You Are Not Your Anxiety

You Are Not Your Anxiety

It doesn’t take much—just one thought—and the sickening feeling stabs my stomach. Again.

  • I’ve got to call them back.
  • That’s a room full of people I don’t know. 
  • No, please tell me there’s not a scheduling conflict.
  • This to-do list keeps growing. 
  • I can’t meet someone new—I say the most ridiculous things.
  • What if I miss out?

And that’s just the tippy-top of the iceberg. Anxiety has poked, pressed, punched and plagued me ever since I was a kiddo. I’ve stored away some amazingly precious childhood memories—but I also could fill a scrapbook with horribly anxious moments.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t identify the reason for my aversion to large social settings or my general hatred of school, even though I liked my teachers and learning came easily. But as childhood gave way to my teenage years, I began to recognize what this beast inside me really was.

Call it perfectionism. Call it a drive to achieve. Call it a fear of oversleeping (which led to odd and frequent sleepwalking activities). Call it “being reserved” or shy. Call it careful decision-making.

But let’s just call it out for real: I was an anxious wreck.

I was worried about saying the right thing, doing the right thing, wearing the right thing…being the right thing.

Recognizing it was one thing. Actually doing something about it was another. In my college years, anxiety continued to have its way. I pulled endless all-nighters and even came down with a case of stress-induced shingles that knocked my nervous system’s daylights out. (To this day, when I’m worn down and running on fumes, my back experiences nerve “shocks” that are lingering effects from shingles.)

Twenty-five years in, I’m seeing how anxiety has driven the bus of my life way too often. After too many tension headaches and panic attacks and nervous ramblings to my mom, I’m finally beginning to say, “Hang on. This isn’t how God wants me to live.”

Anxiety doesn’t need to be the driving force in our lives. And it certainly doesn’t need to wreck our lives.

If your bent, like mine, is to pursue an ideal until you crack, to think 10 steps down the road and attempt to control every potential and possibility, to send yourself into a paralyzing tailspin worried about what others think…then we can seek freedom in Jesus together.

Don’t Wear It Like a Label

First, let’s admit this: Anxiety is not who I am. Anxiety is not your identity.

Too many of us are wearing our anxiety like badges.

The Fake-It-Til-You-Make-It Badge:

We’re frazzled but saying “yes” to more obligations; we’re smiling while we’re dying inside; we’re ignoring real nutrition and guzzling insane amounts of coffee to stay awake; we’re having breakdowns in the bathroom then walking out the door pretending to be totally fine; we’re hoping the chest pains will just disappear; we’re having panic attacks on the reg.

And for some reason, we act like this is totally normal—like it’s just our laughable lot in life to be frayed on every end and barely holding it together.

The It-Is-What-It-Is Badge:

Maybe some of us are actually freaked out by our anxiety. We acknowledge that it’s rough, but we don’t see a way out—and that’s causing more anxiety. (Vicious cycle, that’s for sure.) So we throw our hands up and accept it. An anxious, trapped-in-the-panic, messed-up person. That’s who I am. 

But I’m waving a flag. And hitting the siren button. And sending a sky writer into flight. I’m making a big deal about our anxiety—because what we need to hear and believe is this:

Anxiety is not a cage you have to live inside. Jesus wants you to be free.

While anxiety may be an ongoing battle you fight for much of your life, you don’t have to catch the lies the enemy tosses your way.

We’ll tackle those lies soon. But now that we’re taking our badges off, we’ve got some untangling to do…

Untangling the Mess

Anxiety can look like one of those tangly rubber band balls—it’s hard to see where each strand begins and ends. Sometimes it’s difficult to trace our outward, anxious behavior to what’s happening inside our minds and hearts. Though if you were to remove the rubber bands one by one, you would eventually reach the bands that started the whole thing.

If we ask God to help us “pull apart the rubber bands” of our anxiety—through prayer, through Scripture, through godly counselors and mentors—we can begin to understand what’s at the core of the issue, layer by layer.

We may be striving for something, giving every part of ourselves over to an ideal other than God.

Striving for…

  • Control.
  • Perfection.
  • Comfort.
  • A conflict-free life.
  • Safety.
  • Approval.
  • Success.

Or maybe we’re trying to avoid something…

I’ve operated in anxiety because I was lunging after a perfect ideal at all costs. I’ve also had panic attacks because it felt like pain and disappointment were strangling me. Anxious aches have settled in my body for periods of time because of conflict. And I’ve crumbled into an entirely overwhelmed heap because I couldn’t control what was happening around me.

The point is this: We may have multiple, complex reasons for our anxiety. Tangled rubber bands.

You might check every single box. Or you may pinpoint just one thing that’s got you living in that anxious cage. But if we can start to untangle our anxious behaviors from our thoughts and motivations, we can begin the process of calling out the enemy’s lies.

Don’t Catch the Lies

So we’ve got our big rubber band ball. We’re turning it over in our hands, we’re tossing it up and down, and our enemy would love for us to stay right there, focused on our circumstances, our issues and our worries.

He tosses over a lie—something like, “God’s not here in this situation.” We catch it.

He tosses another. “These problems are way too big. Time to panic.” We catch that one, too.

Then another comes our way. “God doesn’t see you struggling.” Caught that one.

Now we’re juggling our junk (our striving and our avoiding) with the lies. No wonder we break down. Eyes off God, eyes on ourselves.

That’s the enemy’s game plan for our anxiety: distract, discourage, detain.

  1. He distracts us; his goal is to get us to take our eyes off God.
  2. He discourages us by tossing us lies, causing us to feel hopeless and overwhelmed.
  3. Then he detains us—locks us in bondage. If we don’t know and believe God’s Truth, we’re stuck in his trap.

Drop the Lies, Turn Your Eyes

I want to be careful here, because I know how painfully anxiety can sting and strangle. Please know that my intention is not to slap you with shame for believing lies. This is a often a multi-faceted, complex issue that can involve a variety of factors and stressors.

If you’re battling anxiety because you’ve been deeply wounded by someone close to you, God sees you.

If your circumstances feel utterly unbearable—simply beyond words—God is there with you.

If you know this struggle is crippling and threatening to harm you, God provides a way out.

When we face anxiety, we don’t necessarily consciously choose to believe a lie. But once our eyes leave God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, turning toward ourselves and our situations, the door is open for the lies to slip in and trap us. Our anxious behaviors often reveal that we’re not acting in faith, but in unbelief.

God, in His tender kindness, wants to set us free (John 8:32).

When we fix our focus on Him—and on what His Word says—those lies drop from our hands onto the floor, and that cage of anxiety is rendered powerless.

Truth Renders Anxiety Powerless

I love the way Scripture describes God as our Good Shepherd; we’re just like sheep (John 10:10-11; Ps. 23:2-3; Luke 15:3-7). Prone to wander, prone to cry out anxiously, prone to get lost and trapped in a dangerous place where the enemy can pounce. But our Shepherd finds us, tenderly scoops us up, and brings us safely back to the fold.

When anxiety threatens you, hang on tight to the truth about your Good Shepherd:

Nothing is too big for Him. His faithful love will never end. And when you can’t handle any more and are cracking at every turn, His Shepherd arms are holding you—and He’s asking you to turn your eyes back on Him.

That’s how God’s Truth can counter the lies of our anxiety.

A Few Simple Steps

Finally, how can we seek freedom in the midst of an anxious episode? I’ve been growing in this area; here are a few simple steps to take:

  1. Stop, drop and pray. When you’re feeling anxious, stop the tailspin, and simply pray. Ask God to show you where you’ve lost sight of His Truth.
  2. Open the Word. Highlight and dog ear passages that remind you of who God is in your anxious moments.
  3. Memorize His Word, too. Have Scripture beating in your heart—so that when the enemy works to distract you and deceive you, you can respond with a Truth bomb.
  4. Recruit a friend to be a lifeline. When anxiety kicks in, text and ask your lifeline for prayer. Praying friends are priceless!

What are you anxious about most often? How do you see your eyes drawn away from God in those situations? How can you turn back to His Truth?

This article originally appeared here.