By Stephanie White

How I’m Learning to Stop Freaking Out


 

At the church I’ve joined this year, my pastor includes in her closing benediction, just before the words, “go in peace,” a direct and calm command to us: “Be not afraid.”

She pauses a little each Sunday before she tell us to not be scared, as if it’s just come to her, or as if she had sensed it was suddenly and immediately necessary on that particular day for someone to hear those words, even though she says this well-known blessing every Sunday.

I do need to hear it, every single Sunday. I find myself waiting for the phrase, nervous that my pastor might decide to skip it this one time, or disappointed when we have a guest pastor who doesn’t bless us the same way. I need to be reminded, again and again, to stop freaking out.

It’s absurd to talk about fear in Canada, where I feel safer than anywhere I’ve travelled to or lived, when people in Syria, Paris, Beirut, and many other places are living in terror. The fears I’ve been dealing with for the past year and a half are not based on threats to my safety, on things that I have no control over. I’m not trying to say that the fears I live with aren’t important. They are, and I don’t want to pretend that’s not true. I just want to acknowledge the difference here.

My fears are internal. I’m afraid of what I might feel, mainly because of my own actions. I might be unhappy, or unsuccessful, or busy all the time, or dissatisfied with my life choices, or lonely, or disliked, or a stressed-out mother, or a disappointing wife, or a mediocre friend. Phew, those are some terrible things, but this is about being honest, right? The thing is, though, that I have some power in each of these parts of my life. It isn’t out of my hands.

And so I’m finding ways to remind myself not to be afraid of these things that I have power over. I want to list some of these ways here, not as a to-do list, not as “ten ways you can stop being scared,” but simply as examples of the kinds of things that have been beneficial for me as I try to learn how to “be not afraid.” Here goes:

  • Making a plan and not doing more, not doing less. I’ve been trying to fight the urge to take on a lot each day and reminding myself that whatever I can get done is good enough.
  • Remembering whom I’m working for. Andrew asked me this question last summer when I was freaking out about my online classes: “Who are you working for?” At first I thought he expected me to answer “God,” which is true of course. But as we talked, I realized his question was a gentle reminder that, as an academic, I decide the standards of my work. So I can be okay with my decisions about my time, efforts, and more, knowing that God delights in me and my work.
  • Speaking of Andrew, praying with him is immensely helpful. Praying by myself is good too, but praying with my partner or with a good friend helps remind me of who God is. Do you know what I mean?
  • Exploring my options. It’s helped me to remember that I have options besides staying in academia, if that proves too intense for me. Reading books like So What Are You Going to Do With That? Finding Careers Outside of Academia, which I read for a graduate professional development class I’m teaching, have reminded me that this career is my choice, not my only option.
  • Being in church. Being blessed by my church: my pastor, our prayers, confession, the Lord’s Supper, the children who scramble to hug Maggie after each service, the people who say hello and ask how I’m doing...
  • My neighbours. I have the most amazing neighbours. They bring us leftovers and things they bake. They love Maggie to pieces. They check in, even when I’m too busy to check in back.
  • My mentors. I have a team of women who are vital to my well-being. I talk with them a few times a year or a few times a month, depending on what’s going on. Each serves a different purpose — some mentor me in my writing and research, others in my role in the department, others in my knowledge of Christ. But each allows me to talk through my stressors or my concerns, and they help me work out a way forward.
  • Actually, I’m sensing a theme here — allowing myself to be served by others, which is also scary to me, has been incredibly helpful in mitigating my fears. I’m so thankful for the many people who surround me and remind me that I’m loved.
  • Mindfulness. I recently discovered calm.com and have been loving it. I’ve tried doing mindful meditation many times in the past but found myself antsy. Doing just two minutes in the middle of my day, with someone guiding me through it with only the click of my mouse, has been wonderful.
  • Gardening (or, in this cold weather, what I’ve come to think of as the winter equivalent: tidying). Doing something with my hands that has immediate results is such a powerful antidote to academic anxieties.
  • Writing this. Sharing this. Hearing from you. Knowing I’m not alone.
  • And, of course, just waiting it out.

While writing this piece, I found out recently that the original blessing my pastor gives us each Sunday is a little different, and it features “do not be afraid” twice. I can’t decide which version I prefer, but suffice it to say: it helps to be reminded to stop freaking out. So I leave you with this, and I look forward to hearing from you in the comments about how fight your fears, too!

God go before you to lead you,
God go behind you to protect you,
God go beneath you to support you,
God go beside you to befriend you.
Do not be afraid.
May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you.
Do not be afraid.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Amen.

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About the Author

Stephanie White is a member of the English Language and Literature faculty at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario. She teaches writing and rhetoric while researching composition pedagogy and service-learning. She and her husband Andrew have a darling baby girl and very helpful neighbours.

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