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  • Writer's pictureJen Weaver

What is my anxiety at church trying to tell me?

For a long time, I experienced situational fear and anxiety at church. I didn't know that my anxiety was trying to tell me something -- it was pointing me toward needed healing and change.

Art by Sabrina Peterson

Have you ever experienced an out-of-control reaction that seems to come from out of nowhere? Logically, you know that how you are responding to a given situation isn't normal. And it's pretty apparent to everyone else, too. But when what you know doesn't change how you feel or react, it can be disheartening. It's embarrassing to admit, but I used to experience this all the time. In some situations, I became like a child. I couldn't control my reactions. I didn't know that my "breakdowns" were actually signs of a coming breakthrough. Consider #9 of "Signs Your Mental Breakdown is Actually an Emotional Breakthrough:"

You're experiencing feelings and fears you had when you were a kid. It's all coming back up to the surface, and what you're realizing is that it was never really gone in the first place. The thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and feelings you kept tucked away were silently guiding your life. You just didn't know.

- Brianna Wiest

There were a LOT of ideas, beliefs and feelings silently guiding my life, and no, I didn't know. I also didn't know that they were from childhood. They had been with me for so long, I couldn't really remember anything else.

When intense reactions repeatedly come from out of "nowhere," and during events that others consider only mildly upsetting, it may be helpful to know that you may be experiencing an emotional trigger. "Triggered! Oh, he's triggered!" I heard my teens use that as a funny punchline for years, without thinking about what it really meant.

So, what is a trigger?

A trigger is something that causes an automatic response in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

- Emotional Resilience for Self-Reliance Workbook for Facilitators, "Responding to Triggers," pages 36-37.

In the workbook mentioned above, a list of questions is given to help identify where, when, and with whom our triggers may be taking place. Here are the questions:

  • What moods do I struggle with the most?

  • What days of the week or times of day are hardest for me?

  • What types of people are difficult for me to be around?

  • What situations or events are most difficult for me?

  • What are a few triggers that occur repeatedly in my life?

So, thinking of the triggers that occur repeatedly in your life, now ask yourself this:

  • How do I feel because of that?

  • How do I usually react?

  • What's another way I can respond?

For some, the exercise ends here -- it's a "knowledge is power" kind of thing. But for others, (like me), this is just the beginning. The years I struggled, I didn't have access to this information, but I went through similar mental exercises to try and understand (and control) my reactions. I thought logically about my reactions and what spurred them, prayed, wrote in my journal, regularly went to sacred places of worship, and sought out blessings of comfort. Change would come, but it was always followed by a snap back to where I'd started. After 15 years, I sought out counseling. Number #12 in that same essay, "Signs Your Mental Breakdown is Actually an Emotional Breakthrough," sums up what all of this was leading to:

You've decided you're not going to be the victim of your own mind anymore. People don't have breakdowns unless they are on the precipices of "breakthroughs." Breakdowns --or any kind of intense mental-emotional turmoil -- are always a sign that things are in the process of changing. Otherwise, they'd just be "normal." You're done accepting your old "normal," and you're onto bigger, better, brighter things.

It is true. When this is happening, you ARE onto bigger, better, and brighter things. You ARE ready to ditch ideas, beliefs, and feelings that are not serving you well. If arming yourself with more understanding through the questions and exercises outlined in this article helps you disarm your triggers, that is great! If uncontrollable reactions are still getting in the way of the life you want, that's okay too. Feelings aren't "bad," they just repeat themselves until we listen. There may be more extensive work to get to the root of what's going on, but you are not alone.

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