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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 instance …

  • 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 options.”

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 my mind:

“I should do this!”

“I must do that!”

“I ought to be doing something else!”

Shoulds, musts, and oughts yanked my chain day in and day out, pulling me in a dozen different directions with a hundred conflicting priorities.

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, and oughts.

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 perfection.”

And within, I hear the sweet stillness I had forgotten called “Peace.”

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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