I’ve battled anxiety for most of my adult life. Most of you have too. I’m just sayin’. Science says 33 percent of us ladies have had an anxiety disorder in our lives. I say I don’t know a woman who doesn’t battle anxiety daily. Some days might shine brighter than others, but it’s something we all have in common. So, what do we do?
I want to give you my battle plan for anxiety. It’s called Weeding the Garden. Let’s imagine your brain is a beautiful garden. Accepting that your brain can be a beautiful garden is probably the first step. You see, I believe we can all be at peace. That we don’t have to walk around worried or scared or having a pit in our stomach. That doesn’t mean we’re always happy, but it does mean we can feel more settled, more peaceful, even when we’re not “happy.”
So, if your mind is a beautiful, peaceful garden, you have to maintain it, right? It doesn’t just stay beautiful! If you don’t work, weeds will take it over. I don’t know much about gardening, but I feel it’s safe to advise you should immediately pluck a weed as soon as you see it. Anxiety pops up into our lives like little weeds. It starts off small. Just a little nagging feeling. You might not even sense it. However, if you do not take care of it right away, it will grow. And it will get more and more out of control. Eventually, it will take over entirely. Weeding the garden simply means being intentional about noticing those small, nagging feelings and taking action against them. Quickly.
For example, I remember a day when I was feeling really heavy. Burdened. Anxious. I had several weeds sprout up at once: taxes, running a church group and not working out. (By the way, working out is a super-charged, mega weedkiller).
I’d started my own business the year before and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do my own taxes this year. But I’d procrastinated calling someone because I was dreading getting all my files together and seeing the potential tax damage.
I was excited to lead another church group, but this one was a couple’s group. I’d never led men before and I was feeling anxious about it. Intimidated even.
I’d not worked out yet so it was just sitting there on my to-do list. Our bodies are designed to expend energy. When we don’t, it’s like bottled up energy which, in my view, manifests in anxiety.
With all of these things looming, all of a sudden I felt very anxious. Like I wanted to curl into a ball. And this was small, everyday stuff. I mean, it has been worse and it will be again. But I know you can relate. Sometimes little things just add up and make you feel ugh. Like needing to call a friend back, getting to the post office, making a teacher appreciation gift or whether the pants you need to wear next week are going to fit. Of course, there are bigger things too. Like your mom’s test results, a kid getting hurt while on a trip away, debt looming, funding a new roof, layoffs at work.
There’s a lot of weeds out there y’all.
Here’s how you weed the garden. The moment you start feeling this way, get out your journal or a piece of paper. Divide the paper into three columns. In the first column, make a list of everything that is bothering you, of anything that is making you feel anxious. This will help you all by itself. Getting it out of your head will make you feel better. (In fact, I recommend brain dumping these things every night before bed.) Brain imaging research has shown that calling out and labeling negative emotions can help decrease those emotions and give your brain a jumpstart on solving them.
In the middle column, you’re going to write why the thing is bothering you. You will name the emotion while you’re at it. What is the root emotion that you’re feeling about the thing? In my examples, shame and fear were certainly in place.
In the third column of your paper, write down things you can actually do. In my examples, I could call the tax lady. I could gather my files. I could call back my community group leader that I’d been avoiding. I could read up about leading a couple’s group. I could talk to my husband and learn from him. I could work out for at least five minutes.
Sometimes it might seem like there is nothing you can do in a situation that is causing you anxiety. In those instances, pray (we talked about that earlier). Yet, in many situations, there are small actions we can take. Even if it’s texting your kid a message about how much you love them because you’re anxious they’re on a bus traveling for sports. Even if it’s a call to your sister to talk about how you’re feeling. Even if it’s researching the job market just in case. There’s probably something small you can do that will make you feel a little better. Why? Because:
Action is the antidote to anxiety.
Action puts you in control. It puts you in charge. Another benefit to writing out these two lists is that it helps you see what you have control over and what you do not have control over. In our heads, it’s easy to get worked up. Looking at words on paper helps us to get a little more rational. Because we know it’s irrational to let things we cannot control our mood and therefore our lives. So, let’s get rational. Let’s get weeding.