As I sat in Jessica’s office she could already observe the medication she had prescribed for my anxiety was making a difference.
“I didn’t know life could be this way. I don’t panic about my kids playing outside in the front yard. I’m not terrorized by racing thoughts at night. I don’t feel like I’m in ‘fight or flight’ mode. And these are just the little things,” I commented.
For years I’ve lived with depression and took my medication faithfully. But life was still difficult because of the anxiety. At the time I didn’t realize it was anxiety, I was convinced there was a serious health issue. I sought out a doctor and then a counselor after a friend suggested this type of intervention. I was sick of everyone telling me, “Just believe more. Just have more faith. Just pray about it more.”
Anxiety is not that simple because it often misunderstood to be simply that a person is stressing too much. There is a distinct difference between the sin of anxiety and the mental health disorder of anxiety that is characterized by physical changes in the brain. Anxiety is both a mental health issue and a spiritual issue.
Anxiety is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one's daily activities. It often includes panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. For individuals like me, anxiety goes hand in hand with depression and I’m not alone. Sadly, anxiety disorders are on the rise which makes it critical for the Church to understand the epidemic on our hands.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
How to Deal with Anxiety
Now that we’ve established that anxiety isn’t a fake or silly issue. The next question is: How do we deal with anxiety? Perhaps before we can answer the question, we need to understand the bigger picture. Our brain and spiritual soul are interdependent on each other in ways that we cannot fully see. This means there physical and spiritual strategies that deal with the condition of our brain and soul. God can heal both types of anxiety. It is up to us to discern and seek wise counsel for the best path to take.
Give your Life and Your Thoughts to Christ
Billy Graham once said: “At its best, anxiety distracts us from our relationship with God and the truth that He is “Lord of heaven and earth” (Matthew 11:25). At its worst, anxiety is a crippling disease, taking over our minds and plunging our thoughts into darkness.”
The Bible goes on to tell us in the book in Philippians chapter 4, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The first step to becoming free of anxiety is to give your life to Jesus Christ. Once you’ve taken this step, the next is to practice fixing your thoughts on Christ and his promises. (John 14:2-3). In the battlefield of our minds, we are to practice awareness of our thoughts and take them captive.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9, ESV, emphasis added).
Ask for Anointing Prayer
It’s important for Christians to understand, anxiety changes us. It changes our perception. It challenges our physical bodies. We know there is no logical explanation for adrenaline pumping through our veins as though we’re running from a Zombie Apocalypse. We know that we’re to pray our worries away. We know we are to go to God and rest our thoughts on Christ. We know that there is a battlefield in our minds and bodies. We know it’s not a Philippians 4 thing. We know it doesn’t make sense. We can, however, ask for anointing prayer. We can ask for our brothers and sisters in Christ to lay aside their assumptions and rest their hands upon us. We can ask for that. We can ask for help.
The Gospel is Everything
For those of us living with anxiety, it feels as though our feelings and thoughts are actively trying to kill us. At the same time, we also know our feelings are lies that cannot and should not ever be trusted. The feeling of dread and panic sends our hearts into our throats and stomachs to the floor. The sense of impending doom is beyond exhausting. But we do have one anchor. While our feelings try to unmoor us, the gospel anchors us. It’s our life line. We know that God chose us before the creation of this world, we also know we live in a fallen world. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt God is with us. He doesn’t want us to suffer and he can heal us. What we don’t know is how he will heal us.
Will it always be a thorn in our side, like myself? I live with a physiological disorder of depression and anxiety. It has been my cross to bear in order to shed light on the stigma of mental health, suicide, and the Church. It has been my platform in order to bring truth to those living with the disorder and bridge to the gap for those who don’t understand it.
Will God heal us supernaturally? Will He use friends, Biblical counselors, intercessory prayer and medication? God has been known to heal all of these ways, sometimes it’s a combination.
Self Care is God’s Care
Anxiety crops up when we least expect it. It happens when we’ve put too much on our plates. When we pile on the hustle, the busy, the doing, the too much, the too many yeses. Our body doesn’t know any other way but to say no. And our bodies shut down in ways we don’t expect. God didn’t design us to hustle 24-7. He designed us to Be Still and Know. To ‘Be still’ means to rest in God’s presence. This verse wasn’t written in the context of taking a spa day. It was written in the context of war. The meaning of the Psalm means to: stop, cease striving and stop fighting. It means to acknowledge who our God is and be in awe of him. Daily we should learn to be still before our Lord. It keeps the world from spinning off its axis within our minds. That means to become un-busy, to not hustle. We are to prioritize our time with Him and listen to what our bodies need. Rest, exercise, a good bedtime routine, getting eight hours of sleep, and consume healing foods. This is how we war against the battle of anxiety.
Seek the Trio of Counsel
There are three professionals you need to meet in order to combat anxiety. Your doctor, your counselor, and your pastor. Once you’ve visited your doctor to find out if it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain, the next step is your Pastor for spiritual guidance, accountability, and prayer. The next professional is a critical: A Biblical Counselor. Cognitive talk therapy based on Biblical Christian values is important. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NIMH), today’s treatments for mental illnesses are 70% to 90% effective for reducing symptoms and improving quality of life. The NIMH also states that early identification is paramount. It reduces the risk of further harm to the brain. Early intervention also produces faster healing.
Scripture about Anxiety
There were moments throughout my path to healing where all I could do was hold my Bible and it brought me so much comfort. The promises of God echoed through my mind as often as the panic, depression, and fear. Over time, I began to heal as I worked through counseling, met with my Pastor’s wife, friends, took my medication and learned to be still before God. Here are a few key verses that will help diminish fear and point your heart to God.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” ~ 1 John 4:18
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” ~ Psalm 94:19
“But now, this is what the Lord says…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” ~ Isaiah 43:1
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, faith, relationships, celebration, and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and is the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com.