Learning to Live
Above Severe Anxiety: Reclaiming Choice
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.
Choose Your Actions
In the grip of severe anxiety, it’s easy to act based upon
fears, anxieties, worries, anger, etc. In other words, we act from
emotion, rather than from decision.
It takes conscious effort, a great deal of practice, and a healthy
dose of willpower to decide not to act on emotions. To learn to
examine what is happening within or around you and analyze it objectively,
to study your emotions to determine why you are feeling a certain
way, to review your thoughts and underlying beliefs to decide whether
they are rational or irrational, and to choose a course of action
based upon wisdom and logic – and not upon what you may be
feeling or even thinking.
Effort, practice, and willpower – but the result is a tremendous
new freedom because you are once again choosing your actions and
the course of your life, not reacting like a marionette to every
tug on your internal strings.
Consider Your Options
A huge amount of my own anxiety stems from feeling trapped. For
- Someone asks me to do something and I don’t feel
that I can say “No.”
- A curveball is thrown into my day and I feel that I have
to deal with it immediately.
- A situation causes me anxiety and I feel helpless to
stop the rising tension.
But I have learned to say something crucial to myself when such
anxiety rises: “Consider your
Rarely is life so set in stone that you have no options. Looking
at the above examples:
- If someone asks me to do something, I can
say “Yes,” I
can say “No,” I can say “Later,” I can
say “I’ll think about it.” I am not trapped.
I have options.
- If a curveball is thrown into my day, it may or may not
be urgent (regardless of what anyone else may say about it!).
It may be urgent, but may not become my first priority. I can re-prioritize
and choose how to use my time. I am not trapped. I have options.
- If a situation causes me anxiety, I can stop and consider
what I am thinking and feeling about it and determine if those
thoughts are logical or illogical, and if those feelings are
appropriate or inappropriate. I can then choose to take positive
action, which may include, as a first step, taking a time out
and relaxing so that I don’t panic. I am not trapped. I have options.
It is a solid, reassuring melody in the back of my mind:
“Relax. Slow down. Consider your options.”
Shoulds, Musts, and Oughts
For years, my anxiety was aggravated by the constant throb through
“I should do this!”
“I must do that!”
“I ought to be doing something
Shoulds, musts, and oughts yanked my chain day in and day out,
pulling me in a dozen different directions with a hundred conflicting
I wasn’t living: I was existing. A puppet on strings, exhibiting
no freedom of choice and action – just anxious fear that
I couldn’t fulfill the dissonant chorus of shoulds, musts,
Now I know: I have the gift of choice. I can examine everything
that comes at me in life to determine what I “should,” in
fact, do. To decide what is imperative – a “must” – and
what is not. To weigh carefully whether I “ought” to
engage in a certain activity.
Do you hear the words? “Examine.” “Determine.” “Decide.” “Weigh.”
Those were the words of freedom and will and choice that were
missing before. Instead, my anxiety said, “You should do
everything! You must do it at once! You ought to do it better!”
Now I respond, “No – I shouldn’t do everything.
I will not do it all at once. I will do my best and not require
And within, I hear the sweet stillness I had forgotten called “Peace.”