My Journey with Anxiety

I had my first panic attack in August 2009. The previous two years were by far my busiest to date. It all started with my decision to leave the television studio job I had worked in since graduating from college six years prior. It was an incredibly difficult decision to leave and resulted in a series of changes that continued on for several years thereafter.

First, I started working a new job full-time in conjunction with starting full-time graduate school, where I studied Clinical Psychology, a subject I had no prior experience in. Additionally, I started dating a guy who would later become my fiance and then husband, all within the span of 17 months. We got married during Christmas break and came back from our honeymoon the day before I started my last semester of grad school (which also happened to be the same day we moved into our new apartment together). Our lives were blissfully chaotic. Grad school was filled with the difficult task of self-reflection throughout the many papers we had to write, along with being required to participate in 30 hours of personal counseling. I quit my job and started another part-time job where I got to work in the field I was studying and completed practicum hours doing therapy on college students, an equally draining and exhilarating experience. Life just didn’t stop moving. Days, weeks and months were long – good yet long – and at the same time, they flew by.

In August of 2009, my body, mind, emotions, they all gave out on me. Out of the blue I started experiencing panic attacks. If you have ever experienced a panic attack, you know that the effects are continually compounding. You not only deal with the panic itself, but you also must face the fear that another one might occur. Will you be out in public and begin to panic? Would you begin to feel trapped in the middle of a conversation and start to panic out of the blue?

A panic attack is a physiological response to an emotional stressor. For many, the stressor is identifiable – perhaps a fear of flying could bring on a panic attack. Or public speaking. Or a social situation. For me, the panic never fit the situation. It would occur at times I otherwise felt perfectly safe. I would panic among the company of close friends or coworkers. Or out grocery shopping, something I in no way feared or dreaded. They came out of no where.

I ultimately realized they were the result of an accumulation of two years worth of stresses I hadn’t dealt with. I never grieved the loss of a job I held during the formative years of my working life. I never grieved the loss of my singleness, something I had yearned for years to part with and yet once I did, I found myself missing at times. I never slowed down long enough to appreciate my newlywed status because the moment the honeymoon was over, it was back to the grind again.

Accepting change has never been my strong suit. But at no point in my life have I dealt with it in the way I did that summer of 2009.

My panic attacks lasted about a month. My boss, a pastoral counselor, felt I needed a time of rest after the chaos of the previous two years. She gave me a week off work with pay so I could unplug from the world and take it easy. I gladly took her up on it. I also decided, after much resistance, to try an anti-anxiety medication. I have suffered from anxiety my entire life but I had always been able to manage it. It never stopped me from participating in anything – work, relationships – anything. But the panic attacks scared me. They began to make me doubt whether I wanted to leave the house. Home felt safer. Home wasn’t scary. I never had a panic attack there so it was still a safe place. But as grateful as I was that home was my safe haven, becoming a hermit was not me. I missed getting outside and hanging out with friends and quite frankly – being happy.

The medicine started kicking in after a few weeks and I began feeling like myself again. When I look back on that time in my life, it feels like such a small blip on the radar but back then it was the hardest thing I had ever dealt with. It wasn’t all bad though. I can see that now. For one, it  deepened my husband’s and my relationship early on. It also changed me forever. It changed my perspective on mental illness. The fact that I have always been a worrier and tend to see the world through “poop-colored glasses” as my hubby tells me, is a direct result of my anxiety. It’s nice to have a name for the nebulous, negative feelings I have always known were within me. I have also adopted a new understanding of the benefits of psychotropic drugs. Why they are viewed differently than any other medicine that assists with chronic illnesses is beyond me. When I got on them to alleviate my panic attacks five years ago, they benefited me far beyond the isolated attacks. They also helped regulate my generalized anxiety. I stopped obsessing over things that were out of my control. I found myself viewing the world more positively. They increased my overall sense of well-being and I felt differently than I had my entire life.

I stayed on the anti-anxiety meds for two years, at which point I decided to wean off them. I knew that having a child could potentially bring up new dimensions of both specific and generalized anxiety and told my OBGYN before Ainsley was born that I may request a prescription again at some point. Shortly after A’s six month birthday I made that request. I have stopped obsessing over the many possible things that could happen to Miss A – choking, getting sick, being in an accident etc. I feel free from the trap that is anxiety – a straight jacket I have lived in for so many years.

It is also extremely important to me that I don’t pass on my anxiety to her. Sure, she may inherit it genetically, but the last thing I want to do is freak out about every little thing she does and cause her to become overly fearful in life. I pray that she views life as an adventure – full of opportunity, not obstacles, and that she does not become stuck playing and replaying worrisome thoughts in her head. That she would dream of the possibilities in her future and not dread change like I do. I desire to be the best mom I can be and that means being the best person I can be – optimistic, encouraging and ideally, not a helicopter parent, a role I would likely fall into quite naturally if left to my own devices.

Recently Jake sent me an article he found online about secondary drowning risks for kids. We hadn’t heard of it and were surprised to read the warnings as summer approached and we eagerly awaited going swimming with our daughter. He told me after he sent it that he was shocked at how well I responded, thinking I would mull it over constantly and catastrophize each cough or other incident A might experience in the pool. I have to admit, I did handle this new found knowledge well. There are plenty of scary things that could happen in this world but there are plenty of beautiful things too. I am going to choose to focus on those instead.

My sweet baby covered in a rash from her amoxicillin allergy. We conquered her first double ear infection, 102.7 fever and rash. Go us!

My sweet baby covered in a rash from her amoxicillin allergy. We conquered her first double ear infection, 102.7 fever and rash. Go us!

The themes of our lives…

I’ve been noticing a reoccurring theme in my life recently. This has happened before where a conversation, will spark a memory of something I read the previous week, and perhaps heard in a sermon that weekend or overheard at work or all of the above. You catch my drift. It’s the same message over and over from, like, 10 different sources.

Be present.

As per my normal M.O., when I first noticed this, I immediately began to think of everyone in my life that needed to ponder that phrase “be present.” The message I was receiving though, loud and clear, was that I was the one that needed to consider it. Just me. Sigh.

If you have been reading Habit-Forming Success for a while, you have probably picked up on the fact that maintaining a calm demeanor in periods of high-stress or transition is not my strong suit. It’s ironic actually that I can sit in a room with someone else talking about their anxieties and be perfectly fine; even having something to helpful to offer in the process. But “therapizing” myself? Much more difficult.

Being present and consistently feeling anxious are completely contradictory. The most common phrase you’ll ever hear an anxious person say is what if? What if is all about the future and everything that could potentially go wrong. It takes you out of  the present and moves you into a world that has not yet occurred.

So message #11 in my life on the topic of being present is below, written by a very wise and insightful guy, who also happens to be one of the pastors at my church. Something more to think about…

I admitted to feeling occasionally very angry to a friend a few days ago. He responded, “. . .anger is a product of fear. What do you fear?”

It’s a great question. In the midst of feeling like something outside ourselves needs to change, or else, what if we sincerely asked, “what am I afraid of?”

Anxiety is very rarely based on something that IS happening. It’s always what might happen. What happened long ago that we don’t want repeated. What should be happening but isn’t. In truth, there’s nothing less present and alert to the reality of this moment than anxiety. We bring it into adulthood from the ashes of childhood. It serves as a shield against the threat of pain – with the unfortunate side effect of shielding against joy in the bargain. After time, fear normalizes. As though becoming part of our DNA, a mutation from longterm exposure to our family’s non-specific, general angst. It doesn’t do anything helpful. Much the opposite. But we’re so used to having it we can’t imagine life without it.

“…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” -James 1:20, NASB  

Faith in Christ is as much about disbelief as belief. And today Christ invites you and I to disbelieve our fear and anger. To become at least skeptical about the efficacy of being upset. I’m persuaded that Christ isn’t trying to get us “righteously angry”, or upset about right things versus the silly things of our former life. Christ invites us into freedom, and free people have no fear. Free people don’t argue to get others to agree or conform. Free people aren’t angry, because they understand what Dallas Willard understood; “There is nothing that can be done with anger that cannot be done better without it.” (The Divine Conspiracy).

Here’s to freedom.

Here’s to peace. 

Steve Daugherty

Teaching Pastor



The storm before the sunshine

Is it just me or does it seem like a serious buzz-kill always occurs after officially deciding to do something BIG! Or when the excitement you’re feeling seems to be at its boiling point and you’re about to burst with passion and joy, BAM , you feel like you’ve fallen to the bottom of a pit and aren’t sure how you’re going to pull yourself out.

I remember running back in high school and how often my mind would drag me through more mud and potholes than the cross country course ever would! Mental bruises would form as runners would race past me even though it felt like I was a shoe-in to beat them. Or the worst was when it would take everything in me to run up a hill – running the entire race was a huge value on our team; we did not walk no matter what! But then one of our competitors who would walk up the tough hills, would get a burst of energy on the downhill and fly past us which seemed so unfair! It was a running race after all.

This stuff happens all the time! And the more you care about you’re doing… the more painful it is when setbacks occur.

We can’t allow our minds to let the hard stuff take us further and further down a rabbit trail of negative thinking… we have to be committed to fighting for what we know is BEST.

Here are some reminders to go back to when you feel like your excitement has been taken down a few notches and you’re fighting off feelings of discouragement:

1)      Be patient. Just because you’ve made a decision and you are excited about it doesn’t mean you’ve “arrived”. Big dreams require a lot of work, time and energy and more often than not, a lot needs to happen before the dream can become a reality. Don’t give up if things move slower than you originally thought they would.

2)      Keep your eye on the prize. Actors and actresses get rejected left and right before they ever book a gig. But the ones that “make it” stay focused on becoming a star. The more you focus more on the end than the ups and downs along the way, the harder it will be to keep the finish line in view. Focus there instead!

3)      The why is far more important than the how. It’s hard to know exactly what route you’ll ultimately take to get to your final destination. But never lose sight of why you’re doing it to begin with. This is your purpose and it will drive you to the finish line!!



Facebook: Friend or Foe?

Do all people have a secret desire to feel bad about themselves?

My hubby sent me an article yesterday addressing the question, “Is Facebook making us lonely?” I have been trying for hours to read said article but it is not loading. As I continue in my attempts to open and read it, I have been thinking…

While Facebook is a popular boredom-busting activity… it also provides more than we bargain for. I have heard from many people, as well as read research studies and experienced firsthand how Facebook has a tendency to produce the opposite response in which it intends. The goal of social networking is accomplished, yes, by helping old friends reconnect, allowing people to put needs out into the internet universe and find out about job opportunities, decide which jogging stroller is best and share news of engagements, pregnancies and the like.


Does all this Facebook stalking ultimately cause more harm than good? It can definitely be said that Facebook accomplishes what it intends… it’s just that it accomplishes more and the more is not necessarily good.

A PhD student at Stanford University did a research study last year, looking at college students and their moods. The Anti Social Network describes the findings and states subjects consistently underestimated how dejected others were–and likely wound up feeling more dejected as a result. Facebook perpetuates this problem. Actually we all perpetuate this problem on Facebook with our ultra-cheery status updates, perfected Intstagram pics and desire to show off our best side only to the public. We want people to think our lives are all good.

The truth is many of the people posting about their seemingly perfect lives have blah days too. It’s not like we don’t know this of course and yet somehow we forget that as we’re drooling over the delicious recipes our friends are making and feeling lazy for not working out as much as them.

Comparing oneself to others is a mind game and it results in nothing positive.

  1. For starters, it is based on a false reality. Looking at Facebook for example, the happiness-factor is bumped up a few notches on most people pages. So the life you are comparing yours to is not necessarily represented accurately. Even in a non-Facebook setting, we can never fully understand the lives other people lead so to compare is to make assumptions that may or may not be true. We all know what happens when we assume.
  2. Comparing contradicts gratefulness. Being grateful brings about contentment and joy whereas comparing keeps you focused on what you don’t have.
  3. Comparing is a trap. It gets you stuck and keeps you from looking at your goals, your relationships, your present and future. It keeps you running an uphill battle where you will never feel good enough.

So why do we do it? There is an instinct in all of us to compare to some degree. But Facebook stalking is intentional. Is it curiosity that keeps us going back? Is it a desire deep within us to see if we are measuring up?

I’d love to know your thoughts!

Are you an emotional eater?

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I recently recorded a video on emotional eating with the fabulous health and fitness expert, Diana Antholis. It was a blast partnering with her on this project!

Some of you may be wondering whether this topic applies to you… What it comes down to is, do you eat because you’re hungry or do you eat for other reasons? 

Think through these questions…

1) Does your hunger seem to come on quickly or gradually? If you answered “quickly” it may be related to an event or emotion. Ask yourself, “what was I thinking/feeling when I decided to eat?” Did something stressful just happen? Were you bored?

2) Do you stop eating when you’re full? If not, you may be trying to fill a void.

3) Do you find yourself craving specific foods? When we eat for emotional reasons we tend to crave comfort foods… ice cream, pizza, fast food and the like.

4) Do you feel guilty after you eat? Is it because you weren’t really hungry to begin with? Is it because you overate? Our bodies are fueled by food, so there is no reason to feel guilty when we eat. If you do, you may have been eating for the wrong reasons.

5) Can your desire to eat be satisfied elsewhere? If you suspect you might be eating for the wrong reasons try something else instead. Diana brought up a great idea in the video to replace the emotion you may be lacking with another activity that specifically addresses that need. For example, if you are craving love, instead of turning to food, turn to a friend. If you are bored, participate in an activity.

Check out the Emotional Eating Tips and Techniques for more information and some helpful strategies to start working through this issue!

“Leave the Past in the Past and Move Forward Toward the Future”

Consider this part 3 of my posts on nostalgia…

Leave the Past in the Past and Move Forward Toward the Future!


How to stop living in the past and get on with your life! Part 2


I want to take a brief hiatus from the Leadership series to do Part 2 of last month’s post, “How to stop living in the past and get on with your life.” Have you ever been so full of thoughts and “ah has” that you felt like you were going to burst? (And I don’t mean to build this up because it’s a lot bigger in my own mind I think than it is in reality). Anywho… here’s what’s rolling around in my mind today:

Last night I saw “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen’s new movie. Normally I am not a huge Woody Allen fan… his movies are a bit too slow for my taste and I think a tad too “artsy.” (Let me put it this way – as far as I’m concerned, “Hangover 2” is this summer’s best movie. My taste is not too sophisticated). If you plan on seeing “Midnight in Paris” skip the italicized paragraph below because I’m about to get into plot details!!

Gil (played by Owen Wilson) and his fiancé, Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) are visiting Paris with Inez’s parents. It’s pretty clear from the start that Inez and Gil aren’t exactly a match made in heaven. Inez is focused on living the good life while Gil is a bit more interested in honing his craft. Although he has made a good living as a writer in Hollywood, his real goal is to publish a novel. Much to Inez’s dismay this could mean giving up their luxurious lifestyle and struggling a bit. One of the many differences between Gil and Inez is that Inez is focused on the present whereas Gil is nostalgic for the past and completely fascinated by the lives of his heroes, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemmingway among others, as well as the whole social scene in 1920’s Paris. Gil has to really confront this “grass is greener on the other side” perception throughout the movie and grapple with the question, “Would life really be better if he was living in the past?”

Gil makes some incredibly astute observations throughout the movie. If this is an issue you struggle with I highly encourage you to check out the film.

Although I don’t dream of the past nearly as much as I used to, those feelings do crop up from time to time. Today was one of those days. I was walking across the Duke campus and the landscape was just beautiful and peaceful. There were a few students milling about but it was far less crowded than when school is in session. I saw a couple of families attempting to find their way around, both with what looked like college-aged daughters. It reminded me so much of my own college visits with my parents and how nervous, yet excited I felt.

For a moment, I wished I could go back. Rewind time 10 – well, more like 15 years now… sheesh! College was such a fun time with friends, learning, football games, sorority socials and newfound freedom!

But then it hit me! My memories of college are clouded by the maturity and contentment I have gained throughout my twenties and now into my early thirties. What I mean is, I am no longer that insecure, young teenager in search of something bigger and better in life, unsure of what I wanted or who I was… I have grown up a bit (Praise God)! Back when I was in college I had question upon question about life. I hadn’t yet met my awesome husband, hadn’t yet experienced the growing pains that seemed to characterize my twenties and yet shape me into who I am now. And the person I am today, allows me to look back on that time feeling more complete and content… because that is the person I am now. But that is not the person I was then.

I guess what It really goes back to are those rose-colored lenses we often find ourselves viewing life through. We view things of the past, as the people we are today and that changes things. Life seems rosier because I am … well, rosier. :)

This may contradict the theory that we look to the past because we are not content with the present. But I don’t think so. They both can be true and they both have been true in my life.

Sorry for the brief digression from the Leadership series. We’ll continue with that next time! Any thoughts on these ramblings? (Do they even make sense)?

Day 18 – Surviving the end of a relationship

Whether divorce or a terrible breakup, the pain is intense. What makes the pain even worse is when you have to continue seeing the person who broke your heart on a regular basis, rubbing salt in the already sensitive wound. Some people feel shame for taking the end of their relationship so hard… feeling like they shouldn’t have gotten so attached, or they should have seen it coming etc. No matter what, the end of something you care deeply about it going to hurt! BAD!

I dated a guy in my mid-20’s for just a few months but I fell head over heels. For some reason I got it in my head that he was “the one.” Pretty much NOTHING in our relationship indicated that, but it had been so long since I had fallen for someone that I guess I just assumed that this must be it! It didn’t matter what he said to me, how he treated me, I was convinced. When we broke up I felt like my world was ending. My perception of relationships, love, God, the world… everything… seemed blurry.  How could this happen? Who was I? How could I have been so off-base?

I have also worked with women dealing with divorce in groups and in an individual counseling setting. The pain runs deep. The questioning even deeper. The betrayal of someone you thought you knew so well is devestating.

Most of us can relate in some capacity to the grieving felt due to the loss of a loved one. Here are some things you may experience and how to work through them:

  • Questions, questions, questions! How could I have missed it? How could I have fallen for him/her in the first place? What now? I read an amazing book called Life after Loss after my mother-in-law died. The author, Bob Deits, made a great point regarding the questions we ask after loss. They typically start as “Why?” Why me? Why now? etc. and eventually turn into “How?” How can I move on? How can I get past this? etc. The “Why?” questions are a normal part of the initial stages of grief. But when you get into the “How?” questions you know you’re making progress. The “How?” questions indicate a desire to move forward in life whereas the “Why?” questions tend to keep us stuck.


  • Emotional Rollar Coaster Ride: Your emotions feel totally out of control during grief. You may be happy and laughing when suddenly something strikes a chord within you that makes you want to cry. Just flow with the wave of emotions. Don’t try to stop them. If you are at work and need to step outside for a moment to collect yourself, so be it. Dr Phil said the following about the emotions we experience during  grief:

                          ‘Initially, you may feel as though you’re living in a fog, simply going through the motions of day-to-day life as if on autopilot,’ Dr.  Phil says. You may cry so much that your eyes feel parched. It’s OK to spend days where you do nothing but cry. Or, you may be surprised to find that you’re not crying at all. Neither reaction is right or wrong; it just is. If the latter is the case, you may feel a surge of guilt wondering why you can’t even eke out a tear for someone you cared so much about. The spectrum of emotions that you may experience is huge. It can range from shock and numbness, to fear and panic, to anger and resentment.


  • The “I want to be alone” / “I need support” Conflict:  You may want to bury yourself under the covers and stay in bed 24/7 but what you really need is support! Allow your community to gather around you encourage you during the rough moments rather than avoiding people. Lean into your friends, family and God. I have also seen people be incredibly encouraged through involvement  in a more formal support group. What’s great about groups is that you are surrounded by people who are in a similar situation as you. You understand each other in a different way than the other people in your life do. Don’t hide!

I do an entire series on this topic (and maybe I will one day)! But for now… as we discuss all the ins and outs and ups and downs of relationships… unfortunately relationships ending is sometimes a part of our journeys. :( Hope this is helpful.

Day 15 – Don’t lose yourself!

So often we throw ourselves in to our relationships only to find that when they end, it’s like WE have ended too! “Who am I without (insert ex’s name)?” You are still YOU! With out without him/her!

This applies to marriage too. It’s a fine line. On the one hand you want to give it your “all” (this does not mean sell yourself like a slave to your spouse – it does mean be “all in” emotionally though). On the other hand, you still need to have boundaries and interests outside the marriage.

As mentioned previously in the series (Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3), guys and girls are just different! (Can I get an amen?)! We have different needs and it is crucial to continuing getting our needs met in the best way possible, despite being madly in love.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately… My brilliant hubby is in law school at Duke. Right now he’s in the middle of finals, before that he was in the middle of moot court competition and after finals he’ll be involved in the big writing competion on campus. It never ends! We just moved out to North Carolina in August and have been pretty dependent on each other for a while now as we’re just getting to know our new community here. But now with school in full swing, he constantly has stuff going on (and he’s actually the introverted one between us)! I am craving contact with people! So here’s my other dilemna: I met some fabulous girlfriends from the law school who I would love to hang out with while my husband is busy… but the problem is, they are all busy with the exact same things! It’s a pickle.

So it’s gotten me thinking… I need to reaquaint myself with… myself! I actually do have hobbies and interests outside of just hanging out with him (although that’s my favorite extra curricular activity)! My husband’s crazy schedule would never have hit me as hard as it has, if I had more of my own stuff going on!

Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to turn over a new leaf and remember all of the things I love doing apart from my husband. I didn’t marry him till I turned 30 for crying out so I had plenty of time to figure out me first! Here is what I am remembering about myself:

* I love to workout! I just feel better when I exercise and now that I have more time, I am trying to work out 3-5 days a week.

* I love to cook. One of my goals for the summer is to perfect a salsa/pico de gallo recipe.

* I love to read. After grad school I could hardly bring myself to pick up a book and read it for fun… I was so over it! But now, some time has passed and I am rediscovering my love of reading.

* I love God, friends and family. While my friends here are busy I can focus on maintaining my relationships from home, skype with the fam and spend quiet times with God.

* I love to volunteer. Recently I have been volunteering some coaching hours and I’d like to add some more volunteering to my schedule as well.

It is CRUCIAL to maintain a sense of self even while in relationship! Remember all the things you love to do, remember your close friends and family and just know… if things ever go downhill with your special someone (either a nasty fight or a even breakup), your friends are gonna be the ones there to comfort you!

Day 21 – Be a Better Thinker

Some final thoughts as we wrap up the series on Healthy Thinking… Again, as always I hope it’s been helpful. I welcome all feedback and any questions you might have as well. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me via my contact page. My newsletter comes out on a monthly basis (I will NOT inundate you with emails every day)! and I also provide great resources and info there as well!

To wrap up, I want to provide some resources to help you on your journey towards Healthier Thinking:

1) Stress Less CD by Dr. Jennifer Fee and Dr. Diana Walcutt. Dr. Fee is a former professor of mine and the purpose of the CD is to facilitate relaxation for the body and mind. Dr. Fee is the Cognitive-Behavioral guru as far as I’m concerned!

2) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies. I have not read this one but I do feel that the “For Dummies” books tend to offer easy explanations and some great info on all kinds of topics. If the discussions about CBT have intrigued you check out this book!

3) National Association of  Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists. This site provides general information about CBT.

4) Adult Children. This is a great book that correlates so well with the content of this series. Some of it has to do with growing up in an alcoholic home and the repercussions of that kind of childhood, BUT, it provides great info for those of us who did not as well! Why do the rest of us struggle with perfectionism, feeling unlovable, overeating or striving, striving, striving to be “good enough?” We all struggle with different things and this book provides some easy-to-read, easy-to-understand explanations. I have recommended this book to MANY people whohave found it quite helpful.

5) Changes That Heal. This is another great book! I would recommend a lot of Cloud & Townsend’s books actually because they are easy-to-understand, pretty quick reads for the most part and packed with great information!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions!

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