|Worry got you down?|
My daughter is really good at sitting still, listening to the homily and different parts of the Mass, and participating. When she gets a little bored, she colours quietly. She's five and a half, after all, and quite mature for her age.
My sweet little son, on the other hand, reminds me of a tornado: he seems to be everywhere at once, and for such a little thing, he can be pretty forceful! He's 20 months old now, and that means he's got an insatiable appetite for exploring and a curiosity that just doesn't stop. Most times, I'm happy that he's such an adventurous, courageous little chap. But there are sometimes, like when we're at the doctor's office, or in the library, or, like today, at Mass, that I'd like him to tone it down just a little.
So, I had that worry on my mind going into Mass. I also carried all the other worries that most people get weighed down with on a daily basis, and that we, as women and moms especially, can get caught up in: should I have let the kids watch a My Little Pony episode this morning at breakfast? How much more screen time am I going to give them today? What am I going to make for supper? Am I going to be able to get through that pile of laundry today? Will my son go down for his nap without a fight?
These are day to day worries, the normal type of life stress that everyone encounters, in some form or another. But if you let them build up -- if you don't have an outlet for this type of stress -- it can become a problem.
I'm also familiar with the far more unpleasant cousin of worry: anxiety. I think, partially, I was wired for it from birth: it was just in my genes. Also, different circumstances in my young life helped to bring some of that natural tendency to anxiety out. I think I've had anxiety pretty well my whole life, but it never really became a problem for me until I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.
At that time, I started having daily panic attacks, on top of ongoing anxiety. After enough of these, which were terrifying, I started to feel pretty down, even depressed. Thankfully, I was able to come out of that. I was hit again with anxiety when my husband had to shut down his business and we had to move eight hours from where we had been living. This was about eight or nine years ago now. I also struggled with post-partum anxiety in the weeks following the birth of my children.
I've been through a lot to treat my anxiety, including medication, counselling, behavioural cognitive therapy and more. And while -- I thank the Lord -- my anxiety is no longer such a huge force in my life, I definitely do still have stress, and my anxiety can still creep up on me if I'm going through a more turbulent time in my life, or of I've been neglecting taking care of myself.
So what does all this have to do with today's Mass? Well, the readings for today really send home Jesus' message that we are not to let worry overcome us -- that we are to give our fears to God, and trust in Him.
From the very start of the Mass, at the entrance antiphon, we are comforted by Psalm 17:19-20: The Lord became my protector. He brought me out to a place of freedom; he saved me because he delighted in me.
Our first reading, Isaiah 49:14-15, talks about how God will never, ever forget about us or fail us, even though the closest of human relationships can: Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
In today's gospel reading, from Matthew 6:24-34, we heard Jesus first explaining to his disciples that they cannot serve two masters. Then, he says: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...Therefore do not worry, saying 'What will we eat?' or 'What will be drink?' or 'What will we wear?'...indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things...So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."
We all have our worries -- Jesus understands this, which is why He spoke about it to His disciples. But when our worries get out of control, and turn into anxiety, which can in turn become a crippling, debilitating force in our lives, then we do indeed serve another master than God -- we serve fear.
So, how can we keep worry and fear and anxiety from taking over our lives? Well, I'm not a psychologist. I don't have any background in mental health education. All I know is what works for me, and I'd like to share that with you, in case these strategies can help you too. Here are my ten strategies for coping with anxiety.
1.) Give yourself a break! Worry and anxiety are a part of life. Don't be so hard on yourself. If your anxiety has gotten out of hand, it doesn't mean you are weak or crazy. It means you've been trying to be strong for a long time, but you need to take the next step to help yourself.
2.) Ask for help. If your anxiety has gotten to a point where it interferes with how you live your life, it's time to ask for some help. Talk about it to someone you trust, and take the first steps towards bringing the subject up with your doctor. Take it one day at a time, and trust that God has got this.
3.) Find someone to be your recovery partner. For me, it was my husband. Though he is a very mellow dude, and has never struggled with anxiety himself, he has been my rock and has gotten me through some very tough times, and it has only made us stronger. Choose someone who you can trust, who will support you no matter what. Choose someone balanced, and thoughtful and sensitive. Share your struggles, thoughts and progress with them.
4.) Read, read, read! There are so many books out there that deal with helping people with anxiety. One of my absolute favourites is From Panic to Power by Lucinda Basset. In fact, it was her fifteen-week program that stopped my anxiety in its tracks in my teen years. It really works!
5.) Meditate. Don't worry, I'm not telling you to become an expert yogi or a Buddhist monk (that would be kind of counterintuitive for a Catholic blog!). Just read up on some simple relaxation or meditation techniques. There are plenty out there that aren't religious -- I really recommend Chel Hamilton's Meditation Minis podcast (you can get it for free on any podcast app) and the Headspace program. I personally try to meditate once a day for full benefits.
6.) Write. Express yourself through the written word. Get a nice journal, and start recording your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Every day when you wake up, write what you are thankful for. Before bed, write about your day, and three reasons you're proud of yourself. End with another three things you're thankful for. It's helpful, for me, to look back on my journaling when I'm in a period of anxiety: it helps me to see that I've been there before and it will pass soon.
7.) Exercise and eat better. What we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how we feel emotionally. Cut back (and eventually cut out!) sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Start doing a bit of cardio exercise every day. Get outside once a day and enjoy the world God created!
8.) Talk to others. Sharing what you are going through with others can really help. Maybe there is a support group you can join. Or maybe, if a friend brings up the subject of stress, you can share your story with them. You'd be surprised how many people struggle with anxiety and don't talk about it. You're definitely not alone.
9.) Focus on the precious present moment. When you have anxiety, thinking about the future can be both scary and sad at the same time, because sometimes you just can't picture yourself being confident and happy again. But this is not reality -- it's just your anxiety. So stop thinking about the future. Stop ruminating over the past. Try to be present in the moment that you are in right now, and try to appreciate it.
10.) Let go and let God. I don't mean to sound cheesy, but this is really important. God will always keep you strong, no matter what struggle you face. Time and time again I have been able to look back and see God at work in my darkest moments. He will never abandon us. So pray like you've never prayed before -- start praying the rosary, and maybe look into some Novenas (St. Dymphna is a good saint to have in your corner when you have anxiety). Attend Mass as often as you can. Read the Word, especially parts of it that are comforting and assuring. And above all, don't give up hope! If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it!
I hope these ten tips can help you if you've felt like anxiety is taking over your life. Those of us who deal with anxiety are some of the most caring, creative, amazing people God has placed on this earth. When we really take Jesus' words to heart and set aside our worry, we can do amazing things!