The Color of Anxiety

If Anxiety was a color it would be orange.

Jolting, abrasive, in-your-face, caution-cone orange. Orange like the fire that burns in my belly or, more often lately, shoots fiery bolts of pain from somewhere under my arm up across my collarbone to my chest, down around my forearm into my fingers and back up over my shoulder ending somewhere between my trapezoid and deltoid. Sharp, electric jolts from some bundle of nerves that are pinched tight, ready to explode in a thousand little needle-pricks at the barest provocation.

Anxiety is flamboyant, it waves a flag and shouts and refuses to be ignored, but it has a subtle side as well. iI can hide itself in shadows. It tucks itself into corners and lurks behind closed doors just waiting for the smallest opening. You go about your life without giving it much thought. Then it slips in like light seeping through a gap in the curtain and pools inside faster than you can imagine. Almost instantly it invades the whole room.

Anxiety knows how to shout louder than reason. It knows how to push aside what is true, what is rational, and what is comforting and stoke fear.

Anxiety knows how to isolate. It knows how to make you feel that you carry a burden you can never really share – because it weighs too heavily on others or because they never really understand. You try to explain but they can’t hear what you’re saying. You say, “Anxiety” and they hear, “Stressed. Worry-wart. Over-dramatic.”

“You’re being ridiculous.” “You need to let things go.” “You should stop worrying.” “You need to trust God more.” And they are right. And they are wrong. And either way and both ways they make you feel more alone.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I don’t know how to choose peace. When my chest gets tight and my heart races and I feel like I can’t breathe, I don’t know how to choose peace over fear. I don’t know how to find peace when a sudden, unexpected burst of panic hits me. I don’t even know if I can.

Instead, I find myself praying for Peace to find me.

“Give peace, O Lord, in our days because there is no one else who will fight for us If not You, our God.”

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61 comments

  1. Hi Lily,
    I wanted to encourage you to believe that you can reduce your anxiety. That it doesn’t have to takeover who you are. I don’t know if you have read anything about brain plasticity and the works of psychiatrist Norman Doidge but the brain builds up neuropathways and the more you do or think something, the bigger these pathways become. So for example the angrier you get, the angrier you become and so once you can reduce the negative thoughts, the less you’ll have them. While this is great in theory, how does an anxious person start to put this into action? I am hopeless at meditation but I love photography, playing my violin and these definitely help me to relax. I also look at the ocean and the way it moves is very relaxing. These are more active forms of meditating. Exercise also helps. I also pray and try to hand my worries over to the Lord and that really helps but we also have a role in controlling our thoughts, which is part of free will. The other thing I am finding is that overcoming physical challenges reduces anxiety as well. I have been quite surprised by how that’s worked. Hope this helps. I think it’s important to feel empowered and know that we can improve our lot. xx Rowena

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Rowena. I’ve actually never had a terrible time with dwelling on negative thoughts. I mean, occasionally, sure, but that’s not really a pattern for me. What I’ve been experiencing lately are out-of-nowhere panic attacks when I am totally calm and not doing anything stressful or thinking about anything stressful and my mind/body is suddenly gripped with panic. I think the suggestions you made are really helpful for dealing with stress and general anxiety. I’m not a worrier. It’s very unusual that I just get fixated on something and worry and worry about it (It happens occasionally though). It’s more like I subconsciously internalize everything. So I’m not aware that I’m holding onto it until I’ve made myself physically ill or, in this new and fun turn of events, am having an anxiety attack. And so far, in those moments, I’m not really lucid enough to “control my thoughts.” I don’t know…this is new for me. Do you have any experience with that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am not a psychologist but I would try and find some pattern, if any behind the panic attacks and there might be something you can work with. I had a panic attack when I bird flew into the house due to the flapping motion of its wings. That was quite severe but it’s happened since then and it’s been much better so some exposure helps. Pronbably being more aware of your breathing and if you feeling yourself getting lightheaded, that could be a sign that you are hyperventalating and things are starting to build up. Then you can breathe into a brown papr bag or cup your cup over your mouth to increase the carbon dioxide a bit. Thinking about it, it seems like there’s something on your mind at an unconscious level and journaling could be good for that. Blogging is great too but that’s more public. Sometimes when I write in my journal, things come out of nowhere and I’m surprised about what I’m unconsciously processing. I also think it is good to acknowledge and process the negative. There’s so much pressure to think positive all the time but if something is difficult it is difficult. I find acknowledging that helps and then I apply my motivational speak. Hope that helps and that you feel better soon. As you know, life is a continuous journey and we probably get the biggest surprising when we try to understand ourselves. xx Rowena

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      2. I think you’re right. I think it’s a subconscious kind of thing. I’m a highly sensitive person and I think one of my coping mechanisms for just feeling too many feels is to sort of push them away and ignore them. So when I start to get stressed out about something instead of dealing with it I sometimes just try to ignore it. And then it manifests itself later in physical ways. So the attacks or other physical complaints come and I think, “I’m not stressed out about anything right now. Why is this happening now?” But it does seem likely that it’s sort of latent stress or anxiety that’s coming out in new ways. Thank you for your thoughts and your suggestions. I appreciate your compassion and support.

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    2. This is awesome advice from the other commenters. Listen to what interests you to help. And Lily, you are a truly gifted writer. Have faith and you will find peace and elimimate your anxiety. Trust in yourself. All aniexty is is fear: False Evidence Appearing Real. Have a beautiful day!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This might not console you, or you might not believe it, but I really know how you feel. When you get that kind of anxiety you can’t just “chill”, there’s something hidden somewhere inside of you that is causing that. You are going to have to look for the source of the problem in order to solve it. It’s a huge work on yourself, but it’s going to be worth it. I’m with you!

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    1. It actually helps a lot. A lot of people hear this and say, “Oh yeah, I get anxiety sometimes too. Then I just tell myself to stop worrying.” And that can be frustrating because obviously, everyone has some measure of anxiety sometimes. But not everyone becomes physically ill from it. And what works for someone who is worrying too much about something probably isn’t going to work for me when my chest is constricted and I can’t breathe. I’ve always been bad about internalizing my stress/anxiety etc. I am a highly sensitive person. Sometimes it’s just too much to feel all the feels and I developed a sort of coping mechanism where I unintentionally push aside the stress or worry when it’s too much to deal with. Then I go around feeling like, “I’m not stressed or anxious about anything,” because I’m not actively thinking about those things, but I have knots in my stomach and heart palpitations and heartburn, or most recently have anxiety attacks. So yes, I think you’re right that it’s something I’ve internalized that is manifesting this way. Thanks for your encouragement and support and for letting me know that i’m not alone. 🙂

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  3. I love this post. As someone who’s had major anxiety the past year and a half I understand how hard it is to talk to people about it. It’s hard for people to understand just how normal tasks can have you feeling so overwhelmed with fear or why you don’t just ‘man up’ and stop ‘exaggerating’. Have you tried CBT? I’ve found it’s helped a little with learning to cope when i do end up having a panic attack, although it’s still hard to rationalise in certain situations when all I can think about is my racing heart and the fear of dying etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your support. I agree that the worst response is when people tell me, “You’re being ridiculous.” I knowthat I’m being ridiculous. On some level, I really do. But that’s not helpful in the moment. I have not tried CBT. The panic attacks are quite new to me actually. I’ve had anxiety before, but I think my tendency in the past has been to try to push it away. Then it manifests in more physical ways – digestive trouble, heart palpitations, etc. The panic attacks feel to me like a new level of physical reaction to anxiety that I am pushing away and bottling up. Obviously, I hope they just go away. But if they keep happening then I feel like I need to find some strategy that works for calming down. thank you so much for sharing part of your story. I am encouraged to hear from someone who can really relate.

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  4. Anxiety is tough and it sucks. :/ I went through a time when I felt anxious a lot of the time and had horrible panic attacks which made me feel like I was trapped in a bubble — I could see the outside world going on around me but inside I was paralyzed with fear. You have my sympathy! I hope you find a way to deal with your anxiety.

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  5. Hi Lily,

    As always thanks for sharing your insight. Your posts are always so beautifully written and well thought out.

    I also suffer from anxiety and I can relate to everything you spoke about. The best things you can do are pray and try as best as you can to push yourself with the power of positive thinking. It’s an everyday struggle but it is one that can be beat with diligence and never giving up on one’s self! I wish you nothing but luck in getting these pesky panic attacks at bay!

    All the best,
    Jackie

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    1. Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for your encouragement. I’m really glad to hear you can relate (though sorry, of course, that you also suffer from anxiety). I think a big part of my struggle has been internalizing my stress and anxiety so that I don’t “feel” worried or anxious on a daily basis, but I have these physical symptoms and pains and now, for the first time in my life, the anxiety attacks. The way they come out of nowhere can be so disorienting and frightening. Since this is new to me, I feel I haven’t found how to pray through them in a helpful way. Your comment is really encouraging to me. Thank you for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One second at a time, my dear. All will work out the way it’s supposed to. I’m truly happy to be of some help. If you ever needed a safe person to talk to, I am always available.

        All the best,

        Jackie

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  6. beautiful. i have some dear friends truly struggle with anxiety and while i can’t exactly relate, i love this glimpse into anxiety. though i am not overcome on a daily or even weekly basis, i see pieces of it in my life at times. i love the idea of praying for peace to find me. so good.

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  7. Writing helps. Owning it so that it doesn’t own you helps. Recognising that it is something that happens to you helps. Knowing that you don’t know how to fix it helps.
    None of these fix it but they help.
    And my anxiety is splattery mud brown that sticks to everything.

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    1. Splattery mud brown. Ick. Thanks for your thoughts and your compassion. Writing this post was actually really hard for me, but therapeutic in some ways. It was hard for me to do because I associate anxiety with big-time worriers. Not the kind of people who would move to another country or do some of the things I love. So it was almost hard to concede that that’s what this is. But I think you’re right that owning it and recognizing it is important. Because I think ignoring it is probably what’s caused it to manifest itself in more physical ways. Thank you for sharing.

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  8. Love you friend. Thank you for these words. They are absolutely right-on and so honest. Thank you for putting words to something that is so hard to describe, but so real when you’re in it. Keep shining light into the darkness.

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  9. Best to you in finding your strength by letting go.
    Does that make sense?

    To me, anxiety is about feeling out of control. Even our bodies rebel, racing ahead without our consent. Everything is suddenly overwhelming, too big to handle. Just let it all go.

    This is going to sound silly, but it’s a good example. When I was a child I was afraid of vampires. Like really, really, stay-up-all-night afraid to sleep. One night, I said to myself, “Fine, just bite my neck. I’m too tired to care. Whatever.” I slept and guess what? No vampires bit my neck.

    For a time as an adult, I sold office furniture. It was amazing how upset people would get about a chair. It’s just a chair/a messy kitchen/a missed appointment/a vampire. Let it go. Whatever.

    Now, as an older adult, I still do the same. I just let go of trying to control everything. When I feel anxious, I figure out what I’m trying to control and give it over. What will be will be. Whatever. What I discover each time, is that I survive no worse for wear.

    Blessings to you, Lily.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do find that when I am just worrying about something I can remind myself to just let go of it and trust that it will be OK. Truthfully, I’m not a particularly worrying person. Every once in a while something will bother me and I will think about it a lot and get worried about what could happen, but that’s not a part of my every day life. Lately my anxiety is less about becoming fixated on something and worrying about it and more like out-of-the-blue, while I’m perfectly calm anxiety attacks. Which is new to me. Like you said, it’s an out-of-control feeling. Thankfully, this has only happened a few times so far, but now I have anxiety about having anxiety (the irony!) Like you, I have noticed that when I do generally worry about something that’s out of my control, if I can step back and just let it go, nothing bad happens. Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree and some people are prone to worry about every little thing. I’m not generally like that, but I think perhaps I’m internalizing the stress or anxiety I feel, so instead of being able to deal with it the way you described, it’s manifesting in physical ways and in anxiety attacks. Maybe it will take some searching to figure out what are the underlying stress-inducers that are building up this latent anxiety in my body. Anyway, I’m rambling. thanks for your compassion and for sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear one, I’m so sorry that you are going through this. I am announcing now that I’m about to put on my mama hat, and you can stop reading right now if that makes you uncomfortable. I am wondering about whether you should see a health professional. You know, as Christians, we sometimes have the impression that we’ve done something to make our selves feel a certain way, and that we can somehow change the way we are feeling through prayer and thinking positive thoughts. And I know that the way we allow ourselves to think is something that we do have control over. However, it’s possible that this anxiety is a symptom of something related to your health. If you had bronchitis, you wouldn’t expect to pray that away, or clear it up with positive thoughts. Please don’t view this as your fault, and please consider the possibility of asking for some help.

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    1. Thank you, Joni. I’m actually very open to asking for help. Unfortunately, there aren’t any options that I know of for English-speaking mental health providers here in Korea. It’s difficult enough trying to get care for a physical ailment, but the language barrier makes it nearly impossible to address anything as complex as this. There may be a way for me to talk to someone online or in some other creative way and I am certainly open to that. I really appreciate your care and I really, really appreciate your perspective on this. It can be very frustrating when people treat this as something I can control with positive thinking. 🙂

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      1. What about starting with your GP? They may know more about the system, and this may not be strictly related to mental health. I am not a doctor, but this could be related to hormones or possibly thyroid levels. A check up and blood work would seem appropriate as a place to begin.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Lily, I have been battling chronic anxiety for a year now (this month would be its anniversary) and you have explained exactly how it feels for me. The fears, the tears that start running because of the scarying thoughts (no, this is not depression) and the constant state of on-the-go. I sometimes feel useless, needy, or like a child, as I paralyze over the simplest things and I am not able to do many of the things I used to do because of the panic attacks. For me the worst part is driving, when I have to drive I just get paralyzed and menatlly prepare myself. I do it, but i am very self aware and very alert to everything and everyone driving. And breathe in and out, very consciously. Trying to beat this as a SAHM with two kids has not been easy, but I find comfort in praying, writing, talking, reading (about anxiety and light novels) and exercising (yoga and 1 hour a day treadmill). I try to focus in the here and now and whenever I find myself overthinking I try to focus on whatever I am doing, even on the smell of the diswashing liquid. I have found this to be useful as I start paying attention to my thoughts and sometimes find what triggered the anxiety or the panic attack. I focus on things I have to do today and try not to think about tomorrow or the future, today is all that matters. I send you a hug and I know that you will beat this. Stay strong!

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    1. Oh, Mariella, I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle and about the way it has affected your last year. You are such a courageous woman. Thank you for your suggestions. I think self-care is crucial when it comes to anxiety. Even if others give you a hard time or don’t understand your needs, I think it’s so important to do what you can to minimize stress and anxiety on the level you can so you can be better equipped to handle the stress and anxiety that come from elsewhere. Imagine me sending you a hug back. Thank you so much for your kindness and compassion and for sharing your story. Grace and peace.

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  12. As someone with anxiety, you described it perfectly. I’m on medication now, so it’s calmed down a bit. But it still gets rough at times. I had people telling me to “pray more” and “God never gives us more than we can handle”. It just made me feel worse. I wish I had some amazing advice to offer, instead all I can do is tell you that you’re not alone.

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    1. Thank you, Danielle. I’m so sorry to hear that you struggle with anxiety too. I agree that so often when I have a problem people giving advice in the form of pre-packaged little aphorisms feels like they are downplaying what you are experiencing – even if what they are saying is true. I really appreciate your support and knowing that you understand.

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  13. Lily,

    I have decided you and I would be great friends in real life! I enjoy your book recommendations and your posts about your adventures. Anyway, just want to say thank you for writing about your struggle with anxiety. I have struggled with it too, due to a traumatic loss at a fairly young age. It IS so much more than being stressed or over-dramatic and it’s hard to explain to other people. I feel like my explanations always fall flat and words can’t do it any justice. So it’s refreshing to read the perspective of another Christian young adult! Thanks again!

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    1. Emma, thanks so much for sharing. I love finding kindred spirits in unexpected places! I’m sorry to hear about your traumatic loss. I hope you can find some comfort knowing that you are not alone in fighting against this, even if it seems like so many people around you don’t understand. 🙂 Grace and peace.

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  14. “…either way and both ways they make you feel more alone.”
    I know that feeling. Anxiety always seems so trivial to those who’ve not suffered through its torture.

    I hope the act of writing this worked to bring you relief and you find other such methods to bring peace.

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  15. This has to be the most vivid, personal, and honest description for anxiety I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Your strength is truly remarkable, being able to seek God’s peace even when science tells you otherwise. Your words are so encouraging. My prayers go to you!

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  16. Oh my!! This could have been me talking! You are much braver than I am because I am unable to talk about it- my lack of control over it embarrasses me- maybe it’s the reason behind the anxiety (although sometimes I can’t find one) but probably just the fact that I rarely overcome! Thank you for giving words to the way I feel- you are a blessing!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. Honestly, sometimes there isn’t a reason for anxiety. Sometimes there’s a spiritual element, a lack of faith perhaps, that can make it worse, but I honestly believe that some of us have a physical wiring that leans into anxiety without our choosing it and without our permission. And it can be very isolating because those who don’t experience it see it as something we should be able to control. And often, we can’t. We can learn and practice techniques to help us manage the anxiety, but we may not ever be able to stop ourselves from experiencing it. You are not alone, friend!

      Liked by 1 person

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