I stood in the girls restroom trying to stifle my uncontrollable sobs so no one could hear. After a few minutes, I began to breathe easier. Looking into the mirror I dried my eyes. ”Niclair, you can do this! You’ve got to do this! You’re almost there! Pick yourself up and keep going!” I whispered these words to myself as I stared into my now red and puffy eyes.
This was one of several attacks I had suffered in high school and college. At the time, I thought I was overwhelmed and stressed and you know- over- emotional like we assume teenage girls are. I now know that I had been experiencing anxiety attacks.
The stress of constant studying and pressure to achieve the grades I needed, to be accepted to my universities of choice was overwhelming, especially in an academically competitive school like the one I attended. I was pushing myself beyond my physical capacity with late nights, early mornings and still failing to achieve the desired grades.
While I am happy I did it, and am pleased with my success, I can’t hide the fact that it was TOUGH! But, I wanted it, so I pushed for it!
Anxiety is something that I have always struggled with. It’s the ”perfectionist” side of me that I believe is the root of my anxiety. Not that I, myself wanted to be perfect, but I had always felt that people expected me to be ‘perfect’ and so I always felt that pressure to perform, to be the best, to do the right thing, to do the expected thing. There was no room for mistakes. People depended on me. I know that my parents only ever expected me to do my personal best, but I carried a misconception that ‘I’ couldn’t afford to ever disappoint, so I put pressure on myself to out-do my own ‘best’.
Let me just interject here that, Perfection is something none of us can ever achieve. Only CHRIST is perfect. The perfection that some us strive for is just a false sense of security and satisfaction that we get to shield us from our insecurities and vulnerability about others may think about us. I love how Brene Brown describes it in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’.( Go read it now if you haven’t! I’ve read it twice. It’s so enlightening!) ”Perfectionism is , at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance……we want to be perceived as perfect.” Truth is, as long as it looks perfect on the outside to everyone else, we have achieved success!
I digress a little. I’m sharing my story- not struggle- with anxiety because it is real and many people are affected by it and don’t realise. As described by the NHS website, Anxiety is characterised by feelings of worry, uneasiness or fear. While feelings of anxiety are completely normal at times in ones’ life, for example, life- changing event, a big exam, etc. if these feelings are affecting your regular routine and daily life, then you may have to seek help.
For me, help wasn’t as serious as seeing a therapist or GP, but I do have some strategies on hand to help me when I feel an attack coming on and some ways to lessen my anxiety in general about certain life situations.
Just to give you an idea, some common symptoms of anxiety are:
-a sense of dread
-constantly feeling stressed
-nail- biting/chewing habit
-refraining from unplanned or spontaneous activities
-the need for a predetermined plan all the time
Signs of an anxiety attack are mostly physical, and can include:
-Heart palpitations ( irregular heartbeat, strong or fast)
-shortness of breath
-Feeling faint or weak
Please bear in mind that everyone is different and this is by no means to be taken as official medical advice! It is purely a synopsis of my personal research and experience. Anxiety doesn’t only affect your psychological health but can affect your physical health as well. I encourage you to do a self- evaluation and make the choice to see a professional if you feel anxiety is hindering your daily life and normal routine.
We were on our way to church, it might have been our second or third Sunday as newlyweds. Hubby was driving, and we were both just in our thoughts and I burst into tears. I couldn’t help myself, I didn’t know what was wrong. My heart just suddenly felt like someone had set a couple of bricks on it. Of course he was concerned and pulled over until I was calm. And I was so embarrassed, I thought, ”my brand new husband probably wondering what is wrong with this girl and fretting about what he may have to deal with in future.”
Truth: I had just done some major life changing stuff and I barely took the time to really let it sink in. I graduated school, returned home, started two jobs and got engaged all in the space of 6 months. A year from my engagement, I was married and ‘living with man’! (Homegirl grow up in church you know, that’s a big deal!) And it was all just hitting me like a ton of bricks and……yeah! However I am grateful for such an understanding and supportive husband. He is never and has never been judgemental or scared of these ‘imperfections’. He just goes with my flow! 🙂
Since then, I’ve had a few other attacks as an adult, but now that I can recognise them and understand that as a result of anxiety, I try as much as possible to release my grip on always trying to ‘have it together’ or knowing the plan.
I aim to keep my mind on the things that I can control and surrender what I can’t. And on those few days that everything falls to pieces, I use the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique. This was suggested by a close friend of mine, and it really helps me during an attack.
During the onset of an attack, I take slow, deep breaths and look for
5 things that I can see
4 things that I can feel
3 things that I can hear
2 things that I can smell and
1 thing that I can taste
I also look for an object to focus in on and concentrate on its details. e.g a window drape, the colour, texture, pattern etc.
Anxiety is quite common with many people today, especially in woman because of the many social pressures to again be fit, be successful, be a model career woman, be an entrepreneur, be the ‘magazine’ mom, be the ‘trophy’ wife, to be…PERFECT!
I am at the point where I am so tired of trying to live to other’s expectations! it’s exhausting! It’s stressful and self- destructive! So while I know anxiety is real, and I accept that. It’s something that I am trying to reduce as much as possible these days by releasing myself from these pressures and just following, at my own pace, the path God has laid out for me.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
This verse is always in my back pocket. It’s a constant reminder to surrender my concerns, my worries, insecurities to Christ- and honestly, when you fully let go of them you will experience HIS Peace. His Peace will keep you. His Peace reminds me that HE has the power to ‘perfect’ everything that concerns me, so I don’t need to worry!
Matthew 6:25-34 reminds me that, if God has strategically and divinely placed everything in nature around me, then surely he has a divine plan for my life as well.
I also don’t need to try and keep up with everyone around me, I can run/ walk/skip at my own pace because Romans 8:28 tells me that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’
I know what it is to strive for something with everything in you because you fear to disappoint yourself and others. I still struggle with that now, but I’m learning that my success and accomplishment cannot be based on other’s measuring stick. If that’s the case I will forever be trying to ‘keep up’ but instead falling short. I’m seeing the need to be compassionate with myself because I cannot control other’s perception of who I am or who they think I am suppose to be. What defines me is who God says that I am!
As I leave you with these thoughts, this scripture is one that I keep in my other back pocket:
Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
Trust God to take you where he wants you to be!
If you feel like anxiety is something you struggle with and would like someone to talk to, I am happy to be a listening ear and shoulder for support. Get in touch with me! We can pray on this together!
Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll be sharing about anxiety in children, how to spot it and coping strategies. Until then,