You know it’s coming – Sunday morning.
It comes every week, and every week you declare you’ll be better prepared for the next one…but somehow, even preparing doesn’t take away the anxiety creep.
You know it’s coming – the monthly board meeting.
They’re all working towards a common goal and they say they love Jesus and care about your husband…so why do you start to get sick days before it arrives?
You know it’s coming – my goodness, it’s just having people over for dinner.
You remind yourself being hospitable is a scriptural mandate if you’re going to love Jesus. You’re doing “your duty” and supporting your husband in his work. I mean, after it’s over and the people leave, you always remind yourself that it wasn’t so bad after all – so what’s wrong with you that panic wants to set in at the mention of: “Hey, honey. Can we have so-n-so over?”
Do any of these sound familiar? Of course, they do. I don’t even have to guess if you’ve experienced one of these because if you’re a pastor’s wife, I know you have.
3 Common Reactions to Anxiety
- Shame – “I’m just not praying enough!” If the shame doesn’t come from an outside source, it will come from within you. Judgment, belittling, doubting your faith. This shame is no small thing. It divides, it puffs up, and it steals our joy leaving us in an ineffective, depressed mess. (I just saw someone post and declare, “Anxiety is a sin. Confess it and get over it.”)
- Isolation – you feel it starting. Your heart races faster, your hands are feeling tingly, your breathing grows shallow. You try to adjust your thoughts. You pray desperately. But nothing changes. And you can’t go out like this. In fact, true to the last major wave, you literally feel as though your feet are stuck in cement. You are staying home and whoever it was that needed you will just have to get over it. Over time, in order to stay safe from this always happening when you try to go out to certain activities, you just stop agreeing to go out. It’s less painful to stay home.
- Blame – “Well if he’d give me more than 2 minutes’ notice, I wouldn’t have a problem with people coming over.” or “Well, if they didn’t always criticize my husband I wouldn’t worry about the board meetings.” These are all valid complaints and issues to deal with in and of themselves, but they aren’t the reason for your anxiety.
What you need to know about anxiety
Anxiety happens to you because you are human and you experience fear.
According to Dictionary.com, anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”
Anxiety is rooted in our experiences, our genetics, our thinking, and our amygdala- the brain’s home of emotions. Contrary to some Christians’ thinking, anxiety cannot just be “prayed away” nor does one just “get over it.” That’s not actually how our bodies work. Without going into all the brain science, what we know is that the body has a form of its own memory, and paying attention to it is essential to begin to heal from anything which holds us back. Whether you can put your finger on it or not, there is a reason for the anxiety which takes siege. (We can discuss whether anxiety is a “sin issue” or not on another day. That is not the purpose of this post.)
One reason emotions are given to us is for the purpose of alert. Though God can, and sometimes does, answer prayers and allow us to “pray our way out” of difficult emotions, most often the emotions are there to alert us to something underneath the surface. Instead of looking at having anxiety as one more way we’re failing and disobeying God, what if we started asking, “What does this anxiety want me to pay attention to, Lord?”
Humans have anxiety because we have an alert system instilled in us to help us deal with any perceived danger. Scientists now know that the same system that lights up when dangerous animals start to run towards us, is the same system that lights up when we are stuck in traffic. Yes, it’s true; both are perceived as a threat and our bodies naturally respond accordingly.
Now, both situations are not actually dangerous, but our bodies think they are because, in both instances, we are left out of control.
So, even if we aren’t in actual physical danger when Sunday rolls around, or when there’s a meeting, or when people might be coming over, then what are we to do?!
God’s Word and Anxiety
1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Isaiah 26:3: “He will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast because they trust in you.”
Psalm 103:13-14: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life. In Your presence, there is fullness of joy.”
These are just a few verses that come to mind when I think about being anxious, God’s response, and my responsibility in the matter. You see, for so long I approached God from the perspective of that timid dog with its tail between its legs, coming to God as if He was a cruel owner, begging Him for just a tiny taste of bread-if He would spare it. I believed God was always displeased with me – or that there was always something more I should be doing to earn His love.
I would have never *said* those words, but I lived them in the way I hid my true thoughts, feelings, and hurts from God. This hiding causes a squeeze in us; especially as women in ministry, where can we turn for safety? And if not to God, then who?! In our marriages, we hide frustrations because we believe we are the end-all, be-all to creating a “haven” for our husbands to come home to. In our friendships, we hold them at arms’ length because we never know just who is trustworthy and who is not- we’ve already experienced THAT pain, and we are NOT about to experience it again!
So God, while I assented and touted His love, was never experienced as having love *for me!* And this creates a type of spiritual anxiety. When we don’t know our standing with God, and we are living in a position to supposedly walk that out daily, we find ourselves at a complete loss. Often that loss leads to a type of functional anxiety. Lived long enough, our bodies will stop it for us. (Hence, increasing panic attacks and other physical ailments.)
3 Ways to Find Relief from Anxiety
1- Breathe. No, really. I hear you- you are screaming “I would if I could. That’s the problem!” I know that’s a problem for you right now, but this solution is the “first-stop shop.” Your body needs oxygen and the shallow breathing that takes over is the body conserving energy and escaping the perceived threat. Intentionally slowing and deepening your breathing will bring the necessary oxygen back in to help slow your heart and bring your nervous system back in line. A few helpful tools are breathing apps (I like Abide) or counting in for 4, holding for a beat or two, and then breathing back out to 4 (or 8 if you can).
If you have a smartwatch, you have the ability to have your watch walk you through a breathing session. Take advantage of that! (There is research that shows blowing out for 2x as long as breathing in helps significantly. However, when just beginning learning to breathe, I just say any slow, deep breathing is helpful.)
2 – Breath prayers. When anxiety creeps, our prefrontal cortex begins to lose its rational, logical thinking function. We can’t make sense of much and our thoughts are often all jumbled up inside. Though I don’t believe it’s a sin to have anxiety, we saw above that God wants us to use our emotion of fear to come to Him with those fears. Sometimes that’s in the way we just take a moment-to-moment approach to call upon Him: “Lord, help.” (“Lord,” in; “help,” out is sometimes all I manage and that is A-Ok!)
3 – Cold Pack. What?! I know, it sounds weird. Again, without going into the physiological ins and outs, trust me when I say applying an ice pack to your chest area just below your collarbone has the ability to calm your nervous system. You can place this on your body for 5-10 minutes and relief usually follows. Likewise, I know clients have used a rolling cold migraine tool across their chest and experienced relief this way as well.
Please note: These are just a few of the ways that may help relieve anxiety for you. Not all anxiety relief methods work for all people all the time. You are an individual so trial and error may be needed to find what is the most helpful for yourself.
Anxiety isn’t the enemy.
You aren’t broken if you have anxiety.
You aren’t unholy if you have anxiety.
Praying it away usually doesn’t work.
Paying attention to and caring for your anxiety is key to eliminating or at least lessening the effects of it on your life.
Important Disclaimers & Advice
If you are experiencing repeated, ongoing, daily anxiety causing an inability to respond to normal everyday tasks, it is time to seek professional help. This article is not intended to replace any advice from a licensed professional. This help can come in the form of your primary doctor, a functional/alternative doctor, a counselor/therapist, or sometimes even a coach. These professionals will be able to begin to help you sort out the support that you will need individually to address this area of challenge in your life. I fully believe that getting at the root of an issue is key and anxiety is wrapped up with a lot of various issues in the soil which, combined with one another, may require working on various aspects of your story and family of origin, narratives you hold, patterns of belief, and possibly hormonal/chemical issues happening within your individual body.
You CAN live in ministry with minimal anxiety, begin to enjoy people, and serve freely once again!
Do you need someone to talk with about your anxiety? No strings attached, let’s meet and talk through what support might be helpful for you.