After years of living with anxiety, burdened and overwhelmed under the weight of it, Laura Fleetwood finally discovered how to bring her struggle into the light and find hope and freedom in Christ. Drawing on her own experience and using the acronym TWIRL, she shares 5 tips on how you, too, can practice soul care for your anxiety and learn to live free.
I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a story about a sweet little girl with blond pigtails who loved to sing, dance, and read. She was rather quiet and shy on the outside, but on the inside, her imagination took her everywhere.
The little girl learned to read quite early and spent every bit of free time with her nose in a book. She was smart. Always a straight-A student. She was also dependable. If a teacher needed something, she was often the first to be asked. She was known for doing the right thing and received a lot of positive affirmation from others about her achievements and skills. Even so, she felt empty on the inside—and she worried.
When her mom was late arriving home, you’d find the girl with her head pressed against the window pane, begging headlights to appear. Worst-case scenarios filled her head and weighed heavy on her heart.
Plagued by Worst-Case Scenarios
When she was in 5th grade, the little girl convinced herself that her mom had Alzheimer’s because she could never find her car keys. She just knew that her dad would have a heart attack because of his high blood pressure. And she believed every new mole that appeared on her body was surely skin cancer.
She never told a soul about any of these fears. But she pulled out all of her eyelashes one summer instead.
The girl moved a lot and started new schools every few years. She learned how to hide her real feelings and pretended to be the happy, shiny girl everyone knew and loved.
Longing to Fit In
In high school, she had a handful of good friends but longed to fit in with the popular crowd. She had her first drink of alcohol at 16 and smoked her first cigarette then, too. It was as if there were two people within her body. The straight-A, good girl on the outside, and the fearful, anxious girl on the inside. Partying and drinking helped her forget these warring sides of herself, but only for a little while.
She grew into a successful adult, traveling the world with a well-paying, corporate job. Eventually, she married a tall, dark, handsome man and had two amazing daughters. She liked to keep busy, always ready to prove herself and tackle something new. People applauded her for being patient and kind. Her house was known for being beautiful and spotless. Everything she did seemed destined to succeed.
What Would They Think if They Knew?
Things began to change in her mid-30s. She began having trouble sleeping at night. Her stomach often hurt, her nerves caused noticeable shakiness, and she lost a lot of weight. She worried about everything—and nothing—all at the same time, but she couldn’t imagine letting anyone know she was struggling. They thought she had it all together. What would they think if they knew she was falling apart?
Eventually, things became so bad that the young woman went to a hospital. She couldn’t deal with life anymore. All those years she carefully hid her mess behind the protection of a lovely mask. But she could no longer hide—her body simply would not let her. The emotions she had so neatly contained and hidden away within the walls of her mind were spilling out all over her life. It was time for her to come out of hiding and learn how to live free.
That trip to the hospital was 4 years ago. My once wildly ‘successful’ life had turned into panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, spiritual and emotional anguish, and days spent curled up on my bathroom floor. That is until I learned how to find help and hope by seeking the still. It was then my life transformed into a divine, Spirit-filled, messy miracle. The way I saw the world and my place in it transformed too. My ever-evolving story is proof that it is entirely possible to turn your pain into purpose and to live free.
THE DAY I LEARNED TO TWIRL
It was March and a particularly brutal winter in the midwest. My daughters were little, and I was new to staying home full-time. We sold a car to balance the budget, but that meant the girls and I were unable to get out of the house while my husband was at work. Winter blues are real, and we had them in a terrible way.
The day the temperature finally rose was such a welcome and needed change. We relished in the shining sun and the gentle breeze that filled the air. Our spirits were lifted in anticipation of a day spent outdoors. Stepping onto the grass, I still remember lifting my face to the sky, running through the yard and twirling round and round with my arms open wide, my pasty white skin basking in the sun. It felt so good to be free. As my little girls twirled with me, it occurred to me: this is what it’s like to live free. This is how it feels to come out of the dark and into the light.
Learning to Twirl
A few years later, when the pieces of my life shattered around me and I desperately wanted to give up, I recalled the feeling of genuine freedom I had found that day through the simple act of twirling around my yard.
TWIRLing has since helped shape my recovery and has become a practical key for how to live free. No matter what struggle you face, where you are, or what is happening around you, I want to encourage you that it is possible for you also to learn how to TWIRL your way through.
T: Tell Your Team
Life can feel so lonely. Maybe you’re like me and you spend a lot of time in your own head. I often feel like I’m supposed to figure things out on my own—believing that allowing anyone into my internal chaos may do more harm than good. It’s just not true. God created us to live in relationship with Him and with others. So the very first thing I do when I begin to feel myself sliding into mess-mode is to tell my team.
The first person on your team is Jesus. In fact, He’s the Owner of your team. Your biggest cheerleader. Your biggest fan. He also happens to hold the entire world in His hands. Everyone else on your team works for Him.
Recently, I could feel the symptoms of my anxiety returning. My mind was racing and I felt nauseous; my body was shaking and internally, the pressure was building. I was stressed about preparing for a message, and I found myself thinking about ways to gracefully back out. Instead of stuffing my feelings and pretending everything was okay, I made the intentional decision to TWIRL by telling my team.
Starting with Jesus
I started with Jesus and had a talk with Him about how I was feeling. In this talk I didn’t hold anything back—He knows it all anyway. I asked Him to give me the courage to tell the other people on my team so they could help me navigate this anxiety and fear. Then I told my husband and children. Next I called two of my doctors to tell them what was happening. I also texted some family and friends to ask for prayer. When we engage God and those closest to us, not just in the ordinary and celebratory times of life, but in our darkest valleys, God’s truest intent of community is revealed.
Who is on YOUR team? If you don’t yet have a team, perhaps it’s time to ask Jesus to help you build one. It took an investment of time for me to find the right doctor and counselor, but I kept asking Jesus to help me and He did. Seek His direction and He will help you find your team as well. It’s also important to remember that some people may be on your team temporarily, just for a specific season and then someone new may come aboard. God knows who is best suited to be on your team throughout the various stages of your journey.
W: Walk Out the Next Right Thing
Have you ever considered how much time you spend dwelling on the past or worrying about the future? It’s an all-too-familiar trap. The only place you will ever find freedom is in the here and now. You can’t change what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow. The only thing you can control is the choice you make right now—in this moment. When fear, loneliness, grief, or overwhelm creep into your life, try honing your focus on walking out the next right thing. Perhaps it’s getting out of bed or opening the blinds in your home to let some light shine through the windows. The next thing will lead to the next thing—which will lead to the next thing. One small step at a time. This is how life is lived free.
I: Indulge in the Word of God
The God who created this world, the One who created life and knows the answer to every problem and prayer. He wrote you a love letter, using other messy miracles to write the words on paper. But make no mistake—He moved the pen in their hands. Every word and story in this love letter to you whispers the name of Jesus.
Indulge in the Word of God—don’t just read it with your head; read it with your heart. Soak it up and soak it in. Recognize it as the gift that it is—a love letter. If you don’t know where to start or what to read, start with the words of Jesus and indulge your heart in them. (Many Bible versions indicate the words of Jesus by presenting them in red text.) Read the very words He spoke and imagine that He is saying them just to you. It may sound a bit like this:
Laura. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.
Laura. There is no fear in love.
Laura. You are my masterpiece.
Laura. I love you.
Laura. I forgive you.
Laura. I set you free.
When was the last time you experienced true rest—body, mind, and spirit? We tend to think that just because we got a full night’s sleep, we’re rested. However, a busy mind expends just as much energy as busy legs and a restless soul drains us even more. Many of us have conditioned ourselves to under-prioritize the type of life-giving, all-encompassing rest that God prescribes.
I like to think about rest not as something to check off my list, but rather as an important part of the rhythms of my life—daily, weekly, and seasonal. After working hard for an hour or two at the office, I try to take a break and rest. I turn away from the computer, close my eyes, and breathe. Even 5 minutes will do wonders. After a big test or a big event, when I know I’ll be exerting a great deal of energy, I schedule a day, or even just a few hours, to do something that fills me—something I love. We need to be conscious and purposeful about scheduling rest. Every schedule, project plan, and to-do list should also include an intentional time of rest.
L: Leave the Outcome to God
The final step in twirling your way through life is to leave the outcome to God. Every outcome. We really do like to think we’re in control. In many cases, we are even taught that we are. “Study hard and you’ll get good grades. Work hard and you’ll be respected. Practice hard and you’ll make the team.” While it is true that it’s good to study, work, and practice, there are no guarantees about the outcome. We partner with God, offering Him our best and resting in the truth that the results belong to Him.
I have the words ‘Be Still’ tattooed on my wrist as a constant reminder of the truth that He is God, and He is in control. When I’ve done my best, told my team and worked with them, indulged in the Word of God, rested and handed the outcome to God, then I can twirl no matter what my circumstances may be, and it will be well with my soul.
Jesus lived, died, and rose that you might live in freedom through Him. He created you to run out the door and feel the wind in your face. Jesus made your spirit to soar with joy on a springtime day. Confront the mess and claim your freedom in Christ. The little girl within you is ready to TWIRL.
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The word ‘twirl’ is such a perfect acronym, Laura! It shouts freedom and life and beauty. Thank you for using your story to bring hope.
Such a lovely piece. Loved the Twirl, loved that she never told a soul, love it is well, this piece spoke to my heart, Thank you for your lovely words.
You have no idea how much this post meant to me. I was having a very emotional morning, sitting & realizing how fast time is passing by. I was also reflecting on my life, & how much time I have wasted in worry. I saw myself in this post. It was heartfelt. While I did not turn to alcohol as a teen, I experienced some of the same anxiety & panic attack. God knew I needed to read this, as well as others that experience anxiety & worry. How good it was to hear that we should have a team..even better to “Twirl”. Reading this post confirmed that I need to order “The Joyful Life”, have it in my hand then display on a coffee table or bedside table for others to enjoy. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your heart with others and helping us to know what it is to be free. Free in Christ first & foremost.