It’s 6AM, and your alarm clock has just alerted you that it’s time to wake up and start your day. Instantly you are awake and ready to begin your day. You turn off your alarm and sit up in bed, thinking about the day ahead. You quickly assess your plans for the day, check the weather forecast on your phone, get up from bed, stretch, and begin your day. You get dressed, make and eat a healthy breakfast, brush your teeth and hair, etc. You check your bag to make sure you have everything you need for the day ahead before you leave the house, and you head out to your car, knowing you have plenty of time to get to work, drink a cup of coffee, and move forward with your daily plans.
Does that sound pretty accurate for you? Nope, me neither.
Here’s how my average morning looks:
6AM: Alarm goes off – snooze button
6:15AM- Alarm goes off – snooze button.
6:30AM- Alarm goes off and my dog pokes me with his nose and whines to go outside. Snooze button. Open door for dog. Go back to bed.
6:45AM- Alarm goes off – snooze button.
6:47AM- Dog barks to come back in. I get up and let him in. Then my bladder realizes I’m upright and I head to the bathroom. The alarm, which I left in snooze mode, goes off while I’m in the bathroom, and I hurry to finish up so that I can flush and turn it off. I flush, run to turn the alarm off, and check the weather on my phone and my plans for the day mid-run.
6:50AM- Turn off alarm. Sound of alarm continues to echo in my head while I wake up my middle schooler. Middle schooler complains and goes back to sleep.
6:55AM- Stand in the kitchen and consider going back to sleep myself, because I am multiple levels of tired, my dog is hungry, my kid is complaining about having to be awake, and I need to be out the door and on my way in thirty minutes. And I know that, even when the day is done, I will still need to do it all again tomorrow. And what if I mess something up today or don’t get done what needs to get done? Then I will have to add it to my list for tomorrow, and tomorrow is busy too. How am I going to do all this? What if I mess something up? There’s just too many tasks and too many steps, and I’m sure to make a mistake somewhere….
I know I’m not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), in the U.S. alone, over 40 million adults suffer from anxiety every day. And among people diagnosed with clinical depression, almost half receive a chronic anxiety diagnosis as well.
But while statistics are interesting and helpful for understanding how widespread a problem is, they don’t tell me much about what it’s like to live with anxiety on a daily basis. Of course, that’s not something I need to do any research to know. I live with this every day.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression sometime around 2000 during my first year of college, and my doctor added a General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) diagnosis a short time later. And, while depression and anxiety are two different diagnoses, my experience with them has been that they are two sides of the same coin. So, when I experience something emotionally painful, it is easy for me to slip quickly into a sense of overwhelming sadness and despair, which is accompanied by physical symptoms like chronic tiredness, headaches, and irritability. These symptoms then slow me down, making me less likely to want to seek uplifting experiences, and thereby perpetuating the depressive cycle. Eventually my emotional fog will lift, but it takes days, weeks, or even longer depending on the severity of the depressive episode and my circumstances.
But while depressive episodes slow me down, anxiety tends to speed me up, but not in a good way. Remember how exciting Christmas was when you were a kid? Those few weeks of waiting between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day were almost unbearably wonderful because you had that time to dream of all the excitement and wonders of Christmas day, and if you were like me, a month of anticipation was enough to build your expectations all out of proportion with reality. I’m gonna get the Barbie dream house and the kitten.
As good as that excitement felt, it is a form of anxiety, albeit one that is completely wonderful and healthy. But Generalized Anxiety Disorder happens when all of that tension that looks like excitement on Christmas Eve shows up when you’re expecting something negative, even if you can’t specifically identify it. So, think of it this way: you’re excited about something bad. Not happy-excited, worried-excited. Nervous. Imagining all the worst-case scenarios. Over-planning. Running through all the possibilities in your mind over and over, unable to focus on anything else.
Now, let me put it to you plainly.
Anxiety is fear.
You can read all the scientific information you want about Generalized Anxiety Disorder; heck, you can buy your own copy of the DSM 5 if you want. And when you’re up all night or distracted all day and all your thoughts are worries, you can google “anxiety symptoms” and “should I see a doctor if I have anxiety about…”. In fact, you probably will do a bunch of google searches, because you’re anxious about your anxiety (trust me, I do it too). These aren’t bad things to do; gathering information is a great way to help you decide how to get help and to help you know that you’re not alone in having these sorts of emotional problems.
While you’re at it, though, take some time to put down your phone or tablet and pick up your Bible for information on anxiety. There are hundreds of Bible verses about fear, which tells me that God knows that I’m going to be afraid about all sorts of things, and that sometimes that fear will overwhelm me. It tells me that feeling anxious isn’t a personal flaw or a sign that my faith is weak. It tells me that God doesn’t even expect me to be fearless; He expects me to look for Him when I am afraid.
Fear is God’s voice reminding you that you need Him. It is God’s call to you, telling you that you were never meant to have the kind of strength and fortitude that life in a fallen world requires. Fear gives you the opportunity to draw near to Him and to rely on Him to care for you and uphold you when you can’t do it yourself (and when you can too).
Here is what I’m not telling you: I am not telling you that you shouldn’t seek medical and psychological help when you’re anxious. (Because you should.) I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take psychiatric medication. (Because your doctor may tell you you should, and your doctor is probably right if she does.) I am not telling you that your faith or your confidence or your love for Jesus is weak because you need “outside” help. Because God never intended for any of us to be self-reliant, and God works through people. (See Proverbs 3:5, John 14:1, Isaiah 12:2 and 41:10, Jeremiah 29:11, Joshua 1:9, Philippians 4:19, and Proverbs 29:25, among many others.)
Here’s what I am telling you: Your faith is not weak because you are anxious. If you are one of God’s children, saved by faith through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are one of His beloved children, and you are living in a fallen world. Your sins are forgiven, but you will still sin, regularly, I bet. But although anxiety and fear are some of the effects of living in a sinful world, the feelings themselves are not sinful. Anxiety is one of the many ways that God taps us on the shoulder, reminding us that He’s there to help. And if God is tapping your shoulder, it’s probably because He knows you need help, and He wants you to get it. God does some of His greatest work through the care of Christian, or even non-believing mental health counselors and doctors.
One of the biggest eye-openers for me in my walk with Christ has been the realization that God uses my difficult circumstances — and my emotional reactions to them — to get my attention. When I am emotionally unsettled it is often a sign that there is something in my life that I need to address and care for, and many times it’s my emotional health. Think of your emotions the same way you think of the notifications on your phone, or the check-engine light on your car. Negative emotions, or any emotion that gives us discomfort, are often signs that there is something in our lives, minds, or hearts that needs attention.
Thanks for reading. Next week I will continue this series on anxiety and show you why it is sometimes the simplest things that bring on feelings of worry and overwhelm. Although I am still working through the reset of my blog, you can still contact me by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find me on Facebook by searching for Melanie Jayne Makovsky, on Instagram @melanie_makovsky, and on Twitter at @MelanieMakovsk1 . In the future I will be offering a weekly newsletter, membership perks, downloadable materials, eBooks, and hopefully much more. May the Lord bless you and keep you.