We hear the word “anxiety” about a number of things, from pre-test jitters to a debilitating fear of public speaking or large crowds.
But what is anxiety? And can Christians, who are said to receive the peace of Christ, still experience anxiety?
Yes, Christians and indeed all people can and do have anxiety.
Here, let’s take a look at what anxiety is, why Christians experience it, and what we can do about it.
Anxiety in some ways can be quite healthy. Naturally occurring in people as a bodily response to stress, it can manifest as a feeling of dread, worry, or apprehension about something yet to come—whether that is a predator in our vicinity or the first day at a new job.
People experience anxiety in a variety of ways, including a fast heartbeat, shallow breathing, or even that pins-and-needles sensation of impending doom running down your spine. Others get chills, have difficulty sleeping, experience numbness, or have increased sweating.
Anxiety disorder takes all this a step further. Someone with an anxiety disorder might be plagued with extreme or frequent bouts of anxiety over an extended period of time, or have anxiety that interferes with normal, daily living. For instance, someone with an anxiety disorder might have so much fear about leaving the house that they start by reducing their number of trips outside the home and, eventually, stopping leaving the house altogether. Other people turn to drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy tools to help them cope with settings that provoke anxiety, such as social situations.
If untreated, the anxiety often keeps getting worse.
Most people experience feelings of anxiousness at some time or another in their lives, even if it is simply nerves about a new experience. But the American Psychiatric Association estimates that almost 30 percent of all adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
Anxiety affects men and women, and children and adults. It crosses racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines and can be manageable or debilitating.
Anxiety disorders can include panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.
For some people, anxiety is a way their brain is attempting to cope with a threatening or frightening situation. For others, anxiety is rooted in a brain chemistry imbalance.
It is important to understand anxiety is not a sin, nor is it someone’s “fault.” It is also not evidence of lack of faith. Plenty of faith-filled Christian believers experience anxiety.
As with other mental disorders and illnesses, it is not contagious, and you don’t “catch” anxiety from someone else who is anxious. And just as with issues such as diabetes, cancer, or heart disease, seeking treatment is natural and appropriate. Just as God gifts doctors and scientists with the ability to discover and eradicate cancerous tumors, God also gives doctors and scientists the ability to discover brain chemistry anomalies and ways to treat them.
Anxiety is treatable in a number of ways. Many people with anxiety benefit greatly from working with a counselor, therapist, or other licensed mental health worker to learn coping skills and other lifestyle changes to manage what can often feel wildly overwhelming. Others benefit from medication that can balance the brain chemistry or sedate a person when symptoms of anxiety become severe.
People throughout the Bible’s Old and New Testament exhibited anxiety. Psalms by King David—a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)—indicate bouts of debilitating anxiety, from sleepless nights and bad dreams to obsessions about fear. Moses was anxious and insecure about his ability to lead God’s people out of Egypt (Exodus 3-4). The prophet Elijah, filled with anxiety that he would end up like the other slaughtered prophets, fled Queen Jezebel into the wilderness, begging God to take his life (1 Kings 19). Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus, was distracted, worried, and unhappy about the stresses of her workload, complaining to Jesus to urge her sister to help her (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus Himself experienced anxiety over his coming execution, praying to God in the Garden of Gethsemane to “take this cup from me” if God willed it so (Mark 14:36).
But the Bible also says that although it is natural to feel anxiety, even debilitating anxiety that causes one to beg for the end of one’s life, we are not alone in our fears.
In fact, “do not fear” is one of the most common phrases we can find in Scripture, appearing in some form more than 300 times.
God tells us repeatedly that He is with us, He will not leave us alone, and we can find rest and peace in Him.
He tells us this so we understand that what we fear might indeed hurt our earthly bodies and even kill us, but we are to understand He is mightier than those fears. In Him, we have eternal life and true salvation in a heavenly kingdom that lasts far beyond what we can imagine here on earth.
He tells us this not to shame us for feeling frightened, but to offer hope about what is to come so we understand this life is not the end.
As Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:28-29, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”
While anxiety as an emotion or a brain disorder is not a sin, there are some times when anxiety can be a sin, such as when anxiety is more about our worries and a blatant refusal to trust God—that is, making the fear an idol that is more powerful in our mind than God is.
God clearly wants us to trust Him and know He is almighty and in control. While evils may lurk all around, He has the upper hand and, in Him, we are triumphant.
Here are a few Bible verses among hundreds throughout Scripture that offer hope about anxiety:
Do you have a favorite verse about anxiety? If not, pray on these above, and see if the Lord is speaking into your heart about anxiety and how He can help us through it.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Joice Kelly
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.