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
It pays to pay attention.
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:
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.