Have you heard these lines repeated enough times that it makes you cringe? The problem is that people with an anxiety disorder can’t just stop worrying or relax – the panic and urgency don’t shut off simply because someone tells them they should.
Feelings of anxiety and fear seem to run contrary to Christian teaching where God commands his chosen people to fear not. But how as humans can we “take every thought captive” and reduce those feelings of anxiety preprogrammed in us as a “fight or flight” behavior, a behavior that once protected mankind from predators?
We need to understand the link between stress and anxiety, and how normal anxiety can develop into a chronic condition.
The Social Stigma of Anxiety Disorders
The stigma surrounding mental health disorders is strong even with prevalence and the current treatments available. Sometimes it can be as simple as people not understanding that someone with an anxiety disorder can’t simply stop worrying.
People who do not experience chronic anxiety know that when presented with a stressful situation, they will get through it and the anxious feelings will leave. However, the person with chronic anxiety can’t simply shut those feelings off.
Some may believe that you are behaving erratically or overreacting to situations. This misunderstanding can create rifts in your relationship with your family. In some cases, your anxiety may lead you to isolate and hide out at home while your family attends events, causing even more alienation and stress for everyone involved.
It’s not only admitting you may have an anxiety disorder that raises eyebrows in society today but seeking treatment for the condition has its own stigma attached. In some circles, asking for help with a mental health condition is a sign of weakness. In reality, it takes great courage to admit that something isn’t right and that you need help from professionals in the mental health care field.
Take Every Thought Captive
The truth is that fighting fear, panic, and anxiety is like going to war. Each battle is between you and the anxiety you feel on a daily basis. You would never consider going to war without seeking guidance from the top military leaders. A great mental health care team will serve as your advisors as you work to win this war.
So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers. – Proverbs 24:6
For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, (emphasis added)
Stress and AnxietyStress and anxious thoughts are intimately linked. When faced with a trigger, such as your chaotic day job or critical boss, you become stressed. This stress builds until it causes anxiety, the constant worry and physical ailments associated with anxious thoughts.
Our bodies were created with the “fight or flight” response to protect us from danger. In this current society, we are rarely hunted down by vicious predators, however, our bodies do not know the difference between a vicious predator and a stressful day at work so our internal response remains strong and active. That response kicks in to protect you when triggered by a stressor. The problem we face is when stressors become more frequent and our normal response becomes chronic anxiety.
This chronic anxiety can cause several chronic conditions and illnesses. Conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions are a few of the issues that can develop from untreated anxiety disorders.
The Physical Effects of Anxiety
Anxiety can take on a life of its own. Due to your anxious behavior or the onset of panic attacks, you may find yourself missing work or school, skipping important events, and isolating yourself at home.
The physical effects of stress and anxiety disorders can also be debilitating:
- Shortness of breath
- Digestive issues
- Sweating excessively
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle tension and tightness
- Headaches, often severe
- Joint inflammation
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Dry skin/hair
- Hair loss
- Increased risk of heart attack/stroke
- PMS symptoms in women
- Erectile problems in men
- Decreased libido
- Decreased immunity/increase in illnesses
Unlike panic attacks that bring on fear and physical symptoms suddenly, anxiety symptoms can gradually build. You may begin to expect an anxiety attack when triggered by certain events, places, or memories, causing you to avoid those situations.
What the Bible Says About Anxiety
In Philippians 4:6, Paul wrote to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Allowing God to shoulder your burdens will cause those feelings of fear and anxiety to dissipate.
It may feel difficult when you are faced with a crisis such as the loss of a job or financial worries, but Peter wrote that we should make sure we are “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) The Lord knew we would get caught up in the worries and stresses of life. He wants us to give everything to Him. As the Word says, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)
Try going to God about your worries, fears, and anxieties. As Psalm 139:23 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties, and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Coping with Anxiety
So besides taking every thought captive, what can you do to cope with your anxiety disorder?
Emptying out your worries to God can ease the burden you are carrying on your shoulders. God doesn’t want you to worry or to entertain fear. Give it to Him and ask Him to relieve your anxiety.
Sometimes the simple act of writing out your thoughts can clear the mental clutter and reduce those feelings of panic and stress. It doesn’t matter what type of notebook you use, but you may want to consider portability so you can jot down your thoughts when you have time during the day.
- Increase your physical activity.
Studies have shown that physical exercise increases endorphins, not only making you feel good but helping you to relax. Try something low-impact like walking or gardening if you haven’t exercised for a while. If physical activity is something you practice on a regular basis, then speak to your doctor about incorporating High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and/or weightlifting.
- Practice yoga.
Yoga can be more about focusing on your breath and flexibility than meditation. As you move into each pose and connect with your breathing, you may sense those worries melting away. Challenge yourself to a 30-day yoga practice to experience the benefits.
- Change your diet.
Certain foods can cause an increase in anxiety symptoms. Steer clear (or at least decrease) your intake of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, tobacco, and food additives/dyes, as these can affect your mood.
- Ask your doctor about anti-anxiety medications.
Your physician may prescribe medications to help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. Medications like diazepam (Valium) and fluoxetine (Prozac) are only two of the myriad of prescription drugs available.
- Learn Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques from a mental health professional.
Researchers have confirmed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is a beneficial treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and other mental health conditions. The patient is taught how to replace negative and unwanted thoughts and behaviors with positive behaviors.
- Ask yourself if those worries causing you anxiety are legitimate concerns.
Taking a step back and evaluating a problem may lead you to solutions. You may realize that simply by pivoting and coming up with a new angle or idea, the situation suddenly feels less intimidating.
Christian Counseling for Anxiety
Ultimately, you may find the best way of coping with anxiety is to talk it out with a professional. There are people who want to help so that you don’t have to battle this on your own. Visit our online counselor directory today to find the best counselor for you.
“Praying”, Courtesy of Marquise Kamanke, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hospital Stay”, Courtesy of Ali Yahya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yoga”, Courtesy of Bady qb, Unsplash.com, CC0 License