Thank you for joining us on our Navigating Worry course, if you’re just linking in now, the free, online course can be found here
And finally! Elaine’s story…
The word I dislike the most is process. To me, it means long-suffering, pondering, unsettled, unrest. When I look for answers, and the answer is “well, it’s a process,” my heart sinks. Knowing this about me has made the “process” of being “unwell” significantly harder than it maybe should have been. Being defined by others as being strong, confident, and reliable – only made this “process” worse.
In 2016 I was diagnosed with a disorder that took my sight, my mind as I knew it and, what I miss the most – my confidence.
I would go on to describe it as someone taking my world and throwing it up in the air just to see what and where the pieces would land. It would never look the same, it was different, and my process started. Who was I if I couldn’t read, remember details of our world, remember to pick up kids, recipes, remember songs or what year my kids were born.
Who are you when the mind you’ve relied on so strongly is gone and what feels like an only whisper is left? Who is around you to remind you of who you are? What coping strategies are needed for you to be safe in your own skin never mind looking after others?
To this day, I remain frustrated at moments with this process, yet writing this makes me realize just how far I have come.
How has anxiety played into this?
At first, I didn’t know it was anxiety. That was for weak people, I am strong – it can’t be that. I can hear my judgemental thoughts even now. The injury my brain sustained most don’t statistically live from. It means that even to this day or until I am healed, I can’t handle certain lights, sounds, environments, without significant coping skills and “outs.” So at first, I was able to view my obsessive thoughts and control as, just that, coping skills. I was being seen by 14 professionals who couldn’t agree on literally anything. They then put me with a brain trust worker who helped me work through what I later learned was PTSD. After a few seizures, the ministry was pulled in to make sure I was capable of taking care of our 5 kids. A supervisor when I showered, and a minor car accident with a doctor telling me I may never drive again.
What was left?
I left the house with industrial ear plugs, blue glasses to block out any light and little communication. It’s amazing how invisible you can make yourself when you try. I would go out as little as possible to avoid explaining myself to anyone, why I was different? Why I couldn’t remember their name? Why I wasn’t ‘Elaine’ anymore?
One day in Costco, I remember the devastated face of a grade 2 girl I knew from a classroom I helped in. I remembered her as a girl that helped me lead chapel each week for two years. I couldn’t find her name – it was there somewhere like alphabet soup. I stood there blank, then started to cry. I vowed to try and avoid kids that looked familiar, which became everyone. I became more and more isolated. I couldn’t find people who could relate, few understood and the feeling that most just wanted “me” back.
Anxiety for me has presented as a crippling fear that has impacted each minute of each day. When I found myself trying to control each little detail. I was taught to stop, analyze each thought, and discuss it with one of my safe team members. It often looked irrational- anxiety often does. Healing twice from PTSD has taught me that healing is often, not always, fourfold. You are made of a body, mind, soul, and spirit, healing needs to happen in each area. So prayer, reciting scripture, implementing strategies, and calming my physical body has all been apart of my coping.
This isn’t a one size fits all.
For me, I need to escape the situation when I get overwhelmed, communicate with the safe people around me, implement CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I speak truth and scripture into the space and then trust in the God who made me to see me through.
Easy peasy right?
Here’s an example with a bit of back story. The trial was carried out with Pres syndrome (my illness) with a case study of 25 people, within six months, fifteen of them died. This left the study without enough members to continue. Each time I experience a migraine, tingly arm, sore back, you name it … I hear these statistics. It’s true – yup, it’s real – yup – and I serve a God who is bigger and stronger than those.
I take time to assess my physical body, what do I need, doctor, medicine, ER, I speak to a safe person to see if I am “over the top,” I pray for healing over my body and peace for my mind. Each time my thoughts get away from me, I will sometimes allow one or two but catch myself before I spiral. I pray like crazy to receive wisdom and discernment to know what steps to take next.
Trust. I truly don’t know how people do this world without knowing that there is a Saviour. Who sees and hears every need, who is ever-present and available, and completely faithful every single time.
Every …… single ……. time …..
My prayer for you; a peaceful mind, a calm spirit, a healthy body, and a restful soul.
Meditate and Memorise ‘Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.’ Romans 8:26-28
Listen: Cornerstone, Hillsong
Listen: Alleluia, Upper Room – my go to when I have no words.
Anxiety Playlist: Created for us by Joshua Leventhal
A few other helpful resources
https://abide.co Abide, is the world’s most popular Christian meditation app, guiding hundreds of thousands of people around the world in Biblical truth and personal reflection.
This new app, ‘Switch,’ is an excellent tool for helping you deal with the root cause of your anxiety. It is based on Caroline Leaf’s 5-step program, which is designed to help you identify and eliminate the root of your anxiety, and help you build healthy new thinking habits through the mental process of reconceptualization.
https://pray-as-you-go.org Pray As You Go is a daily prayer session, designed to go with you wherever you go, to help you pray whenever you find time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work, study, etc. A new prayer session is produced every day of the working week and one session for the weekend. It is not a ‘Thought for the Day,’ a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer.
Divine hours. A form of prayer at specified times to be used by individuals or groups. The Divine Hours includes morning, midday, vespers (evening) and compline (before retiring) offices, having roots in the biblical tradition.
You’ve nearly completed this course on Anxiety and Worry. You can find the whole course by signing up here on the Fill In. Some of my favourite verses are from the book of Colossians, ‘so, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:12-14
The Greek word for “kindness” is chrēstotēs. It means “benignity, tender concern, uprightness.” It is kindness of heart and kindness of act.
One of the areas highlighted in my life recently has been kindness. In a world of cruelty and opinion and frustration, the universal and divine language of kindness helps to drown harsh updates, hungry humans, and wandering souls.
But it doesn’t just happen – in the garden of our hearts, we need to prune, tend, cultivate, and give away the fruit.
I imagine pruning looks something like this description in Ephesians 4:31-32, ‘get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’
Can you imagine if we lived like this?
There are whole lists of kindness we can follow, but we all know those don’t we? I believe it starts with this act of kindness, which, when applied, inevitably affects those around me – the act of being kind to myself.
It’s time to be vigilant on behalf of your own best self, which includes treating yourself as you treat a dear friend. You’re created by God, made in His image and loved beyond measure. God is calling you today to be kind to yourself, to acknowledge your beauty and God-given gifts.
Kindness allows silence and hears a whisper of worth over your soul.
Kindness allows questions, doubt, and grief.
Kindness rushes in like a parent over their hurting child.
Kindness takes the opportunity to free your baggage.
Kindness affects your whole being with both nurture (caring) and action (motivating).
Kindness recognises that you are created with qualities that are a blessing to others – what are yours?
Be kind to yourself today; it looks good on you,
Ok, so anxiety. I have struggled with anxiety for years.
Everyone is different, and I have had various forms of anxiety throughout my life. One form of anxiety I experience is what I refer to as ‘Night Attacks’ (not a technical term). For those who know me, you may be surprised to even hear that I struggle with anxiety. I’m told regularly by people that they are in awe of how much responsibility I can handle. But, the truth is, yes, during the day, I rarely experience anxiety. It’s not until everyone in my house is asleep, I’m left with my own thoughts that it begins. I am either trying to fall asleep or have fallen asleep, and my mind begins to replay many different things going on in my life. For example, I may start by thinking about what my teenager is struggling with and then feel like I am helpless and cannot resolve his situation. This then evolves into thoughts about work, how I am behind with different tasks and deadlines that are out of my control. This train of emotions then takes the same twisty negative thought process to my relationship and any insecurities I can cling to. I second guess all areas of my life, and without even trying my heart begins to race, my body is sweating, my chest and or jaw ache from irregular breathing, it almost feels as if I am having a heart attack. And the scariest part is how everything feels life and death.
My feelings about life at 12am can be the polar opposite at 8am. Waking up after experiencing a night of anxiety at times has made me feel crazy. When I think about the same topics during my morning coffee, I can’t believe how just a few hours before it felt like my whole world was falling apart, and I was indefinitely helpless.
For years I have strategically worked through each episode. Practicing getting out of bed and writing down all my thoughts, or walking to alleviate the shots of adrenaline my body is making. Having a warm bath, sometimes a cold shower depending on the season. Breathing exercises have been super helpful and reduced the length of attacks by half.
Recently, I was given a new, starter tool.
When I feel an attack coming on my first reaction now it to say Hello.
I know it’s cheesy. It sounds a little superficial, but honestly, it works, and I’ll tell you why. I have done a fair amount of research into why I experience these attacks, and one reason is because in the past I have had a lot of challenging, sometimes hostile situations I’ve had to deal with. God created our adrenal glands for such occasions. Adrenaline protects us, gives us the ability to decipher the best case scenario to keep us safe. Flight or fight etc. However, at 12am, my bodies natural reaction to a little stress translates into the mega amount of adrenaline. Basically, my body reacts as if I am entering a boxing ring and elevates my gloves ready to block and hit my opponent. The problem is there isn’t anything life-threatening, and my anxiety clings to all topics swimming around my mind.
I have had to give my body and mind permission to have anxiety.
I have learned to be thankful. My adrenaline has helped me through so many difficult situations, and I am very grateful for it. So at 12, 1 or 2am when I am jolted out of a deep sleep or simply feel the first signs of an oncoming attack taking place, I say Hello. Hello, adrenaline. Thank you for coming to protect me, but everything is ok. I acknowledge that this is a chemical reaction, and although I currently do not need the help, I appreciate that my body is designed to keep me safe. As soon as I start thinking these positive, affirming thoughts, it’s as if I walk out of the arena and back into the sweet, safe comforts of my own home. Don’t get me wrong, I can still have the symptoms of anxiety, but with the relief that this is very temporary and definitely not life-threatening.
Permission. For me, giving my body permission for adrenaline has changed my view and reactions. I feel the word anxiety can be communicated as negative, but this simply isn’t the case. And if we focus on only getting rid of it every time we have anxiety, it’s a perpetual cycle of already failing by experiencing it.
Don’t try and push your anxiety away.
Say Hello, say thank-you and give yourself time to be uncertain. God’s perfect design is there to keep us safe, and above all, you ARE safe. He’s got you.
Meditate and Memorise
‘I will praise the LORD who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me.’ Psalm 16:7
Today we look at community, this devotional is linked to Phil’s talks – sign up here
Most people have heard these words of Mother Teresa, ‘the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.’
Loneliness has been defined in different ways. A common definition is, ‘a state of solitude or being alone.’ The other definition is, ‘loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most.’
Our greatest need is food, shelter…and connection. Brene Brown writes a lot on this subject, ‘a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.’
It is so important to allow ourselves to be seen, sharing the truth of where we are at. Our fears, doubts, extreme thoughts. As Brene says, in doing so, ‘we connect with others and in turn give them permission to be themselves. In sharing our fears and insecurities, we find true relationships.’
Community is woven throughout scripture. I love where scripture writes of the importance of us being joined together, that we cannot function well without one another, that we are called to encourage one another, to bear one another’s burdens. We are designed for each other!
It’s so easy to withdraw isn’t it, I am often overthinking and sensitive – the familiar villain of fear can cause me to withdraw into my world where I find encouragement in scripture and in God’s presence,
But, that’s not enough.
Yes, my life is hidden with Christ in God, and I live/love that, but as you know one of favorite lines is, ‘created for community.’ I think the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to isolate us in loneliness – hiding away in a world of silence and unreality.
This needs us to make a change – stepping out, being vulnerable and honest, inviting people into our imperfections.
I love the idea of a community where are arms are wide open, where judgment is abandoned, and encouragement is the norm. Community allows light into the dark places,
Jen Hatmaker writes, ‘and as we witness this beautiful community, we aren’t just observing vulnerability but rather chains breaking, darkness receding, victory rising… when enough bright places are created, the dark has nowhere else to hide.
To do this, we have to be seen.
‘Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought I was the only one. ” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I thought I could do it alone. I had chosen not to engage fully in fellowship or let family see what gripped me. I thought that I would be judged by my family, my friends, or anyone who heard about what I had been going through.
Years later, the movie “Frozen” portrayed how this time in my life felt. When I saw this movie the first time, I SOBBED. For those who need a refresher: the part where from childhood to adulthood, Elsa locks herself in her room. Anna, her sister, tries to entice her to come out and play. Elsa always refuses and sometimes wouldn’t answer. Eventually, Anna gives up and leaves her alone. Fast forward to the end, and Elsa realizes what she needed all along was family and a friend.
It took me a long time before I would let people in to see what I was going through. Anxiety and depression gripped me hard from an early age. Finding people who understood, or even tried to just understand me was a game-changer. I had placed no value in community for a long time.
I would encourage anyone who feels like “no one will understand”- to reach out to trusted people. One of the tools I firmly believe the enemy uses is isolation: whether by actually isolating us from family and friends – or making us believe we are. We would have no idea how many people really have been dealing with anxiety and depression, until we reach out, or back to those we love.
Maybe just start with one person. I used to imagine what these conversations would look like – I would get so worked up that I would not even start them. But once I got going, how freeing it was to build community without hiding something real about me. For me – every time I would tell someone my story, it got easier to ask for help or let someone in.
Before I had my anxious breakdown, I had a friend tell me about his experience with anxiety and how he was overcoming it, and so, he was the first person I called on when things started getting bad for me. Having someone like that to talk to was incredibly helpful in learning to understand my anxiety and showed me that I wasn’t alone. I haven’t been shy when it comes to talking about my anxiety, and in doing so, I’ve met so many people who have been through situations similar to mine. Some of them sought help from their community immediately, but others say that they have never spoken about it until now and that they have spent years trying alone to find themselves again, which they did but with great effort and lots of time. I was fortunate to speak with people who had experience with anxiety, but I was also immensely blessed to have my whole bible study group committed to praying for me and checking in on me, most of whom admitted to me that they didn’t personally understand what I was going through. It was enough to know that they still accepted me and were interceding in prayer for me. Now that I am feeling mostly better, I still let those people know when I’m doing well or when I have a bad day or two. Maybe the most important part of having a supportive community was having people there for my wife when I wasn’t in a place to be there for her. My anxiety struck hard right before our second child was born, so having people to support her practically and emotionally was crucial to our healing.
Meditate and Memorise
‘Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up.’ Prov 12:25
I also love this verse in the The Passion Translation, ‘anxious fear brings depression, but a life-giving word of encouragement can do wonders to restore joy to the heart.’
There is no doubt that meditation is a discipline. I found Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, has an informative chapter on meditation. Obviously, if you research meditation today, you will find thousands of links and an abundance of information on this popular practice. Here’s how I’ve experienced Christian meditation. We live in a world of noise, hurry, and crowds – if we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture, we must be willing to recreate silences.
Take your day today – crowded out, voices demanding, how many times have you said or thought, ‘I’m too busy.’
The bible uses two words to convey meditation, and together they’re used many times in scripture referring to:
Listening to God. Reflecting on God’s word. Reflecting on his works.
Rehearsing his deeds. Ruminating on his law.
In each case there is stress upon a changed behavior as a result of an encounter with the living God, it is a continual focus upon obedience and faithfulness. Here are just a few examples of meditation in scripture:
Isaac went out to meditate in the evening. Gen 24:63
I think of you upon my bed and meditate upon you in the watches of the night. Psalm 63:6
I will meditate upon your promise. Psalm 119:148
Eli knew how to listen, and taught Samuel.
Elijah spent day and night in the wilderness learning to discern the still small voice.
The list goes on. God spoke to them, not because of special abilities but because they were willing to listen. The Hebrew word for meditate used here is hagah, meaning to speak, mutter, muse, imagine or plot.
The beauty of a garden created for communion – them with God, Him with them. They fell. They hid. Then, Moses learned to hear God’s voice, speaking ‘face to face as a man speaks with his friend.’ Communion restored. The Israelites were not prepared for this face to face intimacy and preferred to listen to God through Moses. So began a long line of prophets, judges. Thankfully, in the fullness of time, Jesus taught us the reality of the kingdom. Jesus sets us the ultimate example of meditation and communion, modeling for us a hearing and obeying life.
In meditation, we are growing into an intimate friendship with Jesus. What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart. He is looking for communion with us, with an inward fellowship of this kind the only outcome is transforming the of the inner person.
We can’t remain the same. All that’s in our way – will have to let go – not have to, but want to.
Christian meditation and other types of meditation are worlds apart. One empties the mind, the other fills it. Christian meditation goes beyond detachment through deliverance, to rich attachment with God.
Some might say it’s too difficult, too complicated, let’s leave it to those who have time.’
Yet those who meditate would say it is as natural, and important, as breathing.
Some would say it is out of touch with modern-day thinking, out of touch with reality and suffering.
Yet rather than immunity – meditation yields insights and wisdom for everyday life. How to deal with, issues, problems, finding breakthroughs.
Preparing to meditate
We learn to meditate by… meditating. Our goal is to live in a place of meditation, the church fathers often spoke of ‘optium sanctum’ or holy leisure, a sense of balance and peace through the activities of the day. Living life in the presence, living life deliberately through the day and not sleepwalking. I think that comes in time. So, until then, try setting time aside.
Meditate upon Scripture
The primary form of meditation is on scripture, the study of scripture centres on exegesis, meditation centres on internalizing, and personalising the passage. Resisting the temptation to pass over superficially as rushing reflects our internal state, and this is what needs transforming.
Take a single event, parable, a few verses. Allow it to take root. Applying all of your senses to the task. For example, ‘My peace I give to you’ What is the reality of this verse, brood on the truth, allow the whole person awakened. Rather than dissecting the peace, we are entering into it, until we’re not choosing to act peacefully, it’s springing from within.
Meditate upon creation
Look at created order. The beauty in symmetry. Listen to birds. God reaches us profoundly when we silence ourselves to listen. Allow it to become a way of life. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands.’ Psalm 19:1
Meditation is a passive discipline, characterized by reflection rather than study. Not so much an action but to be acted upon. The purpose of meditation is to hear God more clearly. It is listening, sensing, heeding, the life and light of Christ …which will ultimately transform us.
There is a Christian Meditation app, ABIDE, found here that is said to be helping 4 million users in 210 countries alleviate their depression, anxiety, and day-to-day worries. For more than a year, the fast-growing mobile app has been ranked in the Top 10 by iTunes for the search term “depression.”
Let me know about your meditative practice.
In. Out. I try to breathe as I feel my body tense with anxiety. I immediately want to throw up, or run, or both. I had gotten very used to the feeling that I needed to escape from situations. Or fight through nausea that seemed to happen without warning or a tangible cause.
There are a few things now that I do to quell anxiousness when it lurks close. I breathe. Deep long breaths in and out to help my body get the air it would deny itself in panic. I remind myself that I am limited. That there is only so much I can do, but that God is sovereign over every situation.
I List. I list blessings. I list the lovely things. Like birch trees swaying in the wind. A bird I hear in the distance. The smell of fresh laundry. I dwell on things that are good to stop the swirls of uncertainty that vie for my attention in my own brain. I thank God that he has allowed me to experience these things.
I make plans, something to look forward to. A show to watch with a friend or Bubble tea down the street later. Anything that will bring joy and attention to something good or productive.
I focus on the physical, the here and now. This often looks like creating rhythm by tapping fingers. I can go from Restless to rhythmic to help me focus. Or rings, I wear rings and will spin them or take them on and off. Not only for anxiousness, but this helps with quiet fidgeting.
Prayer. Sometimes I just need to be in a quiet place with the Lord.
We are all so beautifully different. I hope for you that there will be comfort. Maybe in one or all these things that have helped me.
Meditate and Memorise
‘God’s lavish grace has been measured out for you according to God’s infinite wisdom, in just the right proportion and scheduled perfectly to meet your exact needs, whatever they may be.’ Matthew 6:33–34
Listen: Lion|Lamb, Joshua Leventhal
PS. If you haven’t already, you can sign up for our Navigating Worry course HERE
‘The critics have made them impotent,’ writes Hemingway, but the only way they will make you weak and effective is if you listen to them. Which anxious thought is your biggest critic?
Tom Corby, a psychotherapist, writes, ‘accepting anxiety doesn’t mean ‘resign[ing] ourselves to a life of anxious misery. It simply means that we are better off recognizing and fully accepting the existence of anxiety and other uncomfortable emotional states that are inevitable, but transitory.’
~transitory: not permanent~
~allow waves in – experience it – ride out ~
One of Caroline Leaf’s suggestions to cope with anxiety is to visualise and imagine yourself in the future. The process of imagination actually creates actual physical networks in the brain. She writes, ‘when done in an “optimism mode,” we develop what I call a possibilities mindset: instead of seeing a series of failures, we see a series of learning opportunities and open doors. Imagine yourself in the moment, when you have accomplished x or overcame a hurdle. How do you feel? What are you doing? How are you celebrating your victory?
As we imagine our future, we actually change the present—our brain responds positively to our hopes and dreams! However, it is important to remember this works both ways—imagining a positive future can have positive results in the present, while fearing the future can potentially make what we fear a reality because our expectations change the structure of our brains, impacting what we think, say and do in the future.’
So good! Caroline Leaf’s books and blogs are invaluable, you can find her work here.
As you imagine your future self, I would encourage you as Phil did, to begin to take those steps. Set yourself realistic, daily goals.
Examples of small steps we have taken with friends…
You are panicking – your first step is to focus on your breathing. ‘Deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers our relaxation response, switching from our fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, to the relaxed, balanced response of our parasympathetic nervous system.’
You are a carer – worried and wondering how you can even care for yourself. You have even said, ‘I’m losing myself, my mind.’ It is time to find some space for your own wellbeing. Your first step is to find out a realistic respite that you can access. Starting with just one hour to catch your breath.
You are a new parent. Your sweet tea is cold, and you can’t think straight. You don’t feel like you used to. This is all normal. Nap when the baby does. Hydrate. If you can, join a local parent and baby group. I’m sure you’ll find many parents thinking and feeling the same way.
You are struggling to sleep. It is highly recommended that you cut out screens an hour before sleep. Adopt suggested journaling techniques. Reduce alcohol and coffee.
You are isolated. Open your curtains, your window, leave your room. Play music. Breathe in the fresh air.
You are facing the dragon of drugs. You dare to dream of being clean and living a different life. There are groups in your community or can help and often churches who offer you kind, praying people. One person is all you need today. That one person will know other clean, kind, praying people who will love you. This is not an experiment, this draws you to destiny and brings you into a new community.
You have never dared tell anyone how you are feeling. I promise there is an indescribable weight that lifts in telling even one trusted person.
….as you take those small steps, the weight in your body and mind will lighten. Enabling you to take more steps, minimize anxiety and begin to cope in a new way.
I hope you’re finding Phil’s talks helpful, if you haven’t yet, you can sign up here, or forward to a friend who might find them useful!
Through my interactions with friends, I know this is a concern for so many. My anxiety was at an all-time high about 3 years ago. I am very intentional with my self-care now. I am convinced that as a woman, hormones had a huge part in skyrocketing my anxiety. I could not be driving in my car in a lane that I could not get out of without often going into a panic attack (control issues, yes). One thing I did that helped hugely was educate myself on the effects of toxic chemicals through products we use and how that disrupts our own natural balance. I went toxic-free with my product usage as well as added very high doses of essential oils. Something else I know to be true for myself is that I cannot watch TV that much. My mind spins out of control when I get too involved in the news or reality shows. So I intentionally saturate myself with viewing things like Joyce Meyer, Bobby Schuller, etc. Sleep and exercise are a must for our minds to stay clear. The enemy gets a huge foothold when we don’t take control of our own minds. One more thing that has been a very large part of my learning how to manage anxiety is developing my personal growth. I have done this by reading books and studying who I am in Jesus. John C Maxwell has had a huge influence on my personal growth as well. Anxiety is not something that one day you wake up, and it’s gone. I believe ongoing decisions need to be made every day that will strengthen my mental health. I also know that Jesus is the author of goodness. The more I seek and search Him out, the healthier my mind, spirit, emotions, and body will be.
Meditate and Memorise
‘God is weaving all things together for your greatest good, and equipping you with all that you need to accomplish his will.’ Romans 8:28
‘Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.’ This verse stood out to me from the fourth session of Phil’s anxiety talks on the Fill In, was verse one of Psalm 125. Link to the course here.
The Psalm desclares, ‘those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable, as immovable as mighty Mount Zion! Just as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord’s wrap-around presence surrounds his people, protecting them now and forever.’
Psalm 125 is part of the collection of Psalms known as ‘a song of ascents.’ Songs sung by pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem during festival times. Imagine yourself as the pilgrim heading up to Jerusalem, Mount Zion ahead, the place where the temple stands. Your mind wanders to the many victories that have taken place there. Mount Zion, while the centre, it wasn’t the highest. I love this, that as the pilgrim saw the immovable, solid Zion, he also saw the surrounding mountains as God’s presence – His wrap-around presence.
Imagine our world of thoughts as a weather system surrounding Mount Zion, dark clouds, swirling, foreboding, storming – your anxious thoughts and struggles written in the dark.
Back to this verse, you are like the mountain. You are not the weather. Be still, and take your place on Mount Zion and see beyond the storm to the higher mountains surrounding you. You can be secure in your soul with this promise.
I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8
There’s a great story in the bible about the prophet Elisha who woke one morning and found that the enemy surrounded the city. Elisha told the servant, ‘don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ I’m sure the servant was a little confused at Elisha’s counting. The whole army versus two does not equal victory.
“Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) The all-around in this verse is the same meaning as surrounds in Psalm 125:2. And in Psalm 34:7: “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)
I love the practice of Lectio Divina, or Holy Reading – feasting on the word.
Let’s feast on this verse in Psalm 125 word today,
‘Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.’
Read the verse out loud, listen to the verse, hear God is speaking to you.
Pick a word or phrase from the verse that stands out to you and meditate on it. For me, it was trust (again…)
Pray about what you’ve just read, ‘why am I focusing on trust Lord, what do you want to show me?’ In my current world, where clouds threaten to shift the weather pattern away from the promise of peace. His word asks me to trust him. He has me surrounded.
Ask the Lord how He wants you to respond to this verse, how will I change, how will the word transform me? How will I live differently?
From this final response, it is useful to respond with a written prayer or write out some steps to transformation. Or, simply rest, sit still and repeat the word or phrase, for example, ‘’you surround me, Lord,’
It seems to me that prayer and scripture are essential for keeping your mind on truth, and I would frequently cry out in prayer and turn to the bible for answers in my darkest moments. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t easy. I was so sick with anxiety that opening my bible felt somewhat like walking into a hospital. I knew that I needed to be there and that there was healing to be found, but it was almost easier not to touch the wounds. My anxiety would increase just because I was addressing my anxiety. And prayer, well God definitely didn’t answer my prayers in the timing I asked Him to. I think the best thing that I did regarding prayer was to ask others to be in prayer for me. Now that my anxiety is more under control, it is my goal to be in daily devotions and to keep giving everything over to God through prayer. It’s better for my life, and it’s better for my mind.
Scripture tells us we can have God’s peace guard our hearts and minds. I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, so this idea of peace always seemed elusive to me.
I would read Scriptures like Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you,” and I would get frustrated that I didn’t have this perfect peace.
It was when I realized that those wasn’t a passive thing, but something I had to choose, that I started to understand how to have peace guard my mind instead of anxiety. It’s about choosing to trust and keep our minds on God. In 1 Peter 5:7, we’re told to “Cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for [us].” That says we have to do something.
When anxiety comes, I have to choose to give it to God, and then I need to declare my trust in Him. I declare the truth of what scripture says about God and who He says I am. Often I do this out loud, so I can hear it.
To do this in the moment when anxiety comes, I have to be daily in scripture, filling my mind with the truth. That is when I’m able to declare it when anxiety comes.
From a practical perspective, I’ve actually created a list in my phone of Scripture I can read when anxiety comes. It helps me to more quickly turn my mind back to God.
Mediate and Memorise
‘When I said, ‘My foot is slipping, your love, O LORD, supported me. When my anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.’ Psalm 94:18-19
‘I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.’ Mark Twain
Session three on our Navigating Worry online course, explores hypothetical worry, i.e., worrying about future events, imagined scenarios that cannot be solved or action taken and the likelihood that the script will never take place.
I’ve been thinking about the thoughts we often have when everything is going well. Have you ever had that? Work is good, the family is #blessed. Brene Brown describes at that point that joy itself can become foreboding. ‘That impending feeling that it’s going to be taken away and that in moments of joyfulness, we try to beat vulnerability to the punch. It can often happen when you have experienced disappointment. The habit of waiting for the next bad thing, or, on the other hand, I speak to some who feel so blessed, and things are going so well, their mind hovers around ‘things are so good something will go wrong soon enough.’
Brene shares a poignant story in her book, Daring Greatly, about a man she interviewed who admitted to her that he never allowed himself to be too joyful about anything in life. An elderly man who lived a life ready to be disappointed. He made an effort to never get too excited or too joyful so that he would be prepared if things didn’t work out and pleasantly surprised if things did.
Then one tragic day, he lost his wife of 40 years to a car accident. ‘The second I realized that she was gone, the first thing I thought was ‘I should have leaned harder into those moments of joy. Because [foreboding joy] did not protect me from what I feel right now.’
Proverbs 15:15 in the Amplified Bible says this, ‘all the days of the desponding and afflicted are made evil [by anxious thoughts and forebodings], but he who has a glad heart has a continual feast [regardless of circumstances].’
What is a foreboding? The dictionary definition describes, ‘a feeling that evil is impending or that something bad is going to happen.’
Worry can feel omnipresent, constant, an irritation, a dripping tap of what if’s and dread – of waiting… a familiar subtle presence hovering over and gnawing at your everyday existence, Song of Solomon 2:15, ‘catch the little foxes that are ruining your vineyard.’ Catch them. To do so, we must first recognize them and name them.
The verse goes on to say, ‘he who has a glad hard has a continual feast (regardless of circumstances) Scripture is full of promises such as this, or Psalm 27:13, where David writes, ‘what would have become of me had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!’
You know by now that I’ve known and still know the reality of struggle and darkness in my family, and I know this is often not a quick fix. But I do know the freedom of God’s promises.
Let us recognize the source of forebodings and not let them overpower us.
Yes – there are often many reasons for our soul be too downcast – let us learn to live with a glad heart, allowing our soul to prosper, taking thoughts captive – continually feasting. If the ‘forebodings’ are something you experience, ask someone to pray with you, to speak life over you and remind yourself of God’s word for your life.
Have you been able to recognize the forebodings that gnaw at you, the little foxes destroying? Do you need to be reminded of God’s promise again today?
Let us know if you’re finding these teaching sessions and devotionals helpful!
Today, we begin our ‘real-life story’ section, where, after each devotional, you will find a story from someone I know who has experienced worry/anxiety/stress and what they have done/are doing to find their way through.
Anxiety often comes in the form of an attack. A mental one, sometimes a physical one, and I feel it is certainly always a spiritual one. For me it can range from charging my phone constantly, so I have enough battery to call someone in an ‘inevitable’ and irrational emergency, or being too afraid to leave the house/go to new places in case something bad happens, to a throat closing, heart-pounding panic attack while in the car – all of which can make day-to-day living difficult. So to me, anxiety is very much a feeling of impending doom. It’s the enemy finding a way in and spreading like a slow-acting poison, consuming you with worry and dread, which is why it’s so important to find your antidote. Because of this, for me, prayer is the number one remedy as oftentimes living with anxiety can make you feel isolated and weakened to a point where you don’t feel able to talk to anyone about it – sometimes your only option is to call out to God and give it to Him when you can no longer deal with the all too familiar weight of these worries. It can also be so easy to let yourself become buried in your mind, letting fear dictate you and making you forget to live, so what is helpful to me in these moments is having people around me that I trust who push me out of my comfort zone – not too far, but far enough so that I don’t let the stress of these feelings win. What further helps me when I feel anxiety building is trying to reassure myself that I’m safe, telling myself that these overwhelming emotions are probably temporary, that the rustling I heard outside at night isn’t sinister but an animal or something of nature, that statistically, what are the chances of something bad happening to me out of everyone else in the world? I will also tend to put on a familiar nostalgic movie or tv show that I know brings me comfort. Hopefully, with such coping mechanisms and with time the voice of anxiety may become quieter, and though the fear may never fully leave, you can move forward with the knowledge that you have the strength, courage, hope, and faith that things will get easier and that with God you are never alone.
Meditate and Memorise
‘You cannot lose your standing with God. You are an adopted son or daughter of the King’ Galatians 4:5–6
Psalm 61:3 You’ve always given me breathing room, a place to get away from it all.
I hope you found my introductory post helpful. I am writing these posts alongside Phil’s course on the Fill In, found here. While I am not a counselor or mental health specialist, I write from personal experience and pastoral ministry.
As Phil refers to journaling during his sessions; I thought I would offer my experience of this invaluable practice while adding some interesting research.
For centuries people have written their feelings, joys, and laments. The scriptures are full of words of wisdom and poetry – writers finding access to God’s presence along the vulnerable path of words.
There are many ways to approach journaling. Thankfully, journaling is not prescriptive, and once you find an approach that works for you, I’m sure you’ll experience many benefits.
You might choose bullet journaling. The main idea behind bullet journaling is quick notes rather than full paragraphs. This creative system is often referred to as ‘a diary, schedule, and goal setter’ all in one and suits people who love lists, goal setting, tracking, and being organized. This system also uses an effective symbol system. There is a lot written about the to-dos of bullet journaling – just a quick search will get you on your way. This smart method could be specifically helpful for tracking your mental health and mood over a month when visiting your doctor or therapist.
Others might choose a gratitude journal. Counting our blessings is a wonderful way to focus our attention on the positives in our lives. Many reports acknowledge that a gratitude journal helps both physical and mental health. A template such as ‘I am grateful for this _________ because_________,’ helps takes our gratitude deeper. Let’s start today – what three things are you thankful for? Why? Now, write it down and allow it to become a habit.
A prayer journal is a helpful journal to record prayers for yourself and others, add to this scriptures, and promises over situations. These journals are a great encouragement to look back on and remind yourself of the faithfulness of God.
I have journaled for most of my life, and I have stacks of journals overflowing with emotion, prayers, milestones, loss, and adventure.
Some specific helpful journaling practice I have adopted and adapted over time have been using particular Q&A. For example, what’s the best thing that happened today? What made me anxious? What am I grateful for? Prayer needs?
I have often used my journal to clarify and unclutter thoughts and feelings, talking through the page, pen in hand is a cathartic experience. Extracting negativity, exploring offence (second hand in particular – pastor’s wife anyone?!) Adjusting my sight and shifting my focus.
As we are exploring stress and anxiety, in particular, I have often focused specifically on anxious thoughts. Acknowledging my fears, forebodings, or traumatic events – it’s here a specific root of thought patterns can be highlighted. These helpful reactions appear as both sides of our brain are at work.
Dr. Caroline Leaf, in her book’ Switch on Your Brain,’ refers specifically to detoxing specific thought patterns. She takes you through a sequence of days, progressing to 21 days on dealing with a particular negative thought. Sounds long winded but she acknowledges it takes this long to break a habit and rewire thinking. Again, this involves journaling daily replacing a specific thought with scripture or a positive thought.
I’ve tried this process, and it works!!
My mom finds Scripture journaling to be invaluable. Begin to write out specific verses, gathering more and more truths over time. When you struggle to pray or find words, these truths will remind you that you promised God’s love and presence during life’s mountains, valleys, and everything in between. In the middle of anxiety, God’s word is a beautiful way to connect with truth and his presence. I will often use these written scriptures to combat stress. Reading out loud, reminding God, writing, memorising.
Some snippets from scriptures I have written…
I love to read Psalm 23 out loud. ‘God, You are my shepherd, I lack nothing. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside the still waters. You restore my soul. You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me! Your rod and your staff, they comfort me! You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in Your house forever.’
Or this word of vulnerability from the Message, Psalm 34, ‘I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy: Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway. He freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him.’
And finally, the reassurance of Psalm 139 from the Passion Translation. You know those dark times, when it’s hard to see for the dark is impenetrable, whether through thoughts, irrational fears, or physical responses. This is how God sees you…,
‘The night, to you, is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two. You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord! You even formed every bone in my body when you created me in the secret place, carefully, skillfully shaping me from nothing to something. You saw who you created me to be before I became me! Before I’d ever seen the light of day, the number of days you planned for me were already recorded in your book.’
And if that isn’t enough, research (sites below) shows that journaling can offer the following:
Decreased the symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions.
Improves cognitive functioning.
Strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses.
It counteracts many of the negative effects of stress.
Do you journal? Have you found it gives you breathing room? Any tips for us here?
If you’d like to read more about the overall physical and mental effects of journaling, I found these articles to be helpful.
This devotional is the first of eleven short pieces that can be read alongside Phil’s new online course that teaches about Anxiety and Stress. You can find the course on the Fill In website by clicking here.
This introductory piece will offer a few additional insights and some encouragement as you engage in the course. As you know, anxiety, fear, and worry are familiar words to us, and many of us experience them at different times. Anxiety is no respecter of demographics or status and shows up in various ways such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. It is not our aim to offer a quick fix to rid your anxiety, or give you all of the answers but rather acknowledge the reality of this epidemic and offer some thoughts, helps and God-given solutions.
For some, this will be a lifeline to find a way to live with anxiety in Christ, others might find the answers and lights on moments to find new freedom. We have known and experienced both, and our prayer as you listen and read is that you will know a new reality and profound truth of the God who encourages you to cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.
We are not alone in our search for answers. Data from Amazon found here describes the most popular, beautiful, and poetic passages that readers had underlined in many online books.
Here is the most highlighted verse from the NIV version of the Bible. ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus“ Philippians 4:6-7. The verses before and after encouraging readers to ‘rejoice in the Lord’ and focus on where our thoughts are landing by thinking on ‘whatever is true, whatever is admirable.’ We are encouraged to not be anxious about anything… ANYTHING. Easy for you to say, Paul. But maybe not as I’m reminded that he wrote this from prison. He had clearly found a way to find peace in this cold, anxious place, encouraging us to find peace ‘by prayer and petition.’
Other translations put it this way…
The Message (MSG) ‘Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.’
It is so easy to allow newsfeeds, news flashes, and our hypothetical headlines to cloud our knowledge of what we know is true in God. I like how the Passion Translation translates the same verse, ‘don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about something. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.’
Saturation becomes the answer to paralyzation
When I spin on the hamster wheel of anxiety, and as the swirling clouds wrap me up, and I become excessive in my overthinking, I find that grace has a harder time breaking through. For this introductory post, I thought I’d introduce a few wins for my own journey – I hope they help. Further posts will include testimonies of friends and my community who have found their way with anxiety.
What causes your anxiety? What causes you to lose sight of God’s love, sovereignty, and care? Journal your answers.
One of the things I love to do when I get stuck in the ‘traffic jam’ unable to move, I remember. I remember that God has proven Himself faithful, over and over again. He has shown me His mercy and His promised presence daily.
…and finally, another piece the most underlined, this time from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
Wrong will be right,
When Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar,
sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth,
winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane,
we shall have spring again.
Meditate and Memorise
Throw all your anxiety on [God], because he cares for you,” 1 Peter 5:7
“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:25–26
Listen: I’ll Give Thanks, Housefires
Part two in a few days, don’t forget to sign up and forward to those it might help,