A look at anxiety and stress inside faith communities

anxiety and stressLast year was my jump into a world of raw, honesty. Part of that honesty included admitting that I had neglected myself and my needs for far too long – and was paying a high price for it. Part of the price I paid was loads of stress and anxiety.

This pushed me into a subject that I had not given much thought or credit to before: self-care.

(What even. I can’t believe I’m even writing this. Just admitting that I had to stop my life and put Anna back on the radar gives me loads of anxiety. GOOD GOD. But, alas, here we are and I am sitting here writing about it. Which should tell you, this is a big freaking deal)

But, it wasn’t just a big deal – it was utterly TERRIFYING.

Why caring for myself was such a daunting task I don’t even know…

Maybe it’s because it meant I had to admit I wasn’t okay. Or because I had to say I couldn’t do everything, be everything and accomplish everything on my own. Maybe it’s because I had been preached (subliminally) at my entire life that putting my needs first was THE MOST SINFUL THING EVER. And that putting every other human, service project and other need above myself was THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF HOLINESS.

Yes. I thought it pleased God.

I thought it was what God expected of me.

But, when you boil it down, what I had grown to believe about God was quite frightening: I had embraced the belief that I was created merely for the consumption of everyone else. My time, my energy, my talent, my mind, my body – all of it was up for the taking – at any given time. 

I believed I was here to please you, give to you and serve you.

This was my purpose.

This made me holy.

I gave until there wasn’t anything left of me to give.

But nothing about this is holy.

In essence, I had positioned myself not as a child of God, but as a slave of God. One who has no needs of his or her own. One who has no real voice or thought of their own – because everything you have is for the “good” or “benefit” of others – even if it comes at your own expense.

I realize this is bucking the system in many ways, but I venture to say it is a very broken system. One where the individual is forgotten and the good of the group is the sole priority.

This positions institutions (and a few choice individuals) at the top, with loads of people at the bottom giving of themselves tirelessly.

All in the name of serving Jesus.

Ummm…NO.

This is not what God wants for us. This is a warped view that has crept not only into churches but into homes, marriages, parenting and every day life.

When you deny your own needs, your pain and all of the mess of our stories that we carry, you are setting yourself up for a plate of anxiety, depression and stress.

My friends, your needs matter.

Your pain matters.

Your story matters.

God designed you with needs – strong, loud, needs that are vital to your ability to thrive as God intended. Your needs are as important to you as the air you breathe.

Giving to others should come after we have given to ourselves first.

This year I embraced self care (well, it was less like embracing and more like a kicking and screaming match).

But, I had to.

I have learned to embrace the idea of self-need – that I need just as much as other people do and that my needs are equally important as others. I  have chosen to  honor my needs by fighting to meet them just as hard as I would fight to meet others.

This has been tricky, but so so good.

Part of this included being honest about my stress and anxiety levels.

I created space to find where the majority of my anxiety and stress were coming from. I learned much of it stemmed from a perpetual feeling of loneliness, which I share about in a recent podcast, Not being “Christian” enough, boyfriend Jesus and learning to be alone.

In many faith communities, the ability to be completely transparent is lacking. We fear if we are honest we may become someone’s project. Or that we may be looked at differently; that we will no longer “fit” inside our group if we expose our head space, pain, experiences or even differences in beliefs.

This leaves many who, although surrounded by friends, feel completely alone.

For those who brave this journey and expose their anxiety, fear, stress and depression, they are often met with messages to pray more, fast more, read their Bible more, etc.  Some may even say these feelings are symptoms of demonic oppression, hidden sins or simply the result of not enough faith. (LIKE THAT WILL HELP A DEPRESSED, ANXIOUS  PERSON. Sweet Jesus.)

Many return back to their pain hoping that eventually God will just take it away.

But, it usually doesn’t go away.

Life is hard.

People are hard.

Circumstances are hard.

Jobs are hard.

Families are hard.

ALL OF IT CAN BE EVER LOVING HARD.

I have friends who take daily medications for their anxiety and depression and it has been THE BEST GIFT to themselves and their families. And, I have other friends who only take them during high pressure times (like the holidays or transitional life events).

Whatever decision you make, you are doing well when you care for your health and your emotional needs.

My friend, God loves you SO MUCH that his desire for you is to love your life.

Jesus himself said,  I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].

You should be so filled up, that it spills out of you and onto others. That is how we are designed to work. Because we are children – not slaves.

To live in such a way that brings joy, peace and pleasure to yourself and to those around you. He longs for your mind, body and soul to be well nurtured and cared for. We must choose to love the temple of sacred ground that we carry and do whatever is needed for it to be healthy and whole.

But, that change begins with US. 

We have to put on our grown-up pants and draw hard lines in the sand. We have to fight for our voices to be heard and our needs to take precedence.

I have made large changes in this area, but also small ones. I see a therapist (who is amazing), I say NO a whole lot more and I am learning to surround myself with people who value my needs and my voice (which I talk about in the podcast).

But, if you came to my house today and told me you were stressed and anxious, I wouldn’t tell you to pray more, read your Bible more, or serve more, as though you were somehow the cause of your pain.

I’d simply look you in the eye and say “me too”.

I’d encourage you to connect with God in whatever way works for you – through nature, meditation, reading, music, etc. I’d then ask you to consider talking with your doctor about what you are experiencing, to see if medication might help.

Then, I’d literally take you into my kitchen and raid my cabinets – first for wine and chocolate and second for what I’ve listed below.

(I don’t receive any benefit for sharing these products with you other than the fact that I feel like I am giving you something that may actually help)

So, here’s a look into my cabinets this year:

Calm Now

calm nowThis all-natural stress support supplement has totally changed my life. I don’t have the routine panic attacks anymore and that anxious “feeling” literally is gone within an hour of taking it. LOVE THIS STUFF. Plus, it’s available on Amazon and it’s under $20.00. Can’t beat that.

 

Brene’ Brown’s book: Braving the Wilderness

braving the wilderness

I honestly don’t know how to sing enough praises for this book. It shed’s revolutionary light on the way we view ourselves and our place inside community (which for many of us is where the majority of our stress and anxiety come from). With her infamous research, she tackles the quest for true belonging and learning how to embrace the courage to stand alone. SO FREAKING GOOD.

 

Turmeric

tumericOver the last few years, due to stress, I developed chronic food allergies. I stopped eating gluten, most sugar and processed foods which worked for a while. But, then eating anything at all started to cause gut issues. I was getting so discouraged feeling like I couldn’t eat ANYTHING. Until a friend suggested taking Turmeric supplements. Come to find out, it is a natural remedy for IBS and Chrone’s disease. Who would’ve known?? I started taking it and I am SHOCKED by how much better my symptoms are. I even had some gluten this week and I didn’t die. THANK GOD FOR TURMERIC.

Good Skincare

rdn-glycolic-acid-7pct-toning-solution-240mlOne of the horrid signs of stress is the toll it takes on your face. GOOD. LORD. I recently found a line of skincare that I have fallen in love with. My favorite product right now (listed less than $10.00) is their Glycolic Acid Toner. It fights signs of aging and my skin is glowing almost instantly. Another product to check out is their Buffet Moisturizer.

 

Exercise

This isn’t in my cabinet, but I have to mention it. It goes without saying that exercise makes a huge impact on the way we feel – including how we handle stress. The problem I face is WHEN DO I HAVE TIME TO GO WORK OUT? Umm, like never. So, I started doing yoga from home watching you-tube videos. It’s free. It’s at home. And I can do it whenever I want. (There’s tons of good ones out there, but if you want a list of who I follow, just email me)

I so wish I could take away everyone’s stress. Wave a magic wand and make it all better. But, that isn’t the life we are in. SO, the best thing you can do is be honest about your stress level, how it is affecting your body and let go of any shame attached to it.

I hope this list encourages you to start the new year caring for yourself, but this should just be the start. Seek out medical professionals, therapists, etc to find the right rhythm for you.

You are beloved. Love yourself well so you can go out and love others too.

Hugs,

Anna

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3 thoughts on “A look at anxiety and stress inside faith communities

  1. I love this post! I LITERALLY just posted something I’ve been working on in this arena! <3 Thank you for mentioning that "reading your Bible" and "praying harder" are not helpful for someone with serious depression and/or anxiety.

  2. Couldn’t agree more. Before we can save another we have to put on our own air mask. The struggle is, however, to not fall so far into the self care camp that we become self focused. I’m 65 and have known Jesus for almost 60 years. I came from the same mentality of self sacrifice. And you’re right, unless our cup is filled up with Jesus, it won’t overflow. Observing our culture we can easily fall into the selfie mindset trying to fill up that cup. So, take care of ourselves, eat right, exercise, hangout with Jesus, seek godly counsel and keep running the race. One more thing, encouraging one another daily while it is still today so that we won’t fall into temptation. So, you go, girl! 🙂

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