I said all the prayers they asked me to pray. I went to counseling sessions, and my counselor told me that I had a very good understanding of myself (basically telling me that I didn’t need a counselor). I took anti-anxiety medication, ate healthy food, and exercised daily. But at the end of the day, I was still anxious. I thought that I had failed God, since everyone told me that anxiety was a sin. I thought that God had failed me, since everyone told me that God is a healer and does not let his children suffer. After a whole journey of faith, after having God strip me of everything that I once held dear so that I could cling to him, I still woke up in a panic. Didn’t God want to heal me? Didn’t he see how much I was in pain?
The night before I went on a retreat, I did not get any sleep. Irrational thoughts, that I knew were irrational, raced through my head. What if the retreat center is on a mountain and I can’t breathe because of the thinness of the air? What if I get food poisoning? What if someone drops me off and then forgets to pick me up? What if the other women in my room do not like me? What if I end up having to share living space with a difficult person? On and on, the ridiculous thoughts came.
I gave up on my attempt to sleep. I sat up in my bed. “God, I don’t get it. I’m doing everything right. I know these thoughts are wrong. I have trusted in you, I have prayed, and I have given you everything. What are YOU doing? Why are you making me suffer like this?” I felt like God was asking me, “Do you trust me?” I had to think about it. God had been faithful throughout my entire life. Why would he be unfaithful now, when I needed him the most? Maybe he had a greater plan than what I had planned.
The next day, a group of us left for the retreat center. The ride was pleasant, as the people in my car were optimistic. We appreciated every aspect of the ride there, even when we got lost. When we arrived, our friends were there to greet us and encourage us.
At the end of the retreat, I was not healed of anxiety. Instead, God blessed me with joy. I was so excited to have joy that I forgot about being anxious. I realized that anxiety was a choice. Although it feels overwhelming, we can choose not to let anxiety win. I was waiting for anxiety to just stop; I was waiting for God to heal me. Instead, God wanted me to fight against anxiety. Those irrational thoughts did not come to me for the first time that night. I had established a thought pattern that resulted in anxiety when I was a child. It took me to my breaking point to fight against those thoughts I believed.
I learned that when I feel overwhelmed, I can choose joy. At a very appropriate time in my life, my friend’s mom gave me a book that reminded her of me. It was a devotional by Tommy Newberry, called 40 Days to a Joy-Filled Life. This book has helped me put the rubber to the road and fight anxiety with joy. Just like anxiety is a choice, joy is a choice. Newberry writes: “The word emotion is 86% motion.” Emotions are caused by choosing to think a certain way. The choice is ours: do we choose to focus on thoughts that give us anxiety, or do we choose to be free in joy?
Sometimes, when I feel a panic attack coming along, I just put on an encouraging song and I start dancing. By the end of the song, my anxiety looks so insignificant. When I’m not in a position to dance, I will color, write, or spend time with friends. Since I recognize that I have a choice over my emotions, I no longer allow myself to think irrational thoughts.
Emotions don’t have to just happen; you can be proactive in your thinking and in your feeling. Choose to believe what God says about you. Choose to believe the truth. Choose joy, and you will overcome anxiety.