Sometimes the trauma of grief leaves stubborn remnants, long after we’ve dealt with the hardest pain and missing. Christie Thomas knows deep grief wrapped in the hope of Christ. As a children’s author with a unique perspective, I asked Christie to share her story of anxiety flares in grief and 4 steps to calm anxiety.
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I jogged through the park, keeping pace with the music in my earbuds. As I passed the fire station, something caught my eye. A nearly-crushed vehicle sat placidly in their back parking lot, probably for training purposes.
I stopped short, suddenly unable to jog any further. My heart pounded. Memories surfaced — memories I felt were physically choking me.
. . . police officers at the door late at night telling us my sister wouldn’t be coming home.
. . . pictures of a crushed car, the car I gave her the keys to that morning.
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I stood there, face in my trembling hands, trying not to break down in the middle of the path, trying to breathe again, to slow down my heart rate.
I wasn’t used to losing control like this. It had been years since my sister’s death and I thought I had dealt with the grief. But this was an anxiety attack, triggered by the unwelcome sight of a crushed car.
An anxiety attack feels much like a panic attack, but is directly related to the anxiety trigger. For me, it was seeing that crushed car. Other common triggers are speaking in public, taking a test or thinking about a situation that makes you stressed or fearful.
Anxiety can look like the kind I experienced — trembling, heart racing, choking sensation — but also include headaches, stomachaches, sweating, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and feelings of fear, worry, and distress.
My anxiety tells me what happened before will happen again.
Watching my children play in our safe cul-de-sac road terrifies me. What if one of my kids is hit by a car? So I shout at them to get off the road and the neighbor kids think I’m a lunatic.
Anxiety often comes out in what-if questions.
What if a car turns quickly onto our road and doesn’t notice the kids playing there?
What if we’re not buckled up properly and we hit an icy patch?
But these are thoughts, not predictions, and the key to calming anxiety is to change our thoughts.
We have to recognize when anxiety is speaking, and remember that it’s our hyperactive amygdala. It’s not truth.
Anxiety doesn’t reflect truth. If it did, my childhood fears about vampires would have been realistic.
Changing my thoughts requires me to fight against my anxiety with words of truth.
At first, it is hard to even recognize that the anxiety is not truth, but I must remember that anxiety lies to me. It turns tiny possibilities into sure things, it turns molehills into mountains, and it turns small consequences into catastrophes.
Fear lies. And the only way to combat lies is with truth.
“The best way to resist and defeat anxiety is to look the lie in the eyeball, call it out for what it is, and counter it with the truth.”
So when anxiety flares: take these 4 steps to calm anxiety.
1. Recognize you’re in a fight. Acknowledge that you have an opponent that is bullying you.
2. Give your opponent a name. Whether you want to call it “my hyperactive amygdala”, “the enemy”, or “worrybug”, give it a name. Naming something rids it of some of its power.
3. Pay attention to your thoughts. When anxiety flares, recognize it’s a lie.
4. Speak truth. When you are calm again, consider the “what if” questions that normally roll around in your head. Think of some specific truths you can use to counter those lies, and write them down for future anxiety flares.
For example, when my brain says what if a car comes roaring down our street and hits a kid? I can counter it with these truths:
- The chances of that happening are very slim.
- If something happens, I can still trust God’s goodness and love.
I also use scripture.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 (NIV )
This eternal truth reminds me that God is in charge, and that no matter what happens, I can still trust Him.
Confronting the anxious lies in my head removes their power over my life.
These same steps can help a child dealing with anxiety from grief. Teach them about God’s constant presence, his unshakeable love and his tender care of their lives. You can also use the power of prayer with your child to help with anxiety.
Standing behind the fire station that day, I reminded myself of this truth: God helped me through my sister’s death, bringing peace and joy in the midst of my grief.
And because He did it once, I know He can and will do it again.
He is trustworthy.
And that’s a truth I can hold onto.
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Christie Thomas lives with a houseful of boys in Alberta, Canada. She is the author of Quinn’s Promise Rock, Quinn Says Goodbye, and Wise for Salvation: Meaningful Devotions for Families With Little Ones. She writes about nurturing the hope of Christ in the home at www.christiethomaswriter.com.