Finding Joy in the Midst of the Battle
I have a daily battle with stress and anxiety. Sometimes I win and sometimes it wins. I am the type of person who is more prone to anxiety, and as my daughter's medical issues have become more complex, instead of experiencing occasional anxiety that is easy to control, it has become something that can quickly dominate my life if I am not careful.
I am sure that most everyone has experienced butterflies in the stomach. You notice them, but it's not really a big deal. Over the last few months, the butterflies that were mere flutters in my stomach turned into alligators eating my stomach. My stress levels were getting to a point where they were affecting me physically, and I entered into a vicious cycle of anxiety = stress = physical symptoms = more anxiety. Well, you see where that can lead, and I know I am not the only person who has gotten caught up in this cycle!
Strategies for Finding Peace
During a particularly low time, I began looking for ways to relieve my stress. I was already taking daily anti-anxiety medications, but I was still having physical pain, exhaustion, and depression, and it literally was taking over my life. I could barely function. I started taking a yoga class at our local YMCA. In that class, I learned to breathe deeply and to quietly stretch my body in ways that were healing. During the times of quiet breathing, I prayed for peace and strength. It did help, and I found that I could find times at home to just breathe or gently stretch and it would refresh me.
I also signed up for a women's Bible study at my church; it was a study about our attitudes and how we can choose to live a fearful lifestyle or a life filled with the joy of trusting God. In the very first week of the study, I realized that I was choosing to live in a wilderness of fear, anxiety, and loneliness. I was letting my emotions rule over me, and I obsessed over any negative feelings that I had, feeling worse and worse. I was complaining a lot, both inwardly and outwardly.
I began to take hold of my complaining thoughts and words, and working to turn them into thankfulness. Each morning, while in the shower, I would list off everything I could possibly be thankful for, even if it was as small as hot water and yummy smelling shampoo. This helped me start my day off on the right foot, so to speak. I felt more energetic and happy.
In the evenings, when I got into bed, I started writing in a journal. I am not good at journaling, especially by hand. I made things easy--each evening, I write the date and then I write, “Today I am Thankful for...” I then list five things that I was thankful for that day. Some days it is easy to come up with five things. Other days it is a struggle, but I make sure to always come up with five, even if it is, “I feel thankful that I can go to sleep now.”
I also have put inspiring quotes and encouraging Bible verses on index cards, which I hang up around the house. I read them whenever I walk by. I have a set of cards that I bring with me to hospital stays and doctor appointments. Reading them while I am waiting helps re-focus my thoughts.
This simple change of attitude has greatly helped my stress and anxiety levels. I still struggle almost every day, and it is definitely a change of habit to learn to feel thankful and joyful rather than giving in to stress and negativity.
I am thankful that I have found ways to overcome the stress of daily living with a medically complex child. I absolutely still have my moments of panic, but in those times, I try to remember to breathe, pray, give thanks, and relax. I am able to more fully enjoy my family and my life. To my happiness and amazement, I have found myself overflowing with joy in the most unexpected moments. I have found myself feeling thankful for situations that otherwise would have disheartened me or stressed me out, because I am now able to see the good that comes from them.
Today, I am Thankful for...
Dinner at church
Fresh baked bread
Getting out for a walk
Friends who help out when we are busy with all the medical stuff
What are you thankful for, even in the midst of stress?