The anxiety and worry we may feel in this stressed society seem to only make our other problems worse. Is there anything positive we can do?
There are plenty of things to worry about these days: Where can I find a job? How am I going to be able to pay my bills? Will we lose our home? Will I ever be able to retire? In what kind of world will my children grow up?
How is your life going? Are you trying to cope with more stress and anxiety than ever? Do you feel overwhelmed, like you are unable to even catch your breath? Perhaps you feel that you’re trying to fight off discouragement.
Of course, we hope your life is going well; but considering the global economic fallout that began in 2008, more people than ever are suffering from high stress levels—and it seems to be coming from even more directions.
Thousands of people are faced with very serious illnesses, in some cases terminal. The number of older couples who now have grown-up children moving back home because of a job loss or broken marriage is on the rise. Still others are coping with the health issues and needed care of aging parents.
According to an article in Forbes magazine in March of 2012, 60 percent of current college graduates are unable to find work in their chosen field. In fact, after spending the time and money for a college education, many recent graduates have had to settle for jobs that don’t even require a college degree. Many studies show this trend is not likely to turn around quickly, adding even more pressure and anxiety to what so many are already laboring under.
Positive vs. negative stress
A certain amount of stress is normal, healthy, even stimulating. It can make us work harder, think more deeply and be more creative and alert to new possibilities and solutions. When confronted by a demanding situation, we may feel excited and energized to meet the challenge and persevere. Studies show that facing positive stress and working our way through it leads to a greater degree of satisfaction with life and an enhanced sense of well-being.
But too much stress—where problems are coming at us faster and with more intensity than we can handle them or where they are bigger than any solutions we have for them—is not healthy. At that point, stress can turn into anxiety, discouragement, despair or even hopelessness.
King Solomon understood the impact of too much stress when he wrote, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Proverbs 12:25). Also, “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).
Under normal circumstances, most of us are able to cope with the trials and struggles of life. It is a part of everyone’s life and just something we must all work our way through. The first part of Proverbs 18:14 says, “The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,” and that is so. A normal level of optimism and clear thinking will helps us navigate regular troubles.
But that changes when the problems are huge and seeming to come in droves. Trials that linger for long periods of time also tax our emotional reserves until we feel that we have nothing left. The last part of Proverbs 18:14 says, “…but who can bear a broken spirit?” The broken spirit—out of options, out of time and out of the emotional energy to continue the fight—is what leads us to spiral down into discouragement.
Paralyzed by discouragement
When problems get really severe and our emotional reserves are depleted, we may lose all desire to do anything to improve our situation. We become mentally, emotionally and spiritually paralyzed.
Solomon also wrote, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22, emphasis added throughout). The broken spirit feels there is no help available, has no energy and no ideas for how to improve. And, as a result, someone facing this level of anxiety may end up just doing nothing to improve or cope with things.
Jesus Christ knew the severe anxiety, pressure and stress His disciples were going to face. He told them they would have persecution in the world, and that mankind in general would not listen to or readily accept the message they were to teach. But, in order to prevent them from becoming paralyzed by fear and discouragement, He told them, “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Take no anxious thought
Jesus Christ told His disciples not to allow worry and anxiety to take over their lives and thoughts.
“Then He said to His disciples, ‘Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?’” (Luke 12:22-26).
Obviously, some concern is unavoidable. What Christ was referring to is excessive fear and anxiety about all those things. Worry cannot help. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t find us a job, make us well or pay the bills. It only makes things worse by causing problems to seem larger. And worry can hurt our health and waste time we could be using more productively.
God knows that food and clothing are necessary for all of us, but He also wants us to understand that there are even more important things for us to place as higher priorities. As He stated in Matthew’s Gospel, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:33-34).
If we have becoming a part of the coming Kingdom of God and taking on His righteousness as our highest priority, we are told He will help us with those necessary matters of food, clothing and shelter. We are far more important to God than the birds, and He has seen that they have food to eat!
Game plan for beating anxiety
Everyone will suffer some problems in life. It is how we deal with those problems that makes the difference. It’s essential to know how to handle them. Setting up a game plan can be very helpful. Here are some suggested steps that can help.
1. Pray: The first thing to do is take it to God in personal prayer. He wants us to learn to look to Him and rely on His help.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). Never forget there is a living God in heaven who cares for you. He can help you solve any problem or comfort you in any loss.
In the face of a major trial, some people fail to recognize God’s ability and willingness to intervene and help them. By failing to ask, they’re missing out on the greatest help of all. James tells us there is a lot more we could receive from God, if only we would ask. “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).
At the beginning of 2 Chronicles 20 we can read how Jehoshaphat, a righteous king, handled the threat of death and destruction.
“Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, ‘A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar’ (which is En Gedi). And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD” (2 Chronicles 20:1-4).
At first, there was the natural recognition of a major problem, then the reaction of fear that led to a positive action, seeking the help of God. And if you read the rest of this chapter, you’ll find that God responded with deliverance from this threat to their lives and homes.
Prayer can be a powerful tool in addressing our difficulties. If we pray fervently in faith, seeking His will and not our own, then prayer can bring some wonderful results.
2. Obey God: It is also essential that we strive to live as God commands if we want Him to intervene for us. “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
Living faith always involves some action on our part. In addition to prayer, usually there are things we can do to improve the situation. If we have lost a job, we can use the hours that we would normally use on the job to look for another one. Make it your job to find a job. Explore every avenue.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10 says—so get busy!
3. Seek wise counsel: Perhaps there are options that you haven’t considered, so seek out others who have gone through (or are going through) a similar trial. Look for wise advisers, which may mean looking beyond your own peer group or close personal friends. Professional counseling may be in order. And don’t isolate yourself. Idleness and isolation lead to greater discouragement.
David, the greatest king of ancient Israel, placed many capable men in positions of leadership. It is interesting that a couple of the last people mentioned are a counselor and a companion (friend). “Ahithophel was the king’s counselor, and Hushai the Archite was the king’s companion” (1 Chronicles 27:33).
Though David was a wise and experienced man himself, he understood the need to have both a close friend and an adviser to whom he could go for another perspective. We all need close friends who will encourage and advise us in difficult times. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
Solomon, David’s son, later wrote: “The sweet smell of incense can make you feel good, but true friendship is better still” (Proverbs 27:9, Contemporary English Version).
Solomon also wrote, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
There is hope in difficult times
When you are faced with trials, remember your best source of help is God. He cares about you. Go to Him in prayer. Work to obey Him, and seek counsel from His Word and wise advisers.
Realize as well that trials can also be learning opportunities. Look for lessons that you can learn from the experience by asking God to show you what you need to learn. Certainly our own trials help us be more aware of the suffering of others and to have more compassion for them.
For further reading, see our blog post on “Dealing With Anxiety.”