I used to think I didn’t have anxiety.
Never had a panic attack. No physical jitters or racing heartbeat. My day-to-day worries aren’t debilitating. I take risks, challenge myself, and do things that scare me. Plus, I’m naturally optimistic. How could I have anxiety?
And yet. I do.
What I thought was a normal amount of worry… a tendency toward perfectionism… a knack for being everyone’s go-to person… a real desire to make people happy… was in fact premium fuel for anxiety.
For so long, I brushed it off. Oh, it’s just a little bit of worry; I’m praying about it. Or… that’s just who I am; I’ve always been driven with high standards of excellence. And, well, I like solving people’s problems and bringing them joy.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with praying about worries, being motivated to achieve, or helping others when you have the means. But sometimes, those are Band-Aids for deeper issues—like persistent anxiety.
I was caught in a comparison trap with some serious self-denial, thinking whatever might look like anxiety in my mind was nothing compared to how it manifested in others’ lives.
The purpose of this post is to be real and open about having anxious thoughts—because it’s okay to talk about! Friends, I’m gonna share my struggles, share a few resources that help me, and hopefully make you feel like you’re not alone if you can relate.
Anxiety is anxiety, whether or not it looks like mine. It’s not how God designed us to experience life. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I trust the One who does!
Yes, I Have Anxiety
I can’t pinpoint a specific moment when it hit me…. I have an anxiety problem. It was more a gradual, introspective, and honest analysis of how I was feeling and why.
Why am I so mentally exhausted? What is causing my internal stress? Why can’t I turn my brain off to sleep? Why do I continually strive SO HARD and forget to rest in God’s strength? Who or what am I really living for?
These are questions I’ve wrestled with. Questions I decided truly ponder. Answer honestly. Even if I didn’t want to or didn’t like the answers.
And, guess what? I didn’t like the answers. They all pointed to anxiety.
Perfectionism and Anxiety
I’ve been a recovering perfectionist for years, ever since I realized it wasn’t actually something to be proud of—or something you’d list as a strength on a job interview. (True story, I did.)
For much of my life, I attributed my success in school, work, and my personal life to perfectionism. I thought it made me a more diligent person with those high standards of excellence I already mentioned. I thought it helped me avoid errors, become a trusted resource, and stay hyper organized. Heck, I thought it was a gift from God!
While recovering from bulimia back in 2016, my rose-colored view of perfectionism went dark. Not only did I see how it held me back from recovery, but I also realized it was a major catalyst for my disordered eating in the first place. That lightbulb moment gave me more clarity to see how striving for perfection hindered other areas of my life, too. Whenever I felt I didn’t do something perfectly, that gave me anxiety—and that anxiety led me to more and more and more striving for some ideal end result that was likely unattainable. Such a waste of time and energy!
From there, I began recognizing those moments when perfectionism kicked in. Not always, but… baby steps. Recognition led to shifting my mindset. Telling myself truths. This is good enough. I am good enough. I don’t need to worry about fixing this. It was a gradual letting go.
In 2019, I read Own Your Everyday by Jordan Lee Dooley, and it further opened my eyes to the destructiveness of perfectionism. In her book, Jordan describes perfectionism as a fear of failure. All this time, I thought it was a striving for success. But nope. She was so right. I feared failing and that’s why I felt I had to be perfect.
I felt those words speaking directly to me. It was more than just letting go of being perfect with the things already on my to-do list. My perfectionism went deeper than that. Gosh, it was actually debilitating. Because I feared failure, I procrastinated on certain pursuits in my life, thinking I had to wait till everything was right and I was ready. And until that right ‘n’ ready time came, I didn’t make a move.
While this wasn’t the case with all areas of my life, I knew it was with some. Yet, it wasn’t until I read Jordan’s chapter on Overcoming Perfectionism by Prioritizing, that I saw how it negatively affected my life. To truly live out the purpose and plans God has for me, I had to prioritize taking action over fear of failure… or fear of an outcome that didn’t fit my agenda.
Perfectionism is still something I struggle with and will likely always struggle with. That’s why I embrace the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
My perfectionist nature doesn’t just go away now that I’m more aware of it. ‘Tis a bummer, but it also keeps me humble to acknowledge my need of God on any given day.
And, my anxiety—that I didn’t think I had—is lessened when I choose to pivot from the striving and the thoughts of failure and just let it be. Or, just go and do in spite of my fears.
Learning to Let Go of Anxious Thoughts
Another thing I’ve come to learn as a recovering perfectionist… aim for progress, not perfection.
To make progress, I find myself, more and more, seeking wisdom from Christian leaders, listening to Biblical truth and encouraging messages that remind me of who I am in Christ and the power He gives to withstand the lies of anxiety.
I follow Sadie and Jennie on Instagram, and when I saw them promote the event, I knew I had to tune in. Even armed with all the knowledge and understanding and strength from God I already have, I still feel anxiety creep into my mind every single day. And, I never want to go back to the version of myself who thought it wasn’t a big deal. The more resources I can gather, the better!
What I didn’t expect from watching the event was the push I needed to call out the other sources of my anxiety.
After sharing their own anxieties and how those fears spurred them to host the event, Jennie and Sadie got deep with some introspective questions for everyone to ponder.
- What am I afraid of?
- Is it true?
- What does scripture say about it?
- Am I going to believe God?
Here’s what my list looks like for #1:
- Fear of failure
- Fear of not being good enough
- Fear of disappointing people
- Fear that people will think I’m not reliable or question my effort
- Fear of having too much to do, not ever being able to finish it all, or burning out if I do
No doubt I have other fears. (Spiders, anyone?) But, in terms of what causes my regular anxiety… those fears… this is pretty much the list. I already knew I’m a people-pleaser, but asking the simple question “What am I afraid of?” helped me get to the WHY behind it.
These questions were EXACTLY what I needed to hear. Exactly what I needed to ask myself as a reminder of who God is, His truth, and what He calls me to do vs. the lies in my head.
- Failure: Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
- Not good enough: Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
- Disappointing people: Galatians 1:10 “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
- Not reliable and lazy: Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”
- Burnout: Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
These are a few verses I found to combat the lies of my fears:
Having scripture ready when the lies attack is so key to pursuing freedom from anxiety.
If you feel any sort of anxiety, I recommend going through this exercise yourself!
I Believe; Help My Unbelief!
One of my favorite verses is Mark 9:24: “…I believe; help my unbelief!”
Anxious thoughts can pop up at any moment without warning. When that happens, I want to be ready to fight them, not dwell in them. But, I also want to be proactive, knowing the thoughts will come. (I also want to note that having an anxious thought doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It’s all about how you react to it!)
To be proactive, I start my day with devotional time and prayer. I’ve also started giving God my day every morning in prayer, asking Him for strength to face the knowns and the unknowns.
Further, this is a list of things I know to be true and I pray regularly that God will give me strength to accept and believe.
- Striving to do everything perfectly is unattainable and not sustainable.
- I am not meant to do and be everything to everyone. No one is except God.
- Saying YES to everything—even things I can do—is not healthy or helpful. When my answer is always YES, my yes loses its power.
- Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”—and yet there will be things in this life I’m not meant to do at a level of excellence. I have limitations and that’s okay. God didn’t call me to do everything well.
- My purpose is not in how I perform to the expectations of others. Only God’s opinion matters when it comes to how I live my life.
- It’s okay to eliminate things that are not high priority and focus on what really matters.
- I need to make more time to just be present with God—in silence, in prayer, in praise.
- Giving these fears attention and letting them dictate my day is like saying, “God, I don’t think you’re big enough to handle this.” But he IS. He is ABLE.
- I am enough because God is enough.
- Peace from anxiety can seem elusive, but it’s not. Not with God. That’s what I’m learning. That’s what I’m sharing. God is not a way to control anxiety, but THE source of peace from anxiety.
It only feels fitting to end with a “To be continued…” because I am and will continue to be a work in progress all my days on this earth.
I’ll leave y’all with a few more verses on anxiety that give me peace, and I hope they do the same for you:
Matthew 6:27 “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.“
Do you have a favorite verse that helps when you feel anxious or worried?