Biblical Steps for Handling Anxiety
If I’m completely honest, this pandemic is taking its toll on me emotionally. I can tend toward the direction of mild depression in times like these, especially on gloomy rainy days, like we’ve had plenty of lately. Cindy and I have already been sheltering in place since returning from California on March 14th (feels like six months).
Let me be very clear, we don’t live in a small apartment in the inner city. We live in a lovely neighborhood, within walking distance of a wonderful park with a walking path. We have a nice yard and a patio with a great view. In other words, we have a lot to be thankful for and we have more options than many folks, to simply walk out the back door and have great times outside.
Still, Cindy and I had several camping trips scheduled and they are already being canceled by the state parks. As the end date to the “sheltering in place” order keeps getting extended, the loss of more trips becomes more likely. In reality, even though there are many things for us to do and multiple places we can go, I still feel somewhat caged and stifled, or something. Something’s not right and it’s hard to put my finger on it.
I went shopping the other morning and put on my mask (which many people would rather I wear all the time anyway), and my gloves and went in to pick a few things up. It was not altogether unlike Halloween, or at least that’s how it felt – one big trick with no hopes of a treat. Anyway, by the time I got home I had pretty much decided I wasn’t going back to the store again until this whole thing is over – I would rather sit home and eat a ream of copy paper than do that again.
Seriously, compared to what many are experiencing, it was no big deal but my reaction to it was pretty over the top. And that’s how you know frustration, stress and anxiety are taking over. Apparently, the blog last week hit home for a few folks who are also struggling with anxiety and it appears to be the featured emotion at this point. It must be the focal point of a half dozen emails I received in the last two days. Sermons about anxiety, seminars about anxiety, remedies for anxiety and on and on. Frankly, it’s enough to make a guy anxious!
So, I’m not going to give you a counseling seminar on anxiety (but I could, really) – I just want to share what’s working for me.
Anxiety is mentioned multiple times in the Bible and we are given some prescriptive advice about its causes and cures. Matthew 6 is a passage I was reading the other day and it was profound in both its depth and its simplicity. I included it here so you can read and meditate on it. Some translations use the word anxiety, and some use worry – for this purpose, they are the same – check it out.
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
22 “Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!
24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.
25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?
28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:19-34 (NLT)
This text is rich with truth and very appropriate for our current situation. It’s not the purpose of this blog to be exhaustive, but there are a couple of points that spoke clearly to me:
1. Jesus starts this whole thing on anxiety by talking about money – interesting – how much of my current anxiety can I trace back to money? Will I lose my job? My retirement, health benefits or our home? How will I pay for...? It’s almost always in the mix.
2. He then goes on to show us how people who don’t have a relationship with God obsess over the material needs of this world – food, clothing and shelter. If there is no God, this is pretty much all there is.
3. People who do know God and walk with Him should concern themselves with eternal things (our relationship with God and others – Kingdom things) and in return God will provide them with the everyday needs of life. Don’t ask me how, but it’s true – I live this! But honestly, it is so easy to slip from trusting God to trusting money – sometimes the transfer is almost imperceptible. That’s why we need to check in with God, often.
4. Here is the big one for me – this is the way out... ready? Here it is: stay in today. Really, if you think about it, that’s how life comes to us – one day at a time. It doesn’t come to us a week or a month at a time. Today is the only day in which we can find Jesus. Anxiety results from our borrowing sorrow from tomorrow. It is a shifting away from "what is" to "what if." Worrying about things we can’t control, that will most probably never even happen. I need to learn to truly rest in the reality that God has already promised to meet my needs. I need to stay focused on Him and what He is doing in my life – today. Jesus closes this passage by telling us to stay in today – this is where we will find Him and His provision for us – don’t run ahead, it only leads to trouble.
5. As a result of finding Jesus present in each day, I can truly rest and have peace even in the midst of a pandemic. Further, He will show me what He wants me to do during this time - things that are Kingdom focused and that will bear eternal fruit – like how to be a blessing to some others during this time. Calling folks that He puts on my heart – praying for those who are struggling or who have come down with this virus. Perhaps directing money and manpower to a shelter or community effort. I can begin to get my peace and perspective back when I am reminded that my life is in His hands and I can trust Him for today. All these things get us out of our self and focused on others.
If you are struggling even after doing all the right things to mitigate your anxiety, reach out to someone – a pastor or counselor or sometimes just talking to some friends can be very helpful. Those of us in the mental health field are always ready to help. And yes, we have to practice what we preach – we aren’t immune to this situation. Below are some further steps you can take – implement them in addition to your study and meditation of scripture – not instead of.
Peace – we’ll get through this – with each other – one day at a time. I’m going to go eat some paper now.
Additional Steps to Reduce Your Anxiety
Keep first things first – Remember to keep God as your priority. You can’t fix this mess so don’t worry so much about it – you didn’t start it – you can’t finish it. Read and meditate on Matthew 6:19-34. This is really good stuff and will truly challenge you concerning where your true faith and trust lies.
Stay away from too much news – Nothing strikes worry and fear in us like 24/7 news. We really don’t need it to the degree its offered. It only feeds our anxiety – take it in small doses.
Practice gratitude – Gratitude helps us focus on what we have rather than on what we’ve lost. It is an intentional shift in perspective. This should be our specialty as God’s children.
Help someone who needs it – Call someone – volunteer somewhere – getting outside of ourselves changes our focus.
Meditate – If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate. We just change the focus from negative to positive. The Psalms are a great place to start.
When anxiety strikes – Try to stay in the moment – focus on something close by – describe it in detail, out loud.
Deep breathing - Practice deep breathing as you sense the anxiety mounting. Inhale to a 6 count – hold it to a 7 count and exhale to an 8 count – do this 4-5 times.
Finally, a Biblical prescription:
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:6-9 (NLT)
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