For many of us who struggle with anxiety, spiritual references provide a more objective source of comfort during anxious times—a tool much more stable than the voices taunting us in our heads. One Bible verse that brings us solace is from 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.” Time and time again I would quote that verse when I felt the waves of anxiety storm over me, but I’d walk away feeling the same anxiety as I had before. Clients speak to me often of the difference between what we know to be true in our heads and the gap to the emotions that we battle with on a daily basis.
In my own life, I’ve identified three areas in my thought processes that keep me from being able to let go of my anxiety and rest in the knowledge that God has me in His hand. Not all of them are present in every anxiety struggle, but I’ve found that each time I wrestle with the big A, one of these is there.
- I simply am not trusting. Sometimes, I’m not putting scripture into practice. This usually happens when I’ve backed off of my prayer time a bit. I’ll blog later on mindfulness in prayer, but for now, I’ll say that sometimes I’m not accepting the fact that Christ tells me not to worry and trust my heavenly Father. I don’t internalize the promise. I follow “be anxious for nothing” with a “but.” I try to justify the worry as concern, or I compare myself to other people that have anxiety and feel I’m doing all right. Then I can’t figure out why God won’t miraculously remove my anxiety from me.
- I mislabel my emotion. I find that many times when I am excited (right before a job interview, before a big presentation), my body sends off the same sympathetic nervous system’s body responses that I have when I am anxious. When I examine my thoughts, I’m not necessarily worried. I’m excited about the possibility to come. My mind interprets those body responses as worry, and then may even pile on more worry. Ever have anxiety about the anxiety you’re having? Some of you may laugh, but I bet some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
- I am running from pain. Much of our lives is spent trying to avoid pain. We make up excuses, we turn to substances, we oversleep, the list goes on. We do these things to avoid facing the emotional pain that life has dealt us. This avoidance is easy to do especially if we see themes running in the pain: we keep being hurt by the same type of person or by the same issues. Although none of us want pain, relief can come by not running from it. When we accept the pain and hold onto our Christian values, we are reminded that we have a Refuge that will always protect us. When we run toward the pain we are experiencing, that is where we find Christ. If we see pain as a doorway to life meaning, we are less likely to see it as a blocked passage.
If we rest in the thought that God has not given us the fear we feel, we can begin our journey to restoration and living with a “sound mind.” He doesn’t promise us that this will be a quick fix or that we will easily take our thoughts captive in one sitting. He does promise to be with us.