Lies. Truth. Gratefulness. This Exercise Can Help You Put Anxiety in Its Place

“Mom, I got in a car wreck.”

No one ever wants to get those phone calls or text messages.

My college-aged son was in a wreck last week, and his car was totaled. Thankfully he was not injured. He was rear-ended, but the car is older, and the repairs are going to exceed the worth of the car. The other driver was insured, so he gets money to buy a replacement car, and the other driver’s insurance has supplied him with a rental car. So between work and starting school next week, he is tasked with looking for and buying a car for the first time in his life, and he lives almost 1,000 miles from us. My first instinct is to fly or drive down there to help him – I’m great at research and negotiating. But I also want him empower him to do this on his own. It is stressful, both for us as parents and for him as the one looking for a car. His anxiety is ramping up with each obstacle – the ‘perfect car’ that was already sold when he called to schedule a test drive, issues with getting the check from the insurance money, issues with the bank, and trying to search for a car that is comparable to what he had within his limited price range.

He tends to be an all or nothing type of guy – it’s the best day ever, or the worst day ever. (I have NO IDEA where he learned that. I blame his father.)

Last week I was thinking about all of the exciting changes that have happened over the past year, and of all of the wonderful opportunities ahead of me. I am trying to practice starting my day with mindfulness and focus, but there were just too many thoughts swirling in my head. As the anxiety mounted, I wondered, “What in the heck is wrong with me? Each of these things I’m thinking about are GOOD things: new beginnings, open doors, a chance to start over, amazing opportunities to grow and change. WHY are they causing me such great anxiety?

We are almost a two weeks into the New Year. Maybe you’re the kind of person who sets a list of ten New Year’s resolutions, checks your progress each month, and at the end of the year checks off all that you have accomplished. New Year, New Me, and you mean it. Each year you set goals and at the end of the year you feel a great sense of accomplishment at your success and growth.

Good for you. *Cue slow clap.

I am more along the lines of New Year, Same Me. I used to be big on resolutions, but I have downgraded to just choosing one word for the year as a theme.This year I haven’t even thought of a word.

This past year has been full of new beginnings and great change. Our three adult sons are all living on their own, and one has moved to India. We moved from the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised, to Louisville, Kentucky for my husband’s job. My husband went from being a state employee to running a nonprofit. I quit my job as a hospice nurse when we moved, and after a short stint as a night shift nurse (I quickly found out I’m no longer cut out for night shift), I am currently unemployed, by choice. And I am finding that sometimes a blank slate is disconcerting. So after about a week of this anxiety slowing building and finally causing a slight freak out and melt down, I did something I should have done from the beginning.

I spent the morning journaling and praying. Why is it that in the midst of anxiety and chaos, we often forget to start at the basics? If you’re a praying person, why do we wait before we consult with the God of the universe? It seems like a no-brainer, but we just trudge along, on our own, and wonder why we feel so disconnected. 

Until we remember to connect. 

Writing in a journal has always helped me to process, I just need to commit to sitting down and doing it. 

There is truly something magical about writing down your thoughts and seeing them in black and white, on paper. 

I was so perplexed that how all of these things that should be causing me joy and peace could actually be causing me so much anxiety. So I wrote down each thing that was distressing me: not having to work, exercising and getting healthy, setting boundaries, my friend making healthy choices in different areas of her life, opportunities to travel, change in finances with my husband’s new job, writing, our new home, my husband’s new job, etc. You get the idea.

Then I did an exercise that totally changed my perspective.

Lies. Truth. Gratefulness.

After I wrote down each situation, one by one, I wrote this:

The lie I believe is:  A lie often includes words like Always, Never, Everyone. “This always happens to me.” “I will never get this solved.” “Everyone always treats me like this.”

The truth is: The truth is the REALITY of the situation. Step outside of your situation and try to be objective.

I am grateful because: In every situation, there is SOMETHING to be grateful for.

If you are too overwhelmed and can’t discern the lies and truth of the situation, ask a friend to help. Sometimes someone else’s perspective will see thing that we can’t because we’re so close.

Here is how the exercise works, I’ll share some examples, straight from my journal, my heart to yours:

LIE: My worth/value are in my job as a nurse. If I’m not contributing to income, I am worth less than my spouse.
TRUTH: My value is in who I am, not what I do as a job. I am complete in Christ. 
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful for a partner who is supportive of my not working at this time. 

LIE: I can’t do it. I’ve tried and failed over and over. I will never succeed. I will always be lazy. 
TRUTH: I have been lazy but I can make different choices. Never before have I had the time and resources to focus solely on getting healthy. 
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful for a supportive and understanding spouse who does not shame me. 

LIE: When I set boundaries, I am mean. I shouldn’t rock the boat. I should try to keep the peace, and if I have upset it, I should try to fix it even if it means not keeping the boundaries I set. 
TRUTH: It is not wrong to set healthy boundaries. I am not mean to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is a loving thing to do for myself and for others. To have healthy relationships, one must have healthy boundaries. Unhealthy people are made uncomfortable by healthy boundaries, but that is their issue. 
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful for a partner who understands and supports me, and for friends and family members who are working at being healthy in their relationships.

LIE: My friend’s growth threatens our relationship. If she grows then she will judge where I am at and no longer accept me. 
TRUTH: I am happy for my friend’s growth and healing. Becoming physically, emotionally, and spiritual healthy is a good thing. My friend loves me and won’t judge me. As my friend becomes more healthy, it will also serve to make our friendship more healthy. 
GRATEFULNESS: I love my friend and am grateful to have someone with whom I can share my heart, who inspires me by her brave spirit and willingness to do the hard work of change and growth. 

Here is how this exercise might look for my son as he is stressed about having to buy a car:

LIE: I’ll never find a car. There are no options. I can’t do this on my own. This is the most horrible thing that has happened.
TRUTH:It sucks that I don’t have access to the money right this second,  but I will have the money available Monday so I can buy a car. I can look at cars now and explain my situation. If I find a car, I can ask if they will hold it until the insurance check goes through.
GRATEFULNESS: I am grateful that I have had a car to drive the past couple of years. I am thankful that I was not injured. I am grateful that the accident was not my fault and that I will have money to get a replacement. I am grateful that I am learning survival tools that will help me later in life.

I hope you found this helpful. If you decide to try this exercise, I would love to hear from you! Please send me your examples by using the form below, or email me at with the subject line LIES TRUTH GRATEFULNESS





photo credit: Sean Drillinger Creative Commons

photo credit: Sean Drillinger Creative Commons

Apparently my search for balance is out of balance. (What a shocker, I know). So much has been processing in the back of my mind, sometimes I feel like I am paralyzed. On the outside, I just keep try to keep on going. I haven’t journaled in so many days that I can’t even find my journal under the pile of clean laundry overflowing at the end of my bed, the laundry that silently mocks as it wonders if it will ever find its way home to the closet again. The other day the mind swirling almost became an anxiety attack. My most effective processing seems to be a stream of consciousness, so here is where I am at, in no particular order.

I could go on and on about my search for balance. For instance, stopping all sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, and then stress/comfort eating when I was overwhelmed. (Tip: Weight Watchers desserts do not mean they are sugar-free. But red velvet ice cream sandwiches are damn good.) Deep breathing has been a great tool, and setting an alarm and deep breathing before I ever get out of bed has been helpful. There are good habits I have started, and other habits that I have held onto. But it all comes down to this:

Where am I heading? What is my goal?

In my quest to free myself from the all-or-nothing tendency, I have paved an unmarked path for myself.

I thought that if I only focused on the end goal, I would fall into that black-white thinking and not be able to focus on the baby steps needed to get there. But when  you have no clearly marked path, it is easier to get off track.

Have you ever been so foolish that you have forgotten the very basics? Like if you have no goal, you will certainly reach it. How can you run a race without a finish line in sight? DUH. I was reminded this week that I cannot keep my eye on the prize if I haven’t defined the prize.

So I’m processing this through differently. How can I look at things with BOTH important pieces in mind: the final goal, and the baby steps needed to get there?

So here I go (and truly, this is just me processing.You can come along for the ride if you like):

GOAL:  Eat healthy.

WHAT WILL THAT LOOK LIKE: Drinking 8-10 glasses of water each day, no soda or caffeine. Alcohol limited to no more than one drink each day on weekends only. Eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily (at least two of those vegetables), eating fish or seafood twice a week, vegetarian dishes twice a week, and red meat no more than once a week. Eliminate simple carbs (no white rice, white bread, white flour, etc) and eat complex carbs sparingly, focusing on whole grains. Eating snacks or small meals every 2-3 hours with one main meal each day (lunch or dinner, depending on the day). Do not after 7:30pm (or within three hours of bedtime.

BABY STEPS: Stop all sugar (baked good and sweets), caffeine, and alcohol (except as mentioned above). Increase water intake. Eat more fruits and particularly vegetables. It’s hard for me to think in any other baby steps, but having the goal set clearly above me helps me have a structure for my daily decisions.

GOAL: Get active.

(A couple of years ago, I had started ‘running’ (walk/jogging intervals, actually) and I really loved it. I mean REALLY. Until I injured my knee and was diagnosed with arthritis in that knee and was told I was not allowed to run ever again and would eventually need a knee replacement.)

WHAT THAT WILL LOOK LIKE: At least 30-45 minutes of structured activity at least 5 days each week.This can include fast walking, water running, hiking, yoga, cardio at the gym, walking on the treadmill, etc

BABY STEPS: Structure and reserve time in my day to commit to activity. I am still trying to figure this out. Ideally, I would like to do this in the morning, but I am NOT a morning person. If I wait until after work, I am more tired and less likely to commit. I need to start with 20 minutes each day and work up from there (starting with 15 minutes seems too lame). I have made an appointment to have gel injections in my knee to see if that decreases the pain. (I did have a meniscus repair surgery and some scarring removed, but it did not help as much as I had hoped). I also need to find a routine that works for me.

GOAL: Lose at least 6 pounds a month until I reach my weight loss goal of 80 pounds.

WHAT THIS WILL LOOK LIKE: I will be comfortable in my skin as a result of healthy eating and increased activity. I will have worked through the 12 steps (again) for my food addiction, and will not look to food for comfort in times of stress or pain. I will not be freaked out by not having my comfortable wall of weight around me.

BABY STEPS: To be truthful, losing the weight is not the issue. I have gained and lost this weight more times than I care to count. This issue is how I use food, and the emotional baggage that comes with being thin. This goes back to a history of physical and sexual abuse, and the unhealthy lesson I held onto of protecting myself by being heavy. So along with the eating and activity, I have some emotional work still to do.

GOAL: Daily structure

WHAT THIS WILL LOOK LIKE: Okay, this one is much harder. I am NOT a morning person. I have always been a night person, rarely ever going to bed before midnight. But in my mind’s eye I have a vision of what I want it to look like. I just don’t know if it’s practical, or even possible. It would basically mean changing my circadian rhythms, and is that going against how I was made? I don’t know, but I think I’m going to try. Here is my ideal: Get up at ____ o’clock and do a morning ritual: deep breathing, read my bible or something like Oswald Chambers, then journal my morning prayer. At the most this should take 30 minutes (5-7 deep breathing, 10 minutes reading, the rest journaling my prayers); then 30-45 minutes of physical activity (sometimes I also like to continue my contemplative prayer during this time). Then have breakfast and get ready for work or for the rest of the day, if not a work day.

BABY STEPS: I guess I can just try this schedule. The tough part will be training myself to go to bed early, or earlier. As the time change catches up with me, I’m sure it will be easier. I will just have to put my phone or computer down at night and turn off the television. And develop a more structured bedtime routine that should not include screen time, but reading and journaling. Which brings me to my next goal . . .

Tune in tomorrow for the rest of my goals on the path to balance, which may or may not include: decreasing distractions, getting my house in order, finding a spiritual tribe/community, becoming as a minimalist, and progressing as a writer (including monetizing my hospice blog)