Sitting on my counselor’s couch working through what I thought was a setback last summer, it felt comfortably familiar, curiously reminiscent of the Central Perk couch in Friends.
Through tears, I relayed the returning physical symptoms and the unnerving experiences shaking my recent success in overcoming anxiety.
Three times during the hour, she uttered words I didn’t believe at the time,
“You’re so resilient.”
I thought, “She’s supposed to say that,” but later during reflection and prayer while reading my scribbled notes, I realized she spoke truth from both observation and experience.
Yet how could I be resilient while being taunted afresh by my nemesis: anxiety?
She reminded me of all I’ve come through and how I’ve learned from my past to thrive the present.
She wasn’t referring to my resume of accomplishments but spoke of the strength and wisdom gained through suffering.
Simultaneously, last summer I also learned about biological resilience. It turns out scientific research concludes we gain healthful benefits, or resilience, from stressors and periods of discomfort:
- Exposure to heat and cold
- Fatigue from physical exertion
The sciency name for this is hormesis, meaning, “rapid motion, eagerness.” Through these brief periods of stress, our bodies are urged on with eagerness toward optimal health.
Hunger, fatigue from exercise, cold, and heat exposure all create a cascade of biological processes which promote robustness, or resilience, in every cell and organ in our bodies, improving our overall health and lifespan.
We’ve survived thousands of years because of adversity, not in spite of it.
Why have I drifted into explanations of biological processes, and how does this relate to anxiety?
Well, it turns out anxiety similarly urges us on in eagerness to stop, pay attention, and discern why we feel “out of balance.”
Sometimes anxiety requires medical intervention, as in my case, but despite its dysfunctional and deleterious effects when chronic, it serves a purpose.
Thus, with the help of my counselor, we listened to what anxiety was trying to tell me, uncovering the core of its message:
My life path needed a major course correction, but I was resisting, unaware of what was brewing below the surface.
Why was I unable to sense the internal signals informing me something was awry, requiring my attention? Simple: I had a plan I carefully crafted with prayer and counsel and thought I had it to follow through with it.
Allowing anxiety a seat at the table, I didn’t offer the CEO’s chair, but pondered its presence.
Was there something wrong internally or circumstantially, or was I allowing feelings of fear, ineptness, insecurity, or shame to bully me?
It’s important to discern, sometimes with help, how long, loudly, and frequently anxiety speaks.
We can allow anxiety a seat at our table, but we don’t always have to listen to it.
When I sit with anxiety, asking Jesus what He needs me to know, He will reveal the root of my emotions through His Word and trusted community, along with how to course correct, restoring balance.
For me, we recently had a major change in our family. My husband and I became grandparents; I had a plan, but it needed amending with her arrival.
Does this mean my plan was wrong? No; we prayerfully make plans with the knowledge we have at the time. When circumstances change, we veer our courses accordingly in partnership with the Holy Spirit and community.
I used to think anxiety required eradication at all costs—restraint, repression, or resolution—as quickly as possible. I would freeze at the first sensations:
- shortness of breath
- quickened heart rate
- gastrointestinal gymnastics
But I’m discovering anxiety is a warning to be evaluated through the filter of God’s wisdom and love.
Second, some questions I’ve learned to ask are:
- When did anxiety show up?
- What circumstances accompanied its arrival?
- What is the worst thing that could happen?
- What does God want me to know about this issue?
- What does God want me to do?
Many times I need help discerning these answers, but acknowledging anxiety’s presence is the first step towards discovering why it showed up in the first place.
Lastly, are there false beliefs I need to reframe, or sin I need to repent of?
It’s a slow but important process because distraction, repression, or anesthetizing, while sometimes useful, when chronically used only cause anxiety to scream louder. It will be heard eventually. It must be.
Are you struggling with stress or general feelings of unwellness? It may be anxiety. This week, allow your feelings to rise and sit with them, not to grant them too loud a voice, but to discern if there are steps you can take towards wholeness and freedom.
You can do this with your friend, Jesus. His presence, though the Spirit, makes us resilient. Trust His gentle guidance. He’s transforming you day by day into a more glorious, Spirit-filled you! (2 Cor.3:18)
We plan the way we want to live but only God makes us able to live it. Prov 16:9
Weekly Health Tip: The balancing act
Did you know balance is critical for health and longevity? 1/3 of women and 1/5 of men will fall and sustain a (hip) fracture, necessitating immobility until it heals. This increases all-cause mortality (death by any cause) by 75%!
If this sounds like a topic for the aging, keep reading, because even young, active people can struggle with balance for 2-ish reasons:
- It has to be practiced.
- We start losing muscle in our 30’s!
By the time we hit our 70’s, we’ve lost 40% of our muscle, if not more. But the good news: strength training preserves muscle, and practicing balance and coordination keeps us upright when we’re thrown off kilter.
A few balance tips:
- While brushing your teeth, practice standing on 1 leg, then switch. Use the counter as needed, then as you feel comfortable, let go.
- Try Yoga, Martial Arts, Tai Chi, dance (all on YouTube), or hiking.