The Weapon of Self-Care (and how it can slay Anxiety)

"Don't be a hypocrite," she texts me.

"She" is my friend, Allison, who also happens to be a counselor. I often will ask her a counseling question to see how my ideas mesh with theology and current research and then, BAM! Suddenly my general question gets incredibly personal.

My question? 

What role (if any) do you think self-care has in relation to anxiety?

Here's the deal: Craig shared with y'all how he is free from panic attacks. I still struggle (sometimes daily) with anxiety, as we revealed in our video. This week has been incredibly insightful to me (and also incredibly hard) as God talks to me about getting to the root of my own anxiety issues. All week, I've had this nagging sensation that self-care plays a large role in my battle. This is not something I wanted to hear. For you? Yes. For me? No. I am awful about self-care.

Allison, who knows this, was encouraging me to practice good self-care before I wrote of its importance in fighting anxiety (she agreed with me that it plays an important role, by the way).

There are many benefits for all of us in the practicing of self-care in order to reduce the symptoms of anxiety: breathing, mindfulness, prayer, slowing down, exercise, and accepting comfort from God and others. And it is often hard for many of us to do these things because of how society tells us we should operate (push harder, go further, work longer, be better).

For others of us, though, practicing self-care is critical to uprooting the very cause of our anxiety. It's not just about mitigating the symptoms. It's a crucial key to solving the problem. And because of this, it may be even harder for us to practice it.

You, Emotional Caretaker. I'm talking to you. (And me, or course.)

I recognized myself in some of the articles I read as I was exploring how this could be the root of my anxiety. The core lies that I believe(d) about myself (and am actively fighting with God's Truth) are:

  • I should take care of my needs only after everyone else's needs are met.
  • If I don't take care of other people's needs, I am selfish (or bad).
  • If I am tired or weary of taking care of other people, I'm clearly not relying on Jesus for strength.
  • My needs are of lesser importance that other people's needs.
  • I should be able to always anticipate the needs of others.
  • It's better to sacrifice and live with my own (fatigue, anger, resentment) than to deal with the possible anger or resentment of others.
  • I shouldn't need other people—they have their own stuff to deal with. (Oh, the irony.)
  • I'm not enough.

Look at these not-so-pretty lies. I would not believe them for any soul walking the face of this earth, and yet, they are a core part of how I have operated for years.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that we should be selfish people who continually neglect the needs of those around us. We are designed to be helpful, caring, loving, community-based people who are servant-hearted. We are supposed to depend on God's strength to use our gifts to love and serve others. 

God gave me the ability to have empathy for others, to show compassion. He gave me the gift of spiritual discernment and a passion for helping people recognize the things that are holding them back from the abundant life Jesus has for them. I love exploring creative avenues of overcoming hard things with Jesus and sharing the Gospel, which makes it all possible. I absolutely love coming along side people! It brings me tremendous joy.

But there are these things called boundaries. And when they get overstepped, I crater into the abyss of anxiety.

Over the last year, through counseling and Jesus (and Jesus through counseling), I have learned what boundaries are. I have fully traded in my "savior" crown and I know that I cannot rescue anyone. I have worked on not taking ownership of other people's problems. I have stopped swooping in at every request for help. I have noted when I feel tired and started asking God before I say "yes" to meeting a need. It is now duly noted that I am not invincible, self-sufficient, or the Energizer Bunny. I will never be enough by the standards of this world, but Jesus makes me enough for Him.

This is growth, people. HUGE growth.

I've done a ton of work learning what I am not. But self-care teaches and then reminds me of what I AM.

  • Worth it.
  • A person with valid needs.
  • Someone who can ask for help.
  • A boundary-setter. (This is God's way of protecting me and others—hello, co-dependency.)
  • Valued. (God loves to surprise and delight me. I can say "yes" and receive those surprises and delights.)
  • Gifted.

It's great if I can say these things about myself, but when I put action behind them it makes a crazy big impact—it reinforces what I am and what I am not. It is me practicing and living out the truth I tell myself. Action is powerful. (This is why Jesus didn't just tell us He loved us. He showed us.) When I choose self-care and:

  • the world doesn't fall apart
  • people make new relationships
  • someone else stands in the gap
  • a friend responds with delicious grace
  • my husband takes care of it

I understand more fully the role I have and how that role doesn't require me to be anything other than what I am (or who I am in Jesus). Now, don't be fooled: Satan is going to try to convince you that the world did, in fact, fall apart or that you've ruined a relationship beyond repair by not stepping up. Do not be deterred. Feel free to step into the world of self-care slowly. Let the ocean of respite lap at your feet. Just make sure you eventually get in the water.

Why? Because self-care is a weapon that slays lies. It is a sword that deflates the oppressive set of rules that have loomed large in our lives and reflects back to us in its shiny steel the precious creation God has made.

You are an incredible creation with great giftings, but who has a finite tank of gas that has to be refilled. Manually. What kind of gas you take depends on your specific model, but what is crucial is that you get it. And maybe have a jerry tank for reserves.

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God wants to take care of you. He wants you to cast your cares on Him. He is a big God and He can take it all on. You don't have to worry about burdening Him! Our prayer for this community and for all marriages is that if anxiety is a part of you or your spouse (and thus, your marriage), that our struggles with it, the things we've learned along the way, and the Holy Spirit, would allow it to bubble up to the surface so that y'all might deal with it together, pursuing the great healing He has, step by step.

As someone who's still in it, but moving through it, I can say—it is so worth it. It's not something you want to overcome alone, but, hey, you're designed to ask for help. Sometimes, this looks like me telling Craig I'm at my limit and allowing him to help me enforce the boundaries that I know are good, but that the lies keep me trying to convince me they're not.

I don't want him to put my phone in the other room, but I need to physically detach and be unreachable for a bit, so I let him.

I don't want to wait to pray first about joining a church small group, but I also know I am terrible at over-scheduling myself, so I simply give Craig the information and let him sit with it for a bit.

I don't want to take a day off to goof around (there are important things to be done!), but I also know that FUN! is important and life-giving, so I do it anyway. Sometimes. (Actually, I'm pretty bad about this one.)

Thinking about how Craig helps me with my anxiety and self-care leads me to this community question: How can you encourage yourself and/or your partner to engage in good, healthy self-care behaviors?

And then I'd love to know: Does anyone else struggle with being an emotional caregiver? Do you resonate with any of the lies I've believed?