Guest Post by Mary Attalla
This post was originally posted on her blog: I Walk By Faith Not By Sight.
I share this message with you as I reflect on this verse:
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13
This is the very first Bible verse I ever memorized. Whenever I was worried as a child, my mom would always recite this verse to me. I never really internalized the strength of this verse until recently when I sought it in my times of desperate need.
Anxiety is a very taboo topic in the church, and so it was a bit tough for me to write this. My anxiety has been unbearable these past 8 months. I found myself in deep despair over university coursework and isolation. I struggled to put my feelings into words here. Let me try. Please bear with me.
I feel like I’m drowning in the middle of the ocean and there is no one there to save me. Actually, it’s even worse. It feels like I’m drowning AND there is a huge weight pulling me down. When I would try to mention it to friends or family (I am not blaming you, I love you), everyone always said “you will be okay, you are being dramatic.” I admit I am a bit of the dramatic type, in this case, their reactions made my anxiety worse and made me feel even MORE isolated than I already was.
I prayed and consistently read the Bible. I tried to do everything in my power to shield my mind from anxiety. Reading my Bible brought me peace in the moment, but it did not solve my anxiety. After months of debilitating anxiety, it got so bad that it started manifesting as physical symptoms. This made it extremely challenging to be a first-year medical student. I began to have serious panic attacks and began to puke out straight acid (in times of stress the GI tract produces more acid).
After months of reflection, therapy, and affirmation, I’m ready to share with you, my dear friend, what I have learned about anxiety.
I learned that:
My anxiety was a result of my perfectionism. My perfectionism was exhausting; nothing was ever good enough for me. I always felt the need to do better and never felt like I was “enough.” Side note: I hate the word enough, like what does that even mean?! Enough cannot even be defined, this is an awful word that we should not be using in a negative way towards ourselves.
I developed this pattern of inward negative thinking as a child. I would think, “I didn’t study enough today. I didn't work hard enough. I am not enough. I am stupid.” Realizing this allowed me to learn that it wasn’t my fault. This is key; I needed to stop blaming myself for the anxiety, it only made it worse.
The downward spiral of my own negative thoughts was the cause of my anxiety. Having developed it as a child, it was now a HABIT. Habits, for better or worse, require active time and effort to change. I decided to seek therapy. I went to see a therapist. YES, a therapist!! You heard me. Mental health and God can go hand in hand. If you are struggling with anxiety, that doesn’t mean you don’t love Christ or don’t trust Christ (as I’ve been told many times). Anxiety is not a disease you can just take meds for and feel all better, it requires ACTUAL medical help. So if you are struggling, please take it seriously and do what you need to do to stay healthy.
We are not perfect. Only God is perfect. We, as Christians are called, to TRY to be perfect. But our God is so forgiving and will take us back in a heartbeat. So instead of hating myself for every little mistake, I worked on changing my mindset. I went back to seeking Him. Remember: Christ loves you, and you are worthy of His love no matter what!
Here are things that can help:
When you get a negative thought that makes you anxious (we call these thought traps), make sure to stop it! Say NO! Don’t let it affect you. This is much harder than it sounds and takes months and months of practice! I’ll give you a few examples of my thought traps and how I counteract them:
“It is not good enough” or “I am not good enough,” instead I would say: “I am learning and growing, I did my part, what’s important is that I learn to be calm, wise and knowledgeable”
A few more that I saw in an anxiety workshop are listed in the chart below.
Affirmation is key. There is a big difference between pride and actual affirmation. Affirmation doesn’t mean you are being prideful, it just means you are reassuring yourself and telling yourself you are doing fine! Affirmation not only helps with anxiety but helps you gain confidence in your abilities!
Reflection! As an RN, I have gotten in the habit of reflecting on my life weekly- what went well that week and what needs improvement. In general, I think everyone needs to reflect in order to grow.
Keep an appreciation or gratitude journal. Every day I write down 3 things I am thankful for, this just helped me realize how blessed and amazing life is, regardless of how awful my brain made me feel.
Read your Bible. Changing any habit requires a lot of strength, and the Bible is full of reminders that God is the one who gives us that strength. I pray that God gives me the strength to stop being so hard on myself and allow me to just enjoy life a bit more.
What now? Well, I will continue to do all the above exercises until my old bad habits are gone. I am seeking help, reaching out to my friends, and keeping them in the loop about my good days and bad days. I regularly remind myself that healing is not linear - we will have ups and downs, but it’s important to try to have more ups than downs! I know I will be working on this for my whole life, but I am here to tell you, things will get better. I learned to not give up on myself; to keep trying and keep swimming. Together, we will get there, we will survive, we are resilient!
Remember: Christ loves you, and He is here to help you.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Mary Attalla is from Cambridge, ON, Canada and loves writing about service, life, and the daily struggles of everyday people searching for Christ. She is a registered nurse (RN) who is currently pursing a medical degree. She has a heart of service that has lead her on mission trips to Kenya, Egypt, and Bolivia. Mary is also passionate about serving university students in her home church in Mississauga - St. Mary & St. Athanasius Coptic Orthodox Church.