For the month of August, we’re going to be talking about anxiety and how to combat it God’s way. I’ll be grouping anxiety disorders in with “non-disorder” anxiety for the purposes of this article, even though I realize they’re very different but because spiritually-speaking, the treatment is the same.
To prepare for the month ahead, I want to start by laying down a very basic understanding of anxiety.
What is an Anxiety Disorder and What Does It Feel Like?
The definition of an anxiety disorder on Wikipedia is:
“Anxiety disorders are a category of mental disorders characterized by feelings of anxiety and fear, where anxiety is a worry about future events and fear is a reaction to current events. These feelings may cause physical symptoms, such as a racing heart and shakiness. There are a number of anxiety disorders: including generalized anxiety disorder, a specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and panic disorder among others.” [Source]
Anxiety feels different for everyone. When I've had anxiety it felt like someone was stepping on my chest, crushing me. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I might be shaky. Lightheaded. I would clench my jaw until it hurt. My brain would start to go a hundred miles an hour. I had a hard time sitting still and felt like if I kept moving I could stop my thoughts from racing. I'd be easily overwhelmed, which could come out in tears or bursts of anger, and when it was really bad, I got vertigo (extreme dizziness).
Who Gets Anxiety?
Anxiety is the most common disorder in the world and affects 1 out of every 13 people world-wide, or 7.3% of the world’s population [Source], and 18% of the population of the USA [Source]. The percentages are much higher in the USA than anywhere else but then again, so is the research.
Women are 60% more likely to have anxiety than men [Source].
Young people are more likely to have anxiety as statistics decrease when people get to be over age 55 [Source].
Is Anxiety Something We’re Born With?
Not always. However, there’s a definite genetic factor that comes into play.
Scientists aren’t sure if anxiety runs in families because it’s a gene or because it’s a learned behaviour (I tend to lean more toward the latter but that’s just my own personal opinion) [Source]. Either way, though some of us may be predisposed to anxiety it can also be a result of negative life experiences, which is why I wanted to talk about it for a month on an addiction blog.
Here's THREE examples of circumstantial anxiety:
Social Anxiety can come out of being a part of a nasty divorce or a result of being continually bullied [Source].
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) happens after going through a traumatic event like a natural disaster, major car accident, abuse or of course, going off to war [Source].
Being raised with extreme perfectionism can stir up an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or if it’s combined with low self-esteem, an Eating Disorder [Source].
Does Everyone Who Feels Anxious have an Anxiety Disorder?
Absolutely not. Everyone feels worried or fearful at times. We get shy. We get nervous. An anxiety disorder is when the fear prevents you from living out your life [Source].
I’m not trying to diagnose anxiety with this article, I’m just laying out some facts to build a foundation for the month. It helps to have an understanding of the medical side of anxiety because we go to look at the spiritual side.
If you do think you may have an anxiety disorder click here to take a 10 minute test from Psychology Today before heading to chat with your doctor.
How Does the World Treat Anxiety?
Have you seen the movie Prozac Nation? Don’t bother if you haven’t, it’s not really all that good. Either way, I’m sure you’ve heard about it. I’m sure you’ve also heard about antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil. Yes? It’s probably because in 2010 there was an estimated 23.3 million people on antidepressants [Source]. With shaky statistics it’s hard to know exactly how many people are taking them in 2016 but the same study from the US Department of Health showed that there was only 11.2 million people on antidepressants in 1998. That’s a huge increase and if I was a math whiz, I would totally give you a percentage....
Math people? If there was 11.2 million people on antidepressants in 1998 and 23.3 million in 2010... it means there was a ____% increase. Therefore in 2016 there would be an estimated _____ million people on antidepressants....
The first person to answer that math question for me, I'll give you a free copy of the re-release of the "Be Still Series" Bible Study. Write the answer in the comments below and email your first name and email to firstname.lastname@example.org :)
The other way the world treats anxiety is with some good old psychotherapy, professionally known as, “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)”. Psychotherapy is not a “quick-fix”. A licensed and trained professional teaches how to change negative thinking patterns and/or habits into positive ones, therefore decreasing episodes of anxiety [Source].
Psychotherapy, in combination with medication, is hands-down the number one way the world treats anxiety. [Source].
That applies to both adults and children.
Is There a Way to Naturally Treat Anxiety?
EXAMPLES OF NATURAL TREATMENTS FOR ANXIETY:
- Massage Therapy
- Regular exercise like yoga
- Get 15 minutes of sun a day
- Essential Oils and Aromatherapy
- Avoiding Caffeine and Nicotine
- Sleep More
- Natural Supplements like B12 shots, Omega 3s, St. John’s Wort and L-lysine
- Drink more Chamomile Tea
- Changing your diet
What Does God’s Word Say About Anxiety?
Here’s the good stuff now. God’s Word tells us not be worrying ourselves about anything (Anything?!) but to trust our troubles to God in prayer. It also says that when we do that, God will guard our hearts and minds from the attacks of the enemy.
“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.”
God’s Word also says that when we’re overwhelmed with anxiety, God will comfort us and He empathizes with us in our pain. It’s not that He gives us crazy irrational joy when we’re going through hard times (although He could totally do that) it’s that He’s there with us. When we’re sitting in bed late at night, crying our hearts out in fear of the future- Jesus is there. He’s got us all wrapped up in warm heavenly hugs. When we open our eyes and see that He’s there it’ll bring us joy in tough times because we’ll know we aren’t alone.
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” -Psalm 94:19 (NIV)
The Bible also tells us to be respectfully submissive to God when we’re feeling anxious. I personally believe that anxiety is like a terrorist attack from the enemy on our minds. We know it can happen but then it hits out of nowhere and causes total fear and chaos. It’s difficult to take time to be quiet before the Lord with all the explosions going on in our heads, which is why the Apostle Peter made sure to remind us to submit ourselves to God.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
I want to point out something about the verse above; The word “exalt” means to hold something in high regard, think or speak highly of, raise to a position of higher power, make noble in character or dignify [Source].
If we look at the verse again, what does it mean to you?
Here it is again from the Amplified version:
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God [set aside self-righteous pride], so that He may exalt you [to a place of honor in His service] at the appropriate time, casting all your cares [all your anxieties, all your worries, and all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares about you [with deepest affection, and watches over you very carefully].”
How Should We Handle Anxiety About a Loved One's Addiction?
I haven’t met any friends or family members of addicts yet who haven’t also suffered from some type of residual or pre-existing anxiety, amplified, x1000. Addiction and anxiety are two peas in a pod. Anxiety surrounding a loved one's addiction is overwhelming, all-consuming, fearful, traumatic, intense and long-suffering.
I speak from experience.
I used to pray for a miraculous recovery for my husband but I don’t pray for miracles anymore. It’s not because I gave up on my husband or think God doesn't change people, He absolutely does! [Check Out: "Can an Addict Stop being an Addict?"] It’s because I know in my Spirit a miracle is not what I’m supposed to be trusting God for.
Instead, I pray for "supernatural" peace (The kind that doesn't make sense, like, "Why is she happy right now?".), wisdom to guide me and provision from God to sustain my family throughout our time of trouble. I also pray for joy for my children and protection over them that they aren’t changed, or their innocence stolen, by any actions of their parents.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Although my husband is in recovery, his heart is still being softened. It’s good to pray for a "softening" of the heart because that needs to happen in recovering addicts but at the end of the day, my husband will always have a choice if he wants to return to old ways. At every turn, there will be an enemy for him to withstand. It'll be his battle, not mine. If I make my husband's morality my responsibility, I’ll drive myself mad. So instead, I focus on my relationship with God. My attention is best placed on the Good Father, the perfect man and my bridegroom Jesus. [Also Read: "Be Still & Know that He is God"]
I prepare to be His bride.
“We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.”
People will always let us down if we put our hope in them. We can (and should) hope FOR them but we need to rest our hope IN the Word of the Lord, our Father, who is always with us and will never let us down.
“I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” -Psalm 91:2 (ESV)
Addiction is a long road and the end isn’t just around the corner but when we walk in faith, the road is worthwhile, no matter the outcome [Why? Read: Why I Stayed with my Drug Addicted Husband"].
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” -Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
Let’s Summarize: The Word of God Tells Us The “Spiritual Treatment” for Anxiety Is:
- We need to stop trying to fix ourselves and our own situations with self-righteous pride. We need to admit we’re weak and we need God’s help by actively putting our hope in Him. We focus on Him by making sure our hearts are righteous and true while trusting Him to provide for us.
- God will honour our admission by giving us a special job to do in His Kingdom (when we’re ready). [True story, want proof? Check out the ministry of Precepts and Life Preservers. Also read: Mess Makes the Ministry].
- We need to give God our worries in prayer and ask for peace for each situation. That might mean every five minutes some days but that’s okay! Making continual prayer a habit will guard our hearts and minds.
- We must remember to look for Jesus in our saddest, toughest moments. He’s there with loving heavenly hugs. I’m serious about this too. The next time you’re freaking out about something, try to close your eyes and visualize where Jesus is and what’s He’s doing right that second. Come back and tell me in the comments or tweet it at me on twitter @helloleahgrey because I would LOVE to have those stories of praise here to encourage other women.
Why Doesn’t God Cure Our Anxiety?
God can do anything He wants to do but the one thing He promised us was our free will. Like any good love story, God wants to be chosen by us. When we choose to follow Him we get freedom in different areas of our lives but never in all of them. We’re in a fallen world and the only thing that’s perfect here is God.
I don’t know if God will cure your anxiety. He may choose to bless your socks off financially instead. Maybe He’ll choose to give you a good, caring husband. He may decide to bless you with wonderful children who shower you daily in love. A miracle is a gift, not a “Plan A” (Plan A is to be joyful no matter what God gives you or what God takes away).
For me personally, God has given me total freedom from years of anxiety but that doesn’t mean I don’t still get attacked. Even though I know how to fend off attacks, do I sometimes fail? Absolutely. *Author's Note: Since writing this article I did get a panic attack and had to deal with some situational anxiety over a family issue. I applied the same techniques, so I can assure you this advice DOES work!
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” -John 8:36 (ESV)
Does God ever fail me in my moments of pain? No. Never.
“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” -2 Corinthians 3:17 (NLT)
In church the other day my Pastor said something profound- he said, “We need to be convicted of the word of God. You can be told something over and over again but if you don’t believe it, it’s not going to work for you. But when you believe in something, you dig your heels in and there isn’t anybody whose going to be able to convince you that you’re wrong.”
When struggling with anxiety, that’s how we need to feel about the promises God made to us in His Word. He promises freedom for the oppressed. Not miraculous healing for all. Freedom.
The definition of freedom is:
“The power to act, speak or think as one wants without hinderance or restraint, the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved” [Source].
Anxiety doesn’t have to be a prison.
The Holy Spirit can release you from the prison of your anxiety. It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel anxious or that you’ll have a total, miraculous healing but that you’ll be free to think and act without being under the control or within the limits of the enemy.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”
Practical Ways to Pray for Peace When You Have Anxiety
1. Pray one day at a time. We often get ahead of ourselves, worrying about things that haven't happened (yet?) but worrying about tomorrow is useless. When we struggle with anxiety, we need to pray everyday for that day only.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble..”
2. Pray for an increase in trust. Anxiety comes from a place of fear and fear is a trap from the enemy. If he can keep us fearful, we won't move forward in God's plan for our lives. Trusting in God replaces fear and opens any trap the enemy laid for us.
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” -Proverbs 29:25
3. Pray for strength. Following God and trusting Him always takes a measure of courage so when we're feeling anxious, praying for strength will give us courage to push past the trap of fear. Overcoming fear will lesson anxiety and give us strength for the next time.
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
4. Pray for gifts of kindness. God often gives us little gifts along our way, most of which we don't notice, to encourage us. One of these gifts would be kind words. Maybe there's someone in your life whose always giving you a supportive word or maybe the stranger in the coffee shop paid for your coffee- those acts of kindness are gifts to you from God. In our tough times, we can pray for encouragement and support in the form of kindness. Whenever it happens, remember that it's God's way of saying, "Hey, I just want you to know that I love you and I'm here".
”Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up." -Proverbs 12:25 (NIV)
5. Pray for intimacy with the Holy Spirit. I can't tell you enough how important the Holy Spirit is for our well-being. On our own, our carnal minds are lost in a rat race, bombarded with selfishness and anxiety woven into our sinful nature. Intimacy with the Holy Spirit is the only way to have true freedom from our destructive thought patterns. Yes, therapy can teach us how to change our thinking and medication can help clear our minds to do so (both great things) but for freedom (remember- freedom means being released from the prison of anxiety) we need the Holy Spirit to teach us how to think with the mind of Christ.
“But the Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counselor, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will help you remember everything that I have told you.”