Anxiety can be paralyzing and cause extreme suffering to the person experiencing it, as well as to their family. This is often because the person doesn’t seek help because they aren’t sure what they are dealing with. Or, if they are Christians, they see their situation as spiritual failure. Surely if they trusted God more, they would not feel anxious.
Anxiety on the Rise
Anxiety disorders are on the rise, and, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are the most common mental illness in the USA, affecting 40 million adults aged 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population annually. The Association states that anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events; and that, while they are highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
Anxiety can be linked to substance abuse, as some people use alcohol or drugs to medicate themselves and relieve feelings of distress. They can effectively mask symptoms for some time, making diagnosis and treatment difficult, while actually worsening the anxiety. Substance abuse is discouraged as a coping mechanism; however, with guidance from a trained counselor, an individual can break free from its fast-tightening grip – the sooner the intervention; the better.
With this rising prevalence of anxiety and its devastating effects, the church must dispel any lingering notion that problems like anxiety are exclusively spiritual. If you are suffering from clinical anxiety, being told to “Not be anxious, but pray about everything” (paraphrased from Philippians 4:6) or that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18), can lead to shaming and potentially serve to turn one away from their faith.
These verses, while extremely encouraging, were not written as pronouncements on anxiety disorders. Spiritual issues may certainly be interwoven with a person’s anxiety, but to try to remedy anxiety merely with a call to greater faith is akin to praying over a broken bone without seeking medical assistance.
In the same vein, there need not be a stigma around the use of mental health medications, when prescribed by a professional and used in conjunction with effective Christian therapy. If you know of someone who is dealing with anxiety, and who feels that medication is weak or sinful, urge them to reconsider.
For many, the use of medications is a lifeline, allowing them to reach a level where they can function effectively and tackle issues in a way that wouldn’t be possible without them. Many successful treatment plans for how to treat anxiety include the combination of prescription medications and skills learned in therapy to manage symptoms of anxiety.
How to Treat Anxiety
How then, can one be relieved of anxiety or at least a significant portion of the problem? First, an examination by a physician is necessary, as some medical conditions such as a lack of Vitamin B12, can cause anxiety. A primary care doctor could also prescribe medications and may also recommend psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy involves talking with a qualified professional, or the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a successful form of treatment. CBT involves examining one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in response to situations, recognizing destructive patterns, and learning new ways to think about experiences and circumstances.
Christians should consult three professionals when considering how to treat anxiety: your doctor, your pastor, and a Biblical counselor. Once underlying medical conditions have been ruled out, or relevant medication prescribed, your next step is to seek your pastor’s spiritual guidance, counsel, accountability, and prayer.
Perhaps there are other individuals in the church struggling with similar issues, and you may/may not be interested in meeting up with them to share and encourage one another. We are encouraged and taught in church to ask God to help us with our struggles, sometimes that means asking God to relieve us of our problems or show us the way to work through them. We are also taught as Christians to have faith and give our worries to God and let Him handle our situations, even when it is difficult to let go. We also know that there is a battlefield in our minds and bodies, and sometimes it is far easier to pray for other people than it is to pray for ourselves.
In turn, they can pray for us, an immensely powerful blessing. Surrounding yourself with people who understand anxiety, or have experienced similar situations (which can often make no sense for those who have not been through it themselves) can be a comforting source of community care.
A Biblical counselor is a critical component in figuring out how to treat anxiety, with early intervention being helpful. A trained, registered practitioner will use cognitive talk therapy as their treatment path, based on Biblical values and from a Christian worldview which recognizes that God is sovereign over our bodies, minds, and souls.
Our physical bodies are also involved and that is why self-care, or rather God’s care, is also an important consideration. God designed us to take a day’s rest every week, to get adequate sleep every night and to be good stewards over what we eat and how we exercise, etc. Too often we overcommit ourselves and are too busy to take time to be still before God and to prioritize time with Him, which is how we are renewed with daily strength and grace.
For those living with anxiety, it feels as though our feelings and thoughts are actively trying to kill us; and the sense of impending doom can be beyond exhausting. A Biblical counselor can help, over sessions of talking and working through issues, to take us back to our one anchor: the gospel.
This is our lifeline – knowing that God chose us before the creation of the world; that we live in a fallen world; that through Christ we have eternity to look forward to; an eternity without any suffering or pain. We don’t always know if or how we will be healed on this side of heaven. Perhaps we will be able to put anxiety behind us forever, perhaps it will always be a thorn in our side; but we do know that for the Christian, God uses everything for our ultimate good and His glory.
Help from Scripture
A Biblical counselor will also help you to reflect on powerful, comforting promises from God’s Word. There are many passages, but here are a few to meditate on if you are struggling with anxiety at the moment:
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. – Psalm 94:19
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9
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
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
Billy Graham 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 worst, it is a crippling disease, taking over our minds and plunging our thoughts into darkness.” How encouraging it is that anxiety no longer has to be the latter, given that the disorder is receiving proper recognition and effective treatment is available.