Editor's note: This article was originally published on Jennifer Day's blog, My Daylights. It has been modified and republished here with permission.
I am often asked about how I have learned to cope with anxiety. There are many who suffer from it, whether it's just one specific anxiety, like flying, or who suffer from generalized anxiety as I do. Honestly, there were a lot of things I learned both in my therapy and from my own experiences.
But there is one key to all of it that has been at the core of my learning and coping - faith. Yes, out of all the different coping mechanisms, faith has been at the center of it all. My relationship with my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ has always been the source of my strength. This past year and a half, I have relied on that more than even I realized. My faith is the foundation of my being.
I could have all of the advice from experts, listen to wisdom from doctors and rely upon the therapy and solutions from men, but, without my faith in God, it would mean nothing.
It was difficult for me to learn this, especially in the beginning of my therapy. I felt so dark as I began my journey. While I now know that I have had anxiety for most of my life, once I admitted it and began the road to "recovery," it was like tearing off a Band-Aid and prodding at old wounds. It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, made worse by the fact that I was dealing with about three physically challenging issues as well. My world was dark and lonely. I went days without feeling joy or even the desire to smile.
Sure, people who saw me wouldn't know this. I put on a brave face, as many of us do. But the smile didn't come from within. And when I did find some joy, it was immediately replaced again by hopelessness and fear. I felt abandoned for a time, I wondered where God was. I always believed in Him and that He was there to help us through our trials. And yet, I didn't feel Him. But I soon realized that He was there all along.
Thankfully, I didn't abandon my faith, though it was difficult to hold on at times. There are three ways in which I learned how to use faith to overcome my anxiety. These are things I still am using today, as the anxiety will never actually go away.
First, finding the faith to hope that things will improve and that I will have light again. This is easier said than done I have found. I had family and friends who would essentially ask why I couldn't just "fake it 'til you make it." You know, plaster on a fake smile and pretend that things are OK. Or they would wonder why I couldn't just let things roll off my back, as if I was hanging on to my misery on purpose.
But unless you have been there, you don't understand how hard that is to do. The darkness and loneliness you feel goes deep. It's something that I didn't understand. I had days of frustration where I would cry and wonder why I simply couldn't just "let it go." For me, the fear had wound itself deep and it required me to address it head on. And that meant that I couldn't just pretend to be OK or simply say "I won't be scared anymore."
What I needed more than anything was the hope and faith that I would get through it. I needed to rely on my Heavenly Father to help me, knowing that eventually, I would make it and find the light that I sought. That light is always there.
One of my favorite books of all time is "The Lord of the Rings," and I love the movies just the same. One of the most poignant moments in the film for me is when Frodo finds himself alone, facing a terror that he can't yet see (Shelob, the giant spider). He's in a tunnel with no light being hunted by this giant menace. To me, it's symbolic of us in our own trials. We're stuck in a dark place, being hunted by our past, our fears, our trials " they can be relentless, haunting and full of sticky webs that trap us there. But, like Frodo, we can find a source of light. At his lowest point, he remembers a gift he received from elf queen, Galadriel. It's the light of Earendil, the elves most precious star. He remembers what she said to him when she gave him this priceless gift:
"May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out."
Faith in our Savior can be that same light for us. When we are faced with darkness, loneliness and fear, if we just have that faith and hope in Him, we will find the light we seek. Maybe not immediately, but it does come.
Second, faith and trust in ourselves I think this can be one of the hardest things to believe. It's so easy to feel weak, to see our own faults when we are being tried. The devil would have us despair and think that we aren't strong enough to continue. But, we are stronger than we know.
There were many days I would wake up and not feel like facing the day. I wanted to just hide under my covers, close my eyes and hope that my problems would go away. Each day was a trial. How would I do it? How could I do it? The anguish I felt sometimes was so overwhelming, I didn't know how I could possibly do one more day.
But I did it. I would dig deep and drag myself out of bed. I would get dressed, do my hair, put my makeup on. I would play with my kids, clean the house, make dinner " Why? Because I knew I had to do it. I had children who needed me to take care of them. I was able to dig deep and find the courage to face the day.
I needed to have faith in myself. At first, I didn't have that and it was horrible. It wasn't until I started to believe that I could do it, that I could overcome my trials, that I was able to start making some progression. We have to believe in ourselves! The Lord believes in us, so why shouldn't we feel the same way?
Finally, faith in the Lord and His ability to give us the strength we need to carry on. I was reminded of this one last night in a family discussion. We were discussing instances in the scriptures in which groups of people had heavy trials and burdens placed upon them. Their reaction to those burdens made all the difference.
If they murmured and complained, their trials remained heavy. Because they lacked faith, they did not have the help they could have had.
In looking back this past year, I didn't realize how much the Lord had been helping me. It was so easy to become weighed down and depressed. I wanted it to end right away. I felt tired, and still feel tired now, from the weight of my trials.
And yet, I can see now that the Lord had been carrying me. He has given me wells of strength, fortitude, and courage to keep moving forward. He has blessed me with more faith. He has given me hope. I think this sums it up best:
It is so comforting to me to know that I am in His hands. All it takes is the faith the size of a mustard seed, and all of us can find His help, His strength, His comfort. The Savior has been where we are and no one else can understand the pain we feel, whether physical, emotional or mental, than He can. As He said himself,
""yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49: 15-16)