I am a veteran of the anxiety wars. By the time I was 30, I realized that I tend to worry about things. As I took on progressively responsible positions in my career, I knew that the stress on my job would only increase over time. I also knew that worrying about things that either (1) I could not control or (2) were unlikely to happen could derail my ability to be decisive not only in my career but in the personal sector of my life.
I knew I had to get the worry gene under control or the impact of the ensuing anxiety would be disastrous. As I recall, I read several good books on techniques to manage the stress so that I did not begin to obsess over red herrings. I did really well for a number of years. But then heart failure came knocking on my door.
Why would heart failure have anything to do with a resurgence of anxiety. The Mayo Clinic website has an article on anxiety disorders. It says:
The article goes on to list medical problems that can be linked to anxiety, and no big surprise, the list includes heart disease.
Should you worry that you have a medical condition if you experience some anxiety going on in your life? The Mayo Clinic article also says that “experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. So, worrying about something once in a while is not a big deal. I would say that it becomes a big deal when the worries monopolize your waking time, or when they keep you awake at night, or when you find yourself continually asking your friends questions to help you respond to the same obsessive issues.
As for the instances where the anxieties preoccupy one’s time, here is what the Mayo Clinic article says: "People with anxiety disorders frequently have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” It is my personal theory that when you have a chronic illness, the frustrations of your on-going symptoms and the fact that some of these illnesses may end your life earlier than expected can feed the anxiety and cause it to leap out of control unless you have some really good coping mechanisms.
What might good coping mechanisms entail? Some people engage in regular yoga exercises to help them center and to find a sense of inner peace. Others may engage in meditation practices. In fact, you can now find apps that help you with learning how to meditate on your iPhone (although I would avoid texting while meditating!). Go to the health icon on your app which at least on my phone is the icon with the heart. Tap on browse at the bottom of the phone and then tap on mindfulness and then tap on mindful minutes. You will se a number of mindful minutes apps listed, four of which relate to mediation and one of which relates to calm which to me is the goal of why you are meditating. I am sure you can install similar apps on Androids and other phones.
When I am especially anxious or even just rightfully concerned about something going on in the world, my former therapist and my minister caution me to take deep long breaths. This is a great suggestion and one which I had a hard time following when I worked. I always noticed that when adrenaline kicked in (which in a busy work environment happened quite a bit), my breathing would become very short and shallow. I don’t know – maybe my breathing was trying to keep up with the pace of the adrenaline. I know that it seemed to enable me to move very fast, but then coming down from the adrenaline high was always hard because I didn’t seem to know how to relax. Deep breathing is technique that can help you relax and signals your body that it is now time to get out of fight or flight mode and go into reflective mode. I know in yoga classes I have participated in, we practiced breathing and I believe the same is true of meditation techniques.
I think the yoga and meditation and deep breathing techniques are perfect for people of any religious faith or no religious faith. But for me, it is deep breaths combined with going to God that helps me to become less anxious and to focus not on “what if” but on “how can I”. By this, I mean that God centers me and helps me stop worrying about things that are not really likely to happen, or if they do, God will help me adapt and find new avenues. So God helps me focus not on the catastrophe that might possibly be (but probably not really) brewing, and instead figure out what it is I was put on this earth to do – and then figure out how I can do just that.
What does the Bible say about anxiety? The article “What does the Bible say about Anxiety” on the biblestudytools.com website highlights verses that I think are helpful for those who want to start their journey with God from the world of "What if" into the world of "How Can I".
One verse is found in 1 Peter, Chapter 5, verse 7: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. According to the article, This verse might mean giving worries to God, knowing He will work all things for good. You probably have heard people who have great problems use the saying: Let go and let God. In my mind, it meant giving up the reins and just having faith that things would work. For a control freak like me, that was a little scary.
I found an article n the Guideposts.org website where entitled “What does let go and let God really mean.” The author, Julia Attaway came to realize that the reality may be different than what we hope – and I think her perspective is one of the best that I have found:
Again, when I first started sending my prayers to God after I was diagnosed with heart failure, I always was looking for a specific result. I am not sure how long it took me to realize that when it came to planning my life, I really sucked. I mean, if I had continued on the trajectory that I planned, with all the adrenaline highs and stress it entailed, I either would have had a massive coronary or stroke and would no longer be on this earth.
Instead, I started listening to God after I blacked out and got continually weaker. Theoretically I could have continued to work for more years. But knowing how stress had impacted my body, and knowing that I had an opportunity to retire, well I realized that I had given my anxiety up to God and was able to see an open door that I never considered going through. As I continued to pray, I learned that there ways that I could do new and amazing things – like learn how to manage heart failure, write a blog, start a support group and just keep and expand my sense of humor.
The Bible Study Tools article also included the following commentary about two other verses that relate to why we should come to God with our worries and what these words mean in our everyday lives. I feel a tranquil vibe coming on just reading them.
Even if you cannot imagine cracking open a Bible as an interesting read, I encourage you to set aside your skepticism. As the 1960’s movie title says, it truly is the greatest story ever told. And seriously – probably the longest story too. It has more drama, tragedy and comedy than some of the most popular television sagas that everyone tweets about. You can find a discussion of just about any topic imaginable.
Even if you don’t want to study it for how to cure your anxiety, the spell-binding text will pull you into the lives of these people who lived thousands of years ago. Just let the story-telling overtake you and soon you will forget that you have anything to worry about and the anxiety will fade away. Not only that you may learn a few lessons that will help you resolve the thing you are angsting about the next time it rears its ugly head, and help you figure out “how can I do that amazing new thing that just popped into my head.” God truly does work in mysterious ways.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.