Brett.Ullman

A Church Service struggling with anxiety

It has been about 4 months since I have been able to sit in a full church service. My anxiety has been high for this last season of life. I was asked the other week what my anxiety feels like when I have to leave. Last week I decided to journal a full service.
My goal in this is to let people who are also struggling with anxiety know that they are not alone. My second goal is to help people understand a little more about anxiety.

8:30 AM:
Here I am in church again
30 minutes early so that my anxiety can get a chance to slowly calm down
Pray that God will grant me peace in my body and mind
Look around at the people around me
Feeling dizzy again
Church starts
Music begins
Say to myself my goal today is to just survive the music portion of the service without leaving
Take a step forward and start holding tight onto the seat in front of me
Keep breathing
Pray
Feeling shaky all over
Remind myself to deep breath in stomach and not chest
Remind myself I am ok
Still don’t feel ok
Tingles moving through my arms and legs and around my back
Start to wonder if I need to leave
Anxiety seems to grow for no reason
Take a drink of water
 Take some big breaths
Remind myself I am ok and anxiety is just feelings
Music ends, I survived
My mind questions if surviving is good enough. Not really the goal of a musical worship set
Feel frustrated that this is the situation I am in
I am a 44 year old man who’s only goal is to survive 4 worship songs in church
Remind myself this is my struggle, the thorn in my side
Remind myself I am doing everything I can about it
Time to stand and shake hands
Quickly wonder if I will be dizzy when I stand
Stand anyway
Sit down again
Glad to sit
Preaching starts
Everything is really quiet now
I feel anxiety and panic beginning to grow in my stomach
New goal
Survive the sermon
Suddenly feel sad that this is my goal
Open up my bible on my iPad
Look up at preacher
Wave of dizziness sets in
Should I leave
Shift in my seat
Cross my legs
Breath
Breath
Pray
Pray
Panic is rising
Heart is beating fast
Tell myself it will pass
Tell myself again it will pass
Nothing really passes
Pray
Still feel horrible
Take a drink
Try and concentrate on what is being said
Wish I could concentrate on the sermon and not the conversation in my own head
In my anxious state hard time focusing on the preacher
People in the audience laugh at something preacher says
Feeling envy at people around me.
Wish I could laugh
Wish I was someone else
Tell myself to stop going down the rabbit hole in my mind
Sermon finished
Survived

2 frames of mind after a morning like this:

1st Frame of mine

  1. Wishing I could enjoy a church service
  2. Wishing it was not so hard
  3. Wishing I did not envy people around me
  4. Feeling frustrated how my life has become
  5. I don’t know how I will survive this

2nd Frame of mine

  1. I came to church
  2. I talked to some people
  3. I made a choice not to just stay at home.
  4. I will survive this

 

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brett ullman

Brett Ullman travels North America speaking to teens, young adults, leaders and parents on topics including sexuality, mental health, men, dating and media. Brett's seminars engage and challenge attendees to try and connect our ancient faith with our modern culture we live in. Participants are inspired to reflect on what we know, what we believe and how our faith ought to serve as the lens through which we view and engage tough conversations in our society today.

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thank you for having the courage to post this. I’ve felt like this from time to time. I’ve been following you for a while on social media and really appreciate your approach to each topic you talk about! Cheering you on!

  • I applaud your courage to sit through the Church service while your anxiety clearly rises and for not leaving. I too suffer from anxiety issues, so I will Pray for you Brett. Thank you for stepping out and for sharing your story. God Bless you and be with you.

  • Brett, thank you for being so transparent and sharing this. I shared it on my Facebook page as I have quite a few friends and family who struggle with anxiety, and thought it would be affirming for them to read. To encourage you, here is what one person sent me in response to your blog entry: “I am sitting here overwhelmed with reading that post you just posted about the guy with anxiety in church. I have tears in my eyes. It is like I wrote it. I have said those words exactly so many times in so many situations . In church, at work, at the grocery store. Everywhere. I’ve never heard it described by anyone before. I feel less alone hearing someone else say it and describe it just as I experience it!! Wow!! Thank you!!”

  • I can relate to the exact same anxiety response. It sounded like i was reading my own anxiety. Happy that I am not alone. It feels so alone so often.

  • Thank you for your honesty and the courage to share Brett. Anxiety/depression/mental health issues feels like the elephant in the room in the Christian community sometimes. Like there is something wrong with you, your walk, your journey with Christ if you have these issues. Some Christians have asthma, some Christians have diabetes and some Christians have mental health issues like anxiety or depression. We live in a fallen world.

    I struggle with depression and anxiety, sometimes the battle is every day, sometimes I’m okay. I encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. Keep telling the truth. God is good (…all the time); continue your work; praying for you brother.

  • Thank you for sharing. I understand all to we’ll anxious thoughts and anxiety. I also find hard to explain to friends what is happening when I go through an anxious thought or episode. God bless you for sharing and for being open.

    Sherrie

  • This Honestly made
    My day because like the person above
    Said I was reading this thinking that I was writing this. I as well have all
    Of
    Those symptoms and it gets so bad that it’s not even at church it’s at work or at the mall. Thank you for
    Your courage and with God I know we can overcome this. He is
    Faithful
    And I know he is at work in us all as hard as it may be.

  • I pray for you daily and often wonder how the journey is going. Thank-you for your transparency. Your trust in the Lord is a wonderful testimony. Love and Prayers, Shirley

  • Thank you. Nothing – that is what helps me. I can’t help you. All I can offer is to walk along side of you. I wish I knew you so we could meet up. I am 40. I have tried many depression meds, and quit all of them. I currently use anxiety meds. They are not enough. Your video “The walking Wounded” is one of the most helpful things I have seen. I just watched it today. I left the seminary before I graduated (still in good standing) at age 24. I have been running from this disease ever since. The “Christian” community has consistently had 3 responses to me:
    1. get over it and believe harder, there’s nothing wrong with you.
    2. I don’t know what to say, good luck.
    3. 5 people have said and acted on: I hate that you are going through this, I don’t know what to tell you, but I will walk along side you. You can call me any time you need me. And you can leave me when you need to, I will not be offended.

    If this is our Christianity, where 5 out of thousands are unable to show compassion, then there is an opportunity here that is bigger than I realized.

    ————
    I am familiar with the book “Compassion”, and noticed you quoted it in your video “The walking wounded.” Thanks for doing that.

    I recently came across Brene Brown, a researcher at University of Houston. She has helped me understand but not overcome some core issues. She is a SHAME researcher. She has helped me understand that every single person has shame. Not one is immune. There are 3 responses: shame others who make you uncomfortable (fight), offer sympathy instead of empathy (flight), or do nothing (freeze).

    She surprised with research: Hope is not an emotion, it is a learned behavior.

    She offers shame resilience: talk about it, name it, and it cannot survive.

    Cloud and Townsend books are wonderful tools. From “boundaries” to “Safe People” and all things in between, they are proving to be my favorite guides.

    My psychologist is not a Christian. She is an interpersonal neurobiologist. You quoted from Dan Siegel. I found his books to be helpful also.

    Another tool to put in the tool box is the work of Dr. Elaine Aron “the highly sensitive person.” And “the undervalued self”.

    Again, my story is different than yours, that is what has helped me. Maybe it will help you, I don’t know.

    I do know that you are not alone. I would like you to take away one message from this post: me too.

    Anxiety and panic is a daily experience for me. You are not alone. We are not alone.

    I am not familiar with you or your work other than your video I watched today, and this journal of anxiety survival. I hope you respond to individuals, I don’t know if you do, maybe you are too busy, but this is a growing problem for individuals and Christianity.

    I desire to connect with Christians like you. Any word of wisdom are very welcome and appreciated.

    Thank you for your courage.
    Todd

  • Hi Brett – I heard you speak at Village Church today – twice. I chatted with you briefly after The Walking Wounded – thank you for your courage in sharing your journey!! Our churches NEED this so badly!
    I have been involved with Celebrate Recovery, so I know that part of our healing comes from sharing our stories so that others can be helped – so be encouraged that you will get through this – and not just get through this but with God – you will Overcome

    I can so relate to this post – I have had my own struggles with getting through church services – one of which was my first visit – alone – to a brand new church – the sermon I’ll never forget – Jesus is Bigger Than Your Circumstances- I cried the through the entire sermon!! A sweet woman waited for me at the end to give me a hug and that was my introduction to Celebrate Recovery.

    It’s scary to be that real and vulnerable – when we get there though – we discover that we are not the only ones and someone either needs to hear our stories or we need theirs.

  • That’s great to hear your progress with your anxiety. My anxiety is so high that I can’t even GET to church so I know what it is like. I have a long term mental illness and struggle with depression as well. What I say to myself and others is that I have one dis-ability and many abilities.

    I believe that God puts us in these situations for several reasons. one, to be able to relate to others with the same struggles and successes. Two, he will get us through or show us a away out. Three, and this is new to me, to let us know that it is OK to be weak because it is only then that He gives us His strength. I try to be strong in my own right and am slow to learn to trust Him more and stop trying to do it all myself.

    Thanks for your website.

  • Hi Brett, I’ve known people who struggle with anxiety and I applaud your openness. This may or may not be a helpful suggestion, but have you considered moving away from the evangelical worship service format to something more liturgical? It’s truly the most authentic and ancient form of Christian worship, and by coming to understand it so you can fully participate in it I think may provide you with the refreshment you are seeking for “Sunday worship.” Both my wife and I grew up in the evangelical church, and while I discovered true catholic Christianity in the Anglican church first, she soon followed (it wasn’t an easy journey, but in her anxiety she finds the worship calming and deeply meaningful). It’s a change from the often bombastic, individualistic worship we had been used to, but find it provides the time and space for reflection, full public participation in the drama of faith (liturgy is literally the work of the people), and the receiving of Christ himself in the Eucharistic feast. We’re just beginning our lives together and can’t wait to bring our future children up in this rich tradition of faith. If you haven’t given it real consideration I would recommend that you do! God bless you.

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