There have probably been five too many times in my life where I’ve put myself in absolute panic over something that turned out to be completely fine. One of those times was on the plane to Haiti on my first overseas mission trip. I think I started crying at several points during the flight out of sheer anxiety. What if I get sick? What if I get hurt and end up in the hospital so far away from home? What if this happened or that occurred and then as a result I spiraled downward into a never-ending cycle of bad luck?!?! For the longest time, I let this anxiety rule my life. I couldn’t spend the night away from home until I was 14 years old because I would get so homesick and start thinking too hard about everything. I ruined a perfectly wonderful trip abroad in Europe when I was 16 because I would have an anxiety attack every morning wishing I was in the U.S. and not missing out on everything going on back home. And I ALMOST walked away from my freshman year on-campus living arrangements because it almost got to the point of being unbearable. I didn’t know how to handle my anxiety when an attack would set in, so I would surrender to my safety net and run back home. And I probably missed out on SO many would-be amazing memories because of it. Fortunately, when I was 18 and living at college, I had the opportunity to take advantage of a “free” on-campus 12 week counseling program that REALLY helped get me through that first semester at school and many other anxiety-producing moments to follow in the years to come. Every week that semester, I would count down the hours to Wednesday at 4:00 and my hour long session with my counselor. What I discovered during those 12 weeks wasn’t so much how to rid myself of anxiety altogether, but what my anxiety was rooted in… and how to handle an attack when one happened. This is what I learned and what I cling to whenever I’m feeling anxious about anything I encounter in life!
1) Just BREATHE. If there’s one thing your body inherently knows how to do, it’s to inhale and exhale. I’ll never forget the time that Justin brought me back to my dorm one Sunday night when no one was around and I really didn’t want to be there so I had an anxiety attack because of it. Justin had known that I “had anxiety issues,” but before that moment, he had never seen it happen… full on tears, hyperventilating, pacing, shaking… the whole nine yards. It’s kind of scary for me to think about now because I haven’t had an attack like that in so long and I mostly feel that it’s now a thing of the past, but I felt so hopeless in that moment. I didn’t want him to leave me in that tiny room I didn’t want to be in without a means of escape (I had no car freshman year and I’m pretty sure that feeling of being “stuck” was the worst trigger for my anxiety)! But as soon as it set in, Justin hugged me, looked at me and said, “Megan, you’ve been going to your counseling… you know what it is you need to do to overcome this!” And I did know because my counselor had given me all kinds of tools and references for when I had an attack, which thankfully only really happened this one instance after I started my counseling! One of the first things my counselor had told me to do was a breathing exercise during which I would need to lie down and count to 10 as I inhaled, and then count to 10 as I exhaled, focusing on nothing but my breathing and counting. I did this for five minutes with Justin… and it was crazy how well it worked. My mind had sent my body into a state of panic, but by just breathing like this I was able to “trick” myself back into feeling okay. Whenever someone asks me how to deal with anxiety, I tell them to try this breathing exercise first!!
2) PRAY… AND MEDITATE ON THESE VERSES. I had these things written on little sticky notes that were posted ALL over my dorm room desk, door, nightstand, and my room at home. These little reassurances reminded me that everything was going to be okay, and that I truly did not have anything to be fearful of or anxious about because God was in control.
Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Philippians 4:6-7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
3) HAVE A SUPPORT SYSTEM. A group of people you can lean on when anxiety sets in is SO invaluable! I can’t tell you how many times an anxiety attack has been prevented because I was able to do the things above then text someone and let them know I was struggling. I’ve received so much encouragement because of my openness and willingness to admit that I’m fighting a battle that I didn’t want to face alone. People have prayed for me, uplifted me with their positivity, and given me the courage to face my most terrifying moments head on with confidence. I’m forever indebted to these friends. Only three years after I was wondering if I would ever be able to wake up without having an anxiety attack again… I am so happy and thankful to say that anxiety is now a very RARE thing for me! There is the occasional moment of doing something really out of left field like flying to a third world country or heading to Mexico to shoot my first destination wedding by myself where anxiety starts to creep up on me, but by the grace of God I’ve learned how to overcome my fear in these moments.
And if you’re wondering why I am blogging about something like anxiety on a random Monday in July… it’s because I know that this blog and the ability it has to reach people doesn’t only have to be used to share pretty pictures. My first love before photography was writing and telling stories (I received the coveted “Future Artist and Writer” award at the end of second grade thankyouverymuch) because of the stories I would tell and the vivid imagination I seemed to have. I had a personal blog running long before I had a photography business, and I don’t want to put aside my love and passion for writing about things that are important to me for the sake of only sharing wedding pictures… if that makes sense!! :) I’ve had several people ask me how they can overcome their anxiety… and I have a few close friends who have also struggled with this over the course of their lifetime. If that’s you, I hope and pray that these three things begin to point you in the right direction. Anxiety is sadly far too normal thing in too many people’s lives, but it doesn’t have to stop you from following your dreams and trying new things!!! Take it from someone who has been there and is now MUCH happier on the other side… it is possible to overcome!
Have a wonderful rest of your Monday!! I’ve got so many good things to share on the blog this week! Xoxo