Learning to Live
Above Severe Anxiety: Changing Beliefs
By Paula J. Marolewski
The following journal entries were written
as an adjunct to the book Fire
in My Mind: Personal Insights and Practical Help for Severe Anxiety,
a Bible study on severe anxiety. Here, you will find additional
information about my personal experience with severe anxiety,
focusing on what I have found particularly helpful. My prayer
is that these entries will help and encourage you if you or someone
you love is struggling with severe anxiety.
I remember my first thoughts when my counselor encouraged me to
engage in positive self-talk and affirmations. Things like,
can handle today and whatever comes my way.”
- “Feelings do not dictate reality.”
- “There is always enough time to do the will of God.”
- “I am allowed to enjoy life and relax.”
I thought to myself, “It seems silly to repeat these things
in my head! Why should I go and purposefully say them?”
What I slowly realized was that we are always thinking – “carrying
on a conversation” – inside our heads. And the principle
of “garbage in, garbage out” holds true. If I allow
myself to dwell on my anxieties, I will act on those thoughts.
If I repeat positive affirmations and re-state the truth constantly,
I will act on those thoughts.
Positive self-talk isn’t an internal pep rally – it’s
a way of forming new mental and emotional habits based on objective
truth, rather than based on subjective (and often negative) emotions.
Resignation vs. Acceptance
It had never occurred to me how much certain attitudes add to
or subtract from your stress. Here was a key one: resignation vs.
- Resignation is passive, leading to trapped feelings.
“This is the way it is, I cannot
change it, I am trapped, life is hopeless.”
- Acceptance is active, leading to positive
“This is the way it is, I can
change myself and/or my circumstances, I am not trapped, I can
move forward with hope.”
Resignation brings anxiety. Acceptance brings hope.
A very good friend of mine taught me a piece of important advice:
“Satisfaction is based on expectations.”
Put simply, if we expect too much, we are setting ourselves up
to be dissatisfied. If we have realistic expectations, we are much
more likely to feel fulfilled, happy, and contented, because our
expectations can be, and often are, met.
Unrealistic expectations play a large role in my struggle with
- I expect too much from myself – expecting
to feel good all the time, achieve success at everything I put
my hand to, and be liked by everybody.
- I expect too much from
life – expecting that things
will always go my way, from sunny weather on the weekends to
having financial security handed to me on a silver platter.
And yes …
- I expect too much from God – expecting
that he will smooth the way before me at all times, flood my
life with happiness, and always comfort me with an all-but-tangible
sense of his presence.
Such expectations are setting me up to be disappointed … and
stressed. And that’s because I can’t always deliver
on what I expect from myself, much of life is outside of my control,
and God isn’t a genie in a lamp waiting to fulfill my every
In order to control my anxiety – and, incidentally, live
a much more peaceful, contented, and fulfilled life – I have
had to re-form my expectations. Not lower them – that is
important to understand. That is, I’m not allowing myself
to become a slouch, or taking a fatalistic attitude toward life,
or acting like the deists, who figured that God set everything
in motion and then said good-bye.
No, I am changing my expectations – making them more realistic,
putting them back into the real pulse of life:
- I am expecting
great things of myself – namely, that
I will be and do my best. I don’t worry anymore about whether
I will fail, because I know already that I will.
- I am expecting
great things from life – so I am looking
for opportunities to be thankful and to serve God. But I also
recognize that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen.
- And I am decidedly expecting great things from God, because
he is a God who has promised great things and delivers on every
Such great expectations set me up for great satisfaction – because
they are grounded firmly in reality.