Did you know?
According to the national Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are deemed the most common mental illness in the United States. Anxiety disorders cost our country 65 billion per year, including 34 billion in lost productivity. More than 20 million Americans claim to have an anxiety disorder.
According to Dr. Robert Gerzon, there are actually three distinct, yet interwoven strands of anxiety that run through our lives: natural, toxic and sacred. Natural anxiety is the norm; we can expect to experience anxiety throughout our lives. It’s what we do with it that matters.
For those of you following my blog I am continuing with my autobiography. When I first learned that I was pregnant and realized there was very little information available to me as a quadriplegic woman, and very few doctors who would have had any experience with labor and delivery under my circumstances. I was naturally anxious; as you can imagine.
Now typically, natural anxiety will disappear as soon as the object of the anxiety has been acknowledged and handled. But that can take days, weeks or months depending on what the object is. We either work hard to transform anxiety into some form of sacredness or we fall into the abyss where toxic anxiety manifests in neurotic, or worse yet, psychotic behaviors. Runaway anxious thoughts can fixate on every negative possibility and lead us to depress or self-destruct. And obviously this route is quite popular since its been deemed the most common mental illness in the U.S.
I could have driven myself crazy with fear over all the unknowns regarding my pregnancy but I had to focus myself, and my thoughts, on what I could do to create a positive outcome. We must be willing to do the hard work and transform our minds. What does that look like? How do we turn anxious setbacks into sacred comebacks? Here are some of the tools I’ve used again and again.
7 Tools to Transform Toxic Anxiety
- Verbalize your Fears. Share the source of your anxiety with a person you trust who will listen, challenge your fears, and offer alternative solutions.
- Knowledge is Power. Educate yourself. Read, research, inform and empower yourself on the subject matter and not fixate on the negative.
- Prayer. If you are a believer, prayer to the God of all Comfort and verbalizing eternal truths about His love and mercy directed towards you minimizes anxiety’s stronghold.
- Faith Building. You pray yes, but you must also train the faculties of your mind through the power of repetition to actually believe what you pray. Faith is the conviction of things hoped for and the evidence of things not yet seen.
- Mind Mapping. (today there’s a site for it, mindmapping.com, and even computer software programs…go figure) I learned this in college way back in the day. A VERY useful tool that helps you to write down your anxious problem in the center of a blank sheet of white paper and circle it. From there you draw numerous lines from that circle to new circles that enclose every option and possible solution for your problem. Do not edit as you go, just what pops into your mind. Draw as many lines to circles of solutions that you need. Come back to it later and answers will reveal themselves.
- Exercise. Don’t underestimate this and be intentional. I remember when I went through the second most traumatic event in my life (second to breaking my neck), by then I was playing wheelchair tennis, and getting out on the courts and hitting was a tremendous catharsis and total healing body, mind and spirit.
- Acknowledge the outcome we fear the most. It is a sad, but true, reality that happy endings are not guaranteed.
What that meant in my paralyzed pregnant scenario was to acknowledge in my head and my heart that the worst thing that could happen to me was I could lose the baby or perhaps my life, if something went tragically wrong (though the latter thought was a fleeting one). Did all go well? Not exactly. I had prayed for God to give me a sign when I went into labor because how would I know since I did’t feel pain. I had read about the mucus plug that seals off the cervix and when labor is imminent it gives way and produces a bloody show. That prayer was answered. But when I went into labor, the doctors huddled in the corner conferring on “how” to get the baby out. They came back over to me and decided they would push on my abdomen for me since I couldn’t push. OMG, my blood pressure went through the roof. Dangerously high. I was experiencing symptoms of AH (autonomic hyperreflexia), endemic to high level spinal cord injuries, that can cause a stroke and possible death if not attended to. So instead of painful abdominal contractions mine all went north. My only cogent thought—with no sign of my baby crowning—was what I would do to those doctor’s jewels, if I survived.
Well the experience wasn’t bad enough to deter me because 18 months later I had my second child and 17 months later my third. Three children in three years as a sit-down Mom. It would have been easy during those early years to cave in to anxiety and its toxicity. I faced multiple changes, unknown fears, and life and death situations that, if allowed to, could have overwhelmed my ability to cope. Thankfully, I had the tools and the support systems to see me through. Good thing too, because the winds of change were swirling, churning, yet again. How was I to know that in just two short years the mythical romance of Camelot and my happily ever after would dissolve and I would have to dig very deep once more to transform natural anxiety into sacred anxiety when I became a single parent of a 5, 3 1/2 and 2 year old.
“Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day.” Lam. 3:22-23
As always, may you find a new mercy today and everyday,
P.S. I would love to hear from you. Are any of the above “tools to transform” relevant to you? What are some tools you use to not let natural anxiety turn into toxic anxiety? Here are 21 More Anxiety Busters to give you the upper hand!