Breaking Free from Anxiety

So, I have a not-so- fun fact from some scholarly research I did… Did you know that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety disorders?

Not only that, but the symptoms of anxiety usually lead to depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders. To add to that, anxiety and all of these other symptoms can lead to physical problems because your body is stressed and begins to breakdown. Research also shows that many anxiety disorders can be linked to childhood trauma and learned responses to fear, which can lead to psychopathology in adulthood if life stress continues to trigger anxiety frequently. Yikes!

So why do people feel so anxious?

For some people it’s time oriented… you don’t feel like there is enough time to get done what you want to get done. For others it’s relationships, not feeling like you’re either giving or receiving enough. It could be job related, wondering if you have what it takes to do well so that you can be provided for through your income. Maybe you’re experiencing stress from divorce, loss of a loved one, or just maybe just minor stressors that continue to build up and make you wonder how much longer you can hold on without absolutely losing your mind.

One thing I think we can reduce it all down to is that we experience stress and anxiety when we feel like we are out of control, right? The unfortunate thing is that as humans who are finite, we often have very little control over life’s circumstances. We do have control over some things but from the major events that take place like deaths, job loss, illness, natural disasters, to the minor events like traffic jams .. those are things we cannot control. Every day we face things that are out of our control. So if we are constantly stressed because we can’t control things, we’re going to face that stress daily!

So what do we do?! How in the world are we supposed to break free from a lifetime of anxiety?!

I believe the first thing we should be doing is acknowledging our finitude and understanding that some things are just out of our control and leave it there. So many people, including me at times, stress so much over things that they cannot have influence or control over. And trust me, I know it’s hard to accept that sometimes. We always think.. I could’ve done something more, maybe I’m not doing enough, I should have avoided this or that… whatever the thought is.. stop and think about what you’re thinking about. In whatever situation is stressing you out… do you truly have a say in it or any control over it?! Can you control other people’s actions? No. Can you control time, not really.

Now I’m not saying that you don’t have control at all , ever. We sometimes do have control in the way we speak to people and treat people in relationships… we have some control with our jobs and the way we perform, we can take control of our daily activities through planning. But here’s the thing, when you’ve done all you can do, sometimes that just has to be enough!

For example, when you know you gave your best effort to plan your day according to the goals you’ve set, by making a to do list and an action plan … and then something comes up and messes up your schedule.. should you stress about it?! You shouldn’t… why would you? Does it change the situation? Nope!

All anxiety and stress does, is hurt you, guilt you, and condemn you. Once again, this is a big tactic for the enemy to have a stronghold over you and get in your head.

Things that are out of our control are ruining our minds, our lives, and our walk with God. There was a time when I lost custody of my son years ago… I did everything I could to avoid it from happening, but ultimately I lost. And I was soooo stressed. I felt guilt and shame, even though I knew I was a good mom and the loss was not a reflection of my ability to be a great mother to him. This was Satan’s entry point. He was using a loss to inflict pain, anxiety, and guilt and shame. Not only did I live with major anxiety, even to the point of having PTSD symptoms.. breaking out in tears and a panic attack when I heard a child’s voice, but I also was mad at God. And Satan must have been having a field day right? Not only did he defeat me in that time of my life but he had me angry at the only one who knew my pain personally and was there to show me love and mercy. I let the enemy win for a time, but not for long.

I was so sick of living in fear and anxiety. And I knew that if I continued wallowing in it, I would never progress and succeed in life. So I turned to God and said I can’t take this… I can’t live with this kind of anxiety anymore. Please take it from me. But it doesn’t just poof, disappear! I had to be diligent in searching for peace to replace anxiety. So I went to God’s word. So, let’s see what God has to say about our anxiety:

One of my favorite verses and promises is Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.”

That verse, written by the apostle Paul, may seem a little cliché to you. Maybe you’ve heard it so much you stopped believing in the promise. But regardless of how you feel about it, it’s still God’s promise and he doesn’t change even when our hearts do.

But let’s look at some of the people from the Bible and look at their example of a time when they were anxious.

David wrote a whole book of anguish! We see over and over in Psalms how disturbed his spirit is, how anxious he is, and how scared he is. BUT in the end, David ultimately acknowledges God’s purpose, plan, and power… showing us that even when it feels impossible to let go of anxiety, we know a God that is trustworthy and seeking our good because he is for us.

Even Jesus was so stressed that his sweat turned to blood drops. That’s about as much anxiety as one can possibly show and it’s actually a phenomenon called hematidrosis .. meaning the blood vessels burst and leak because of the body’s fight or flight response. So yea, Jesus was stressed. But in the end, he too acknowledged God’s power and perfect plan when he said not my will, but yours be done.

So what can we practically do as Christians when we are flooded with anxiety?! We look to what the Bible says to do about it. 1 peter 5:7 says to cast your cares on God. This implies that you trust Him even when things don’t go your way. If you continue to carry the burden alone, you will live with dread. Trust that no matter what the circumstance or what the world looks like in the moment, God is not taken aback and he Will work it out for good if you love and serve Him.

Matthew 11:28 Jesus says to come to him if we are weary and burdened. Meaning give him your problem. Put it in his hands so you can finally have some peace. There’s actually freedom in knowing that we don’t have control and we can just hand over our problems.

God also gave us one another to bear each other’s burdens. If you are burdened, don’t hide it. Confide in someone you trust to help you with the heavy load. That’s the great thing about a church community. It exists not just to spread the gospel, but also to hold one another accountable and bear each other’s burdens. Seek out community to share your load with. I have about 3 friends that I know I can go to and lay out all my burdens and they will be there in a second to comfort me and build me up. Keep a small circle like this to help you in those times.

And I’m going to mention one more thing to you that I do when I start stressing about life’s struggles…. And this is something I tell my son too.. when you are so stressed about something that you can’t control and you want it to stop so you can have peace…. Start helping and thinking about other people. Simple as that. Because when you start putting other people first, by either praying for them, doing something practical for them, or just showing up for them when they need someone, you’re not thinking about yourself so much right? When we are constantly thinking about our problem, OUR life, OUR feelings…. We usually neglect the important things and we stay stuck in our own misery. So when that anxiety starts to pop up… message someone or call someone and say Hey what can I do for you today? What can I help you with. I promise… it works!

So those are steps that you can actually start practicing today. First, leave it with God. Admit your faults to Him and your inability to solve all your problems, submit yourself to him and then watch him start working on your behalf.

Two, confide in people you trust. Don’t take advantage of them and constantly give your burdens to them without taking any on for them, but do have that close circle of people you can share burdens with.

And three, do something for someone else to get your mind off of YOU and YOUR problems. This isn’t to say your problems aren’t serious, but when things are out of your control, what good is it doing you or anyone else for you to consistently dwell on it right?

Oh and to add one more… exercise ok? There’s studies that show there can be significant changes in the brain when you do. Exercise strengthens emotional regulation and recovery… even if it’s just going for a walk, just get your heart rate up a bit, let the endorphins flow… I promise it helps knowing that you’re doing something good for yourself!

Now I know this takes time and it takes practice, but I really want us all to start fighting this battle for our thoughts. My message isn’t one of just self love or self care… it’s about winning these very real battles against our minds because we know that the enemy is relentless when it comes to making us miserable and defeated. He wants you to dwell on problems, feel like giving up, and to be angry at God. So let me ask, are you allowing it? I know it doesn’t FEEL like we can control our thoughts and emotions… but with intention, we can practice changing the way we think. Claim God’s promises over yourself and seek the good for someone else. Find some good friends to trust and get your body moving.

So, That’s what I’ve got for you today. I hope this lifts you up and encourages you to start changing some things so that you can live without fear, dread, and anxiety.

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