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Learning to Live Above Severe Anxiety: Paying Attention
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.

What Is My Body Telling Me?

A real eye-opener when I began counseling was the emphasis my therapist put on paying attention to my body. She taught me how to recognize various physical symptoms of stress – everything from hyperventilating to trouble swallowing to neck pain to a racing heart to dizziness.

What she explained, and what I had not known, was that your body often tells you that there’s a problem with stress and anxiety before your mind actually picks up on it. So I might be going along in my day, working to meet three deadlines, and not be mentally aware of how much pressure and stress I am experiencing and how my anxiety level is steadily climbing. But my body will tell me – through the pain in my neck, tension in my gut, and quickened breathing.

If I pay attention to these physical symptoms, I can take steps to calm myself down before the anxiety spins out of control. Say, take a time-out for some deep breathing exercises, or take a five-minute garden break, or go make a cup of fragrant, herbal tea.

If I can slow down mentally and physically, then go back to my work, I am more likely to remain calm and in control (and, incidentally, meet those deadlines!). If I ignore the physical symptoms and just plow on ahead, then my anxiety will continue to skyrocket until panic hits, sending any hope of meeting those deadlines out the window.

It pays to pay attention.

Stimulus Hunting

It’s important to go hunting. Specifically, stimulus hunting.

That is, in order to eliminate or minimize anxiety, you have to know what things are causing your anxiety to begin with. Those things can be internal or external, beliefs or situations, within your control or outside of your control.

For instance, any of the following might be stimuli for your anxiety:

  • Having a full calendar
  • Making a mistake
  • Weather changes
  • The belief that you have to be in control at all times
  • Engaging in conflict with someone
  • Being in a room full of people
  • Fearing what people may be thinking about you
  • Physical fatigue
  • Letting your personal boundaries be crossed

There are many, many more possibilities, and each person’s list of stimuli will be unique to them.

Once you have made a list of what causes you anxiety, you can begin to work through what situations you can change, how you can change your responses to situations you can’t change, how you personally may need to change, etc. But before you can make positive changes, you need to know what needs to be changed. That knowledge comes from knowing specifically what causes your anxiety.

Happy hunting!

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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