Switching Off My Anxiety

Awhile back, I wrote this post for The Mighty about how I changed my thinking when I am in the midst of a flare.

Today I thought back to the night I started doing this. I was lying in bed, my body in a flare, typing some thoughts into my phone in the form of text messages to myself:

The question typically isn’t can I handle this? It’s how long can I handle this?

Is it going to get worse, and how will I handle it if it does?

Is this going to last for the rest of my life?

 Fear is grounded in these underlying questions.

But what if we changed the questions we asked ourselves during a flare?

What if the question became, “Can I handle this, right here and right now in this moment?”

I am revisiting these thoughts because I have seen them have a profound impact on my life over the past few months.

It feels a bit strange to type this, less I jinx myself, but when I look back, it’s as if, somehow, in some way, something switched my anxiety off. I don’t want to pretend that I never worry or feel anxious anymore. But, something significant happened when I changed my thought process in the midst of flaring, focusing on where I was in the moment instead wondering where I might be in the future.

Seeking to stay in the present isn’t a profound insight. It’s something most of us know would be helpful. But, I was never able to succeed at it before. I would pray and try to change my thoughts, but it just didn’t work. Nothing could keep my mind from drifting to the future and everything that was on my plate for the week to come. All my mind could do was run through scenario after scenario, each one grounded in anxiety-ridden questions. Would I make it through? Would I have to cancel any of my responsibilities? How much worse would my pain become over the course of the week?

It may not work the same way for you, but changing these questions was the key to flipping the switch on my anxiety.

Since then, I have taken it a step forward. My questions become mixed in with my prayers so that I am not as much talking to myself, as I am praying my questions towards God.

God, can I handle this, right here and right now, in this moment?

What are the things you are giving me that are helping me handle this in this moment?

What do I need from you? What should I ask you for?

What steps should I take to make this moment more bearable?

This week is a great week for me to put these questions into practice. For the past week and a half, I have been slowly falling into one of my flares. I am currently counting down the hours until 4:00PM, when I have a last minute physical therapy appointment scheduled. My SI joints feel severely rotated out of place, and I am hoping that I will experience some significant relief after she aligns me again.

But, it’s also just as likely that I won’t experience significant relief. Interestingly, I feel much calmer than I would expect myself to be in this moment. Even though we are moving this week and I have a lot on my plate, I feel OK. Over time, my mind has naturally settled into a state that is more focused on the now, and doesn’t drift as much to the future. It has happened in such small increments over time that I didn’t even notice it, and it all started when I changed the questions I asked myself during flares and when I began to feel anxious.

This process gave me the “how” for living out the “what” in Matthew 6:34. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.”

I think I have always known that becoming more present would help me, that my mind needed this to feel calm and at peace, but  getting there felt impossible. I don’t doubt that anxiety will, at times, come back, but for now, I find a lot of relief in these questions.

What about you? What helps you when you feel anxiety in the midst of increased pain?

7 Comments

  1. I find it interesting how universal truths find their way into so many different outlooks, faiths and philosophies. I’ve experienced a similar change in my anxiety levels after learning to be more present. For me that Insight came from a mindfulness based stress reduction course. The instructor asked a participant one day “you may be right to be angry about your pain, but instead of right/wrong is it helpful or unhelpful to you in the moment?” Learning to evaluate things in those terms has enabled me to let go of a lot of worries because they are unhelpful. The other question was “what is the next, best thing you can do to take care of yourself?” That helps me return to the present and putting one foot in front of the other.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I have heard mindfulness based stress reduction can be really helpful for people with pain/illness. Will have to check into it more. I like the question of whether it is helpful/unhelpful in the moment. Thanks!

  2. Great insight as always. Glad it will help with moving which is always stressful for just anyone. But your way of seeing it is indeed productive in itself even if for only saving you that extra energy. What can I do now, what can I do next… I’m putting it to good use thanks to mindfulness as well.
    Take care

  3. I think stress and anxiety are somehow linked. I know that living in the moment is difficult, especially when the trials are so sore. It’s even more difficult when you don’t see a way out.

    I think it’s a skill to be acquired, living in the moment.

    Thank you for this!

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