I became aware of my anxiety, ironically, when suddenly I had less to fear. I found myself a single mother of four wonderful daughters and free of a narcissistic and cruel ex-husband. I was so used to feeling numb that when I began to reconnect with my emotions, all the fear I lived with for years came to the surface. My approach to life, similar to my father’s, is to get a few books on a topic and begin to educate myself, but somehow specific methods for curing anxiety proved elusive.
The one thing that kept popping up in my research is that the brain is plastic, and we have a lot of power in how our brains change.
That is to say if I wanted to build neural pathways that took me away from the visceral reaction to fear, I was going to have to gather my materials and begin reconstruction myself.
I cannot promise that these methods will work for you. But I will say that they worked for me, and they continue to work for me, though I need them less and less.
I began with taking the time to figure out the source of my anxiety. For me, I believe the anxiety stemmed from an insecure attachment to my parents early on. This was not through a lack of love, but a result of difficulties including poor health that they suffered while I was young. The addition of an abusive twelve year marriage and a helping of PTSD rounded out a mind, heart, and body that were more used to being afraid than any other emotion. So my task was simple but seemingly impossible. I had to teach myself to feel loved and to feel safe. This took me about three years of consistent practice, but I am so grateful that I put in the time to rewire my thinking.
I needed to learn how to feel loved, so I went to the purest source of that love. For a year I concentrated only on the love of Papa God. I kept verses in my pockets regarding His love. If I started to feel alone or anxious, I would stop what I was doing and focus on either a Bible verse or on imagining physical contact with Jesus. Our subconscious is a funny thing. It believes what we tell it. So I held onto Jesus’ hand until I felt the anxiety subside. I hugged Him tight when I needed to. I imagined Him telling me how much He loves me. I concentrated my heart and my mind on accepting and experiencing His love for me. This was not easy and at first seemed like a hopeless task. But I wanted to be free very badly. After a year of doing this daily, the hole in my chest had filled in with a much greater sense of peace and acceptance.
In doing this, I found I had resistance to being loved. I wasn’t sure what it felt like to be loved uncritically. I had to experiment with where in my body I felt God’s love. At first, His love only seemed to be in my mind.
But as I learned to relax my heart in His presence, I began to learn to receive more deeply than I had ever before.
New bridges from triggering event to Jesus’ arms formed in my mind.
I fear some might think this method is superstitious. You see, I have a secret code number with God. Every time I see two or more eights in a row, God is reminding me that He loves me. The number, 88, has no magic power. It is not an omen or a lucky charm. Simply, when I see that number, I reflect on God’s love. When I started doing this, I knew I was creating a neural pathway for remembering God’s love. But what I did not expect was how many places the number 88 resides. License plates, phone numbers, address, receipt amounts; they all added up to this reminder. For the first year, I could not believe how many iterations of that number exist.
Now some might say that God is not contacting me through this number. Possibly when I need this number, when I need the reminder of God’s love, I subconsciously look for the number 88. My answer to this is so what?
Whatever reminds you to reflect on God’s love choose those.
If daisies do it, then look for daisies. All I know is that my mind makes an association with that number that immediately relaxes my body and keeps me focused on the love of God. What’s not to love about that?
I changed my awareness of my surroundings and focused my mind on feeling safe. Anxiety is a habit of being. I literally had no memory of what safe felt like. I would look around me, at home, in my office, or somewhere pretty outside, hug myself and tell myself that I’m ok. I’m safe at this moment.
The benefit to learning how to feel safe is that you begin to have more discernment about when you are not safe.
Learning to tell the difference between safe and unsafe situations is life and death.
Sometimes we get mixed up. My first marriage gave me a false sense of safe. I so internalized my fears in order to cope, that I lived in a very unsafe situation for me and my children. But once out, my ideas of safety needed to be rewired. Now I understand that security is never perfect and that danger can come at any moment. But I don’t live in what might happen. I live in the present where my second and wonderful husband is gently snoring on the couch, my five cats are in my office with me, and I am safe.
I write this in hopes that each of you who struggle with anxiety will pick up these raw materials and maybe a few of your own. I hope that you will begin new construction on your mental highways. If you want the mind of Christ, you must pursue it. And just like any new building project, it will look rough at first. But in time, you will begin to notice that peace that passes understanding. After all, you are each individually known and loved by a God who created you with love, power, and a sound mind.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. John 16:33