10 Things I Learned in 2018

1. We give fear and anxiety too much power; sometimes it's best simply ignored. While I’ve fought (and won!) against anxiety for much of my life, this year it reared its ugly and unwelcome head at a more severe level than ever before. For about 5 months this year, I fought against panic attacks, really bad days, and that constant swarm of negative thoughts so often associated with anxiety. This went on for so long that I managed to strain a muscle in my chest, which I find pretty hilarious. In the words of my doctor, “Try to relax a little bit.” In all of this, Holy Spirit repeated Psalm 13 again and again and I finally learned that the best remedy for anxiety is distraction. Anxiety is a liar in every circumstance, all the time; anxiety never tells the truth. Just as David writes in Psalm 13:6, I’ve found that singing in worship is the best way to return to peace. It may not feel like it works at first, but if you persist in focusing on the good that God has done, you will find freedom. I promise.

2. Do not speak negative things about yourself, in your head or out loud. My skin flared with acne this year—the horrible kind that you can feel throbbing all day, burning the skin, leaving countless scars—and it challenged my self-esteem. I don’t think it’s vain to want to look and feel beautiful, it’s a natural human desire, but for many months I fought with the phrase “I feel ugly”. In the midst of it, I’ve learned never to speak about the things I don’t like about myself or else I’d develop a hyper-focus and become consumed by self-critical thoughts. Don’t give your negative thoughts any life by speaking them aloud

3. Know who you are, remind yourself often and defend yourself when others challenge you. I’ve never been the type to speak up for myself, I’d much rather avoid conflict and leave things unaddressed. While there is a time to let things go, I’ve learned that if you do not defend your actions, people will act upon their interpretation of your choices and not the truth. I will not become a doormat tread upon by other peoples’ projections, emotions or insecurities. Own your actions, not other people’s interpretation of them

4. It is better to say "no" when you're uncertain than to give a hesitant "yes". This one is easy: stop committing to things you're unsure of.

5. You don't owe anyone anything. I don’t care if that sounds harsh or entirely un-Christian, it’s the truth. What kind of life are you living if nearly every choice you make or thing you do comes from some sort of obligation to someone else? It is not arrogant or unkind to believe your time is valuable. Self-respect and self-sacrifice can coexist, I promise. You can be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Sometimes the healthiest choice for your life requires telling well-meaning, good people that you love “no”. Do not make decisions because you feel like you “should” or out of a sense of obligation; you will later discover resentment and bitterness in your heart. Be kind, put others first, but do not sacrifice your mind, body and spirit on the altar of public service. It’s very difficult to love people sincerely if you’re living with a spirit of bitterness, resentment, rejection and hurt from burdens you weren’t intended to carry. 

6. Worship, dance, celebrate every day. This year, I went through many days of feeling so caught in my anxieties that I couldn’t think of anything else. In that struggle, I learned that it is vital for me to spend at least 5 minutes a day singing, dancing and worshipping. I don’t always feel like it, and sometimes I’d rather just sit and mull over my problems. After a year like this one, I've grown in my ability to set my emotions aside and worship even when I don’t want to. It may take a few days of fighting for you to actually get to a place where I feel better, but it always works. 

7. Be very careful whose opinion you listen to; people often have unseen motives and are too quick to offer their input. I love people, I love trusting people and I love sharing my heart, experiences and dreams. I love asking people for advice, learning from their experiences. However, I’ve learned this year that people rarely say exactly what they mean or mean what they say. It’s not a pessimistic statement—there are wonderful, sincere people in the world—but it is realistic. I don’t believe all people are intentionally manipulative, but I have discovered that a second meaning usually lies beneath compliments, suggestions, advice, requests or warnings—usually a more self-serving motivation that produces an end-result you weren’t aware of. This is not cause to distrust and disconnect from the world around us; we must recognize our self-worth and live with confidence in our decisions. It all goes back to confidence and freedom, that was a theme for me this year.

8. You can change your thoughts; you're not a victim of your mind. One of my favorite authors, Graham Cooke, says this, “If your thinking has brought you to a place that you do not like, have another thought!” When caught in a mess of negative emotions, I’ve often felt helpless and unable to control my thoughts. That’s a lie, and such a silly one. You can actively choose to think of something better, say something kinder, or change a negative thought to a positive.

9. Be aware of what you watch, listen to, eat, say feel, who you spend time with, etc. — recognize how external factors affect your body, soul & spirit. Remember how I mentioned that I strained a muscle from being anxious this year? Hilarious as it is, I’ve become more aware of external factors that affect body. I’ve discovered that I can reduce anxiety when I reduce caffeine intake and I’ve also learned that it’s not good for me to watch dramatic, intense movies. I already have a lot of feelings in life and I don’t need to get caught up in the story of some estranged family who reunites over a tragedy (even if it won an Oscar). External factors can impact emotional, mental and spiritual health, it’s important to learn what is good and bad for us individually. I used to be embarrassed of being so easily affected, but I’m not anymore; I recognize that it’s just part of who I am and I’d rather live healthily than do things for the sake of fitting in.

10. It will always turn out okay. Some days it's hard to believe, but nothing is truer. It all turns out okay in the end. It really does.