Before I say anything else, it is important to stress that not all anxiety is bad! Yes, you heard me right. Low-grade anxiety in certain situations is not only normal but is good. It keeps us hypervigilant and alert when there is a real threat to our lives. Anxiety is one way our body helps us survive.
Unfortunately, though, anxiety can often bleed into other areas of our lives. Areas where there is not an actual threat to our lives, but we feel this looming dread or sense of impending doom that can begin to negatively affect our functioning and decision-making.
Anxiety is all about living in the past (ruminating excessively about something that already occurred) or living in the future (ruminating about the possibility of threat, danger, and the general unknowns in life).
One of the tricky things about anxiety is that there will always be unknowns in life. Thus, the possibilities for things to be anxious about abound. Further, anxiety-related thoughts are often paired with somatic symptoms. Some of the common ones are sweaty palms, nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, and tense muscles.
These anxiety-related thoughts and somatic symptoms create a negative feedback loop where each feed on one another, creating an anxiety spiral that is hard to get out of. Sometimes that anxiety-laden spin lives in our heads and wreaks havoc on our bodies or is projected onto others in our relationships.
Anxiety creates tunnel vision, and it can make it hard to think of anything else, let alone how to break the negative cycle. Anxiety shrinks our thinking. Where we may see a world full of opportunities and choices, anxiety makes and keeps our world small and us feeling stuck.
What Does the Bible Say About Anxiety?
If reading that first section resonated with you or maybe even incited some anxiety in you, do not fear, there is hope for you to be freed from the exhausting weight of anxiety!. Fortunately for us, the Bible is packed with passages and themes related to anxiety. Some of the common passages that come to mind and are commonly quoted regarding anxiety are Matthew 6:25-34, 1 Peter 5:6-9, Philippians 4:6-7, and Psalms 23, 27, and 34.
These are powerful words of truth to memorize, put up around your house and enter as a reminder on your phone to help you combat those anxiety-related thoughts because what we fill our heads with and what we say to ourselves matters. However, simply throwing out verses to memorize could come across as a bit too simplistic when dealing with something as complex as anxiety.
I find when applying God’s word to all the parts of our lives (even those we try to keep hidden), it’s the biblical themes that penetrate deeply into something so complex and intertwined as anxiety. God’s word is chock-full of his people demonstrating anxiety. Think of the stories of Lot, Gideon, Sarah, or Moses.
All of these followers of God questioned God, asked God if He was serious about what He had commanded of them, needed further proof about something, or even made decisions out of fear and anxiety. These were people who were anxious about the unknown. They were anxious about what they thought God had called them to. They were fearful of what was to come.
Maybe you have heard these stories but didn’t realize that these people were experiencing anxiety. I hope it’s nice to know that you are not alone and anxiety is not a new thing. People who love and follow God experience anxiety too. Let’s not miss that the real star of the show in all of these stories is God. How does God respond to all of this questioning, fear, and anxiety?
Does he dismiss, belittle, or shame his people? No, he responds with love, patience, and compassion! We constantly see God comforting his anxious children, reminding them that He holds all things in his hands, that He will never leave us, and that He is always with us. Yes, we have to decide to put one foot in front of the other but we are not alone when doing this because God is Emmanuel, “God with us.”
It is also poignant to remember Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane, right before he was crucified. Jesus shows an extreme amount of anxiety here. Being fully God, he knew what was coming and still willingly gave himself up to be crucified so that we could walk in newness of life with him forever.
Simultaneously, as fully human, amidst extreme distress and anxiety, he still asked God for it not to happen. He was in such great distress that he experienced an extremely rare somatic symptom of sweating blood! We truly have an empathetic God who fully knows, at the deepest and most intimate level, what it feels like to experience extreme anxiety.
Applying the Bible’s teaching about anxiety in counseling.
So far, we have learned a bit about anxiety and a bit about what the Bible says about anxiety, but how do we combine these?! This is certainly best done in the context of counseling, as it can take time to go into the practical details of what this looks like for each person individually. Giving a sentence or two summary would not do the melding of these two things the justice it deserves and, once again, can come across as overly simplistic.
There are also a lot of different ways a counselor may approach this since each client has a unique story, and how anxiety affects their life, and to what degree, is also unique. What I can tell you is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can and does go there! It is that good, that rich, and that relevant!
It can sometimes take uncovering some of the thoughts we are living out of or believing about ourselves and the world to see what aspect of the Gospel best applies to your unique story and circumstances. It can sometimes seem that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is antiquated or that it is just for saving us.
However, this is a shallow view of an ocean that runs so very deep! The Gospel also sustains us. Thus, it is relevant to the here and now of your daily life. This is exactly why God sent the Holy Spirit – so that, even in all the unknowns and twists and turns in life, we wouldn’t be alone.
Taking all of these things into consideration, in counseling, we will also learn coping skills and discover self-care strategies that bring you life and help you manage anxiety as it arises. This includes forming new thoughts and narratives that incorporate truths about who God is and what that means for you as a believer and in your specific life and circumstances.
Like most mental health matters, anxiety is complex. Maybe you feel like you have applied these Biblical truths, but you are still stuck! I know how frustrating this can be. Maybe you have even been shamed by someone using that “just” word: “just have faith,” “just don’t think about it,” “just try this remedy.”
These “just” statements can be unhelpful, hurtful, and even harmful to our progress. The truth is that anxiety can get so bad that it starts to affect our everyday life: our relationships, our jobs, our hobbies, the way we view ourselves, and even the way we view God.
Anxiety, like anger or depression, is a symptom of something deeper going on within you. This can be complex and complicated and even scary to look at, but a trained counselor, like myself, can lovingly lead you through that process. Counseling is a journey and it looks different for everybody, but you are not alone.
In counseling, you have someone who will walk with you through the potentially deep-seated fears, grief, and pain that may be feeding into the anxiety you are experiencing. I know this is scary and can be an excruciatingly difficult step, but you can do this. You are not alone and seeking counseling for your anxiety can be the start of your path to healing.
“Drowning”, Courtesy of Ian Espinosa, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible and Journal”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying at Dawn”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watching the Sunset”, Courtesy of Cynthia Magana, Unsplash.com, CC0 License