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
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
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
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
- 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
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.