Anxiety is an invisible, unrelenting and at times crippling feeling that holds your nerves hostage. It shoots up through the back of your throat, and throttles your heart into marathon mode. If you’re like me, heat rushes through your body accompanied by numbness, tingling, and shaking. Anxiety not only in its nature to deceive our mind also deceives our physical body. If you’ve never experienced severe anxiety or panic you are unable to comprehend its ability to literally feel like a life threatening situation.
In complete transparency I have no quarrel admitting that anxiety has at times become a debilitating struggle in specific seasons of my life, primarily those that uproot me with literal change. This may come as a surprise to you, but I am not always a complete goof. In fact, I take life too seriously, and do you know why? Because I don’t trust life. When someone says, “Everything will be okay” I used to (occasionally still do) want to punch him or her in their calm face.
Let me give you an illustration that I believe describes intense anxiety. I’m standing in a room. There is nothing especially ordinary or unordinary about where I am, but I am a part of this place in that I am aware. Something strikes me as off about where but I’m not sure what it is, and I cannot identify its source. Anxiety builds off of being unsure what this off feeling is, but I am sure that whatever it is, it is becoming more tangible than the room in which I stand. This thing, this off feeling that manifests from an unknown place, feels more real than the floor I’m standing on. Everything zooms in swiftly (like in the movies) and I become increasingly isolated to this feeling. My knees buckle, my breath shortens, and even though I feel like running somewhere I do not move. I am in the most literal sense trapped in my mind. Let’s consider for a moment someone who has experienced anxiety and panic described in that detail to you as their current reality. How would you respond? I truly believe most of us have at least experienced some form of intense Anxiety/Panic/PTSD but I also know a handful of people who have not and certainly not at the level one might label “extreme.”
So there are two things I want to clarify here, beyond the experience itself.
1.) IF YOU HAVE STRUGGLED WITH ANXIETY/PANIC
- Anxiety will come and it will eventually go, but one thing is indisputable…anxiety will force you to deal. You will have to breathe, you will have to search, you will have to “come to”, you will have to get up the next day and you will have to express to someone you trust regardless of whether they can do anything that you’re in the battle. Let me tell you this, if you think you’re being tough by keeping it all in you are not. I know, it may not be something that can be understood. You may be recovering from a traumatic season or memory. You may not want to be vulnerable. I get it. However, I also know this; if you do not bring community in, anxiety will become your community and you will live with it. You will watch TV with it, go to dinner with it, and day-by-day, week-by-week, you will literally walk with it.
2.) IF YOU LOVE SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY/PANIC- I am not going to complicate this, because it is not very complicated. In fact, I think it’s more of a list, so, here’s the list.
- Do not tell them to calm down. They aren’t calm. Give them a minute.
- Do not invalidate their fear(s) not matter how irrational they may be.
- Do not respond in a way that will penetrate their feeling of being alone.
- Do not insist they cheer up or go out with you, but offer.
- Do – Be Patient, Be Loving, Listen, or Just be with them.
- Do- Answer their phone call if you can.
- Do- Ask questions that help them think through the source (if you can).
- Do- Check in. They may seem like a zombie but they will love you for it.
- Do- Remind them. They aren’t crazy, but you get that it feels really bad.
Let me end with this. I have never failed because of my anxiety. I have never not shown up. I have considered it, but I never just quit all together. I’m just referring to everyday life, and you may be thinking, well, you haven’t had MY life. You’re right, I haven’t, and if anxiety completely stopped your life I am sorry. I’m sure it is validated on some level. However MY truth remains on the premise of a mindset, which says that while anxiety screams no I must say yes eventually. I also believe that I was designed with a promise that will oversee every season of my life. I will be on the receiving end of grace. I will be taken care of even when I feel abandoned. It is my personal belief that this world no matter how full of turmoil was intended to be woven and strengthened with predestined relationships. Do you have to work at relationships? Yes. Are they a coincidence? No. Be vulnerable. Make that phone call. Reach out to that friend. Pray, reflect, and keep steady with hope.