have. Most, in fact, were what we called duds. They sputtered momentarily, and then died. We set the duds aside until we had tried to light all of the fireworks. We had so many defective ones remaining, we wondered what to do. We couldn’t just throw them away. What if we emptied the powder from all of them into the cardboard box? We could toss in a match and have one gigantic blast! . . .
So they did — and then something terrible happened:
“Then it happened! The ‘gigantic blast’ we thought we wanted exploded with fury into our faces. The force of the explosion knocked us off our feet, and flames from the ignited powder burned us severely. It was a tragic scene. Responding quickly to the screams and cries of the injured youth in her driveway, our friend’s mother gathered us into her home. ‘First we will pray,’ she said, ‘and then we will call the doctor.’
That was the first of many prayers I remember being offered for us. Soon after, I felt my face, hands, and arms being wrapped in bandages. I heard the voices of my father and my doctor administering a priesthood blessing to me. I heard my mother’s voice many times, pleading with Heavenly Father to please let her son see again.
I had been taught very early in my life to pray. Mother and Father had made prayer an important part of our family life. Not until that day, however, did it become so meaningful to me. In those frightening moments I found peace and comfort through prayer.
Recently in his own pain and suffering, my friend and associate Elder Clinton Cutler said of his experience, “‘The Lord’s peace comes not without pain, but in the midst of pain.'”
Our Father in Heaven has promised us peace in times of trial and has provided a way for us to come to Him in our need. He has given us the privilege and power of prayer. He has told us to “pray always” and has promised He will pour out His Spirit upon us.” (Emphasis added.)
Even in our darkest moments, the Lord can bless us with peace beyond our own — so when you feel fearful, pray. Pray for peace, comfort, and courage, with faith that the Lord hears and answers our prayers even and perhaps especially when we are afraid.
When I was probably around 13 or 14, I started having trouble breathing — I felt like I could never get in enough air. My dad took me to the doctor for it and she said it was a nervous tick caused by anxiety and suggested that I see a therapist. The therapist taught me breathing techniques for when I felt anxious and it helped a lot. When I feel nervous now, I go back to those breathing exercises she taught me and do them until I feel at least a little better. To find what works for you, search “breathing exercises for anxiety” on Google and try out various suggestions to see which ones make you feel better.
ComeUntoChrist.org’s youth site contains an article called “5 Ways to Calm Anxiety,” and it shares some great ideas. Part of it reads:
“Turn to actions that bring the Spirit into your life. Pray specifically for calm feelings. Count your blessings. Read scriptures that bring you peace, hope, and strength. Remember that Heavenly Father loves you and that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). This means you have great worth. With this knowledge, believe in yourself and face your fears and challenges with faith. Move forward with confidence and do your best.”
Know That You Are Not Alone
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” That’s SO many people — and in the United States alone! You are not alone in your feelings of worry and anxiety. Many, many people struggle with this and, to a certain extent, it’s a natural part of life. If you’re feeling worried and fearful, try reaching out to others who have struggled with similar things — ask what helps them, how they have strived to overcome those feelings, etc. Find comfort in knowing that others throughout the world understand you and struggle with the same thing.
If you can’t seem to shake your feelings of anxiety, fear, or depression, there are also medical resources that can and should be utilized. In his talk “Like a Broken Vessel” (which EVERYONE should read!) Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained:
“If things continue to be debilitating, seek the advice of reputable people with certified training, professional skills, and good values. Be honest with them about your history and your struggles. Prayerfully and responsibly consider the counsel they give and the solutions they prescribe. If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Like a Broken Vessel,” October 2013).
No matter your situation — whether you struggle with anxiety, know a loved one who struggles with it, or are simply seeking to better understand those who deal with mental illness — know that you are loved beyond measure. You CAN find comfort no matter what you are going through. And just because you feel fear at times doesn’t mean you are faithless or that there is something wrong with you.
Give yourself credit. You’re reading this article about how to deal with anxiety, and that means you’re trying to get better — and that’s all God really cares about.
“5 Ways to Conquer Fear” by Gary E. Stevenson
“Fear” by Virginia H. Pearce
“Therefore They Hushed Their Fears” by David A. Bednar
“Turning Faith Into Fear” by Russell H. Bishop (This focuses specifically on missionary work, but is a great read and applicable for other areas of life as well!)