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Learning to Live Above Severe Anxiety: Moving Forward
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.

Recognizing the Problem

One of my biggest concerns as I have come to grips with the nature of severe anxiety is that people often don’t recognize it for what it is. People who don’t suffer from it say, “Oh, just relax!” and people who do suffer from it (and don’t know it) think, “I’m going crazy!”

For myself, I suffered from severe, debilitating anxiety for three years before I could put a name to the problem. All I knew was that I thought I was going crazy, that my thoughts were spinning out of control, and that the world was darkening around me. When I reached a final crisis point, I turned in desperation to the Web, hoping to find some reference to my symptoms. I did, and it was at that point that I realized I had severe anxiety, and likely an anxiety disorder.

If you don’t know exactly what severe anxiety or anxiety disorders look like, I encourage you to take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the basic facts at one of these sites:

The National Institute of Mental Health

Anxiety Disorders Association of America

MedLine Plus

My Problem has a Name

On the one hand, it was devastating to realize that I had a serious problem with severe anxiety. Thoughts like, “I should be able to control what goes on inside my head!” and “What? I have something wrong with my mind?” plagued me. (It was only later, as I understood how severe anxiety is a product of the interactions between the mind, body, and brain that I was able to lay these thoughts to rest.)

On the other hand, it was tremendously freeing to realize that I had a serious problem with severe anxiety. And the reason was this: my problem had a name. It was real. It wasn’t just “inside my head.” And because it was real, because it had a name, there was a solution. I just had to find it and implement it. That gave new life to me, filling me with purpose, direction, and – most of all – hope.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you have a problem. Yes, it’s frightening. But only when you name it can you begin to address and overcome it.

The Anxiety Cure

For myself, my first step toward healing came through a fantastic book: The Anxiety Cure, by Dr. Archibald Hart. You can find it here on Amazon, and I highly recommend reading it:

Here, I learned how the brain, body, and mind interact. I finally understood that anxiety is not all “in the mind.” When we experience stress, it has an impact on the body chemistry, which then has an effect on the brain function, which then affects the mind and emotions.

As a result – and this is key to understand – working toward health and wholeness involves addressing our entire person: our lives, our work, our relationships, our habits, our body, our brain, our mind, our emotions, our spirit, etc. There is no “one size fits all” solution to severe anxiety, nor is there an overnight quick-fix.

That is a tough one to swallow. I, at least, wanted to be well, and wanted to be well right now, thank you very much! But I have learned that wholeness comes slowly, often painfully – one step at a time.

Choosing the Right Counselor

Many times, counseling or therapy will be beneficial or essential to recovering from severe anxiety. But I have a word of warning here: choose your counselor carefully!

I didn’t know, in the beginning, what to look for in a counselor. I assumed that any Christian counselor could help me. I’m sorry to say it, but that’s not the case. My recommendation is to look for someone who:

  • Has experience helping people through severe anxiety.
  • Will give you practical tools and techniques to overcome or ameliorate your anxiety.
  • Is open to the use of medication as a part of treatment, if that should prove helpful.
  • Is able to work with you through your underlying belief system that may be contributing to your anxiety.

I work with a cognitive-behavioral specialist (that is, someone who helps me look at, understand, and modify what I think and how I act in order to lessen or eliminate anxiety), and I personally recommend someone with that training and experience.

However, the bottom line is this: you have to find a counselor with whom you have a solid rapport, whom you trust completely, and who is able to help you make definite progress.

Set Goals, But No Timeframes

When we’re talking about our struggle with anxiety and our journey toward wholeness, here is a vital piece of advice:

Set goals, but no timeframes.

Part of my anxiety stems from putting unrealistic demands and expectations upon myself. I could easily add one that says, “I must overcome my anxiety completely within two months!” And then, with that pronouncement, my anxiety level will shoot through the roof and I will have effectively cut myself off at the knees.

Instead, my counselor has taught me that I should set goals, but no timeframes. My goal is health and wholeness. But I don’t put any date on when I will get there (or even if I will get there totally within this life).

Because there is no timeframe, I don’t put pressure on myself to “get better.” I simply work each day at living well, at making right decisions, and at getting up one more time than I fall down.

I see progress, but I don’t chart it against a deadline. It simply is what it is: sometimes I progress faster, sometimes I have setbacks, but all the time I have my goal firmly in mind.

I’m not in a race. I’m living life. That’s what it means to set goals, but no timeframes.

Copyright © 2009, Paula J. Marolewski. All rights reserved.
The above article may NOT be reprinted.
Fire In My Mind Cover

Interested in learning more about severe anxiety?

Read Fire in My Mind: Personal Insights & Practical Help for Severe Anxiety. Fire in My Mind is a unique and deeply moving Bible study on severe anxiety, providing personal insights, practical advice, and profound scriptural meditations on eight key aspects of anxiety: racing thoughts, fear, shame, irrationality, doubt, anger, exhaustion and loneliness.

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