I woke up this morning feeling nauseous, in pain, and tired. This meant that I could not do the things that I planned to do today (you know, like finally submit my book to a literary agent!). I had everything set up to submit, and all I had to do was do a final run-through and e-mail it. Unfortunately, all I could do was stay in bed and hold my stomach, as if holding my stomach would somehow relieve the pain. I couldn’t control my health, and I couldn’t control my schedule, but I could control the food I ate and the books I read while lying down.
I heard a sermon a few years ago where the pastor told us that we are responsible for our bodies and our choices. I was taken aback by that comment. I couldn’t control my body! I have anxiety. Anxiety controls me.
Or does it?
One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. That means that God empowers us to control ourselves. Addiction may be tough to beat, but God gives us the strength and the willpower to stop. The same is true for anxiety. Anxiety wants you to think that you don’t have control, but the reality is, you do have control.
When life gets overwhelming, it feels like I’m not in control. However, since one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control, that means we have a responsibility for something, and that is ourselves. We are in control of the self when we practice self-control.
I may not be able to control what people say to me, but I can control how I respond. I may not be able to control my noisy neighbors (do your kids have to scream at the top of their lungs in the middle of the day?), but I can control my approach to the situation. I may not be able to control people’s expectations of me, but I can control how I spend my time and the choices I make with my habits and activities.
When anxiety strikes, you have a choice. It may feel like you can’t breathe, but you have a choice to take deep breaths and to practice positive self-talk. You may have a stomachache and feel like you’re going to throw up, but you have a choice to pray and to take your mind off of the pain. My therapist told it to me this way, “No one ever died from a panic attack.” Remember that your anxiety will pass. Don’t do anything to harm yourself physically or to talk down to yourself. Find healthy coping mechanisms such as memorizing Scripture, journaling, deep breathing, or talking it out with someone. Over time, your anxiety attacks will be more manageable.
In the long run, take a look at your life and see what is causing you anxiety. Is it your job, family, living situation, health, free time, relationships, or something else? Any and all of these things can cause us stress. Before trying to take control, identify which of these aspects of your life you can control and which you cannot. You can switch jobs, set boundaries with your family, move out, take care of your body, plan activities that fuel you rather than drain you, and pray about how to approach the conflicts in your life.
Unfortunately, sometimes life isn’t always that easy. Money isn’t always in our favor, families aren’t always that understanding, and medical conditions may cause difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight or working out efficiently. As my friend used to say in high school, “Do your best, and let God do the rest.” Focus on what you can control, and surrender to God what you can’t control. Do what you can control well, and trust God to do His part in your life.
Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We are not able to control ourselves without God’s help. Pray today for wisdom in how to control yourself, your anxiety, and your life.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13