Still Struggling Even When Life Is Good? It’s Not Just You

Do you ever feel like everything’s going really, really well in all the parts of your life except inside your head? That’s where I’ve been at for a while now. I started grad school and that’s going really well. I’m teaching and tutoring a wide range of ages and subjects and that’s going really well. I have great relationships with my parents and siblings, I’m getting a new sister next year when my brother gets married, and I have a stable, supportive church family. It’s all fantastic. This is probably the best my life has ever been.

And yet, I keep finding myself sinking into depression and struggling with anxiety. What if all this goes away? Going to grad school was always my back-up plan and if that doesn’t work I don’t have anything in mind to fall back on. I look at what’s going on in the world today, and I don’t really have a lot of confidence that society’s going to remain stable. I tell myself that I’m okay with being 32 and single–that I’m not sure I even want a relationship at this point–but then I feel like I might be lying to myself. So I start worrying, and then I feel guilty for worrying, and then I worry about how my glumness is affecting the people around me. And when people who care about me notice there’s something wrong I struggle to tell them what’s wrong because there’s no good reason for all this worry.

This post isn’t just about me sharing my struggles, though. I’m going to be okay–I’m seeing a counselor again a couple times a month to help get myself back on track with my mental health. My reason for writing today is to get us thinking about how to work through the guilt, shame, and disconnected feeling that can go along with having mental health struggles when everything in life seems to be going well. I often hear people talk about how it’s normal to struggle with depression and anxiety when things in your life aren’t good, or recommendations to focus on the positive and get engaged with your life so those feelings will go away on their own. But what if things are already good, and you are engaged with all the positive things in your life, and you still struggle? That can be “normal” too. Not normal in the sense that it’s a good thing to stay there, but normal in the sense that there are lots of other people struggling with it as well.

Fighting the Battles in our Heads

Some time ago, I wrote a post called “Fighting Something You Can’t See.” I’ve been thinking about that idea recently, and I just went back and read what I wrote three years ago. Near the end of that post, I said, “It’s so hard for me to turn anxiety over to God. In a way, letting go of the thoughts demanding constant attention doesn’t seem safe. … [but] God doesn’t want us to cower in the face of attacks inside our minds. He wants to help us fight back. Casting our anxieties on God frees us to let Him help us fight the real battle behind all the other struggles we face.” Past-me had some wise advice, and I think I need to tell myself this once again.

This idea that God wants us to keep trusting Him during the tough times is also something I’ve been studying recently, sort of by accident. It came up when I was reading Peter’s letters as part of studying for the next post in my new series on the general epistles (you can read my post on James here). Peter spends a lot of time, especially in his first letter, reminding people that confronting trials is a normal part of being a Christian and that the source of those is the adversary, the devil who stalks about like a lion seeing to devour God’s people. Peter is also very clear that, with God’s help, we can resist this adversary.

And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11, NET

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.

2 Peter 1:2-3, NET

God gives us tools for success. He does not promise we won’t face trials or that we will not need to fight battles. Rather, He says He’ll be with us through those things. James and Peter even agree that we can have joy during the challenges and trials we face. That joy comes from us having faith faith and hope that provide context for understanding what we’re going through (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Practical Steps We Can Take

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

It’s all very well to talk about having faith, hope, and joy when we face trials and using the tools God gives us, but how does that work in real life? As I think most Christians who struggle with mental health issues can attest, it’s not like we haven’t tried praying about these things. We know we’re supposed to turn things over to God and stop worrying, but if you’re like me you’re not really sure how to do that.

I’m going to share a few tips now for practical steps that we can take. Some of these work for me already, while others are recommendations that others have shared and which I’m working on trying out. It’s not an exhaustive list, and since we’re all so different they won’t all work for everyone. I hope, though, that you’ll find something here that’s helpful for you or which sparks an idea of something that might help.

  • Practice mindfulness. My dad, sister, and counselor have all stressed this to me recently. It’s not a good idea to live in the fearful “what ifs” of the future. They might not happen at all, and we don’t really have control over them anyways. As Jesus says, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34, NET). Being mindful of the present is a conscious choice/effort. It’s part of taking “every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NET).
  • Keep the context in mind. When we’re struggling with something inside our minds, we need to remember that we’re not alone and that this is a very real fight. Paul counsels us to remember that “though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds,” including ones inside our own minds (2 Cor. 10:1-5, NET). When you feel like your mind’s under attack or like you’re fighting against something, you’re not going crazy. We are fighting in spiritual battles, and we are not doing it alone. Remind yourself of this, and go to God in prayer. Ask Him to keep His promise to fight alongside you.
  • Sing and praise. One way to counter the dark things inside our minds is to speak light out of our mouths. Did Paul and Silas sing in prison because they were so happy to be there, or because they knew that praise would connect them with God, who is the source of the strength and joy they’d need to get through this? (Acts 16:24-26). I’m not sure, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s not very helpful to try and muster up joy silently when we’re struggling. We need to speak/sing to God whether we feel like it or not, and then the joy may follow that. I know I tend to feel better when I sing and listen to Christian music, but I’ve gotten away from that recently. Today as I write this, I’m listening to a lot of Jean Watson and I find that music very uplifting. I also find Jason Gray’s “Sparrows” very fitting for how I feel right now.
  • Talk with someone. I know it’s tempting to keep everything to yourself and not let people know how much you’re struggling. But the people who love you would rather have you let them know what’s going on and how they can help and support you than to have you struggle on your own. And if you don’t have anyone you can talk with (or even if you do have someone but your struggles are still having a negative impact on your life), I highly encourage you to seek professional counseling. Click here to start searching for therapists in your area.

Those are the four things I’m using right now to try and work through the anxiety and depression that I’ve been dealing with recently. I’d love to hear from anyone else who wants to share their experiences in the comments or who has advice for others going through similar things. What tips do you have for maintaining a focus on God and holding on to joy during times of inner struggle?

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

The Rightness of Trusting God’s Will Even When It’s Scary

One of the most astonishing statements in all of scripture was made on Passover evening nearly 2000 years ago, on the night in which Jesus was betrayed. Knowing exactly what was about to happen, Jesus still prayed “not my will but yours be done” (Matt. 26:36-46; Luke 22:39-46). This is the ultimate example of meekness–power submitted to the will of God. Jesus could have asked His Father for “more than twelve legions of angels” to free Him from the arresting mob if He’d wanted to(Matt. 26:51-45). Instead, He said, “Father, if this cup cannot be taken away from me unless I drink it, your will must be done” (Matt. 26:42).

Scripture describes Jesus as being “anguished and distressed” and feeling “deeply grieved” in His soul. Emotionally, that sounds like just about as bad as it can get for a human being. Yet even in such a dire situation, He prayed for God’s will to be done. I suspect He even prayed that in part because of the dire situation, using His conviction that God can be trusted and that His will is best to carry Him through what lay ahead.

For us today, who’ve committed to following Jesus’s example, “Your will be done” should also be our prayer during times of testing and trouble (as well as in good times). That’s not always easy to say, though. We might even be afraid or reluctant to pray for God’s will to be done, especially when the future seems uncertain. It comes down to an issue of trust and perspective.

God Knows Best

I often think about the spiritual implications of my struggles with anxiety. If I give in to catastrophizing and fear, what does that say about my level of (mis)trust in God? Connecting that idea to today’s post, it seems that whether or not we want to pray, “Your will be done,” is often tied-in to all those fears and worries. Is God really good all the time? Does He care enough to make this situation work out for me? What if praying for His will means I don’t get what I want or need?

I think we need to reject shaming people (including ourselves) for weaknesses and fears, and rather encourage each other to keep choosing trust and faith over and over again. Anxieties are “afflictions, not sins” (to quote C.S. Lewis), though they can lead us into sin if we let them. Overcoming fear is an ongoing process and it involves conscious choice, including the choice to trust that God knows what He’s doing.

We know that we should pray for God’s will to be done, but we’re often afraid to. Why? Because we do not trust that His will is best for us. We think His agenda and ours are by nature at odds with one another.

Because of our corruption, they may in fact be at odds. But if we could see the whole picture, we would understand that it is our own will that falls short of fulfilling our well-being, not His.

CHRIS TIEGREEN, 365 POCKET DEVOTIONS, DAY 114

It’s often easy to pray, “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, NET). When it’s less personal, sometimes it’s easier to wrap our minds around the idea that God changing things and making them better is a good thing (especially when it’s becoming more and more clear how much suffering and corruption is in the world). But it’s often harder to pray, “May your will be done (not mine)” in very personal situations that affect us immediately and directly (especially if we have a preferred outcome in mind). And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did, and what His disciples do.

His Good Plans Will Come to Pass

Paul’s a great example of one of Jesus’s disciples who submitted his own will and plans for his life to God. He started out by persecuting those who believed in Jesus the Messiah, then completely changed his life in response to God making His will known. That cost Paul greatly in terms of physical things, but also blessed him richly in terms of spiritual things.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written before about Paul’s view on trials–“that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the coming glory that will be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18, NET). It might not seem at first as if he’s talking about God’s will here, but he is. Going back to Romans 7:14-21, we find Paul describing the struggle between his unspiritual self and the spiritual law of God–his will versus God’s will. Next, Romans 8:1-17 talks about the leading of God’s spirit and Him saving us from sin, which is something He desires/wills for all people (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Then, Paul describes a struggle in creation, which was not willingly “subjected to futility … in hope,” but as part of God’s will for adopting children into His family (Rom. 8:19-26).

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose …. What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:27-28, 31, NET

God has a plan. It’s a good plan. And because He’s the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe, His good plans for each of us and the whole of creation will come to pass. When we keep this in mind, there’s no need for us to fearfully grasp for control or to worry and fret about the future (Matt. 6:25-34).

We Follow in Christ’s Footsteps

I recently started reading C.S. Lewis’s collection of passages from George MacDonald’s writings. One of the quotes which caught my eye says that because God “is against sin,” sometimes it also feels as if He is against the things that we want, strive for, and dream about. Which might actually be the case, if we’re still living lives influenced by sin, but God is never against us. When God is against someone’s sinful desires,” He is altogether and always for them” (Unspoken Sermons, First Series, The Consuming Fire). God is for us, and sometimes that means showing us that the things we want aren’t good for us. MacDonald also said that God’s “wrath will consume what they call themselves so that the selves God made shall appear” (same source). Coming to the Light isn’t always a comfortable process, but it is always good for us.

What these quotes make me think of is the fact that because God’s will and His love always work for good in the end, sometimes the immediate result of submitting to His will is painful, as it was for Jesus. Jesus knew, though, that His suffering was part of God’s plan to bring about good for the whole world, and things happened exactly as the Father purposed (Acts 4:27-28). Jesus prayed for God’s will knowing with absolute certainty “that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God” (John 13:3, NET). We also know that He focused on “the joy set out for him” when “he endured the cross, disregarding its shame,” and that He “has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12: 2, NET). Following His example, we can also pray for God’s will to be done knowing that God has good things in store for us and for the entire world.

Thinking about Jesus’s trust in His Father also adds another layer to how we can understand the verse, “Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Heb. 12:7, NET). Jesus did not need to be disciplined in order to correct bad behavior (since He never sinned), but He certainly suffered. Scripture is clear that following in His footsteps will involve suffering (sometimes from the world, sometimes as an attack from spiritual evil, and sometimes as part of God’s refining process that’s meant to strengthen us and help us grow). When we suffer, we know that we’re not going through anything that Jesus wasn’t willing to go through as well; God is not treating us any differently than He did His only begotten son. We also know that we can look forward to the same goal that Jesus focused on–the goal of eternal life together with God, as a family. We can also pray “your will be done” knowing that God is faithful, that He knows what He’s doing, and that He will work things out for good in the end.

Featured image by Jantanee via Lightstock

Extroverts With Social Anxiety: A Rare Sighting?

This article by Katie Tyrrell first appeared on eCounseling.com on February 1, 2021. I love sharing posts about personality and mental health, and I’m so happy to have the chance to share this one about how social anxiety affects extroverts. It reappears here with permission of eCounseling. If you’d like to read an article about introverts and social anxiety, you can click here.

Social anxiety occurs when a person experiences anxiety symptoms in social situations or large groups. It is commonly considered to be an issue for people who are more introverted by nature. An introverted person may be someone who prefers to be alone and stay away from groups. An extrovert is seen as someone who enjoys being around other people and socializing in groups. It would seem obvious that only an introvert would experience social anxiety due to their preference of being alone. But what about extroverts? Do they experience social anxiety? 

Extraversion vs. Intraversion

Extraversion is a personality trait commonly associated with outgoing, social, and loud people. Introversion personality traits are associated with people who are quiet, reserved, and often keeps to themselves. These two concepts are viewed as absolutes in modern society, meaning a person is either an introvert or an extrovert. But is that true?

While there are only two groups for extroverts and introverts, each person has varying characteristics within those categories. Extroversion traits are not universal! People who consider themselves extroverts may have different comfortability in social situations than other extroverts. 

The traits fall along a spectrum from the most outgoing or social person to a very isolated or reserved individual. People tend to lean towards extroversion or introversion and have varying degrees of comfortability in different social situations. It is common that people have tendencies that would be attributed to both extroversion and introversion.

Some facets of extroversion include being sociable, warm, assertive, active, excitement-seeking, and having positive emotionality. Every extrovert’s scores in these facets will vary and are important to note as they account for the differences in extrovert personalities. 

For example, a person may love going out to a party but hate public speaking. This person would likely score high on the sociable and excitement-seeking spectrum but lower on assertiveness. Another extrovert may feel completely at ease in front of a crowd but struggle to make conversation at a party.

One way to evaluate if you lean towards extroversion or introversion is to consider what brings you joy and energizes you. For example, if you prefer to go out for drinks with friends after a hard day at work and enjoy the social life, you may lean towards extroversion. If you prefer to go home and relax on the couch in comfy clothes, you may lean towards introversion. Everyone likely enjoys these activities at different times; however, this simplified example may help you determine which way you lean on the spectrum.

family cooking a meal together

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is the fear of social situations usually associated with the fear of others’ judgment. Social anxiety disorder often leads to a person’s avoidance of social situations. When social situations are unavoidable, anxiety symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, shaking, or shortness of breath may occur. 

Social anxiety is a disorder that develops over time and is thought to result from environmental and genetic factors such as a bad social experience, early childhood trauma or family history of mental health issues. It is typically treated by seeking out a psychotherapist, with CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] believed by many to be among the more effective treatments.

Extroverts with Social Anxiety

So, the question remains, do extroverts struggle with a social anxiety disorder? The answer is yes. Any person, regardless of personality traits, can develop a social anxiety disorder. Extrovert-leaning people tend to be drawn to social interactions more than introvert-leaning people; however, this does not keep them from developing anxiety in social situations.

While extroverts do struggle with social anxiety disorder, they may be less likely to develop social anxiety than introverts. Studies suggest that extroverted individuals are less likely to develop social anxiety disorder if they have high scores in the positive emotionality facet of extroversion. 

Positive emotionality is the tendency towards positive mood states such as happiness, excitement, confidence, and joy. This facet of extroversion is linked to lower levels of social anxiety and depression. Positive emotionality appears to be a protective factor reducing the risk of developing social anxiety.

Interestingly, extroverts tend to have higher positive emotionality levels, meaning they score higher on happiness assessments, positive social relationships, and emotional regulation than introverted individuals. These traits seem to serve as buffers guarding against social anxiety disorder.

How Common is It?

While it may be just as possible for extroverts to develop social anxiety disorders, it appears there are protective factors that extroverts possess more easily than introverted individuals. However, when social anxiety symptoms are present, they may be more debilitating for extroverts as they struggle to engage in the social environment. 

Social anxiety may interfere with the activities and events that bring extroverts pleasure, impacting their mental health more intensely than introverts. An introvert struggling with social anxiety can still engage in the reserved and quiet pastimes that bring them pleasure, despite the social anxiety struggles. 

It is not a rare sight for people with extroversion tendencies to experience a social anxiety disorder, though it is less likely than people with introversion tendencies. It seems more likely for people with introverted tendencies to experience social anxiety disorder exaggerated by their natural tendency for isolation.

About the author: Katie Tyrrell, MS, LPCC, is a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC). She has a passion for healing trauma using body-based somatic therapy. Katie believes that healing trauma and restoring physical and emotional health comes from healing the body and nervous system.

Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Update on the Anxiety Kitty and Grad School

I was chatting with my sister a couple days ago about blog post topics, and she asked if I’d ever updated my readers on how Flynn is doing. When I adopted this 2-year-old cat back in March 2018, I shared “Lessons From My Nervous Cat” and a follow-up post a few months later called “Anxiety Kitty: The Not-So-Surprising Way Pets Improve Mental Health.” He was such a frightened cat when I adopted him. After a few months, though, he’d started to settle in and trust me. I’m pleased to report that now, a few years after his adoption, he’s turned into a happy, contented cat.

Update on the Anxiety Kitty | LikeAnAnchor.com

This year has been one with big changes for us. I started grad school, which means Flynn and I moved from my parents’ home to an apartment shared with my sister. I was worried he wouldn’t do well with that transition to a new and smaller place, but he’s settled in quite nicely and only hides now if strange people knock on the door (as I write this, he’s under the bed because UPS dropped off a package). We did discover during the move that he hates car rides, even though I borrowed a medium-size dog carrier from some friends so he’d fit comfortably since my cat carrier is too small for this chonker (he is on a diet so please don’t worry about him too much).

We’ve discovered that Flynn likes watching horror movies with my sister (something I’m not interested in, so she appreciates having a movie-watching buddy). We’ve also found that he steals cotton swabs out of bathroom trashcans, he likes to hang-out in the bathtub for some reason, and ping-pong balls are his new favorite toy. He also likes to nap on my pillow since the head of my bed is near a window where he can spy on the neighbors, including the occasional bird or squirrel.

Update on the Anxiety Kitty | LikeAnAnchor.com

As I’d shared in my previous posts about Flynn, I struggle with nervousness and anxiety too. And I’m thankful to report that Flynn’s not the only one of us who’s doing well with the recent changes in my life. The anxiety isn’t all gone, but I am doing better. There were some days (including a couple weeks in the middle of the semester) when I was starting to worry about myself again but I got through it. I’ll probably set up a couple appointments with the on-campus counselors next semester, mostly as a preventative sort of thing to help keep myself mentally healthy.

I’ve also realized that I have a much better sense of who I am and what I bring to the table now than I did 12 years ago when I started college the first time. In one sense I suppose that should be obvious–it was so long ago that I’d be worried if I hadn’t grown! But sometimes I think it’s easy to miss how much progress we’ve made until there’s some big change to shake things up and make us take a close look at ourselves.

Update on the Anxiety Kitty and Grad School | LikeAnAnchor.com

I can’t imagine 18-year-old Marissa working directly with people coaching them on how to do something like improve their writing, or see her speaking up during meetings and offering suggestions for making the campus writing center better. She also had a lot more difficulty adjusting to college than I’m having now with coming back, even though there were 8 years between graduating with my Bachelor’s degree and coming back to school for my Master’s. In some ways, being back in academia feels like coming home (which I’m taking as confirmation I’m in the right graduate program).

Life’s not without its challenges (an understatement, especially in 2020) but there are good things happening, too. I’m hoping that’s true in your life as well, and I’d love to hear about it!

What are some of the positive changes, challenges overcome, or good things that have happened in your life this year?

How Do You Hold on to Hope When You’re Fighting Anxiety and Depression?

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses, and they often occur together. Just because its relatively common, though, doesn’t make dealing with both feel any less weird. Exhibit A, this image I ran across on Pinterest:

It’s overly simplified, of course, to say “depression is when you don’t really care about anything” and “anxiety is when you care too much about everything.” Still, these comments capture part of how strange it feels to simultaneously (or alternately) deal with depression and anxiety. “Having both is staying in bed because you don’t want to go to school and then panicking because you don’t want to fail. Having both is wanting to go see your friends so you don’t lose them all, then staying home in bed because you don’t want to make the effort.”

Anxiety and depression are going to show up a bit different for everyone who struggles with them, but for me it’s like one day I’m on-edge, jittery, and so distracted by my inner anxiety monologue that I struggle to remember how things actually happened. Then the next day I feel like a weight’s pressing down on me snuffing out all motivation and hope. And some days, the smothering feeling is there but I’m also anxious about stuff I should care about and there’s this weird fight going on in my head. It’s exhausting.

Holding on to hope isn’t easy when you’re fighting a struggle inside your mind that tells you the worst could happen and there’s no point in trying to do anything about it. But we’re also not helpless victims of our own minds. We can change the patterns of our thoughts. We can choose to hold on to hope even when there seems no reason for it, and the easiest/best way to do this is with the Lord’s help.

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Mermaids and Mental Health: Book Review of “Coral” by Sara Ella

I love stories about mermaids. I also love well-written stories that deal with mental health issues, so I was excited to receive an advance reader copy of Coral by Sara Ella through NetGalley. To quote the Goodreads description, “Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.”

Coral is a story told from three perspectives. Coral, the mermaid who doesn’t fit in with her family and fears she has been infected with the Disease that causes mermaids to feel human emotions. Brook, a young woman whose struggle with anxiety and depression have brought her to Fathoms, a group therapy home she doubts will help her find any point in living. And Merrick, who wants to escape his controlling father and finally reaches his breaking point when his mother disappears after his younger sister attempts suicide.

A note on mental illness in Coral

On the topic of suicide, I think it’s time to bring up trigger warnings for this book. The author says in a note at the beginning of this book that “Potential triggers include suicide, self-harm, emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and unwanted/non-consensual advances.” The author approaches mental health issues in a sensitive, caring way. She did extensive research, got feedback from sensitivity readers, and used her own personal experiences when writing this book. Read more