Riding the Anxiety Rollercoaster
Have you been feeling a bit anxious lately? If so, you’re not alone. Are you feeling guilty for having those feelings? Don’t be. Many people in the Bible experienced anxiety. It’s not a result of flawed faith.
Christians can and do experience anxiety at times. I know, because I recently had a struggle with some anxiety. Thankfully I’m past it now. It was a learning experience, and in this post I’m going to share 5 tips for handling anxiety. I hope they will be helpful to you.
Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease,typically about a certain event or something with an uncertain outcome.” The American Psychological Association says, “Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.”
How Do You Feel?
Anxiety shows up in the mind as:
- excessive worry
- obsessive thoughts
- racing thoughts
- a general sense of doom
Anxiety manifests in the body as:
- a tight chest
- shallow breathing or hyperventilating
- heart racing
- increased sweating
- trouble sleeping
- a jittery, fluttery sensation.
- panic attacks
Anxiety appears in behavior as:
- avoiding responsibilities or procrastination
- a distancing from others
- addictive coping mechanisms
- irritable, agitated, increased aggression
- a reluctance to ask for help
How Anxiety Works
In a recent presentation at the 2023 Church Mental Health Summit, Dr. Dee Dee Mayer explained how anxiety works. “Your brain is always looking out for your protection,” she said. “One of its chief goals is to keep you safe and alive. When there is perceived danger, your amygdala sends an alarm to your nervous system to take action and then rebalance to normal. But with anxiety, that rebalancing doesn’t occur, and the alarm continues. Your sense of safety is compromised, so anxiety manifests in your mind, body, and behaviors.”
Going back to our definitions, anxiety is a feeling or emotion. One thing to always bear in mind is that feelings and emotions are real, but they aren’t always true. Read that again: feelings are real, but they aren’t always true. Our feelings can sometimes distort reality. You won’t get a clear, accurate picture of the world looking through the lens of anxiety.
Anxiety always has a trigger. Tracing your triggers can help you to regain a sense of control: “Oh, that’s why I’m feeling like this.”
In my case, my recent anxiety was triggered by three things that all occurred in the same time period. The first trigger was an invitation to my 50th high school reunion. My immediate reaction was, “I don’t want to go to that!” My days in high school were the worst years of my life, filled with loneliness, rejection, depression, and bullying. I felt guilty for not wanting to go, thinking that perhaps it would be a good witnessing opportunity. But I began having flashbacks and nightmares, and eventually I decided that it would not be a healthy environment for me. It was better for me to maintain my boundaries.
This coincided with a routine trip to the dentist, which was the second trigger. I’d been thinking a lot about the past, and in the dentist’s chair I had a flashback to my first experience with a dentist. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time. The dentist was working on me, and I felt a sharp jab of pain. I got scared and tried to get out of the chair, but the dentist roughly pushed me back and kept one hand on my chest as he continued working. When he was finished I ran out to my mom, who ignored my crying and apologized to the dentist for my behavior. I had a panic attack as all of this came flooding back. Fortunately my wife also had an appointment and she was able to calm me down in the parking lot.
The third trigger was the events being reported on the news. Earthquakes, wildfires, abductions and murders, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, wars– I began to feel overwhelmed by current events that I had no control over. The anxiety got a stronger foothold, and so did my sense of guilt. I kept thinking, “I’m a Christian– I shouldn’t have this problem.”
So, what do you do when you’re struggling with anxiety? Here are five suggestions:
- Watch what you watch. Thanks to modern technology, you can have a 24/7 newsfeed if you want– but I wouldn’t recommend it. We sometimes forget that the media controls the news we see. Stories can be slanted or one-sided. Much of what passes for news today is really op-ed commentary designed to stir up reactions. “What you see is what you get”– but is it the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? That’s doubtful. If the reporting on current events is making you anxious, a wise course of action would be to reduce and limit the amount of news you’re watching.
- Connect at church. Now is not the time to forsake fellowship. There’s tremendous power and comfort in gathering with other believers. Too many Christians are acting like Lone Rangers, ignoring the benefits of church involvement. The prayers (and hugs) of the saints can do much to reduce your anxiety and restore your sense of safety.
- Put on the praise. Listening to Christian music touches the soul and lifts the spirit. It helps you to shift your focus to Jesus. Think of Peter walking on the water. It took tremendous faith to do that– but anxiety swept in when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the wind and the waves. Note that he was anxious even though Jesus was literally standing right there with him! So listen to some Christian music, and your anxiety will decrease as your thoughts and feelings are directed to Him.
- Evaluate your engine. Sometimes the emotions are affected by the physical. Take a look at your physical health. Are you eating the right foods? Are you staying hydrated? Are you getting enough sleep? I don’t always eat properly nutritious meals and snacks (that’s my wife shouting “You got that right!” in the background). If your “engine light” is on, you need to make some adjustments.
- Practice the promises. (Okay, my alliteration is wearing thin, but you get the idea.) Read your Bible and remind yourself of the many precious promises we have from God. “I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), and “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you” (Isaiah 26:3) are two of my favorites. Let the scriptures calm your fears.
Jesus reached out to Peter in his anxiety, and He will do the same for you. There is victory in Jesus!
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“Getting Rid Of Emotional Baggage” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/getting-rid-of-emotional-baggage
“Where Is God In All Of This?” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/where-is-god-in-all-of-this