About a year ago I was diagnosed with chronic PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) resulting from some childhood trauma. Looking back, I did suffer from severe anxiety my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, but it subsided when I transferred out of state for college my sophomore year. My prayer life during those three college years of reprieve was awesome. I went to daily Mass, prayed a daily holy hour, prayed the Rosary, regularly attended praise and worship nights, and went on retreats. During the time my struggle with mental illness subsided and prayer was doable. I struggled some times more than others, but it was a constant in my life.
However, three years ago, when I moved back to Atlanta the PTSD struck me hard. I stopped sleeping and eating and praying; it was all that I could do to go to work each day. In these three years, I’m still struggling with this severe anxiety. If you have suffered from anxiety, then you know the power it can take over your entire life; I specifically have struggled with the change it caused in my prayer life. Moments that I used to spend in quiet adoration with my Lord, often now produce flashbacks, anxiety, or complete disassociation, which has not encouraged me in my prayer life. Through spiritual direction, therapy, and advice from friends, I have developed some practices in prayer that work better for me in times of severe anxiety.
Sometimes I just don’t have it in me to sit in silence, but I love being in front of my Lord in Adoration. Playing some praise and worship directs my mind into a specific prayer so that it doesn’t wander. Here is my playlist of praise music that helps me to not feel anxious. I also play spiritual music around the house or on walks in times when I really don’t want my mind to wander.
Spiritual reading is one of the practices that helps me the most when I’m anxious. However, it doesn’t always work because it can be impossible to concentrate on anything when you hit a wall. But if you can, it can really help your mind not to wander and instead direct your thoughts towards God. If you’re looking for a Catholic book on spiritual healing within psychological wounds, Be Healed by Bob Schuchts, is helpful. I’ve found that doing the daily readings can really help center my thoughts as well.
Mindfulness is a psychological technique where you focus on the stimuli around you rather than what’s going on in your head. It was first introduced to me by a Catholic therapist. While I personally am horrible at it, I know that it works for many people. Nature helps me to be mindful when I’m trying to have quiet prayer time. Because there are more things going on outside and I’m not just sitting in a quiet chapel, my mind is less likely to drift and more likely to stay in the present moment. Sitting outside to pray on a nice day, or taking a long walk or hike, can actually make a world’s difference for my prayer life.
Some people find the Rosary calming, but during times of anxiety, it does not calm me. If you want to pray the Rosary, but don’t but get distracted by negative or anxious thoughts by the third decade, I suggest breaking it up by decade and praying over the time span of a day. Praying a decade on my way to work, one during my lunch break, one on my way home, one when I’m cooking dinner, and one as I put the baby down, helps my mind to not get flooded with other thoughts. It may not be the most mystical experience, but I know that I am doing homage to the Lord and to His mother. On bad days, I’ll pray a “shortened rosary,” meaning that every two Hail Mary’s, I’ll start a new decade meditation so that I can fit all the meditations within one decade.
Sometimes when I’m in Mass I start to feel like I can’t breathe, I think it’s the quiet time that does me in. I’ve noticed that with both prayer and Mass, I’m able to concentrate better when I am with someone. I think having a friend beside me helps me remember where I am and feel safe. The man fidgeting in the pew behind you wouldn’t distract most people, but to someone with PTSD or severe anxiety, it might be enough to induce panic. Having someone I love beside me usually helps me to pray.
Pick your Best Time of Day to Pray.
If you have anxiety, then you probably have one point in the day that’s a little bit better than others. For me, I’m definitely worse at night, and I tend to be best and pray best in the middle of the day. Give God some of the time when you’re feeling well so that He can work healing in your heart.
Offer it Up.
This sounds very cliché, but when I’m very anxious, it helps if I can offer it up for somebody. Offering it up gives some sort of meaning to what seems like unnecessary suffering. If I know that one of my friends has recently lost a baby or has lost a job or is struggling with their own sources of anxiety, then it really helps me to offer my suffering for the sanctification of their souls and peace in their lives.
If you are suffering from severe anxiety, depression, or PTSD, you are not alone. I have met so many wonderful people who suffer from these mental illnesses. Praying through these ailments is a hard fight to fight, but God relishes in our successes and blesses our efforts. I’m praying for you sisters, pray for me.
Any tips that help you through anxiety? We love to hear your comments.
Written by Katherine T. Find out more about her here.