Earlier this year, we published an article entitled How to Enjoy the Temple If You Have Anxiety. Many of our readers who related to the article mentioned their anxiety can also be triggered by the hustle and bustle of Sunday meetings. While anxiety and other mental illnesses can interfere with all aspects of daily life, many members feel especially guilty for experiencing symptoms during what is supposed to be a positive and uplifting time.
Our Church meetings are meant to bring us peace and bring us closer to Christ. No matter what physical, mental, or emotional struggles we have, our Savior understands and wants us to do our best. By following some of these suggestions, we hope you’ll find strength to thrive with your mental illness and get more out of your Sabbath day worship.
Come to Church Prepared
Doctrine and Covenants 38:30 reminds us that “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” This applies to how we handle our anxiety in religious settings. Preparation can help mitigate symptoms and invite the Spirit to help us have an enriching experience.
Before Sunday, sit down and walk yourself through your church meetings. Try to discover what situations and circumstances make you feel anxious. Write them down. See if there are solutions. Here are a few ideas that may help you get started:
- Come prepared with questions. It can help you focus your mind. If there are talks or topics you struggle with, it can help you find truth and peace in them.
- Being in a crowded, warm room can make you physically uncomfortable, which can then increase mental discomfort. If the weather or building is hot or humid, dress in layers and bring a water bottle.
- Choose where you (and your family) sit strategically. Sitting where there is more room (in the back and front) may help. Discover what works best for you.
- Discuss any needs you have with a trusted church leader, such as a bishop, a home or visiting teacher, or a Relief Society presidency member.
- Some people with high levels of anxiety find having something to do with their hands helps. Taking notes, doing a small crocheting or knitting project, using an LDS adult coloring book, or even keeping a stress ball in your bag can help.
Anxiety can be all-consuming. What begins as a single thought can grow into a storm of worry, panic, and paranoia.
Are people annoyed by my child’s rambunctious behavior? They all must think I’m a bad parent. No one wants to sit next to me. I don’t want to sit next to anyone. My testimony isn’t as strong as the person speaking. I don’t belong here.
Practice grounding techniques to help you stay focused and in the present moment. A good way to do this is to carefully go over what you’re experiencing in your mind. List five things you hear. List five things you see. List five things you can feel. Repeat the words of the speaker in your head. If possible, take notes. By filling your mind with what is going on in the present, you’ll hopefully be able to avoid anxiety-filled thoughts.
Walk the Halls
There is nothing wrong with leaving the chapel if you get overwhelmed. Many of the rooms and lobbies inside meetinghouses can broadcast audio from the chapel. Those passing the sacrament should always check the lobby for those needing the sacrament who need to sit outside. If you decide to walk around, consider singing a primary song or hymn in your head or going over a passage of scripture you’re trying to memorize. These simple activities can invite the spirit to be with you even if you feel unable to sit through a whole class or talk.
If you have children who need to join you (or maybe they are the reason you have to sit out), you can still discover appropriate activities to help all of you get something out of the time you’re at church. Get creative and specifically pray about what you can do with that time to be both mentally and spiritually healthy.
Advocate For Yourself
There is a powerful stigma around mental illness. We live in a culture that often sways more towards acting perfect than applying grace. You can help be an example of Christ by advocating for your needs and the needs of your family. Don’t risk without reason, but be open to discussing your mental illness, asking for help, and helping others understand what you’re going through. Saying something as simple as “My anxiety is making this hard for me right now” can make a big difference.
It is highly possible there are others in the room who are struggling like you. Opening up can hopefully help many people getting the help they need.
Focus on the Sabbath Day, Not Just Meetings
Remember, Christ appreciates any step we take towards him. He wants us to have a good experience as we gather together to worship. If we focus on him, our experience will be always be enhanced. Be patient with yourself and do your best to keep Christ at the center of your Sabbath day. While going to church, and especially partaking of the sacrament, is an essential part of our spiritual life, we can find peace as we dedicate the entire day to Christ. Church may be hard. Our anxiety may make our meetings difficult sometimes. However, we have an entire day to discover how we can worship God. Find anxiety-free activities you can do before and after your meetings are over. Doing so will invite the enabling and ennobling power of the Atonement into your life.
No matter what happens on Sunday, if we have a desire to commune with God, we will find the help of heaven. If you have anxiety or another mental illness, what has helped you make the most of your Church meetings?