When I was 11 years old and began to experience traumatic grief from the death of my mom from breast cancer after a five-year battle — my anxiety manifested itself in the form of stuttering.
And stuttering, or my fear of making a fool of myself in front of my classmates cut me off from many aspects of life.
It cut me off from participating in the joy of reading out loud in class (something I loved to do before her death).
It cut me off from engaging in school activities where I would have to be in front of people talking such as being in plays, or music, or spelling bees.
It also cut me off socially in some ways, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to express myself without stuttering.
I won’t even get in to telling how difficult stuttering made calling a girl up on the phone (you remember calling people on phones, right? Man I would have loved texting then).
It’s appropriate that my anxiety made me feel cut off from things…from people…from life. I have mentioned the roots of the word anxiety before in another post — but anxiety has its roots in the Latin word angere, which conveys the idea of “choking off” or “closing/shutting in.”
So what I have noticed about anxiety, and what you have probably noticed as well is that anxiety:
- First, anxiety iterally can choke us off from our literal breath. Talk to someone who has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks and they will tell you stories about how it feels like their airwaves are literally closing in on them. Next time you feel anxious, pay attention to just how shallow your breathing becomes. At times it may seem like we have stopped breathing.
- Second, anxiety makes us feel like our world, our life, our relationships are being choked off…cut off from us. When we experience anxiety it seems at times like our options have become limited and the walls are caving in all around us. Life gets small and we feel claustrophobic at times. Next time you find yourself with a huge decision and you start to experience anxiety, pay attention to how it feels like you are being closed in on.
Anxiety is a very powerful force in our lives, one that I believe we can actually use for good and for growth (but that’s for another post — I also talk about how it’s a catalyst for good in my book The Anxious Christian). Also, for a good treatment of the word anxiety, check out Allan Hugh Cole Jr.’s book, Be Not Anxious: Pastoral Care of Disquieted Souls.
What has your anxiety cut you off from?
Maybe your anxiety has cut you off from your marriage. Perhaps there has been a violation of trust or a conflict that has not been talked about or resolved and that makes you anxious. And the more anxiety you feel the more overwhelming the prospect of working this out with your spouse becomes.
Maybe your anxiety has cut you off from pursuing your dreams. You had an idea that you wanted to pursue, but someone told you that it was silly, or it wouldn’t work. That Or maybe you went for it and failed. That criticism and rejection made you anxious. And the more anxious you became you became more fearful. You began to play life more safe.
Maybe your anxiety has cut you off from the relationship you want with your child, whether still a kid or an adult. There were issues between the two of you and that caused anxiety. And the more anxiety you felt, the harder it was to talk about them. The cut off relationship was the elephant in the room in the form of anxiety.
Maybe your anxiety has cut you off from God. Some good meaning person told you that being anxious was a sin. They may have even pulled out their Bible and quoted Paul in Philippians 4:6 (out of context of course). Therefore you anxiety was then labeled as a failure in your faith. Where can you turn to then when you are anxious?
It’s never too late to begin to look at anxiety in a new light. I believe that you can take that same anxiety that has cut you off in life from so many things, and actually begin to use it as a catalyst for growth and as an opportunity to bring you closer to others.