The Power of Sitting with Anxiety by Stephanie Butler of Hello Cakery & Macarons | #CRUCESCONNECT

Working through Raphael Cushnir’s “The One Thing Holding You Back”

Ever since I was a little girl, It took many uncomfortable forms: Unexplained tummy aches, cold panic and hot tears as I wept to the school secretary that my mom was dead (she was actually just three minutes late), and nerves that made everyday experiences feel like climbing Mt. Everest *with diarrhea*.

But it wasn’t until my 30s that I had a name to help me understand my emotional and physical “quirks.” I was battling anxiety. And I use the word battling intentionally — though the expressions of my anxiety changed over time, a large chunk of my existence was spent trying to avoid it and fight back when it paid a visit.

Here’s what “battling” anxiety looked like for me: Obsessive breathing and speech resonance exercises in my car when I was headed to social events as a high schooler. An eating disorder that gave me a sense of control. Lame excuses to keep my kids home so I wouldn’t spin into panic about the worst case scenarios that could happen while they were in someone else’s care. Meds that made me feel less than human, but also less anxious (not bashing meds here, there’s definitely a time and place for them).

The battle came to a crux a few years ago, and I appeared to be losing. My psychologist recommended some techniques and books, but the truly revolutionary concept for me came from a book by Raphael Cushnir, “The One Thing Holding You Back.” I’ll tell you up front that Cushnir, at least when he wrote the book, was not actually a mental health or medical professional, which almost caused me to disregard the book entirely. But, in my desperation, I gave it (and the hokey title) a second look. Great choice.

The breakthrough concept was that anxiety is actually symptom that I’m battling some feeling, rather than allowing it to be felt. So anxiety was not the real issue. It was just the siren trying to draw attention to the real issue — the real issue being a feeling I wouldn’t let myself experience (for me it is often “dread”).

When I ignored “dread” and wouldn’t let my mind and body “feel” it, I felt anxiety, panic, and all the unpleasant physical sensations that accompany them. And I’d fight the anxiety — effectively trying to shoot the messenger.

Cushnir’s book paints a compelling argument that our rational minds, emotional hearts, and physiological processes are designed to work in unison — so much so, that if I’m focusing on telling my rational mind, “Everything is OK, calm down!” and telling my physiological being, “Breathe in, and out. You’re OK,” but not allowing my emotional heart to play out my dreaded scenarios, and my body to feel the feelings it needs to process, I will be trapped in a loop where anxiety tries to get my attention through unpleasant sensations.

Faith is central in my life and perspectives, and being willing to “sit with” and feel my fear and dread was extremely uncomfortable for me when I first started working through Cushnir’s exercises.

My rational mind was telling me, “Fear isn’t allowed. I wouldn’t feel anxious if I was a better Christian/prayed more/memorized more passages about it.” But when I acknowledged that I was created beautifully as a complex being with emotions, and that they weren’t “bad,” or “good,” but simply valid and somehow purposeful, I started allowing myself to let the feelings I’d been avoiding come in for a visit and a chat.

With practice, I got better at naming the physical experiences and emotions that needed to be acknowledged. My anxiety, it turns out, didn’t need me to battle it. It just wanted me to sit with it.

It didn’t want to destroy me or my life. It wanted my presence so I could process through the feeling behind it and let my body, mind, and heart communicate fully with each other and relax their fight or flight processes.

Cushnir’s book isn’t faith-based but I’ve personally found amazing growth from taking his principles, and inviting the Lord into these sessions to “sit in it” with me during these most vulnerable times. They’re honestly terrifying sometimes, and while I used to think my fear dishonored the Lord, I now believe He’s most honored when I feel it fully and trust Him in the midst of the feeling. And I’ve survived every single one of these sessions — no matter how much I don’t want to go into them when anxiety reminds me that I need to.

Wherever you are on your journey with fear and anxiety, may 2020 be a year of freedom and growth for you. May you feel fully and beautifully and come out with peace.

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