I have to admit my anxiety has been acting up lately. Major life changes like marriage and graduation, combined with the new stresses of adult life make it harder to stay afloat at times. Sometimes at random, I feel overwhelmed, manic, and irritable. My heart pounds, my head aches, and I need all noise and stimuli to stop.
I know I can’t be the only one. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 40 million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. That’s why I feel God has led me to share some coping tips I’ve learned from walking with Christ, and from seeking counseling. If you’re struggling with anxiety too, you’re not alone, and you’re not down for the count. Here are some things you can do when you feel the panic coming on.
In all things, prayer should be a Christian’s first reaction. Too often it isn’t; I’m all too guilty of turning elsewhere for relief. But I know that nothing else can provide a peace that lasts.
Philippians 4:6 and 7 promises that when we turn to God in prayer, He will provide “a peace that surpasses understanding” that will “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Hear me: this doesn’t mean our circumstances will change. This doesn’t mean that we won’t still struggle with anxiety at times. But the peace of God is more than a warm and fuzzy feeling. It is the knowledge that whatever war rages inside, everything will be okay. The battle is hard, but Christ has already won the war.
Bringing your anxiety before the Lord is foundational to coping with it. There’s no reason to deny it; He already knows, and there’s freedom in admitting it. Our good God has promised rest and peace when we need it if we only ask.
Focus on Breathing
One of the first and most prominent symptoms of an anxiety attack is irregular breathing. You may feel like something is sitting on your chest, hindering your breath. Your breathing may become rapid, keeping you in a sense of alarm. The problem is, you won’t physically feel calm and clear-headed until your breath is under control.
The easiest way to control your breathing is through calculated breaths. In through the nose for five seconds, out through the mouth for seven. My therapist taught me a unique breathing trick: breathe to the beat of a favorite song. You’ll want to choose one and practice in advance so that you’re prepared when the panic comes on. That may sound like a strange thing to practice, but choosing a song on the spot is a lot of pressure. You’ll thank yourself later.
If you have learned other methods, do whatever works best for you. Figuring that out may entail some trial and error. Whatever tricks you use, it is important to return your breathing to a calm, normal rhythm and keep it there.
Find a Safe Space
Sometimes, anxiety makes you feel the need to escape. There’s a reason for that. Anxiety causes the fight-or-flight instinct to kick in when it isn’t needed, causing stress when it isn’t warranted. So if you’ve ever had the urge to randomly run out of the room, you’re not crazy and you’re not alone.
If you’re struggling, there’s nothing wrong with temporarily retreating to a safe space until the panic recedes. In a public setting, a restroom is ideal. It’s secluded, often quiet, and heading there doesn’t invite questions. At home, it could be your bedroom or another favorite room in the house. Just be sure to choose a place where distractions, triggers, and reminders of stress are minimal.
Control Sensory Input
When I have anxiety attacks, it’s often in part because there’s too much going on around me: loud noises, bright lights, people talking, and my brain becomes overwhelmed. That feeling makes it hard to respond kindly and appropriately to the people around me.
That’s why I recommend taking steps to control your sensory input, especially noise. If the loud noise around you is getting to you, put in some earbuds and listen to something that calms you. Music is my go-to; try putting on the song that you chose to breathe to, or some chill instrumental music. A favorite of mine is the album “A Time for Peace” by Maranatha! Instrumental. I’ve been using it to soothe myself to sleep since I was a little girl. You could also make your own playlist of calming tunes on Spotify or Apple Music. Here’s mine if you’d like a reference point, or to use it yourself.
If music isn’t your thing, try ASMR or sounds like ocean waves. There are tons of ASMR videos on YouTube and lots of apps with selections of soothing sounds. Choose whatever most helps you block out the overwhelming stimuli and come back to a centered place.
Repeat God’s Promises
Just as I began this list by pointing to Jesus, so I will end it. No matter the cause of my anxiety, I find it soothing to repeat God’s good promises to myself. I have chosen some key verses of scripture to hide in my heart for anxious times. I often quote Philippians 4:6-7 to myself. Another verse that stills my heart is 2 Corinthians 3:17, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
All scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, so memorize whatever the Holy Spirit uses to soothe you. I even keep a document of such verses in the Notes app on my phone. Once you begin to apply the Word to your anxiety, you will be amazed at how God works in that area of your life.
This list is by no means exhaustive. The above tips are just a combination of personal discovery and tricks I learned in therapy. Experiment and find what works for you. If you’re struggling, I encourage you to consult your doctor or licensed counselor.
I will also add that while these tips help control anxiety flare-ups, none of them are a magical cure. The Lord’s ways are higher than ours. For reasons beyond our understanding, He fully heals some, and to others, He says, “my grace is sufficient.” But the latter half is not left high and dry. What He does for them, Brene Brown summed up best:
“I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away… But church isn’t like an epidural, it’s like a midwife. I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’ but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’”
Remember: no matter how difficult your battle with anxiety, the comforting presence of God will never leave you or forsake you.
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