Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting 40 million adults (ADAA, 2019). It can lead to compulsivity, panic attacks, and depression. It affects many people, yet the majority of us still treat it as though it doesn’t exist or can’t affect us. There are a multitude of things that increase my anxiety. I’ve been epileptic since 2012. Having a cognitive electrical imbalance in the brain predisposes me to anxiety. Having a sick child in the NICU, I’ve had to teach myself ways to combat it, lest I be mentally unwell enough to care for my son. These are the things I’ve found that help.
Before my son was born, I always tried to stick to a workout regimen. Whether or not I actually did depended on the circumstances of the week. If I thought myself too busy, I’d simply tell myself that it was okay to miss that day’s workout and move on to the next day. As I did this, though, I continued making excuses for myself until there were full weeks I hadn’t worked out at all.
Since having my son, I’ve dedicated myself at least three days a week to working out. I’ve found that doing so provides mental clarity, almost like a muscular meditation, only instead of being quiet I get to throw around a bunch of weights. If I happen to miss a day, my mind tends to resort to the same pattern of overanxious thoughts. It doesn’t really matter if you workout five minutes, an hour, or two hours. The goal is to get moving and get your mind on something else besides whatever it is you’re worrying about.
Many people have asked me why it is that I write. Writing is therapeutic for me. I write because I am able to articulate my own emotions and thoughts better through writing than I ever could talking to a therapist. When I write, it’s like I’m talking to a therapist in my head. We’re just sitting on the same couch.
I started blogging as a way to express myself through my writing. I still have other projects that I contribute to, but I am able to convey short-burst emotional and therapeutic writing through blogging that I couldn’t in some of my longer works. I’ve also found that sharing my experiences can shed some light on the reality of what parents in the NICU experience and will hopefully help others out there who may be struggling with their own anxieties.
Every single day, whether I’m at home or at work, I begin my day with scripture. One easy way that I’m able to do this is with Jesus Calling.This provides a 365-day calendar of devotions that includes lessons from scripture. One of the things in the past that has elevated my anxiety is wondering what the Lord would think of how I’m handling my emotions. Would He pass judgment on me for how poorly I’m doing? Does He think I’m doing poorly at all? I found that in thinking this way, it only made me more anxious to the point that it would actually prevent me from seeking the Lord further, which is the opposite of what He would want. Remember, anxiety can cause us to rewire our own thought patterns to delve deeper into depression and darkness.
What Jesus Calling provides is scripture-driven communications with anxieties in mind. It offers a calming voice that hopes to provide mental clarity, alertness with the Lord, but also rid you of any newfound anxieties that you may have. It hopes to bring you into the light, instead of letting you slip further into darkness.
4. Social Media Vacation
The fact of the matter is that we live in a very communicative time period. Social media provides us the ability, at any given time, in any given place, to tell the world what we’re doing. If everyone used this as an opportunity to spread good wealth and fortune, then we’d have absolutely nothing to worry about. Only a select few people do this, though. The majority of people only share with you what they want you to see. This makes it look like everyone out there is living their best lives when they too could internally be struggling.
Part of emotional maturity is finding the things that make you mentally unwell and ridding your life of them. This isn’t to say that we are always easily able to find the culprit. My son being in the hospital causes me anxiety, but he’s in the hospital so he can get well, which will hopefully decrease my anxiety. So, for me to make myself emotionally well again, I need to find the things that provide further anxieties in my life and rid myself of them. Doing so will allow me to be mentally present for my son when he needs me.
One of these “things” could be social media. If social media is a source of your anxiety, there are two ways you can approach making yourself well again. Either you can rid yourself of social media entirely for awhile, or you can rid yourself of the things on social media that are the source of your anxiety. There are plenty of things out there (pages, people, etc.) that attempt to spread good wealth and fortune. It’s actually what I hope to do in any of my pursuits. Follow these things and mental clarity will follow.
One way to combat anxiety is by rewiring thought patterns that attempt to cause us grief. Hobbies are a good way to do this. When we constantly focus on our own inner monologue, it becomes impossible to make any mental progress.It’s just a large amount of chatter. Taking a break and focusing on something else lets the mind attempt to heal itself of these misguided thought patterns.
There are a couple hobbies I’ve picked up while my son has been in the NICU: drawing and reading. Drawing requires such attentiveness to detail that it becomes difficult to focus on many other things. Reading allows you to immerse yourself in another world apart from your own current reality. It can also serve as a mirror into someone else’s life that could provide you further perspective. Much like exercise, though, it really doesn’t matter what your hobby is so much as it does finding one that you enjoy doing.
6. “Try Me” Instead of “Why Me?”
It can be easy in a situation of uncontrollable grief to be engrossed in your own anxiety that getting out of it proves too difficult. Letting yourself slip this far in has a lot to do with your own perception of your grief and anxieties.
When my wife and I had our son and he had to go to the NICU, I constantly asked myself why we had to be the ones to go through this. Why did he have to endure such pain when other children out there were able to live normally? What I should have done was say, “Okay, this is going to be tough but we’re going to get through it.”
By constantly feeling sorry for yourself, all you’re really doing is telling your mind that it’s okay to be overanxious. You’re giving yourself an excuse to feel poorly. If this isn’t caught, it can really progress into depression. It’s important to remember that anxiety is a mental health disorder that can lead to depression, which is an illness.
If you knew you were going to get sick tomorrow, wouldn’t you take steps to prevent it today? Why not treat anxiety the same way?
You can read self-help books until you’re blue in the face. You can research WebMD for your newfound symptoms. You can even read this very article for tips on how to rid your anxieties. The fact is, if these suggestions aren’t helping you, it’s perfectly normal and even encouraged for you to seek external help.
Anxiety is a disorder which can lead to serious mental illness in depression. I can’t say this enough. There are medications out there that can attempt to treat this illness. Admitting to yourself that you need this help doesn’t make you any less normal. Perfectly normal people require help every single day for things a lot less important than mental health. You owe it to yourself, your family, your children if you have them, to seek help through any resources around you. Be mentally well for yourself, so you can be mentally well for others.