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Fighting Anxiety

alec vanderboom

(Someone I love has anxiety this week, so I thought I'd invite you all into the joint conversation)

Anxiety attacks are like an old sport's injury. On an average day, its unnoticeable. Add a weekend of strenuous hiking, and your bum ankle makes you hobble for weeks. As Catholics, we are constantly running a spiritual marathon. We're going to have more anxiety attacks, than the secular "civilians" around us, because God is always pushing our frail, imperfect bodies to be more like Him. There's a reason the words "protect us Lord, from all anxiety" ends every Mass. We need that prayer. After mortal sin, anxiety attacks are the Devil's favorite weapon to get us off track from our vocation.

For me, it's helpful to use a multi-layered healing plan whenever anxiety attacks surface.

First, its recognition. I need to know when my anxiety levels are peaking above normal. Honestly, its really hard to be a Mother. A constant level of paranoia is necessary when parenting a toddler. Sometimes it's hard to know when I'm appropriately "concerned" about my children and when I'm being unreasonably anxious.

If I feel myself slipping, I need to get out of my head. My thoughts are really destructive. I can try to pray about it at this point, but even more helpful is to talk to someone else. Just verbalizing my thoughts helps me sometimes. For me the best person to talk to is my husband. He's solidly in my corner. He's been down this road before. He usually can be a valuable outside "check" to the swirling thoughts in my head.

Now sometimes, my anxiety is so bad we get into a fight. (By fight I mean, my husband gently tells me things are not so black and I vehemently start shouting "Yes they are. You have no idea what I'm really talking about! You don't get me!") That's a hard place to be, because the last thing I want to start thinking about during an anxiety attack is that I'm also a crappy wife in addition to being a crappy mother.

When I'm beyond taking advice from my husband, I'm thrown back on my horrible ability to "self-soothe".  At this point, I've got to get really strict with myself. I start talking to myself in the third person and act like a personal trainer.

Step One: Rest. Take a break from the daily routine and focus on getting my anxiety injury healed.
Step Two: Be Gentle! The Devil likes to be harsh--pointing out all my fatal flaws and shortcomings. In response to him, I need to make sure that all my interior self-talk is extra gentle.
Step Three: Get an exercise buddy. I'll send out emails to some friends to ask for prayers to heal my anxiety.
Step Four: Resistance training. I've got to get out my affirmations. To counter-act all the negative self-talk, I've got to get some healthy positive self-talk. A therapist once talk me that all anxiety can be defeated with one of two tactics. Either I'm "over selling the likelihood of something terrible happening" or I'm under-estimating the possibility of my own ability to cope." So saying things like "I can't do this, but God can" or "whatever happens, God will take care of me" is very helpful.
Step Five: Patience. Some attacks are worse than other. Some take longer to heal.
Step Six: Know when to ask for professional help.  I really benefit from checking in with a professional therapist after my babies are born. For me, therapy isn't a thousand hours spent on the couch going over my childhood trust issues. I check in with a therapist on staff with my HMO. I do "cognative behavior therapy" --which is very focused, goal oriented stuff. After a few sessions, I feel better without meds and then I get to stop going to therapy. (In fact my most recent therapy appointment after getting worn down from Baby Abigail's colic lasted only 15 minutes. A new therapist confirmed that I didn't have post-partum depression. This secular therapist actually told me to a) not listen to my own mother, b) start praying the rosary and c) lean on my church friends for more help with childcare. Then she gave me her phone number to call in case I "started slipping." That kind of expert outside opinion (especially when it meshes so clearly with my own Carmelite spirituality) is so validating. I think my husband and I both felt better for my getting screened for anxiety and depression. I sort of compared it to getting a pro-active mammogram.

Know that I'll be praying for anyone who suffers from anxiety issue. An injured mama can still mother well! God heals all of our broken wings!