On a typical weekday, there is always a craft, usually felt or buttons, paper and glue. There is the stacking and restacking of framed photographs as I try to furnish my walls. Yesterday there was the strategic placement of hearts. Everywhere.

Always I sweep after breakfast. And always, some cartoons, watched while flopped lazily on pillows and a blanket with a hot chocolate stain.

On a typical snowy weekday, I may bake. I may even exercise, but sometimes, especially at night, I start to panic.

It doesn’t matter about what really, if there’s something even half-troublesome, I will mold it into a full-blown worry. Usually, the worry is to the tune of my family and the eternities, to spiritual death and physical death, and the trivialities that seem generously super-sized when the lights go out.

First, my breathing starts to go”¦ skipping along, and fast. And then my heart beats like an animal rattling at its cage. Then my freakishly illogical train of thought jumps to conclusions irrational, and then sometimes, if it’s really bad: the tears come.

And when the tears come, well, then, you (and my husband) can be certain I’m thinking that the Spirit is trying to tell me something. Is this a prompting? Or a panic attack?

On a typical February weekday there is always a storm, sometimes outside, sometimes in my heart. I’m growing weary of these tempests. Then I read this: As Elijah stood upon the mount before the Lord, he felt “a great and strong wind ”¦ ; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:11”“12).

A still, small voice. And not a panic attack.

I need to remember that on a typical weekday there can be prayer and there can be peace, there can be crafts and treats, but should there be worry?

Is there any place for fear in our faith-based gospel?

Is it self-indulgent or selfish? Is there a way to quell these storms?

February 9, 2008

34 Comments

  1. eljee

    February 8, 2008

    I don’t know the answers to all these questions, but I can tell you I have struggled with this.

    I believe that the Lord knows me, and He will make sure to give me any promptings in a way that I will recognize them.

    I was once in a RS lesson where we were discussing listening to the promptings of the Spirit. Someone brought up knowing the difference between a prompting and just an anxious thought. Another class member made the observation that it doesn’t matter–that it’s better to assume it’s a prompting and follow it, that there could never be any harm in that. Obviously that person doesn’t suffer from anxiety! If I stayed home every time I had a thought that something bad might happen, I would never leave my house. What good is there in that? I could literally give my life over to constantly re-checking whether or not I left the iron or the stove on, or whether my kids were still breathing, or any number of possibilities of harm arising from the thoughts that niggle my mind–and I think that WOULD be harmful. I don’t think that’s how the Lord intends me to live.

    So, I do my best to trust that if He really has something to tell me, He will make sure I know it is Him telling me.

  2. Brooke

    February 8, 2008

    I agree. It can get positively nutty the way I check, with obsessive frequency, the dead bolt on the front door.

    Glad to know someone else out there also has anxiety.

  3. Kathryn Soper

    February 8, 2008

    One of my favorite scriptures:

    For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

    As one who suffers chronic depression, fear-control is a big deal in my life. After years and years of paralyzing guilt I’ve finally learned that God never, ever makes me feel horrid. He either moves me to action or encourages me to rest in a peaceful, hopeful way–completely different from the frantic motion or thick paralysis I was used to. Even when I’m being chastised, I feel excited to change and grateful I can repent. Even when I’m being warned of danger, I feel solid, capable, motivated to act but not panicky.

    So, whenever I feel fear or guilt that doesn’t have the signature of the spirit, I drop it. Immediately. This has been a major survival tool for me. If I don’t let it go, it pulls me under and I’m a goner. It’s gotten lots easier with practice.

  4. Maralise

    February 8, 2008

    OH Brooke. I can’t think of anything to say other than ME TOO. You described the panic that comes perfectly. Fear control is a good way to put it Kathy. Now if I could only figure out how to do it…..

  5. Angela

    February 8, 2008

    Me too, me too. I’ve felt exactly the same way, and it’s almost always at the end of the day. (Although I had a period for a few years where it hit me with clockwork-like frequency in the shower every morning.)

    Worry and fear and anxiety have always been a challenge for me, and I see it as one of my life tests to learn how to conquer them. Two of my favorite scriptures are

    1 John 4:18
    There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

    and

    D&C 101:16
    Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.

    For me, a lot of my trouble with fear has to do with letting go of control (like Kathy said), and when that need for control is leaking out into a future I haven’t even experienced yet, I suffer for it. And I know for a fact that God doesn’t communicate in a way that induces fear . . . because “perfect love casteth out fear,” and he is that perfect love.

    Beyond the scriptures, a book that was very helpful to me, actually, was the decidedly Oprah-ish and New Agey “The Seat of the Soul” by Gary Zukav. One of the points he makes in the book is that giving in to fear/anxiety is a temptation, and for those of us who struggle with it, it’s much the same as the temptation to drink for an alcoholic, or the temptation to sleep around for a person addicted to sex. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to say that worry is a temptation, but for me it really is. It gives me this illusion of control, a crazy feeling of “relief” or something when I indulge in it.

    Interestingly, he says that temptation is a compassionate way for us to challenge and learn from our own deep-seated issues (which are manifest in our addictions to things like sex and booze and even worry), but without hurting anyone. Here, I’ll just quote him:

    “Temptation is the Universe’s compassionate way of allowing you to run through what would be a harmful negative karmic dynamic if you were to allow it to become physically manifest. It is the energy through which your soul is given the gracious opportunity to have a dry run at a life lesson, at a situation that, if you can see clearly, can be removed and healed within the confines of your private world of energy and not spill into a larger energy field of other souls. Temptation is a dress rehearsal for a karmic experience of negativity.”

    And yes, I apologize for all the New Agey terminology, but I think he makes a really interesting point. Then he ties in the idea of fear and temptation this way:

    “With each recurrence of anger, or jealousy, or fear, you are given the choice to challenge it, or to give into it. Each time you challenge it, it loses power and you gain power. Each time you are tempted to become angry, or jealous, or fearful, and you challenge that feeling, you empower yourself. There would be no accumulation of strength inside if the choices that you make did not require discipline and intention.”

    I love that last sentence about the necessity for resistance in order to build strength. For me, one of the obstacles that my spirit needs to struggle against is anxiety–but I also know that this struggle can ultimately make me stronger, if I’m aware of what the spirit is trying to teach me.

  6. Brooke

    February 8, 2008

    It’s so true, Angela. When I just sort of face the fear with a tough, “I don’t care,” in it’s face attitude, it tends to retreat immediately.

    Thank you for your thoughts, all of you. It’s nice to know I’m not alone and really nice to know there are measures I can take.

  7. Sharlee

    February 8, 2008

    I remember hearing a church leader say something once to the effect of: “You need to pay attention to that little voice that comes to you in the middle of the night.”

    Well . . . In my case, I’ve had to learn NOT to pay attention to that voice. In my case, that little voice (the middle of the night one) is plumb CRAZY. That little middle-of-the-night voice is naggy, insistent, irrational, often bordering on hysterical, and, sometimes, downright neurotic. And its got OCD. Bad. That’s the little voice that tells me that that dull ache in my thigh is, without a doubt, cancer; that the 85% my son got on his last calculus test is going to ruin any chance for a scholarship; that my husband who insists on riding his bicycle over 40 miles to work everyday is, inevitably, going to get hit by a car and die and so I’d better start planning for my imminent widowhood RIGHT NOW; that, for heaven’s sake, it’s been over three months since I’ve turned the mattress and it’s absolutely IMPERATIVE that I do it right now, without delay, no matter that I’ll have to wake my slumbering husband, pull off all the sheets, THEN REMAKE THE WHOLE BED! AT 3:30 AM!!!

    *sigh*

    So, rather than listening to that little voice, I’ve had to learn to tell it (despite the fact that I don’t allow this phrase in my house)to kindly shut up. 🙂

    I, too, love that scripture, Kathy. I choose power, and love, and faith, and a sound mind (and a good sense of humor) over fear any ol’ day.

  8. Sharlee

    February 8, 2008

    Angela, you must have posted while I was composing my post. Thank you for sharing those quotes (New Age-y or not :-)). I especially love that last one. With each occurrence of a negative emotion, we are given the choice to challenge it. And every time we do, and win, we become stronger.

    Thanks, Brooke, for this post. Yes, it is nice to know we’re not alone!

  9. Heathermommy

    February 8, 2008

    It’s interesting to hear that so many others suffer from these same feelings. I too love the scripture about a sound mind. I know God will not make me feel confused or scared. I know that is coming from another source.

    But at the same time I think that the fact that we feel this fear (at times extremely irrational) doesn’t mean that we lack faith. But I think it is life’s way of giving us opportunities for the spirit to comfort us and for us to learn and grow.

    Out of some of my fearful moments have come some of my most spiritual experiences.

  10. Kylie

    February 8, 2008

    This is a very intesting discussion to me, as I’ve decided in the last year or two that I have some anxiety issues–most especially after the birth of a child when I am at the most sleep-deprived state possible.

    I am with all of you on shutting off irrational fears but what about those basis-in-reality ones?

    Like how I wake up in the night worried that someone is stealing something from the yard. Oh yeah–because my husband’s truck was stolen right out of our driveway last summer, and the punk kids who did it thought it was funny to run through our yard at night for a month or two afterwards. So I’d wake up hearing footsteps on the deck right by our bedroom window and hyperventilate.

    Or how I fear some political fiasco will get my husband front page news coverage and provide state-wide humiliation–because there are plenty of political fiascoes to be had, and plenty of political opponents to “spin” things, and it is not without precedent for my husband to be on the front page. I really like my privacy.

    Or money problems. Definitely some precedent there, since we are self-employed. Or any of a host of other, quite rational (in my mind) fears.

    I know that Heavenly Father will never give us something we can’t handle, and I comfort myself with that thought. But don’t you ever look around at the tragedies people deal with and think, “No way. There is just no way I could do that”? And I grant that when you are in the middle of something, there is nothing else to do but call on God for help and keep plodding along. But it does not make me feel very confident and optimistic about the future. (Unlike my husband, by the way, who is the epitome of optimism. Opposites attract!)

  11. Kylie

    February 8, 2008

    sorry that was so long. I always mean to be succinct.

  12. Justine

    February 8, 2008

    I personally believe that we get so confused about it because on occasion the Spirit does speak to us in a loud or urgent kind of way. I’ve felt (and even heard once) the Spirit of warning, requiring my immediate attention and action. Now, because I’ve had those few experiences, I tend to equate lots of other experiences with those.

    The thing I finally decided was this — I’ve always known, with surprising clarity, when that Spirit of warning was indeed the Spirit. All the other times, the ones where I hemmed and hawed and wondered if this was the Spirit, well those inevitably wound up being my own anxiety.

    I’ve had to try and learn what triggers my worry. Once I can identify where the trigger is coming from, it’s a lot easier for me to turn my face from it. For me, triggers are husband traveling, not getting enough exercise or sleep, spending too much money, or eating too much junk. (yes, I know, those things basically encompass my entire existence, but at least I’ve narrowed it down, eh?)

  13. Kylie

    February 8, 2008

    Justine, you crack me up.

    Do you ever think it is just that as we grow older, we realize (in our maturity) all the things that can go wrong? I was so blissfully unaware when I was in college. I was so sure everything in my life was going to be perfect.

  14. Justine

    February 8, 2008

    It has definitely been ‘shocking’ to me to watch me and people I love start to deal with what could only be classified as ‘grown-up’ problems.

    None of us were supposed to ever get cancer, get divorced, have children that died, get arthritis…

    And yet suddenly, it’s happening. And it’s seriously freaking me out. I don’t know how to let that go, yet.

  15. Sharlee

    February 8, 2008

    You’re right, Kylie. Many of our fears are based on real experience and actual precedents. I’m convinced, for example, that I’m going to be a widow. Why? Because my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and my sister were all early widows. Husbands do die young. It happens. I know that. So I’m not one of those who say: “Yeah, that happens to other people, but it won’t happen to me.” I fully expect it to happen to me.

    But the thing I’m learning is that sometimes I have to get tough with myself. Sometimes I have to say: “Self, buck up. Be reasonable. Have some faith. So widows happen to run in your family. That doesn’t necessarily and inevitably mean that you’re going to be one. In fact, chances are pretty good that your husband is going to live a long and prosperous life (despite the fact–or, maybe, because of the fact–that he insists on riding his bike 40 miles to work everyday!). And, if he is going to die prematurely, worrying about it won’t change anything. It will just make you anxious, fearful, and ornery.”

    Then I just let go of that worry. Release it. Wheeeeee!

    To paraphrase Marjorie Pay Hinckley, when you are confronted by a fear, you can either worry about it or let it go, and worrying gives me a headache.

  16. Dalene

    February 8, 2008

    Do you ever think it is just that as we grow older, we realize (in our maturity) all the things that can go wrong? I was so blissfully unaware when I was in college. I was so sure everything in my life was going to be perfect.

    My blissful unawareness lasted long past college, but oh how I wouldn’t give to have some of it backfor now…

    As to your questions, I don’t know that I have any answers. It’s so normal to worry. But when I start to panic I try to remember to breathe first. Then I also remind myself that no matter what happens it will all be OK (well, really, I’m hoping for better than OK) in the end.

  17. Kathryn Soper

    February 8, 2008

    Kylie, I’m not able to handle rational worries any more than I’m able to handle irrational ones. I’ve had to deny myself the entire worry buffet. It might sound crazy, but I’ve had to do it. The only thing I worry about is that I’m not worrying enough. For so long I equated worrying with righteousness, diligence, prudence, and wisdom. And so I try worrying again for a little while, and quickly remember why I stopped.

    That’s just me, though. I’m like an alcoholic who can’t even go near the bar. Other people can sit there happily, have a drink or two, and be just fine.

    Justine, I, too, have felt the spirit give urgent, almost forceful warnings. It’s not all warm fuzzies. But even those don’t feel like my self-manufactured freak-outs ….

  18. Kylie

    February 8, 2008

    I read an essay by a woman whose teenage daughter died (was murdered, actually), and I remember being so moved by her conclusion: she realized she had not “paid” her dues, that her sacrifice may not be done (despite it being one of the worst things a mother could suffer). Her strength (and peace) came from realizing she was strong. With Heavenly Father’s help, she was strong enough to cope with hard things. Sometimes I just have to tell myself “I can do hard things.”

    And then be really happy and grateful when things are going well!

  19. Claudia

    February 8, 2008

    There is so much good that has been said here.

    I had a real panic attack a couple of years ago. I knew exactly what it was and it lasted until I got mad at something else. Anger worked because the whole physical thing (hyperventilating, feeling like you are unraveling, racing heart, sweating) is part of the flight or fight response and panic is the flight side. Anger is the fight side and they can’t exist together. I have heard that laughter helps as well. There are also some good medications that work. If they are real panic attacks that make it difficult to function then that is worth looking into.

    In my experience the spirit enlightens and does so in a positive way. Fear is not part of faith even when the prompting is one of warning. If something makes me feel bad it is coming from some place other than the spirit.

  20. Melinda

    February 8, 2008

    These are great comments. I’ve struggled with freaky bouts of worry too. The mantra I repeat to myself is “live the life you have; not the life you’re most afraid of.”

    The things I worry about could possibly happen, but since they haven’t happened, I shouldn’t let a distant possibility contaminate my current situation. That’s much easier said than done, but I do try.

    The strange thing is, when something worrisome actually happens, I deal with it much better than I deal with the worrisome situations I make up in my head. I can handle reality; it’s my imagination that overwhelms me.

  21. Carrie

    February 8, 2008

    Something that really helps me when fear attacks (usually at night, and sometimes based in reality and sometimes based in a figment of reality and sometimes not based in reality at all) is to pray and acknowledge, “Heavenly Father, I’m feeling frightened of _________. Please help me to feel safe.”

    Also, it helps me immensely to wake my darling husband up and tell him in list-form everything I’m worried about. Just the telling seems to make me not so frightened. And because he’d rather lose a little bit of sleep than have me be shaking with sobs and truly run-away thoughts, he is patient and listens and sometimes he says, “that will not happen” or “it will work out.”

    Usually, I’m simply not capable of reasoning with myself. And, I must confide in God or my husband before my worries are so out-of-control that I no longer believe their reassurances either.

    An aside: recently it dawned on me that Satan might be using these worries as a tool to keep me occupied with things I have no control over so that I don’t take care of things that I do have control over.

  22. Carrie

    February 8, 2008

    Melinda-
    [The mantra I repeat to myself is “live the life you have; not the life you’re most afraid of.”]

    That is very wise.

    It was a revelation to me that just because I was afraid of it did not mean that it would happen. I’m not sure why something so obvious was a revelation. But, there you go.

  23. Brooke

    February 9, 2008

    that’s what i think, too, kylie– that bad things can happen to me. sometimes i look at old photographs and wish to go back to the times of being blissfully unaware.

  24. Brooke

    February 9, 2008

    and carrie, you’re so right with the idea of being preoccupied. i think of how many times i worried over the wrong thing, only to ignore the issue right in front of me.

  25. c jane

    February 9, 2008

    I really loved your questions here. Is there room for fear in the gospel? Fear of the Lord, for sure.

    I have come to determine in my own life that anxiety is another word for faithlessness. That may be a bold statement, but I think it is true.

    P.S. You are an inspiring writer my friend.

  26. courtney

    February 9, 2008

    Brooke, that was wonderful. It’s a great reminder to stop and listen. I think we only need to fear the when we are not prepared. It’s such a “sunday school” answer but it’s basic and it’s true.

  27. Sharlee

    February 9, 2008

    Just one last thing. I think a real key is to recognize when/where/how/why those little naggy worries come. For me it’s almost always in the middle of the night–if I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. That’s when that yappy little neurotic voice starts in on me. I’ve simply learned not to trust that voice. I know it will be gone in the morning and that what seemed like overwhelming and almost insurmountable concerns will be manageable–with prayer and faith and, sometimes, a lot of hard work–in the light of a new day.

  28. pjb

    February 9, 2008

    Fear in the Gospel?

    “Perfect love casts out fear.”
    “love it letting go of fear.”
    “God has not given us the spirit of fear.”

    I believe this will all of my heart.
    Fear and anxiety are two very different emotions when scripturally and spiritually based.

    I believe God wants us to have “power, love and a sound mind”.
    I also know that even if you have the faith of Abraham you can separately have anxiety.

    Anxiety is a product most commonly linked with depression. Not necessarily always however.

    I had never experienced anxiety until after I gave birth. Mind you, it happened intermittently after the birth of each child.

    Now, I had nothing at those moments to even premeditated the panic attacks that were about to happen. Nor did I have a clue what what happening to me phsycologically.

    They took place each time, unexpedly while driving!
    I mean it was very freaky to have this paralyzing experience happen on the freeway!

    After years and a few of these bouts it was finally made known to me what the heck was happening!
    Panic attacks!

    It was completely dissipated with medication.
    Now I can drive without those paralyzing attacks.

    I believe they were hormones, postpartum related since they took place after the birth of each child.

    Hormones or lack thereof can do some pretty paramount things to your body and mind for sure!

    Just information to share.
    I was uneducated and trail blazed many experiences that had to do with brain chemicals, hormones, and the adrenal system.

    God wants us to know how our bodies work also.
    I think that is spiritual since having these mortal bodies is so much a part of our learning experience!

    Probably the most challenging if you think about it.

  29. Brooke

    February 9, 2008

    I keep thinking about President Eyring’s comments about President Hinckley, at his funeral, when he talked about President Hinckley KNOWING things would work out. He didn’t hope or think they would, he KNEW they would.

    I want to be like that.

    And I know the underlying issue for me really is faith. (Or my lack thereof.)

  30. Sarab

    February 9, 2008

    I am so glad you wrote this Brooke. It is amazing to see how many women can relate to anxiety. I too am always questioning if it is the spirit talking or just my own thoughts. Something that has really helped me is the chapter in “Preach My Gospel” about learning how to feel the spirit.

    Why does it always have to come at night?

  31. Colleen

    February 9, 2008

    Brooke, you worry because you are a writer, and a very good one. Writers analyze and stew, mull over and feel and seek and seek for truth. Read the bio of any great writer and they all bordered slightly on the insane. You just keep up your nighttime worries and we will all be the beneficiaries.

  32. Dalene

    February 10, 2008

    A friend of mine who is going through a rough time just wrote a beautiful post about this in which she calls it (Fear Not) the hardest commandment in the entire gospel. I guess it’s somehow reassuring to know this struggle (whether from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, worrying, neuroses and/or insomnia) is part of the human condition and that we’re not alone.

  33. Melanie

    February 10, 2008

    You always make me think and inspire me to be better. I tell myself, at some point or points during the day… LET YOUR FAITH BE STRONGER THAN YOUR FEARS! It is easier said than done, but it truly can bring peace.

  34. Kelly

    February 10, 2008

    I love this. Just last night my husband was having a difficult moment and I felt the pit in my stomach and then I was catastrophizing everything! All of the thoughts written are wonderful. I don’t have much to add but a couple of things.

    A friend of mine gave a talk last week in church and she reported that when life throws her difficult times she reminds herself “I can do hard things.” Weird but so true, we can do hard things.

    Also, my occupation is a therapist and one thing I use with my clients and with my own anxiety/fear is to say “hello” to it. Hokey, I know, but acknowleding it as just a PART of you, not all of you and trying to get to know it and what it’s trying to do for you has been a journey for me and for some of my clients. A spiritual journey for me as I search with Heavenly Father about why I”m so anxious.

    And then, sometims I just cry. It feels wonderful.

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