ANXIETY

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CALMING A FEARFUL HEART

Discover how God’s word is able to help calm the fearful and anxious heart.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

Philippians 4:6–7

The fearful unknowns, unending what-ifs, sleepless nights, and nervousness lead to a sense of impending doom. Then muscles tense, thoughts race, hearts pound, and breath is shortened—it’s anxiety.  Anxiety is complex and multifaceted, affecting every area of life and affects an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. alone. 

Anxiety can affect every area of life, and God can help.  God desires to give you hope as you face life challenges, problems and difficult trials. The good news for us, God specializes in redemption and transformation. He takes that which was lost and restores it. He takes that which was dead and gives it life. He takes that which had no hope and rewrites its story. This is our God! As you pray today, ask God boldly to transform the thing inside you that you want to see changed forever!

The term anxiety covers a wide range of problems resulting from unfounded fears. Someone has said that the anxious person and the worrier are so preoccupied about what may happen in the future that they forget to cope with the present. It is characteristic of such a person to worry about anything. They build “mountains out of mole hills,” as insignificant matters assume great importance in their lives. They are anxious about imagined shortcomings, the future, their health, their families, and their work. They are often unable to pinpoint the reasons for their anxieties and fears.  Many anxious people suffer physical difficulties such as nervousness, sleeplessness, headaches, difficulty in breathing, or excessive sweating.

Inability to find relief from the anxiety can lead to more serious consequences, such as a “nervous breakdown.” Obviously, such people need our sympathy, our prayers, and whatever help we are able to offer. The Lord can help! “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Psalm 42:5).  A genuine, healthy fear of God conquers all other fears!

There’s grace for the anxious heart.  The Women of Faith resources show how you can manage anxiety physically, emotionally, and spiritually while staying anchored in God’s truth. 

What Is Anxiety?

You’re driving to work one day when the thought crosses your mind, Did I close the garage door? You begin to mentally retrace your steps and don’t recall with any degree of certainty that you actually did close it. You probably did and what if you didn’t? You feel the anxiety beginning to build as you imagine someone walking into your open house and stealing your computers, electronics, jewelry, and anything else deemed valuable. Just then, the person in the car to your right starts to drift into your lane. You clutch the steering wheel tightly as you swerve left slightly, lay on your horn, and hit your brakes to avoid being sideswiped. A surge of adrenaline pulses through your body putting you on high alert. Your heart is pounding, your mind is racing, your palms are sweating . . . but you’re okay. You take a deep breath and heave a sigh of relief as you think, Whew—that was close!

Anxiety is a normal part of life—it goes with being human and living in our high-stress world. Normal anxiety keeps us busy.

It reminds us to pay our bills and pushes us to pursue success. In its pure form, anxiety can serve a useful purpose, but anxiety is only normal up to a point. As long as anxious feelings are short-lived and don’t become excessive, they won’t interfere with healthy living.

However, anxiety becomes destructive when it throws people into a state of distress and weighs them down to such a degree that they cannot function normally. Proverbs accurately paints a picture of anxiety:

“Anxiety weighs down the heart.”

(Proverbs 12:25)

  • Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension or nervousness, usually over something imminent which has an uncertain outcome and affects a person both physically and psychologically.
  • Anxiety has its roots in the ancient Greek word angh:  The Greeks used this word to express the idea of being burdened or troubled (i.e., anguished).
  • Anxiety stems from uncertainty and, therefore, is an uneasiness over an uncertain outcome.
    • Hoping something will happen and having no guarantee that it will     or...
    • Fearing something will happen, but having no assurance that it won’t.
  • Anxiety reflects an excessively negative presumption:
    • Overestimating the probability of danger
    • Overexaggerating the “terribleness” of something
  •  Anxiety Disorders are intense, excessive feelings of helplessness and dread, even when the threat of danger is mild or nonexistent.
    • Disorders impair “normal functioning,” or the normal living of life.
    • Disorder sufferers organize their lives around attempts to avoid anxiety.

Based on the Bible when the Israelites find themselves in captivity, they are described as having:  “. . . an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.”  (Deuteronomy 28:65)

Anxiety inaccurately judges reality. It forgets the past and fears the future.

Anxiety fails to remember how you’ve made it through past difficulties and focuses instead on potential threats in the future. Anxiety leaves you with a fight or flight response in the present, vigilantly preparing for possible outcomes or avoiding fearful situations altogether.

The Lord, however, sees all things clearly. He says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’” (Isaiah 46:10).

God has brought you through the past and holds your future in His hands. And in your present struggle with anxiety, He is with you. The Lord is at work in your life—your anxiety is not without purpose. God longs to be your refuge and help you walk through your fears and troubles.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

(Psalm 46:1)

When you’re anxious, you might feel like your thoughts and emotions are running wild. Known as Automatic Negative Thoughts or ANTs, these types of thoughts occur when we’re anxious – and they are typically negative, untrue, and full of fear and worry. These thoughts need to be met with truth.

Your thoughts are like a conductor guiding the orchestra of your emotions, so you can help manage your anxiety by controlling your thoughts. In fact, one of the primary ways God changes us is by helping us change our thoughts. The Bible says, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2 NLT). The apostle Paul saw the benefit of this. After telling the Philippians not to be anxious (Philippians 4:6-7), he then focused on their thoughts:

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
(Philippians 4:8 NLT)

What Are Common Characteristics of Anxiety?

Anxiety shows up unexpectedly, uninvited, and unannounced. It presses on your chest making it hard to breathe. Anxiety steals your sleep, stifles your joy, and preys on your peace.

Few people want to admit they struggle with anxiety. Many dedicated and conscientious people who appear to “have it all together” discover they, too, are susceptible to becoming overworked and overwhelmed. When adrenaline infuses the body, the surge of energy can seem productive, but that same exhilaration that serves to fuel a “fight or flight” (and sometimes “freeze”) response in an emergency can also mask signs of overstress. In such cases, a seemingly “out of nowhere” panic attack could be a warning that anxiety is building and needs to be addressed. The Bible recounts David’s plea for relief from distress, praying for joy, peace, and safety. . . .

“Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. . . . Fill my heart with joy . . . In peace I will lie down and sleep for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:1, 7–8)

Review these lists of symptoms. If you experience at least three symptoms in each category, anxiety might be developing into a problem, especially if occurring frequently. And if you are experiencing more than three symptoms from each category, consult a physician without delay.

Behavioral Symptoms

If you struggle with anxiety, these symptoms can alert you and others of the issue:

  • Decision making impaired
  • Irritability
  • Fidgety
  • Jumpy/on edge
  • Heavy sighs
  • Overly talkative
  • Hyperalert
  • Quivering voice
  • Hyperventilation/dizziness/fainting
  • Sleep difficulties

Cognitive Symptoms

If you struggle with anxiety, you can often think to yourself:

  • “I can’t go on like this.”
  • “I must be going crazy.”
  • “I’ve got to escape and get out of here.”
  • “I’m all alone and I can’t make it without help.”
  • “I might make a fool of myself!”
  • “I can’t go out because I’ll lose control.”
  • “I must be having a heart attack.”
  • “People are always watching me.”
  • “I feel like I’m going to faint.”
  • “I can’t remember things and that scares me.”

Emotional Symptoms

If you struggle with anxiety and experience emotional symptoms, you might think:

  •  “I feel consumed with fear.”
  • “I feel isolated from others.”
  • “I feel so uneasy.”
  • “I feel rejected.”
  • “I feel alone—and lonely.”
  • “I feel deeply depressed.”
  • “I feel embarrassed.”
  • “I feel I’ve lost control.”
  • “I’m angry and want to scream.”
  • “I’m terrified something bad will happen.”

Physical Symptoms

If you struggle with anxiety, you can experience various physical symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea or nausea
  • Impaired concentration
  •  Butterflies in the stomach
  •  Memory disturbance
  • Clammy hands
  • Muscle tension
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Ulcers

Those who experience these symptoms to the extreme can understand the words of Job:  “When I think about this, I am terrified.”  (Job 21:6 )

What Are the Common Causes of Anxiety?

If you’ve ever seen an old tree or one that has been dug up—you know that roots can grow deep and are often intertwined. With some roots visible on the surface, others go down deep into the ground. Some are small, weak, and fragile while others are large, strong, and resilient (which explains why it’s often difficult to pull a simple plant or weed out of the ground). And many times, roots overlap and interconnect so that it’s hard to distinguish where one ends and another begins.

The causes of anxiety are much like the roots of a tree. Surface level causes (situational or environmental factors) exist, and so do deeply-rooted, complex causes that relate to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. These causes can overlap and interact in a variety of ways. Although the causes may be complicated, the Lord wants us to continue to look to Him and trust Him in every struggle—including anxiety.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”  (Jeremiah 17:7–8 esv)

As you uncover the various roots and causes of anxiety, invite God into the process. He cares about your heart, your thoughts, your pain . . . He cares about you. He wants you to stay rooted in Him every step of the way.

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:6–7 nlt)

Common factors that play a role in causing or contributing to anxiety include:

  • Threats—Anxiety often occurs when a real or imagined threat appears. Threats can come from a variety of sources: new, unsafe, or unstable environments or social situations; being separated from loved ones and those who impart safety; experiencing loss (of a job, loved one, home, beliefs, values, etc.). Threats can make people feel fearful, uncertain, helpless, and trapped—all of which can contribute to anxiety.
  • Conflicts—Interpersonal conflicts or internal conflicts can lead to anxiety because they typically involve opposing ideas, interests, choices, forces, etc. This can create pressure, stress, fear, and uncertainty which can contribute to anxiety.
  • Stress—Accumulated stress over time from difficult life events, relationship troubles, major transitions, losses, trauma, or other stressful situations can increase the risk of experiencing anxiety— especially if stressors remain unresolved for long periods of time.
  • Fear—Closely related to anxiety, fear of certain objects, places, situations, activities, or people can gradually increase over time and become more and more persistent. This increase also elevates anxiety. Some fears are real, but oftentimes many are imagined or based on an irrational belief. Fears frequently develop from traumatic experiences or being conditioned (learning to associate the feeling of fear and anxiety with a particular object or situation).
  • Emotions—How well a person handles and expresses emotions— particularly negative emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness—can contribute to anxiety. Denying, repressing, or not being allowed to express emotions, especially over a long period of time, often serves to increase anxiety.
  • Unmet Needs—When basic, survival needs are not met, or even when deeper needs for purpose, meaning, significance, security, and identity are not satisfied, it can lead to feeling fearful, worried, insecure, uncertain, and anxious.
  • Biological Influences—Substance abuse (drugs and alcohol), medical conditions, certain medications, excessive caffeine or nicotine, diet, lack of sleep, muscle tension, genetic factors, gender, and brain chemistry are all influential factors for anxiety. Hypochondriasis (constantly worrying about your health) can contribute to anxiety.
  • Personality and Individual Differences—Perfectionism, people-pleasing, and procrastination are common characteristics of those who struggle with anxiety. 
  • Coping Skills—How well a person copes with stress and fear, whether approaching problems directly or avoiding them—including the use of medicine, drugs, and alcohol—can increase or decrease anxiety.Self-Talk—Constant negative (“I can’t”), fearful (“What if...”), and self-condemning (“I’m a failure”) thoughts can contribute to anxiety as they anticipate bad outcomes and train a person to feel unable to handle a situation.Beliefs—Underlying beliefs about yourself, God, others, and the world at large can contribute to anxiety. For example, if you believe God is unloving and harsh, you will likely feel more fearful and worried. If you believe God is gracious and compassionate, you will likely find more peace.
  • Other individual differences related to personality, such as emotional sensitivity, can also contribute to anxiety.
  • Family and Upbringing—Those whose parents struggled with anxiety are often more likely to struggle with it as well. Heredity may play a part, and witnessing and experiencing anxiety in other family members could be a learned response to becoming more anxious. Unhealthy coping mechanisms can contribute to anxiety. Those who grow up with critical, perfectionistic, abusive, neglectful, overprotective, or absent parents often feel a perpetual sense of unworthiness or insecurity, which can contribute to anxiety. 

     

     

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on  all he has made.”  

(Psalm 145:8–9)

     

What is true?

  • This refers to whatever corresponds to reality. Jesus said that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), so identify passages from the Bible that speak to your situation and to God’s character. Fill your mind with His Word and meditate on it regularly until it becomes an automatic response.
  • Ask yourself: What is true and accurate about my situation? What does God say I should do (or not do)? What promises of God or attribute of God can speak to my situation?

“I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me”

(Psalm 119:30 HCSB).

What is honorable?

  • Also translated as “noble,” this refers to someone or something that is dignified or worthy of respect – the kind of character that leaders in the church should possess (see 1 Timothy 3:8,11; Titus 2:2). Being honorable relates to qualities of honesty, sincerity, integrity, faithfulness, self-control and trustworthiness.
  • Ask yourself: What is the respectful thing to do in my situation? Is there someone I trust and respect who I can talk to about my anxiety? What can I do that will honor the Lord?

“Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me”

(Psalm 50:15).

What is right?

  • Also translated “just,” this refers to what aligns with God’s character, law, or standards. Anxiety can cloud our thoughts and intensify our emotions, so we may be tempted to do whatever “feels right” to relieve anxiety. But what feels right and what is right are often different.
  • Ask yourself: What does God say is the right thing to do in my circumstance? What will happen if I do what is right – and what will happen if I do what is wrong or unwise? Who can help me do what’s right?

“Do what is right and good in the Lord‘s sight”

(Deuteronomy 6:18).

 What is pure?

  • This refers to whatever is holy or free from sin; whatever is uncorrupted and untainted by sin. God often uses trials and difficult circumstances to purify us and refine our character (see 1 Peter 1:6–7). Anxiety can lead us to God (running to Him for help and strength) or away from God (seeking to control things; seeking relief through escapism, busyness, drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc.). Allow your fears and worries to drive you to God.
  • Ask yourself: Is my anxiety leading me to God – to His presence, His Word, His people? In what ways is my anxiety leading me away from God – tempting me to doubt God, control others, or sin?

“I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return”

(Philippians 1:10 NLT).

What is lovely?

  • This refers to whatever is beautiful or attractive; whatever promotes love and peace. When you’re anxious, you may be tempted to believe that God doesn’t love you, or you may be tempted to act unloving toward others. An accurate understanding of love begins with God’s love, and the Bible is not short on descriptions of His love. God says that He has “loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). His Word is clear that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
  • Ask yourself: In what ways has the Lord shown His love to me? What do I love about God? How can I show love to God, to others, and to myself?

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”

(1 Corinthians 13:4–8).

What is admirable?

  • Also translated as “commendable” or “of good repute” or “good report,” this refers to things that are well spoken of or have a good reputation. When we’re anxious, our thoughts often run through a filter of fear, doubt, skepticism, and worry. We tend to see things that are bad, negative, or destructive instead of seeing what is good, positive, constructive – or commendable.
  • Ask yourself: Who can I speak well of or compliment? What aspects of my situation are good or commendable? Who has helped me (or is currently helping me) and deserves to be thanked?

“When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them”

(2 Corinthians 10:18 NLT).

 

 What is excellent?

  • The final two qualities listed in Philippians 4:8, “excellent and worthy of praise” act as a summary for the other qualities. Excellence refers to moral goodness or virtue. We tend not to associate anxiety with morality, but anxiety can lead to immoral behavior if we seek to relieve our worries and fears through ungodly means.
  • Ask yourself: Are there any immoral thoughts or actions I need to confess and change? What morals, virtues, or godly characteristics do I need to work on, with God’s help?

“Make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone” (2 Peter 1:5–7 NLT).

What is praiseworthy?

  • Many things are worthy of praise – a job well done, good food, a helpful friend, our family members, co-workers, and most of all, the Lord. When you consider God’s work in creating you, sustaining you, saving you, and giving you a hope-filled future, praise is the appropriate response. We have much to praise God for. Praise often leads to joy, which is a positive emotion to battle the negative feelings of anxiety.
  • Ask yourself: What am I thankful for in my situation? What things can I praise God for (relationships, spiritual and material blessings, knowledge, health, etc.)?

“I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises … I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:1, 4 NLT).

The Greatest Thought You Can Have

When seeking to control your anxious thoughts, remember that Jesus is the greatest thought you can have. That is why God says to “fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). Jesus is the most true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy person in the world. And the great news is that Jesus is foryou. He is with you. And He even dwells in you. When anxiety weighs you down, Jesus can lift you up and raise your thoughts to Him and the glorious future He has for you.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.   When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  (Colossians 3:2–4)

God will never leave you.

No matter what.

Let’s hold on to God’s promise of joy! 

Key Passage to Read

Consider this remarkable truth: God, the creator of all things, cares uniquely about you. David, once a shepherd himself, was stunned by this truth, saying, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3–4). God not only cares about you and the specifics of your life, and He has also given precise instructions to combat anxiety. He speaks directly to this issue, and He speaks directly to you. 

Philippians 4:4–9

“4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will  be with you.”

Key Verses to Learn

God’s Word offers the hope and promise of a changed life. The Lord will renew your mind—transforming the way you think, act, and live—as you saturate yourself in His Word. In the following questions, the boldfaced words serve as prompts to help you more easily memorize the verses related to this topic. May God’s truth come alive to you, flourish in you, and flow through you.

  • On whom should I cast all my anxiety?

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7)

  • If I am not anxious about anything, will I have peace, and will that peace guard my heart and my mind?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:6–7)

  • What can help me to not be afraid and not be discouraged?

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)

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God desires to give you hope as you face life challenges, problems and difficult trials. The good news for us, God specializes in redemption and transformation. He takes that which was lost and restores it. He takes that which was dead and gives it life. He takes that which had no hope and rewrites its story. This is our God! As you pray today, ask God boldly to transform the thing inside you that you want to see changed forever!

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