I began to have extreme anxiety and panic attacks in my early twenties when I first started my radio career. At the time I had no idea what was happening to me. I would experience intense disorientation. Imagine not knowing who you are or why you are on this planet. It is kind if like that. I felt detached from myself. Sort of like a nightmarish out of body experience. Basically, I thought I was going mad. I was a relieved to find out there was a name for what I experienced.
It is Called ‘De-personalization,’ or ‘De-realization.’
This sounds like an odd description until you have experienced this type of panic attack. If you have, it makes perfect sense. However, the experience is way more than odd, it’s terrifying.
My mother took me to the doctor and they explained that I was having panic attacks. They prescribed me some Xanax and I was off to college for the fall semester. However, the panic attacks did not stop. I treated my disorder with alcohol throughout the majority of my twenties. Here is what’s interesting. I was so cut off from myself emotionally that it wasn’t until later in my life after I got sober that I made the connection between the drinking and the anxiety. I’m happy to say that I no longer have panic attacks. Oh yea, and I’ve been sober for 15 years. However, I do still experience anxiety.
In the paragraphs below I will explain 5 key things I practice to deal with anxiety. They are not the usual things you hear about like deep breathing, exercise and cutting back on caffeine. Don’t get me wrong, those things are tremendously important when it comes to managing anxiety and I make it a point to practice them. However, my suggestions are primarily related to overall mental and spiritual health. If you want to see the vlog version of this information just click here https://youtu.be/r6UqLUDAIfE
While it is dire to get to the root of your anxiety issues, in that scary moment of disorientation, distracting yourself (when possible) can be very helpful. When I was in college, I had a terrible panic attack that lasted for about 2 hours. I walked to the payphone in the dormitory (yes, it was a long time ago) to call 911 because I thought I might be having a heart attack. I put the phone down and reasoned that 21 was too young to have a heart attack.
Instead, I walked around campus for about an hour. When I got back to my room, I began to play my guitar to see if I could infuse myself with the melody and ‘come back to myself.’ It worked. Now, if I ever start to feel that scary ‘de-personalization’ rolling in, I make sure to engage in something that will distract me.
Letting go of the Constant Need for Approval
For the longest time I allowed what other people thought of me to dictate who I was as a person. You could say I was not a very well-integrated person. Being well-integrated means that your private behavior coincides with your public behavior. The problem for me was I lacked an internal sense of self. My identity was defined from the ‘outside in’ rather than from the ‘inside out.’ I felt powerless over the people and situations in my life. I actually did not believe I had any power to change things. Letting other people and circumstances determine my behavior and choices caused what is called Free Floating Anxiety. In other words, I could not pin my anxiety on any specific issue, it just came and went, a lot.
Remember, we cannot control anything outside of ourselves. So, what happens when we are guided by those things? We experience anxiety because we allow the important things in our life to be determined by what we can’t control. Understanding this helped me surrender it to God and allow Him to do for me what I could not do for myself. Over the years, He has been faithful in healing my self-esteem. Which brings me to number three.
Practicing the Serenity Prayer
The short version of this prayer reads: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
By the way, if you want step by step instructions on how to live out this prayer check out this video https://youtu.be/xbhGZkjpVrY from my you tube channel.
Let me give you a weird illustration of what I mean. I used to have these frantic dreams over and over. I would be running through the woods desperately trying to find the edge of the forest. No matter how long or far I ran, I could never seem to get there. Then I would have other dreams where I was trying to complete a simple task but no matter how hard I tried I could not finish it. I just kept going around and around in these desperate circles but never getting anywhere.
During one of these periods I was having some challenges at work. I didn’t feel like I had any control over the situation and I was afraid to ask for what I needed. I started to realize that my dreams were a signal of my current emotional state. Not only that, but much of my anxiety was because of those feelings of powerlessness. I began to pray the Serenity Prayer and ask the Lord to help me determine what I could change, and the courage to try and change those things.
After that, I made a list of all my grievances (and the big raise I wanted) and called a meeting with my supervisors. I’m sure I looked ridiculous as I was shaking and reading my requests from the list on my notebook. Sadly, they did not grant any of my requests. But you know what? I sure felt better. And you know what else? Those dreams stopped. I realized what I needed to do. I had to stop obsessing over the anxiety inducing things I could not control, and pray for the courage to act on the things I did have control over. This made all the difference in the world.
Alter your Thinking
I’ll be honest, I’m one of those pessimistic types that does not see the glass as half empty…there is actually nothing in the darn thing. The glass is just empty! So, I have to work pretty hard to alter my negative thoughts. One of the ways I do this is by constantly practicing gratitude and thanking God for the big and little blessings in my life. 1 Thessalonian’s 5:18 tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God.”
Another way I have changed my thinking over the years is to simply stop the negativity train in its tracks. Here is an example. Have you ever been getting ready for the day and you spill coffee all over your shirt or stub your toe? You let out an angry wail and scream: “It’s going to be one of those days.” That is when I stop the ‘train’ and say: “wait a minute, it is not going to be one of those days. Sure, it got off to a rocky start, but from here on out I’m going to have a great day. Nine times out of ten the day goes great. While it’s hard at first, these minor thought pattern shifts have greatly reduced my anxiety over the years.
Reach Out to Others, Especially When you Don’t Want to.
If you are an introvert like me this can be especially hard. However, isolation breeds all kinds of issues and anxiety is at the top of that list. After my brother died, I forced myself to go out with friends even when I desperately did not want to. Afterwards, I would feel so much better and I was glad that I hadn’t stayed home instead. During that time, I can honestly say that my friends saved my life.
Proverbs 18:1 tells us that “One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 reminds us that “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” To know I was not alone helped me overcome my anxieties. Reaching out to God and others was an important part of the process.
What about you? Have you struggled with anxiety? Do you still have anxiety or panic attacks? Can you share any wisdom from your own perspective? If so, please do so in the comment section below. Also, if you enjoyed this blog you may really like this video https://youtu.be/5f6h4FrYLJg about how family dynamics can sometimes fall apart when one person in the family sobers up or gets healthy.
I will leave you with one of my favorite scriptures. This one brings me a lot of comfort when I’m feeling anxious:
“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:2-7).