“Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”(1 Peter 5:7, NAB)
I lay on the floor of my room, staring up at the ceiling as I focused on centering my shallow breaths. Deep in the recesses of my anxious brain, I pulled out the words from Fr. Don Dolindo’s Surrender Novena.
“O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”
I gripped the leg post of my bed in an attempt to hold onto something steady and grounded, fearing I might pass out without something to hold onto. I tried not to think about the terror I felt over the rise of another panic attack that had come, seemingly out of nowhere.
I wanted desperately to believe those words of surrender but for now, they were only words, rolling unconsciously off my tongue as the rest of my body shook and quaked. I felt as if I might die as my vision blurred in and out, chest constricting, head pounding. A mixture of fear and anger coursed through me at the lack of control I had over my own body, how panic could overcome me in an instant, without warning. At least I was home, so many other times I was not, having to excuse myself from social gatherings to a bathroom or car until the attack subsided.
My breath finally steadied after about an hour, the words from the novena still repeating on my lips as I forced myself to get up and continue my day.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
“Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting forty million adults in the United States age eighteen and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.”ADAA, 2018
I am one of many who suffer from anxiety. My anxiety and panic attacks began shortly after beginning college two years ago and have lasted with me into the present day. I have tried numerous approaches to combat my anxiety including counseling, medication, breathing techniques, exercise and good eating. These approaches have helped in various degrees but none have been able to alleviate my anxiety completely.
As a Catholic, in my early search for mental stability and peace following the start of my panic attacks, I turned to Scripture, wanting to rely on my faith to strengthen and sustain me. In my reading I became familiar with the well-known Scripture:
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6-7, NAB
While Scripture reading helped motivate me to overcome my anxiety, I was still left seeking practical faith-related steps I could incorporate into my day-to-day living to help in my battle against anxiety. One Christmas I received a magnet reading:
“Don’t think about how stressed you are, but instead how blessed you are.”
I longed to make that mantra a reality and began seeking out small acts of faith I could turn to.
1. Surrender Novena
I was introduced to the surrender novena by my mother. Novenas are nine-day prayers said for a particular intention. An example of an early “novena” is in the book of Acts when the disciples pray in the Upper Room for nine days before the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For my mother and I, the surrender novena was a way to come together for nine days to read and reflect on the surrender message that Jesus imparted to Fr. Dolindo, an Italian priest, living in the early twentieth century. This was the first novena I prayed and long after the nine-days were over I continued to recite the main response:
“O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.”
In my own experience, I have found novenas to help in combatting my anxious desire for control as a nine-day novena gives routine to prayer life in one being committed to a specific prayer for nine days and gives a restless mind something continuous to focus on. The surrender novena, in particular, helps me to continually hand over all aspects of my life to the Lord, especially in times when I find myself in distress or fear.
2. Car Rosary & Divine Mercy Chaplet
When I am on the road and a wave of anxiety hits me, I have started relying on the Rosary. I use a single-decade rosary instead of the full set so as not to be too cumbered while driving and the single-decade fits easily in my hand. Even if I do not have the beads on hand, I still recite the words of the Rosary aloud. The repetition and remembering to move my fingers over the beads helps center me as I invoke the presence of the Blessed Mother to help calm my breathing. I have found it is nearly impossible to be in a panic and pray the Rosary at the same time. As well, I will sometimes sing the Divine Mercy Chaplet response:
“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
I sing the chaplet when I find myself dejected by anxiety as I find my emotions become much more joyous while singing.
3. Saint Station
Another way I have found to combat anxiety is by utilizing my surroundings. Anxiety likes to confuse what is real with what is imagined, but by being able to hold onto or look upon a physical image or object greatly helps me to feel grounded again whenever anxiety arises. I would recommend picking a favorite saint, perhaps one related to anxiety such as St. Dymphna, and then setting up a little station of prayer in a room of the house. I chose St. Jude who is the patron saint of hopeless causes. On my dresser, I have a statue of the saint, a small candle, a wooden Cross, and a St. Jude prayer card. When I get anxious and I am at home, I light the candle, hold the Cross in my hand or stare up at the statue or read from the prayer card. All of these actions force me to reconnect with the world around me instead of losing myself to panic or stress.
4. Offering up Prayers for Others
When I am out and about or in a social setting where I do not have immediate access to a rosary or to my saint station, I rely on praying for those around me. If I am out with others and feel stress rising, I pick a person out in the room and silently offer up a prayer for that person. If I am driving and see someone crossing the street in front of me, I pray for them. This action helps me to remember that I am not alone but part of a larger community of people who I can support and who can support me as well. Anxiety makes you think you are alone but praying for others is a reminder that we are not alone.
5. Remember Love
Once at confession as I complained about my anxiety and how much I felt it defined me and held me back from a life of trust and faith that I wanted to have in Christ, the priest told me to sit silently for five minutes and meditate on God’s love for me as my penance. The biggest lie of anxiety is that you are unworthy of love or that you are a “burden” to others because of your anxiety. Calling to mind God’s love for you gives the kind of confidence you need to rest in peace and assurance that you will be OK because you are forever loved and cared for by God. So many verses in the Bible talk about love, so many saints talk about love, and the sacraments speak of the love of Christ for us all but often in a wave of anxiety, God’s immeasurable love for us despite our circumstance does not take center stage in our minds. Taking but even a few moments to think about God’s immeasurable love for me does wonders in melting away all of my anxiety.
I hope that one or more of these five actions of faith helps you both to combat your own stress and anxiety while growing closer to a God who loves you.
“Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7
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Allison DeBoer is a Washington native and longtime parishioner at St. Vincent De Paul Parish in Federal Way where she serves as a lector and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at Mass. She worked in her college writing center for four years and graduated from Seattle Pacific University in 2019, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English creative writing. She works as the benefits assistant for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. Her work has been published in Our Sunday Visitor and Radiant Magazine. She is an avid Catholic writer and reader, devoted to her faith, family, and friends. In her free time, Allison loves caring for animals, training dogs, watching old-fashioned films, and dancing. Her favorite Catholic voices are Flannery O’Connor and St. Teresa of Avila.