Fighting Anxiety With A Good Word

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Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad.
-Proverbs 12:25

Not too long ago I had some strange physical symptoms that were on-going and repetitive. They were severe enough to impact my quality of life and for a long time I was completely exhausted and worn out. It is amazing what going without proper sleep or nutrition for long periods of time will do to your body. Some of the symptoms were definitely part of a physical problem I was having, but I believe some of the symptoms were related to my emotional and mental health at the time. I now think that I was going through a period of depression and anxiety.

I had never considered myself an anxious person before. I do like planning and structure but I wasn’t prepared for the way that anxiety took over my body. I would be feeling fine when suddenly my whole body would experience a feeling like chills, my stomach would roil, and my heart and my mind would race. I would be stuck. This tended to happen to me most often in the early morning hours (think 4a.m.!) and first thing in the morning as I was trying to start my day. I was so frustrated because I didn’t feel like there was anything in my life to be stressed out or anxious over.

I am a verbal processor. I like to talk things through. I have discovered that my primary love language is words of affirmation. So I used words to battle my anxiety.

  1. I repeated favorite, comforting Bible verses either out loud or in my head. When I woke up in the wee hours of the morning I repeated Psalm 23 over and over. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…..Or what has become one of my favorite lines from Psalm 139 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. This didn’t always put me back to sleep but it helped to calm my spirit and relieve some of the frustration of being awake at 4a.m.
  2. I made a mantra for the times when the anxiety seemed to kick in for no apparent reason during the day. Mantra’s seemed silly at first. I have a friend who calls them “breath prayers,” pleas that can be uttered in one breath when the mind is stuck. Having a go-to phrase that I could repeat when my body seemed out of control and my mind couldn’t function was so helpful. Some mornings when I was struggling to get going it was Lord, give me strength! Other times when anxiety struck during the day it was Lord, you are good!  or I do not have to be afraid. 
  3. I learned to ask others to speak good words to me. Often as I was getting ready for bed I would begin to feel anxious. I learned to ask my husband to speak words of affirmation to me. My husband loves me and wanted to help me, but he is not a verbal person like I am. So I learned to make my needs known. I would say, “Honey, for some reason I am starting to feel anxious again. Can you tell me why you love me?” His words were always a balm to my heart. Sometimes I would ask him to tell me that everything was going to be alright. It is such a trite phrase, but coming from my husband, whom I trust, it calmed me down. I learned to ask my friends to speak good words to me. Anxiety can be isolating and it grows when I feel alone.  So I texted trusted friends and asked them to pray for me. Their return texts of kind words, scripture, and prayer were always helpful. I learned to call friends so I could hear them pray for me. One friend would always say, “Sarah, tell me what you know to be true.” And as I would speak the things that I knew to be true about God and myself the anxiety would subside.
  4. I sang. I love music. On days where I felt off-kilter I would stream worship music as a constant background in the house. The music kept my mind focused on good words no matter what I was doing. I made sure to keep headphones and my mp3 player next to my bed so that I could listen to calming music when I couldn’t sleep at night.

Good words effectively battle anxiety because they replace the lies that are swirling uncontrollably with truth. Corrie ten Boom said “Worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts swirling around a center of fear.” The only way to chase away fear, or at least function through the fear, is to replace it with what I know to be true about God and how He loves me. It was so frustrating to feel like my body was betraying me. It was frightening to feel like I had no control over the way my body was physically acting. It was exhausting to not feel like myself. But I could remind myself that God loves me, He is always with me, and He will give me what strength I need for the next moment.

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Redeeming Consumerism: Seeing the People Behind the Product

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Research shows that Third Culture Kids (TCKs) don’t just process information when they read or hear a news story. Because TCKs have experience living in another culture they absorb a news story in a different way – they put themselves in the place of the story. They see the sights, they smell the smells, they hear the chatter of the foreign language, they feel deep empathy with the people involved.

I am a TCK. I grew up in Nigeria, West Africa and spent some teenage years just outside of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I was raised to care about the world and current events but I have a very hard time now watching or reading the news. Because of my life experiences when I read a news story I feel transported to that place, and sometimes the emotions that come along with that are just too much. That is why I connect so deeply with the fair trade movement. I have lived in a third world country and watched people that I cared about struggle to survive. Paying people a fair price for the goods they make is not just a vague concept to me.

My early childhood years were spent in an environment much different from where I live today. I struggle sometimes to explain it to my boys. There is no way they can understand the dusty African ground, the jubilation that came with the first rain of the season after months of heat and dust, the joy of sitting in a mango tree and eating the fruit as the juice runs down your face. My kids are used to unlimited running water and electricity. I remember the time of day when the generator had to be turned on and off in order for our house to have electricity. I remember the huge barrel at the top of a tower that collected rain water for our use. My kids are used to walking into a store and having limitless options and access to pretty much anything they want; food, toys, clothes, movies. I remember shopping at markets with tables of raw meat swarming with flies, produce piled on cloths on the ground, and milk being sold out of buckets. The only new toys were the ones that kids back from furlough brought with them, causing jealously for those of us who had no hope of getting a new toy until we got to go on furlough too.

I cannot adequately explain my childhood to my children, but I can instill in them the idea that people are connected. I can help them understand that spending our money here in America can empower someone who has a more difficult life than we do somewhere else in the world. That is why I love the Fair Trade Friday Club and it’s purpose: to  tackle poverty through job opportunity and empowerment rather than enablement. 100% of the proceeds support the artisans, more than 500 women and their children from all over the world.

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These beautiful earrings were sent to me through the Fair Trade Friday Earring of the Month Club. They were hand made by Waeh Me who is 26 years old. According to her bio on the Refugee Project website Waeh Me spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Burma before relocating to Houston, Texas. She probably suffered religious and ethnic persecution. Buying earrings that she made helps her provide for her 4 children. She is 10 years younger than me and has already had more challenge and hardship than I will probably ever see in my life time. There are many more women with similar stories to Waeh Me’s, women who want to care for their family and give them the best possible life that they can. Women who struggle every single day just to survive that day and make it to the next.

How much do mass produced earrings cost at a local big box store? The Earring of the Month Club is just $12.50 per month and every month a different pair of handmade, fair trade, lovely earrings will show up in your mailbox. You can save them for yourself or send them as gifts to friends (you can choose that option when you sign up on-line, they can be shipped to different addresses, how cool is that!).

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I have worn my earrings a lot this summer. Every time I put them on I finger them and think about Waeh Me. I say a prayer for her asking God to encourage her and bless the work of her hands. I pray that her children are healthy and happy, just like I want my children to be. Every time someone complements me on my earrings I have an opportunity to tell them about Waeh Me and encourage them to be a part of building up women like her through buying fair trade.

I hope you will go and look around the Fair Trade Friday Club website. There are various options for monthly clubs to join as well as individual products to purchase if a monthly club is not a fit for you.

(The Fair Trade Friday Club is a ministry of Mercy House Kenya.)