Palms are sweaty, knees weak.

If you’re like me, in your daily perusal on the inter webs, you may have come across a meme or two about anxiety, without even realizing it. Maybe it mentions quickly regretting everything you’ve ever said just because you phrased something a little funny in your last text. Or how about the ones that talk about lying awake in bed until 3:00am thinking about everything that could ever possibly go wrong in your life. The inner thought process written out of someone trying to remember what their own name is when they have to introduce themselves?

A lot of us laugh at memes such as these, and I do too. Some of us may laugh because these situations seem extreme, but others are laughing because that is exactly how they feel and they can relate on a deep level.

According to an article in the New York Times that came out in October of 2017, in today’s culture, “Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.”

This same article goes on, “‘Anxiety is easy to dismiss or overlook, partially because everyone has it to some degree,’ explained Philip Kendall, director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia. It has an evolutionary purpose, after all; it helps us detect and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Highly anxious people, though, have an overactive fight-or-flight response that perceives threats where there often are none.”

As Kendall states, all of us do have anxiety to some degree, and not all of it is bad. For instance, we are taught from a young age that if a stranger is making us uncomfortable, to feel afraid, remove ourselves from the situation, and to get help. For those with severe anxiety, they also follow this method, but with what most people might consider to be “normal” circumstances.

Today, there seems to be more pressure than ever on perfection, high standards, good grades, and the best résumé possible. Often, the harshest critics of teenagers are themselves. They criticize every decision they make and blame themselves for the slightest of failures. Our culture screams “Every man for himself! You have to work to be the best! You have to be the best!” and we easily buy in.

An Anxiety Disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Having a mental illness does not change who you are. The importance of accepting where you are at is vital. The importance of others accepting where you are at is vital. We are all sons and daughters of God, regardless of what we are going through. It is important to allow others to help us, especially when we are in need. Whether someone is grieving a loss, or coping with anxiety, we accept people as they are and help them in the ways we can.

That being said, it is important to recognize that we are not defined by our struggles. Just because someone may have an anxiety disorder, does not mean that they should be called an anxious person, or labeled incapable of public speaking. We have a duty as Christians to build up our brothers and sisters in love and charity, supporting each other along the journey. Truth be told, those struggling with anxiety need community now more than ever, and should never feel alone. On the flip side of the coin, to those struggling with anxiety, it is so important to let your friends and family in. It is absolutely a trust exercise in humility to let down your guard, and to let others help you, but it is a necessary workout. Isolating yourself can magnify your anxiety and make you forget about all of the people who love you and want the best for you.

In speaking with Catholic psychologist, Sydney Ford, who herself has dealt with anxiety and depression, I asked her what she found to be most helpful while dealing with her mental illness. “Talk about your experiences,” she says, “Talk about how you found God in that darkness and how healing isn’t just a ‘one and done’ thing, but that God still heals us. Say your story, your witness is so important and it’s much more concrete than just talking about facts and ‘what you should change’ People are changed by stories that they can relate to.”

As a parent, you may be reading this and start to be concerned that maybe your child has anxiety, or you may not be sure just how to handle a mental illness. I asked Ford what advice she has for parents. “Well first and foremost is that [just because their child has anxiety] doesn’t mean that they are a bad parent. Most of the time parents will ignore their kid’s mental illness because they think it’s their fault and feel guilty about it. So that’s first. Second, is to talk to their kids about it. Have a dialogue with them and not hog the conversation. Listen and respond to what their kids need.” In other words, just keep being Mom and Dad and hearing your child out on their needs, worries, and concerns. Taking the time to sit down and talk about how you both are doing is so important not only for them, but for parents as well!

More than anything, we must realize that God works for our good. He is always walking beside us in the struggles and trials we face. Through prayer and perseverance, we do have the ability to overcome all obstacles. As One Body of Christ, we are responsible for building each other up and walking alongside each other on this great journey to Heaven.

I encourage you, whether you have dealt with anxiety in the past, suffer with it now, or have never really know it, the next time you scroll past a meme about anxiety, stop. Pray for those suffering with anxiety, that they may know the peace of God. 

 

 

Article sourced is from The New York Times, “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?” by BENOIT DENIZET-LEWIS. (Oct. 11, 2017).

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