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