You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. — Genesis 50:20
Anxiety doesn’t seem like something that would really help anyone gain anything. But anxiety deserves a little more credit–well, God deserves credit, actually. God has used even anxiety to bring some goodness to my life. In the spirit of positivity, here are some of the things I have gained from anxiety:
Anxiety has drained me, but now I know what strength I am capable of.
The tiredness that comes with anxiety is often not the satisfactory exhaustion after a long run. It’s the kind of anxiety that makes your brain feel like undercooked ramen noodles; like stiff thoughts in the puddle of your brain. Pushing past this anxiety requires a fine tuned attention to God. It requires allowing His light to break past the darkness of human thinking. It has shown me that with God I can escape the lowest of lows. God has made anxious minds so full and deep that our sensitivity to everything, including Him, can be proclaimed even through our anxiety.
Anxiety has made me feel numb, but now I know what it means to be alive.
Back to the ramen noodle analogy: when anxiety hit me the worst in 2016, I felt so out of touch with the world around me. I was barely able to contain myself in my own body. It felt like my spirit was wearing away while my body was just going through the motions. Fast forward a few months to when I worked at a camp that changed my life (I didn’t know it at the time, but it really did) and then when I went back to school for junior year, suddenly it was like I could see in color. I appreciate, now, so many of the every day moments. I’m so much more invested in small interactions with others and so much more conscious of my own thinking. I actually have room in my mind to be grateful and present. Although, I do still have days when I struggle with this, I am all the more thankful for the moments God helps me to live beyond the mundane.
Anxiety has frustrated and hurt loved ones who have had to watch me struggle, but it has allowed me to have deeper and more unique relationships.
I hate the way anxiety has made me argue with my mom or distance myself from friends or even God. I wish I could apologize for every time anxiety has gotten in the way. I know I truly don’t have an excuse for not always being the best friend or family member, but I do know that God has still allowed me to have great relationships despite my active mind. I’ve had to reevaluate how I look at myself and people. I have to actively remind myself that I’m not interacting with others to please them or be “fun” enough, but that I’m purposefully getting to share God’s love while actually getting to know people. Their perception of me or my “image” holds less and less importance when I look at others as God’s creation and not as a human idol that I’m trying to make happy. I don’t believe I would have felt the same way if I didn’t struggle with anxiety and insecurity the way that I do. I can think of four or five instances directly where anxiety has positively helped relationships. (I can also think of a few times where anxiety has hurt a relationship; I know with God’s help even those relationships can be repaired.)
Anxiety has also opened my heart to be more understanding of different kinds of people. I know how great it feels for someone to notice me or smile at me when I am feeling particularly low, and now I’m more inclined to be that person for someone else. I try to be much more aware of the people on the fringes or the ones that seem too nervous to join in. This has allowed me to meet and understand people that I would have never expected to be friends with. It consistently teaches me how God has created each person with something interesting and special inside their hearts, no matter how anxious or different they may seem.
Anxiety keeps me awake at night, but now I appreciate the sweetness of rest.
Every few months I go through a few weeks of treacherous sleep. I either don’t sleep at all or spend most of the night in and out of restless sleep. I know a lot of people struggle with this and that it contributes to that feeling of brain noodles. One of the ways I deal with this is to just accept that I am missing out on human rest, but that God will give me spiritual energy to get through the day. I literally don’t have to rely on myself at all and trust that God will fill me up and pull me through. Usually, when I fully grasp that sleep is not my source of energy, I end up sleeping way better because I’m not overthinking it! And on the nights that I sleep well, I appreciate it so much more. I am grateful for what I have instead of taking it for granted.
Fun fact: I’ve taken a few final exams and major tests on 2-3 hours of sleep because of anxiety…and those are some of the tests I have gotten my best scores on. I love this, because it shows me that God was helping me take the test despite my tired mind. Anxiety may have won the battle of those nights, but that God was fighting my bigger wars for me.
Anxiety works the most intensely in me by making me feel worthless, but I have found something outside of myself to place my worth in.
This is the #1 way that anxiety wears me down. There are so many different ways it makes me feel worthless or inadequate. When I would start to feel this way in the past, I started to strive for things that would make me feel like I had worth. Good grades, looks, likes on Instagram, being perceived as “nice and sweet,” success in extracurriculars. Unfortunately, I also have major performance anxiety. So whenever I’m anxious I do about 234082034 times worse on tests, social interactions, performances, you name it. So it became a vicious cycle of anxiety encouraging me to find worth, but then destroying me on my journey to achieve. I had to come to the point (and often still have to remind myself) that searching for my worth is equal to spending my whole life living for myself.
I still get general stress before tests and public speaking, but it does not overwhelm my whole entire being for extended periods of time anymore. I realized that living for myself is exhausting and enables anxiety to fester in my heart. Moreover, placing my worth in who God says I am is much more fulfilling.
Now when I spend time studying or playing piano or working out it’s not a stressful form of self hatred, but a way to worship God. God is teaching me that it is not about me at all, it’s completely about Him. This doesn’t make me feel unimportant; it actually makes me feel super important because I’m living to serve someone who is filled with ridiculous amounts of love and power. This is the most freeing thing in the entire world.
Anxiety fills my thoughts with fear, but now I know what it is to be courageous.
Anxiety is scary. Shortness of breath, claustrophobia, chest pain; it can all be very terrifying.
I remember a few months ago I was so frustrated at myself for having so much driving anxiety. I felt stupid and childish because I would get nightmares and panic attacks about driving and constant chest pain when making turns or being at busy stoplights. I thought I was the most ridiculous person in the world.
Now, I don’t look at myself as weak and fearful. I am proud of myself because despite the extremely real physical symptoms of anxiety, I still continued to drive. I now drive all the time (not on the highways yet hehe….), but so, so much more. It doesn’t come with the chest pain and nightmares as often and if it does, I am able to contain it. However, I don’t look back at sophomore Sarah with disgust or frustration; instead I am astounded and overjoyed that I have made so much progress.
When I do start to panic on a drive, which does happen from time to time (thank you, construction on Hillcrest), I tell myself to ride the wave of anxiety and just accept that an attack could come. So I basically live through the physical symptoms while continuing to be a safe driver. It maybe sounds ridiculous that construction makes me nervous, but I think it’s pretty awesome that I can be courageous enough to withstand driving anxiety and continue to improve.
Anxiety has caused me to sin, but I have been able to see the fullness of Grace.
Sometimes when I’m anxious, I want to fill my heart up with things that are not good for me. Self indulgence, self punishment, distraction…you know the deal. Similar to what I said earlier about relationships, God has mended my heart even if I have been the one to hurt it.
Unfortunately, sin also hurts God. Forgiveness can be hard to ask for, but it is also feels like the best kind of deliverance. God always leaves me in awe when He so easily forgives and welcomes me. I’m not saying there’s never any punishment, but there definitely is not a lack of His love that I am so glad I have experienced.
Congrats to you, if you’ve read this entire thing! I feel as though I should also point out that I’m not trying to downplay anxiety. I don’t sit through anxiety attacks or anxious days with a smile on my face and a peppy attitude; usually I have to call a friend or my mom and often times I just want to sit and cry. Nor do I always conquer anxiety each moment; there are still times I forget to cry out to God or times when I do and I don’t feel Him near immediately. But it is totally possible to live with an anxious mind and still see all the good in yourself and the battle in your mind. Anxiety stinks, but it doesn’t mean that life does.
Even if your struggle is not anxiety, I know, without a doubt, that God will show you the positives.