Somehow it does not surprise me that around the launch of my Valiant Hearts Series with its goal of inspiring young women to be strong and courageous, I found myself under attack. An attack of anxiety. Isn’t that the way it always seems to work?
I’m generally a pretty peaceful person. Sure, I’m prone to stress just like everyone else, but I try to keep my life manageable and focus on the positive. I don’t have a tendency to sweat the small stuff or get mired in worry. In fact, I’ve even had the experience of passing through incredibly stressful situations on a cloud of supernatural peace.
However, I have had a few bouts with physiological anxiety. Usually it occurred when I’ve tried a new medication (for unrelated issues like headaches or cholesterol) that didn’t agree with me. I’ve also noticed in recent years that I’ve had some anxiety issues due to food sensitivities.
Those experiences taught me an important lesson about anxiety that most Christians don’t seem to realize. “Anxiety disorder,” in our modern use of the term, can sometimes occur when something in your body goes haywire. It can be a purely physiological phenomenon. Yes, I realize the Bible talks about anxiety in some translations, but I’m going to use the newer disorder definition of the term to indicate a medical condition and contrast it with words like worry, fear, and stress, which are emotional conditions and involve a greater degree of choice.
It would be easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not trusting God enough, not having enough faith, or even in sin. That I’m not staying in perfect peace and casting my care on God the way the Bible instructs. But perhaps the gift that God has given me in this situation is the clarity to realize my anxiety makes no logical sense and isn’t coming from my mind or my spirit at all.
Worry happens when you fixate on a problem and allow fear to take over. You think about it again and again, often picturing worst case scenarios, until your body becomes stressed and anxious and even sick. To contrast that with a physiological anxiety disorder, this anxiety happens when your body gets out of whack due to nutrition, hormones, or brain chemistry. It begins with your body feeling the anxiety, and then your brain looks for any minor issue, or every minor issue, to attach those anxious feelings to. At that point, your brain might begin to fixate on those issues and it seems like fear or worry.
Oh, and as I’ve been learning, hormonally based anxiety is especially prevalent in teens, pregnant women, new moms, and middle aged women. (Isn’t that most women?)
So what are those physical symptoms of anxiety? They can include any or all of the following.
A tight or constricted feeling in your chest
Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
Dread or sick feeling in your stomach
Tension throughout your body
Pressure in your head
A racing heartbeat
Anxiety stinks. It can completely paralyze you. I’ve been pushing through my anxiety. I’m not letting it stop me, and I’ve been praying and researching to find ways to manage it. In fact, for now at least, it’s pretty much gone. Here are a few of the simple methods that I’ve found helpful so far.
Journal to isolate food and medication triggers
Cashews and pickles
Probiotics and vitamin D
Chamomile tea: double, triple, or quadruple strength
I think too many people take guilt over their anxiety and just become more anxious about being anxious. Hopefully this article will help you to spot physiological anxiety for what it truly is and give you some tools to manage it. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when needed. You might require the support of understanding friends and family or even medical care to get through anxiety. If your anxiety is caused by old emotional wounds, ingrained habits, or post-traumatic stress disorder, you will likely require professional counseling.
Bravery is not the absence of fear; it is the determination to go on in spite of fear. Being a valiant woman of God doesn't mean denying your symptoms and trying to muscle through on sheer will power. It means facing your issues hand in hand with God and being determined to come out victorious!