How Do I Deal With My Anxiety?
QUESTION: What does the Bible say about anxiety? And how can I be at peace and not be so fearful all the time?
ANSWER: "Anxiety" encompasses the most common group of psychological problems for children and adults in the U.S. About 40 million people suffer from anxiety, which often leads to depression. We are told in Philippians 4:6 to stop being anxious over everything! In the scripture we find that humans have phobos, a tendency to run away when we are scared. We have all heard of the fight, flight, freeze response when faced with an overwhelming stress. Man was made in God's image, but when man became sinful, immediately man became anxious about being near God. It seems that our very nature is "hard-wired" for anxiety. In contrast, Jesus is never said to have been afraid!
Anxiety from Stress and Trauma
Stress overload, or "dis-stress," results in panic and anxiety attacks, depression, or even heart problems. It is not enough to say to oneself, "stop it" when anxiety hangs like a cloud. Yes, anxiety can be a lack of trust in God's purpose and provision for you. But, we see children being more anxious naturally from the beginning of their life. In our fallen world, we observe that some people are "naturally" more anxious than others. Research supports this. We have anxious brains. Even Christians suffer from anxiety, experiencing intrusive negative thoughts and fears, often occurring over and over in one's thought patterns. We call that "flight of thoughts." These reoccurring intrusive thoughts on one's mind frequently interfere with sleep. Sleep deprivation increases anxiety.
Another major area of stress damage, especially for children, is the anxiety that comes from having experienced trauma. We are indeed living in a violent world and our children are very much occupied with fears. They constantly hear all the bad news coming in from media that, indirectly, may traumatize them. It's even more harmful when a child has been neglected, molested, or abused. Children have little life skill to deal with such overwhelming stress. Even fighting at home, a separation, or divorce can affect a child like a trauma.
So, what is the Biblical answer?
The Bible, addressing the problem of anxiety, emphasizes that anxiety is reduced by changing the thinking (Romans 12: 2; Phil. 4:6; John 14:27). Often our negative fear-based "automatic thoughts" are related to a belief in a very small god. Core beliefs about such a god often fall short of the present, gracious, omnipotent, and sovereign God of the Bible. Our attempts to "run away and hide" betray our faith in God and we will need to learn to act on faith more than feeling. In their younger years when they came in the middle of the night in fear, I remember teaching my children the scripture, "What time I am afraid, I will trust in the Lord." We indeed will be afraid, but against the fear we must take hold of God's assurance that He is with us.
For many of those who have grown up with childhood trauma, the journey is longer and often requires that special care and healing that is associated with the help of a mature, gifted Christian counselor or pastor. Fearful people often feel that they have no safe person to whom they can tell their story. Some pain is inevitable in life. We will have times of fear and worry. In scripture, we are called upon to "count it all joy when trials come" (James 1:1f).
We should not fight against God's providence but learn to accept it by faith. By faith we can develop a greater appreciation for our own life and deepen our spiritual beliefs. I think of the hymn, "Through it all, I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in God." Your fears and anxiety can lead you to a deeper and more satisfying faith and may lead you to pursue unexpected new pathways for your life!
This post is from our former blog series called "Ask Anne" through Pathways Professional Counseling.
*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.