Hey friend, how are you doing?
This isn't one of those "Oh, I'm good. How are you?" questions. This is a "no really. HOW are you doing? How's your heart? Your mind? Your soul?"
Did you know May is mental health awareness month? Did you also know 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime? Did you also know depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) and so many more are all fall under the category of mental health? (Info gathered from Mental Health America - mhanational.org).
Did you also know that I, the person writing this, struggle with anxiety?
I want to be extremely candid here because positive mental health allows us to enjoy life, believe in ourselves, cope, and function day to day.
I'm an active person. Since the age of 3, I have participated in some type of sport. First gymnastics, then running. During my days of gymnastics, I struggled with self-confidence that I could do skills as well as my teammates and competitors, and I grew extremely nervous as I approached meets. I remember as a kid my mom would pray with me before every meet and speak Philippians 4:13 over me.
You see, what I didn't know then, what my parents could see, is the anxiety within me as I approached my routines - especially on the balance beam.
As I grew older, I began to recognize how anxiety manifested in my life: desire to have control, ongoing thoughts of playing out scenarios (and not always being able to shut my brain off), or physical feelings that sometimes inhibited my ability to eat or sleep. Just to name a few.
I would share with loved ones and mentors these anxious feelings I had, feeling guilty that a follower of Jesus shouldn't struggle with these things because I should have peace that only comes from Him. At times, I heard continued encouragement that Jesus isn't a giver anxiety - He's a giver of peace. I read scripture after scripture that addressed anxiety - to be anxious for nothing, to cast my anxiety on him, etc.
And friend - let me be the first to say - these pieces of encouragement and scripture are all true.
But the pieces that I was missing, that would ultimately connect the human side of anxiety to Jesus' healing and protective spirit, were the conversations of how to cope day-to-day, express my thoughts and feelings, and take baby steps forward.
I also want to say I do NOT blame any person in my life for my experiences and battles with anxiety. Everyone that has helped me in my life has been a key reason I am where I am today. And I think today, in 2020, we as a society are so much more aware of mental health than we were 15 years ago.
I didn't know the depths of my anxiety until I reached late high school/early college when I faced huge decisions and temptations.
At first, I hid my anxiety by hiding in my room, putting a smile on my face and continuing with life. Until one day I had enough. Through an extremely difficult season surrounding a bad relationship, I spoke with friends and family about all the anxious thoughts and feelings I had and from there I began to realize seeking help has a lot of power. Almost as if I didn't have to carry this weight alone.
Years later, I wish I could tell you that I no longer have anxious thoughts or tendencies. But what I am glad to say is I have found numerous ways to combat those anxieties that have helped me infinitely grow. I fully believe Jesus can heal me from anxiety - but I also know because I have a real connection with this struggle, I am able to use my experiences to help others. So what I would like to do is list ways that have helped me cope - in a healthy way - through my most anxious seasons. And friend, please know health and wellness is not just about eating right and exercising regularly. Health and wellness encompasses so much more and includes your mental health. If you are struggling with anything that makes you feel your life is not valuable - that the world would be a better place without you - please talk to me or someone you trust. YOU my friend, matter.
I'll end with this, and below you can find some of my personal tips: You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with (even if not mental health), I promise someone near you is struggling the same. I know this post is heavy, but I want to show you that I struggle too.
Ways to healthily cope and heal from anxiety:
Talk it out. Sometimes you just need to word vomit, and highlighting what is running through your mind verbally to someone may be all you need to not feel anxious in those moments. But I encourage talking to someone you trust who will listen and provide constructive feedback when needed, not enabling your anxiety.
Seek professional help. I cannot express enough how important and valuable counseling is. Seeking guidance from a professional is not weak - but actually strong. A counselor can listen and provide professional help on what specifically can help you cope and heal from anxiety.
Ask a doctor or counselor about medication. There are a lot of opinions on anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medicines. Talk to a trusted doctor or counselor if medication is right for you. Let me give you some insight: I've been on anti-anxiety meds for over 3 years. I wrestled for years if this was a good step for me: If taking medicine was me saying "God, I don't trust you enough to heal me so I'm taking matters into my own hands." I also didn't want to take something that would not make me feel like myself. After lots of prayer, conversations, and thought, I knew this was a healthy step to healing. My medicine does not make me feel anti-Hannah, it simply helps me relax and not overthink every. single. thing. I also know God created doctors who created this medicine. It's totally okay to take (but don't abuse it).
Exercise. Most of us have seen legally blonde where Elle says, "Exercise gives endorphins. Endorphins make people happy. Happy people just don't shoot their husbands." All jokes aside - it's true. For me, I run. Running is a chance for me to escape what I'm struggling with - and you know, all the science of endorphins behind it. It doesn't have to be running, but I encourage you to do a physical activity you enjoy.
Deep, controlled breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your lungs full for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold your lungs empty for 4 seconds (called box breathing). The slow, controlled breathing allows your central nervous system to go into a meditative state and can help you physically calm down. Breathing exercises help especially in the moments of anxiety/panic attacks.
Pray and pray often. Y'all, I can't do it on my own. And I KNOW in my heart of hearts that Jesus is the BEST person to turn to in moments of anxiety. You may feel silly and you may have to do it often - but be candid with Him. Share everything that is making you anxious. Ask for help. Ask for peace. I promise you He won't let you down.