Before entering the mission field I had experienced my fair share of anxiety—but just the “regular” anxiety. Anxiety over a test the next day, or a job interview, but then after everything was over I was okay.
Then I entered the mission field.
After I had been out for my first transfer I found out I would be in a trio; me, my trainer and another sister. I started shaking, my thoughts were fuzzy, I couldn’t think very clearly and things only progressed through the transfer. My method was to just work as hard as I could so I could ignore these uncomfortable feelings I was having. I planned on taking Elder Holland's advice; square my shoulders and keep my chin up! This seemed to work well, but then I was transferred to a brand new area with a brand new companion and I was assigned to be a Sister Training Leader.
Let me remind you, I had just finished being trained. I was scared out of my mind.
I remember going on my first exchange with a sister and waking up that morning sick to my stomach. It was hard to think, my stomach hurt, my thoughts were loud and the spirit was hard to listen to. How was I supposed to be led by the Spirit if I couldn’t hear him or feel him? This continued to happen on every exchange and then I finally reached out to my mission president for help.
He was able to offer me some advice, as he experienced anxiety for a good part of his life. However, the most helpful thing for me to do was to pray and try to seek personal revelation on not even the reason why I was having the anxiety, but what was triggering it. I felt so selfish doing this on my mission, as I should have been focusing on the people we were teaching. I sent myself on this guilt trip over it, but ultimately the answer I received was that I needed to help myself before I helped others.
After a lot of prayer and fasting and doing everything I could to turn outwards, things finally came together. I was able to humbly recognize that I would get severe anxiety when I went on exchanges because I was worried about what these sisters would think of me. I was such a young missionary to be in a leadership assignment and every sister I went on an exchange with had been out for months longer than I had. Why weren’t they the leader, teaching me? I felt the need to be as prepared as possible and try to make sure everything was organized and I looked like a good missionary and prove myself as a leader. After understanding this, I was able to seek more help through scripture study on how I can change this mindset and not worry so much about what others thought of me.
It didn’t come as a lightning bolt, but more as Elder Anderson calls it, like a sunrise. I slowly came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what other sisters thought of me. What really mattered was what the Lord thought of me. So, if on exchanges a lesson would fall through and none of our back-up plans worked out so we ended up contacting, I was okay with it because it suddenly didn’t matter if that sister thought we didn’t have anyone to teach or not. It mattered that the Lord knew we were out working hard and doing our very best that day.
I was even grateful for these moments because then the other sister would be able to see that even I struggled as a missionary. I get doors slammed in my face too and lessons in our area fall through as well. During the Lord’s ministry he didn’t show everybody how perfect his life was. He was spat upon and persecuted, so why would it be any different for me just because I was supposed to be a leader and a good example? Christ was the ultimate example. His Atonement works because he experienced and felt what we feel. How could I show these sisters they could trust me and be my friend if I didn’t allow them to see that I experienced many of the same things they did every single day.
Now, I am not suggesting that this happened over night, or that after this slow learning process I suddenly didn’t deal with anymore anxiety—I did! I have been home over a year and I still deal with it. It’s for different reasons and I still have a lot of triggers to learn about but just allowing the Lord to teach me and learning to be humble enough to listen to his response is what made the difference for me right then in that moment on my mission.
Over time I continued to learn more about what other triggers for the anxiety I experienced were and was able to slowly learn to work through those too. The biggest lesson for me though wasn’t necessarily learning how to deal with anxiety but learning to cast everything at the Savior’s feet and saying, “Here. Here are my burdens, difficulties, anxiety and I am giving them to you. I am asking you to help me carry these and help me through them.” This strengthened my relationship with my Savior and my Heavenly Father as I learned more intimately what the Atonement of Jesus Christ is all about and what it meant to me as a missionary, and even now, today, as a college student, wife, sister, and friend.
While I would never wish anyone to experience anxiety, especially in such a severe way as I have, I am forever grateful for the things it taught me about myself, about being a missionary and essentially about the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Sister Hannig served in the Florida Tallahassee Mission.