Anxiety, sleepless nights, & the illusion of control


I am writing this blog post at four am on Sunday morning. I was awakened by thoughts of tasks undone and the unknown future. After hours of trying to go back to sleep and thinking about how tired I’m going to be all day, I stopped fighting it.

I sit in my dark living room, writing, because that’s where understanding starts. I know anxiety is rooted in fear—but what am I afraid of? I think this is the first question we should ask ourselves to understand our pounding hearts.

‘Failure’ is the first word that comes to mind. Then, ‘letting people down’. I’m worried about all the “what will happen next?” scenarios that exhaust my mind.

Anxiety can be crippling, can’t it? Telling us to tremble, reminding us of what is at stake. We learn to succumb to this poison that pulses through our bodies because we know about all the bad things that could happen.

Some learned as children that the best way to prepare for life was to wait for the next shoe to drop—and we’ve never forgotten to stand guard. We know we could lose our houses, our jobs, our children, our reputations, our relationships. We know what could happen, some more intimately than others.

I think anxiety stems from an illusion of control.  Anxiety rears its ugly head when we thought we had everything under control, but realize we don’t. We gaze at the unknown future with a pounding heart, believing a lie that if he would just call or we’d just get a new job or if the doctor would give a good report, then we’d be able to calm down.

The truth is, we aren’t ever in control. No job is stable, no relationship rock solid, no child safe, no friendship unshakable. On some level, I think we all recognize our lack of control and that’s why so many struggle with anxiety.

I’ve seen from my own life that when I’m not anxious, it’s not because I’ve grown blind to the worries or tragedies in life. My lack of worry doesn’t only come during times when my life felt carefree and glittery, like a pop song. Peaceful sleep for me comes when I know I’m not in control, but I also understand I’m not alone in this fight. I don’t think we can cure anxiety without this understanding.

I talk a lot about Dad on this blog. For me, my perspective and experience of God shifted when I realized God is a good Dad. I really didn’t know Him before I understood His incredible tenderness toward me.

We are told to throw all our anxiety on Dad, because He cares deeply for us (1 Peter 5:7).

People who aren’t anxious know just as well as you and me that they are not in control, but somehow they’ve made peace with that truth. That’s what I’m learning this morning. That I am not in control and bad things may in fact come to pass, but I can go back to sleep because He cares deeply for me. Sleep deprivation lessens for a moment as I remember I have someone else fighting my battles. And you do too.

Disclaimer: This post refers to general worry and anxiety, not mental illness or anxiety disorders. I do believe in counseling and medicine, and would never suggest that mental illness can be fixed by a simple prayer. In fact, I wrote about this in the post Is God Enough? Thank you to the readers who pointed out that this post may be taken the wrong way. 

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4 Responses to “Anxiety, sleepless nights, & the illusion of control”
  1. marie says:

    I am responding to this only because I think your post does not address the important issue of mental illness. The kind of anxiety you describe above is merely worrying. Worrying and anxiety disorder are two different things. I have suffered from crippling generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety since I was 2-3 years old, and panic attacks since I was 29. Anxiety disorder and panic disorder are both mental illnesses and no amount of praying or believing God is in control will make them go away or lessen, just like praying to God will not make heart disease go away. For years, all thru my childhood, teens, and into adulthood, I was told over and over by my mother, other family members, and friends… to not “worry” so much…to just STOP worrying about things I couldn’t control, but the fact is… I could NOT stop because my brain is not wired like other people’s brains. Not everyone with anxiety disorder/panic disorder is the same, but in my case, I required medication. I didn’t even know there was medication to help someone with my conditions, but at 30 yrs old, my emotional/psychological health had deteriorated to the point that I had a nervous breakdown and could not leave the house for 3 months. I prayed and cried out to God 24 hours a day to help me and he never did. It was then that I sought professional help and was put on medication. I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking meds are a magic potion that will fix everything in your life, but for me, the meds allowed my brain to stop racing and calm down. I felt normal for the first time in my entire life… meaning I no longer spent every waking second filled with dread, anxiety, and fear. It is a horrible way to live and I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I needlessly suffered for years because I was dismissed my entire life as just being a “worrier”, and there have been so many times when I have wondered (now that I know I am not just crazy) that if only I had sought help and had been put on medication earlier how much different my life would have turned out. Anyway, I just felt it was important to mention the mental health aspect of anxiety, because not all people can just pray to God and feel “peace”, and if they can’t… it is NOT their fault. It’s just that their brain is ill and they might need additional medical/psychological help.

  2. Amanda says:

    Yes worry and anxiety can be crippling, but I believe, like you said, we only fear when we are not aware of the Father’s love for us because perfect love casts out all fear. I pray for more wisdom and revelation from the Father on this point because people are suffering.

  3. mo says:

    I would love to suggest researching SOZO ministry from Bethel Church, Redding CA, Much anointing is coming from this group of laid down believers who have gathered amazing inner healing tools from around the world! Blessings

  4. Megan says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful disclaimer. And great post! A good reminder of the security I have outside of myself. This doesn’t take away my GAD/trichotillomania, but it is still helpful.

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