You have probably heard about anxiety; maybe even know individuals who say they have it. Maybe you yourself have had “anxious” thoughts or felt the effects of being nervous. Anxiety is difficult to understand and even more difficult to describe. Those who are afflicted by the many variations and extremes of anxiety have a tougher time, because they may not understand it themselves. I propose that we look at anxiety from several different perspectives, to perhaps bring some clarity to a subject that is incredibly difficult to understand. We need to consider the physical, mental and Biblical components of anxiety and arrive at conclusions. However, this is not solely a discussion of what anxiety is and isn’t. This is not a template of what to do or not to do. This is my story.
Anxiety, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. The emotions are triggered by thoughts or concerns that cause physical effects. You may have heard of the flight or fight response; anxiety triggers this mechanism at inappropriate times. Your body is preparing for a threat. Parasympathetic systems shut down and sympathetic systems crank up. The body releases hormones in response to stress, such as corticotrophin and cortisol. These hormones can have major effects on the body, such as trembling, twitching, or shaking. But you probably knew this already. You have most likely experienced this to some degree. That is not the whole story, though. Anxiety can be crippling and devastating. It can alter your thinking or blunt your vision. Anxiety can ramp up all of your systems to the point that you feel you might explode. You can come to dread this feeling and worry that at any moment, it can overcome and overwhelm you. It can cripple you to the point that taking a step, or even standing, will become the hardest task. I am not exaggerating or embellishing. I have felt these exact symptoms. Anxiety can bring you to a place where all you can do is sit and cry.
Anxiety is one of those fascinating things that have its origin in the mind. Per our definition, it’s an emotion with, at times, strong physical symptoms. But it is not a physical ailment. It is not a tangible thing like a broken leg or diffuse bleeding. It’s of the mind. You can’t look at it and say, “Yeah, that’s makes sense.” You begin to think about the next onset. You learn triggers and situations that bring on these symptoms. Perhaps it’s as minor as being nervous about speaking in public or something more intense like not being able to be in crowded spaces. Not only do you have this intangible “thing” that can limit you and consume your thoughts, but also you may have difficulty explaining to someone why you feel this way, a conundrum to be sure.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a more acute version is a full-blown panic attack. This has similar physical manifestations but with it comes the fear. You are afraid of dying, losing control, choking or just flat out going crazy.”You are actually afraid. I’m not talking about staring a lion in the face kind of afraid. That’s natural. I know no one that would not be afraid in that situation. If you didn’t have fearful or anxious thoughts, I would assume you would have something wrong with you. I’m talking about sitting in your car on the highway looking at a bridge and feeling this way. I mean looking at a photo of a tall building and seeing the “lion.” I mean sitting in a chair on the top floor of building and feeling like the world around you is completely falling apart. You begin to avoid situations that bring about this feeling. You refrain from trips, visits, social functions, professional meetings and other environments that could trigger these thoughts. Whatever your struggle or “trigger” may be and however severe, it is difficult to understand. But is it very, very real.
The Bible has a great deal to say about anxiety/fear. I stopped counting after the 50th verse or example in both the New and Old Testaments. Jesus himself speaks about the issue on several occasions. Paul gives us a good summary in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The Scriptures are clear in both testaments that not only is anxiety real but many of God’s servants had anxious/fearful thoughts. Jonah fled from the Lord and asked Him to take his life. Job endured significant loss, illness, and devastation. “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Jesus himself battled such anguish and personal turmoil that the scriptures say He sweat “drops of blood.” Timothy, Paul, Peter and all the gospels mention anxiety/fear. It is very common to have such feelings/thoughts/fears. I encourage you to search for and read the numerous verses that deal with this issue.
The discussion on each of these topics has been brief, and we could spend a tremendous amount of time on all three components. The synopsis is this: Anxiety is real; it has profound physical and mental aspects; and it is dealt with extensively in the Scriptures. Your anxiety is real. And that’s okay. You are battling a powerful affliction that many of the most prominent people in the Scriptures battled as well. But that’s not enough, is it? You know it’s real. You know you’re not alone. But knowing all this doesn’t change how you feel, does it? What if I told you that God cares less about how you feel and more about who you are and what you do. Christ gives us many commands to love each other, to share the gospel, to repent, to forgive, to seek the Lord and so forth. He has also commanded us to not be afraid. But what does that mean? I am fearful. I am afraid. But I am commanded to not be afraid? I want you to trust me. Set aside all you know about how you feel or how someone you love feels. Let us change our perspective. The road the Scriptures have called us to take is not the road of feel good or of ease. It is the narrow road. It is treacherous and difficult. It comes with significant hardship and self-sacrifice. The road led to martyrdom for many of the disciples. Much Afraid, the main character from Hannah Hurnard’s book Hind’s Feet on High Places, describes it well. “It is the way you have chosen for me to go. It looks so dreadful, Shepherd, so impossible. I turn giddy and faint whenever I look at it. The roes and the hinds can go there, but they’re not limping, crippled, or cowardly like me.”
The Scriptures talk about iron sharpening iron and the testing of our faith producing perseverance. This is not an image of something easy. This is not an image of something you will feel good doing. This is the opposite. Iron is forged with extreme heat. It is a difficult, challenging process. Consider your struggle with anxiety this way. Understand that you will feel this way, and that is okay. God may have a bigger plan for you, a road or avenue He wants you to take to grow closer to Him. God may want to spare you from something worse. He may want to expose an area of your life that is not totally given to Him. He may want you to trust Him more. Pray in this situation. Pray for peace, guidance, wisdom, strength, quietness, calmness and give Him thanks that He cares enough about you to let you endure something so difficult.
I had a coach in college that was very hard on me. I complained several times about his methods and the constant badgering. He told me something I have never forgotten. He said the day he stops being hard on me is the day he stops caring about me. God cares about you. He loves you, so much. He sent His son to die for you. He will never abandon or leave you. He is with you in your time of struggle and need. Call out to Him. Lean on Him. Memorize the Scriptures. Pray. He will see you through your time of hardship. God cares what you do in those situations. Take that step. Stand firm. Rise. Be steadfast. God may want to show you something you could not even dream of. As I said, this is not purely a discussion about anxiety. This is my story. I have anxiety, and I battle and war with it almost daily. But God cares for me. He wants me to be firm in my belief in who He is. He wants me to succeed. Do not be afraid, my friend. God is with you until the end. Move past how you feel, and seek His face. This path is more about who you are and what you do than how you feel.