Overcoming Dangerous Emotions: Dealing With Anxiety
The Bible tells us not to worry, but what if we are stuck in a vicious cycle of anxiety? Here is part 2 of the “Overcoming Dangerous Emotions” series.
With a variety of associated disorders and ever-growing awareness of its effects, anxiety has literally become a household term. How often have we wished that we could get through a day without thinking the worst will happen in every situation?
A healthy concern about upcoming events and an awareness of the need for planning in our lives is normal and even responsible. Planning and meditating on our actions and preparing for either inevitabilities or possibilities are healthy and encouraged by Scripture. Proverbs talks about how the ant is wise and prepares for things to come (Proverbs 30:25).
Thoughtful consideration given to upcoming situations or possible choices or consequences is beneficial in many ways. What happens, however, when thoughtful consideration turns to paralyzing fear over nearly all situations we encounter during the day?
Why is anxiety spiritually dangerous?
Consider these scenarios:
- Our hearts are beating when we are forced to mingle and engage in “small talk” with people in a large crowd.
- Our stomachs feel like a huge hole has been punched through while we are thinking about going to our job or a social gathering in a few hours.
- We can barely step out into the world because our mind is telling us that nothing is going to work out right and anything bad can and will happen.
Sound familiar? Though some professionals may recommend medication for some anxiety disorders, they all agree that it stands little chance to be of lasting benefit without our commitment to change our thinking.
Don’t underestimate the impact anxiety can have on our spiritual attitudes. Paul wrote, “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, emphasis added throughout). God’s Spirit is not one of fear, and it involves having a sound mind that is not clouded by constant dread of what is going to happen next.
That being said, our Creator knows when we are diligently taking steps to fight against our anxiety. However, He also knows when we are not committed to overcoming (we won’t write anything down, we won’t seek help from friends or professionals, we won’t try to incorporate any suggestions, we try something for one day and say it doesn’t work, we refuse to pray and study more, etc.).
A life full of anxiety makes it very hard for us to believe in God’s perfect will and plan of salvation. It also makes us trust more in the physical environment and less in the invisible Creator who makes sure that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Anxiety is a huge threat to the fruit of faithfulness, and thus it needs to be dealt with immediately.
Identify the cause of anxious thinking
The biggest step is admitting that anxiety, clinical disorder or not, demands a change in thought patterns.
To change, first we need to find out what are the main causes of our anxiety.
Write down the answers to questions like the following and talk to a friend, minister or professional about your answers:
- What is it about being around people that sets me off?
- What parts of my job make me fearful?
- How is this person intimidating to me?
- What part of this particular action makes it so terrifying?
- If the horrible thing I think is going to happen happens, what will happen?
- Is stress overwhelming me in dealing with this job or circumstance?
If we can identify major stressors or causes of anxiety in our lives, then we should get rid of any that we can as fast as possible! Unfortunately, many causes of anxiety (such as our careers, relationships or responsibilities) cannot be just abandoned without being irresponsible. So we must change our thinking.
Analyze and compare anxious thinking to reality
It’s time to jot down those thoughts that go with the events or questions. They might include:
- I’m going to look stupid and everyone will openly laugh at me.
- They won’t think I’m good at my job.
- They’ll make fun of me and talk about me behind my back.
- I’ll get hurt for sure.
- They’ll think badly of me.
- My entire world as I know it will come crumbling down.
Take a good look at the thoughts. When we stop justifying the thoughts as being part of us and something we can’t help, we see that they are obsessively fixated on what other people think of us, prideful, self-centered and certainly don’t mention God anywhere. So, analyze them.
- Is it fair/rational to think that everyone in a room or in a situation is fixated and staring at every little thing we do? Think about how often we notice other people and how quickly we forget things people do.
- Is it fair/rational to think that the worst-case scenario will happen, or that we need to be prepared for every possible thing out of our control? We can plan, but do we remember that God is ultimately in control: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
- Is it fair/rational to think that in the situation we are in, God has abandoned us and is not available to help us? Is it fair/rational to think that God can’t protect you from something if He wills it?
Substitute the irrational with rational
We know that thoughts not in line with God’s thinking have to be changed. When anxiety rears its head, we should fill our minds with encouraging Bible verses and thoughts:
- God is with me in this.
- I can handle this.
- I don’t think like this anymore, remember?
It will definitely take work, patience and dedication. Anxious, irrational thoughts will continue to invade our heads thanks to Satan’s whisperings, but we can be ready for him with God’s truth.
What if I’ve already lost control?
Pray immediately to God and ask for His Spirit of power, love and a sound mind. Repeat an encouraging scripture in your mind or, better yet, say it out loud. The longer we go without praying and writing down our thoughts, the more we dwell on and let anxiety fester in our minds.
Now ask, “Do I believe that God can help me in this?” “Am I committed to changing my anxious thinking to peaceful and faithful thinking?” “Do I control my anxiety, or does my anxiety control me?” Then review what you’ve written and prepare for the next fight with anxiety.