How to calm anxious thoughts

How to calm anxious thoughts

Written on 01/11/2020
Katie Pezzutto

Written by Katie Pezzutto

As a student in middle school, I wore the same sweater almost every day. This practice was, in the eyes of my fellow students, not cool. At the time I was stricken with indecision. Should I reveal my pudgy self or don the fraying yet fantastically concealing sweater? Either way, I found myself lonely and disregarded by my peers.

Fast forward to Grade 10. I lost a ton of weight and bought expensive clothes. That year, being noticed was easy. Whenever I walked the hallway at lunch, I felt eyes on me and soaked in the attention like a thirsty sponge. I had friends to eat lunch with and parties to go to. Despite my confident appearance, I was empty and beyond fragile, clinging to affirmation like my life depended on it.

My confused soul used anxious thoughts to keep me afloat; as far as I understood, anxiety helped me foresee issues to come. It kept me safe. 

At that point, years of exclusion had taught me a couple of things. If I did not look or act a certain way, I would be rejected. My value was tied to perfect looks. If I performed well I would fit in. That was that. Because of this nasty belief, I threw up before school and stared at myself in the mirror dozens of times in a day.

Eventually I let those thoughts starve me. Quite literally. My efforts to stay skinny landed me in an eating disorders unit. The months at the hospital were lonely. My friends stopped visiting me as I was “too much to handle.” Sitting in a quiet room, waves of anxiety washed over me. My fearful thoughts—which I had used to control my dysfunctional universe—had flipped the tables. Instead of comforting and bringing peace, they forced my life onto a delicate tightrope between life and death. 

Years later I have overcome the eating disorder. However, I still struggle with a gargantuan need to excel. The idol shed its skin, morphed into a different ideology, and perched its deadweight self on my shoulder. In a world that thrives on excellence and financial rewards, work became an easy substitute for looks. When staff, coworkers, and superiors aren’t pleased with me, my countenance sinks under the weight of my failure. I use heavy thoughts as anchors, tossing one after another in an attempt to calm the stormy outlook of my mind. I have allowed these thoughts to become my source of protection and comfort. 

This morning I suffered a rejection based on my performance. My frenzied mind was a flurry of crashing waves. After mindlessly deliberating on my to-do list and letting gut-wrenching thoughts overtake me, I stopped. The thoughts were doing nothing but making life miserable.

God has a plan, an outlook, and a love for me I will never understand. I wrapped my shaking shoulders with my fuzzy blanket and poured my overwhelmed heart out to Jesus. While sitting with Him, He reminded me of something: anxiety isn’t a new concept. Thousands of years ago, it was a reality. An important reality that Jesus lived through.

He didn’t sit on a patch of perfect Judean grass, spread His bronzed arms, and declare, “Be holy and everything will work out.” Nah, Jesus sweat blood because he was so anxious. Known today as hematidrosis, Jesus’s rare condition happens when the recipient experiences so much anguish that their capillaries burst and drip through their sweat glands.

For a long time, I thought Jesus sweat blood because of the torturous death He was about to endure. While the thought of dying, understandably, may have contributed to the nerves, it was more than that. His distress came from being rejected by the Love He had known before time existed. As our sins crushed His soul like mountains of rotting trash, the close bond between Father and Son was also ripped away from Jesus.

He experienced anxiety, more extreme than we ever will, so ours could be calmed. That’s so ironic, so gracious, so God.