The term age of anxiety has been around for decades. Why are we still plagued by this seemingly unending problem? Is anxiety getting worse? Is there a solution? The Bible says there is!
During the trying years of World War II, W.H. Auden wrote The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. This poem seems to be the first recorded use of the term age of anxiety. However, since the poem’s release in 1947, this phrase has been applied to eras spanning from the late 1800s until today.
So, why are so many experiencing life-altering anxiety today?
To answer this question, we need to understand anxiety—to really dig into its causes and effects.
Anxiety in this era
If anxiety isn’t a problem for you, this might seem like a trivial topic that can be dismissed by quoting the apostle Paul: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
There we have it! Problem solved.
Except those who struggle with anxiety know that the solution isn’t quite as fast or simple as that might sound.
To be clear, this isn’t an article approaching anxiety from a clinical standpoint, nor is it a guide for diagnosing anxiety. What this article offers is firsthand experience in recognizing, accepting and working on overcoming anxiety from a biblical standpoint.
In our lives today, just as for people in previous generations, there can be many triggers for anxiety, some more common than others.
Here are three of the most common triggers in this age of anxiety:
1. Loss of control
Your heart pounds and your hands get clammy when you find yourself in the middle of a large crowd. You get nervous, even dizzy, in public places, unsure of what’s happening around you. You need to be at the front of the pack when driving so you aren’t boxed in.
This is what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other loss-of-control stresses can feel like.
Police officers, fire fighters and military personnel who have experienced combat are all susceptible to this type of anxiety, as are people in other high-stress, life-threatening professions. The need to be in control of their surroundings or current situation can bring on severe anxiety when that control is lost. And that need can remain even after the person moves on to other professions.
Having personally experienced this type of anxiety—having been the person who became nervous in crowds, who had to know what was around him at all times, who couldn’t drive behind anyone, ever—I know it takes more than just saying “don’t be anxious” to not be anxious.
So, how can we lessen this need for control and reduce anxiety?
The book of Psalms holds many passages of encouragement for those who struggle with the anxiety of loss of control. King David reminds us that God is our fortress, our deliverer and our shield, the One in whom we can take cover (Psalm 144:2). He also makes the point that we can release our fear because God is the stronghold of our life (Psalm 27:1).
The book of Psalms goes further than just telling us not to be anxious about loss of control; it explains why we can let go.
By strengthening our reliance upon God through prayer, Bible study, meditation and adhering to His instructions, we can learn to put our confidence in Him.
Accepting that God is in control can help us to gain a sense of peace. And in doing so, we can more easily release our need for control—and thereby release the anxiety that comes from a loss of control.Accepting that God is in control can help us to gain a sense of peace. And in doing so, we can more easily release our need for control—and thereby release the anxiety that comes from a loss of control.
2. Lack of self-esteem
Your mouth gets dry. Your head lowers. Your palms get sweaty. Butterflies well up inside you. You feel yourself blushing. Should you cry? Should you scream? Should you run away in terror? What’s the proper response to the coworker who asks you a question in front of three other people?
Sometimes that’s all it takes.
This is the anxiety that comes from a lack of self-esteem, also known as social anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety may describe you perfectly, but you may not know it as a sign of low self-esteem.
Or maybe you do.
Maybe this type of anxiety comes upon you because you feel like you have nothing to contribute—like you’re not smart enough, or funny enough, or attractive enough, or wealthy enough, or some other stereotype enough to be counted worthy of being included.
A 2006 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy determined that socially anxious people were less likely to associate positive words with themselves.
Our self-esteem can take a beating in today’s society. In the age of social media, people have found a way to be extremely judgmental. It has become easy for people to hide behind their screens while belittling, mocking and bullying others.
For those who struggle with this anxiety, slipping further into the abyss may be easier in this social media-driven age where we’re critically judged by every photo we post, word we type or thing we “like.” It’s also important to remember that physical, emotional and sexual abuse can be major contributors to low self-esteem.
As society turns away from God and the Bible, it’s easy to see how people can forget why and by whom they were created, and thereby lose their sense of worth. In overcoming this lack of self-esteem, it’s critical to understand what our Creator thinks of us.
We are created by our Father in heaven to become His children!
Think about that for a moment.
Before the foundation of the world, God planned for us to become His sons and daughters (see Ephesians 1:3-6). He wants us to be in His family—to share His love and nature. Not only does God want us to become His children, He paid the ultimate price to make that possible. Our Father, our mighty, loving Creator, was willing to give His Son, and Jesus allowed Himself to be beaten and scourged, to be crucified and die—and for whom?
It’s not about being funny enough. Or smart enough. Or attractive enough. Or wealthy enough. Those things don’t matter. What matters is that we’re important enough to God for Him to build a future for us.
It’s much easier to remove the anxiety of low self-esteem when we understand how meaningful we are to our Creator—and that He has a great future in store for us.
Stress does not discriminate. It can attack anyone. And it can hit us in many different ways.
“I can’t find a job.”
“I hate my job!”
“Everyone tells me I should get married, but I can’t find someone to love.”
“My wife is pregnant again, and we’re not prepared.”
“My family is being persecuted for our religion.”
“I didn’t get into the college I wanted.”
“The violence in my town is out of control.”
“I’m being bullied at school, but I’m afraid to tell anyone.”
“My boyfriend broke up with me.”
“I have terminal cancer.”
“My child has terminal cancer.”
Life is stressful whether we’re wealthy or poor—whether we live in a mansion or a shack.
The anxiety from life’s stresses may sometimes sound superficial, but the impact is just as real as any other type of anxiety.
And it’s not exclusive to adults with busy lives—children are also highly susceptible to anxiety caused by stressful situations. The stress of being shuffled from home, to daycare or school, to the babysitter, back to home day after day can cause anxiety. In more extreme cases, some children go without food or suitable shelter every day. They live in poverty, in areas plagued by crime, experiencing stress-induced anxiety every day of their lives.
Children can also develop anxiety due to their parents’ actions and words. An article on KidsHealth.org warns that parents should be mindful of how they discuss issues like finances, illness, and marital and work troubles when their children are present, because children pick up on their parents’ anxieties and start to worry themselves.
So how do we overcome the anxiety of our stressful lives?
Jesus told us not to worry about the concerns of life, like what to eat or drink. But He didn’t just tell us not to be anxious—He also explained why.
The Creator of all is watching over us and is aware of our needs. If we set our mind on the things of God—the things of righteousness—while trusting God to provide what we can’t, then our physical needs can become secondary and our anxiety can subside (Matthew 6:25-34).
This doesn’t imply that our needs will go away—or suggest that we’ll never suffer want. It simply means that when we align our priorities with God’s priorities, our physical worries and stresses are put into perspective and become less important. And when we allow our focus to be on the spiritual, we can reduce the stress and anxiety that come from the physical.
Don’t try to deal with anxiety alone
Anxiety is real and is difficult to overcome.
And sometimes—despite our best efforts, despite all we do to draw closer to God—anxiety can still grip us and become a weight dragging us down into an abyss of loneliness and depression. When this happens, or even if we think this is happening—whether to ourselves or to someone we know—seeking professional help is critical.
A study on “The Relationship Between Anxiety Disorders and Suicide Attempts” in 2011 found a distinct link between anxiety and suicide, most notably in those with panic disorders and PTSD (National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions).
Believe me when I say that someone who doesn’t seek help with anxiety can be in serious danger of turning to suicide as a solution.I’ve witnessed this side of anxiety. Believe me when I say that someone who doesn’t seek help with anxiety can be in serious danger of turning to suicide as a solution.
If you or someone you know may be having suicidal thoughts or considering suicide, there are resources in place to help. In the U.S. contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. For suicide hotlines in other countries, see http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html.
Seeking God’s help and guidance is very valuable, but God actually wants us to also reach out to others for help. The worst decision we can make is to try to overcome anxiety on our own. The Bible says that “two are better than one” and that it can be detrimental for the one “who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
It’s important to reach out to others who can support us as we overcome this very real problem. If anxiety becomes a chronic problem that hinders you from living a healthy life, it can be very helpful to seek out professional help from a qualified counselor or psychologist. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness.
Exiting the age of anxiety
How can we survive this seemingly perpetual age of anxiety?
The answer is found in believing in and relying upon the Word of God. Paul told us to “be anxious for nothing.” The rest of the Bible explains how this seemingly impossible task is possible.
When we let God take control, when we realize how important we are to Him and when we put our worries, stresses and cares upon Him—that’s when we have a chance to be anxious for nothing, and when our personal age of anxiety can end.