Anxiety has been gnawing at me lately. It particularly loves the 4 a.m. time slot. Then, like vultures circling above a kill, the anxious thoughts loop around and around and around my mind. I can generally shake them off during the course of the day, but they return before the crack of dawn to wake me up with their intrusive clamouring.

We live in anxious times

In these strange times, the pickings are good for a wake of anxiety vultures (yes—quite aptly for my illustration—a group of feeding vultures is called a wake). Anxiety carcasses abound. The safety of those we love in the face of the pandemic. Our health systems and front-line workers. The dire environmental news from across the world. Economic crisis. The state of the job market (my vultures like this one, as I have two young adult daughters soon to be seeking employment).

If you have your own pet vultures, they probably have some favourite carcasses of their own, and different times to show up and taunt you.

Living with an anxiety disorder

My daughter, Ashlyn, knows what it feels like to live with anxiety. Diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder as a child, she depicted her struggle with GAD in her Grade 11 artwork:

When describing her artwork, Ashlyn wrote: “The overwhelming fears shout at me and stop me from seeing the beauty around me.”

Other chronic anxiety sufferers describe it as follows:

Anxiety feels like your mind is on fire, overthinking and over analyzing every little, irrelevant thing. (Alivia)

When I’m anxious and nervous I recognize some of it is irrational, but I can’t snap out of it. My mind and body aren’t cooperating with reason.” (Alex)

Anxiety is when you feel everything. (Katie)

A tight knot that you can’t untwist. (Alivia)

It’s paralysing. (Marlene)

Anxiety robs you of life

My pesky early morning anxiety only gives me a slice of insight into the debilitating nature of life with an anxiety disorder—the most common of mental health disorders. One thing I have learned from living with Ashlyn is that anxiety disorders can rob you of so much in life. Untreated, they can steal your physical health, your social life, your ability to study or work, sometimes your very future. Even my own short season of anxiety has robbed me of sleep, peace of mind and joy.

Dealing with anxiety – our own and others

How are we to deal with anxiety? I believe that, as with everything else, the answer lies in compassion and empathy. Trying to reason away the anxiety or telling someone to ‘snap out of it’ doesn’t work (shame-faced confession: I’ve tried both these tactics with Ashlyn). Instead, we need to listen to the fears and worries of our own hearts and those of others. Let’s acknowledge our right to be anxious—particularly at this time—and not minimise our own struggles and concerns. Above all, let’s not be afraid to seek professional help if our anxiety becomes overwhelming.

A Blessing for the Anxious

When the sky above you darkens
With the frantic flapping of fears,
Perching their heavy weight on
The shoulders of your soul.
May a steady breeze of peace
Flow above and around you.
Gathering strength, may it
Ruffle the winged fear, loosening
the talon clutches on your heart.

When the knots of anxiety
Tighten inside and around you,
Capturing thoughts, reason
and even dreams in a paralysing grip.
May a gentle stirring of peace
Flow into and through you.
Gathering strength, may it
Snap that which entwines you
in its prison of dread.

When the weights of worry
Drag you, drowning, downward,
Seeking to steal your very life
in lonely and murky depths.
May a fresh breath of peace
Infuse the deepest parts of you.
Gathering strength, may it
Lead you back to the light
and to life in all its fullness.

Postscript: I posted this blog last night, and my 4 a.m. vultures had a new concern to pick at this morning, which was that I failed to express the value of my Christian faith in helping me cope with my fears and anxiety. My relationship with God is my greatest anchor and source of peace during this time, but I do not for one moment believe that a struggle with anxiety is a lack of faith.

Other blog posts in this series:

A Season of Blessing: Rekindling a Lost Art

A Season of Blessing: For those who Grieve

A Season of Blessing: For the Young

A Season of Blessing: For the Lonely

A Season of Blessing: For the Day