Whether you believe in God or not, anxiety is still a beast. It consumes minds and bodies of kids and adults like never before. One third of all absences from work are due to anxiety and stress, and we know that relationships and long-term health also suffer. Anxiety wasn’t supposed to be part of my story, but it is. As a Christian and a church worker diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I’ve learned both practical and spiritual things about anxiety that are worth sharing with those who struggle with worry, stress & fear.
On the outside, I was lovely. Strong. Capable. Gifted.
On the inside, I was slowly dissolving to pieces. And nobody knew. Not even me.
That’s the thing about anxiety. It charades as a sneaky thief.
I planned for the worst to be prepared.
I was “wise.”
I strove for perfection in parenting, in relationships, at work, in acts of service.
I was “valuable.”
I kept my promises and over-delivered
I was “respected.”
There’s nothing wrong with these characteristics, but they are markers for a mind that is busy, a body that is weary, and a soul that is striving.
A human being cannot live this way forever. Something will eventually break.
And that’s what happened to me at the age of 37. I broke. I found myself frozen in a chair at country club where I was in charge of a large fundraiser. I hadn’t slept for days. I was nauseous constantly. My mind raced with to-dos and what-ifs and should’ve, could’ve, would’ves. The room bustled with activity and I (the girl with the golden touch) shattered into a million pieces.
It was both the most devastating and the most incredible thing to ever happen to me.
Nobody knew what to do with this new, broken version of Laura. Least of all, me. I was the one who fixed things and took care of others. I had traveled the world and climbed the corporate ladder. I was raising two beautiful daughters. I counseled people, shifted my career to the non-profit world and currently worked at a church. Yet now I was screaming of fear in my bed and having panic attacks on the bathroom floor.
And I was a Christian. Wasn’t I supposed to have peace that surpasses all understanding? Lay my burdens down at Christ’s feet? Be still and know that He is God?
Where was God in this battle and how could I reconcile these fears with the power of His Promises?
There’s not a simple answer, but there are several encouraging truths that I want you to know.
- IT’S NOT ALL IN YOUR HEAD
Anxiety becomes a physical illness as much as emotional, spiritual, and mental. When we stress or worry and don’t give our body the physical and mental rest it needs to recover, there are dozens of very real, physical responses that occur in our body. The effects of these responses (like insomnia, nausea, racing thoughts, shaking, etc) often cause us even more anxiety and a vicious cycle begins.The good news is that early recognition, intervention and even medication are helpful options (provided by God) for managing anxiety and helping our bodies recover from stressful symptoms. There is no shame in seeking counsel of a pastor, loved-one, doctor and/or taking medication. In fact, the sooner you seek help, the easier it is to feel the positive impact.
2. ASKING FOR HELP IS BRAVE & BIBLICAL
Take one look at scripture and you’ll notice that God worked through humans all the time. He didn’t HAVE to, but He did. And He still does today. There are many ways for you to receive help with anxiety through people that God has uniquely placed in your path. Here are the ones I’ve used in my own journey. I proudly call them “my team” and I’m certain they were heaven-sent to be God’s help in my life.
Psychiatrists: a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness (can prescribe medication).
Psychologists: a specialist in mental processes and behavior (does not prescribe medication).
Counselors: a person trained to give guidance on personal, social, or psychological problems.
Inpatient and/or outpatient treatment programs: intensive care consisting of medical, psychological help as well as counseling.
Naturopathy: a distinct primary health care profession, emphasizing prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage individuals’ inherent self-healing
Support groups: Often free, these are groups of people struggling with similar situations who can walk with you and share resources. Check out Fearless Women.
Let people help you. Start building your team, knowing that Jesus is owner, provider, and source of their help.
3. GOD’S WORD IS NOT A MAGIC WAND FOR SUFFERING
The Word of God is alive and active. We know this. While the Truth of Scripture is real, God never promises to magically remove our suffering. In fact, Jesus tells us that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
It is confusing, I know. It’s helpful for me to focus on God’s promises and not equate them to outcomes I have pre-determined in my mind. God works the good even when it’s not the way we desire. On that, you can firmly depend.
4. PRAYER IS ABOUT RELATIONSHIP, NOT RESULTS
I used to get frustrated when I prayed for my anxiety to go away or when other people prayed for me because it didn’t always seem to work! And then I realized that I was praying “upstream” instead of “downstream.” When I began visualizing God’s presence in my life as a river flowing from the highest mountain and His Will washing down over my life, my prayer life changed. I realized that being connected to the person of Jesus and what He was already doing in my life was what mattered. Anything else was me spending useless energy trying paddle upstream.
5. EMOTIONS ARE NOT BAD
I come from a long line of stoic, German Lutherans. In my family, we always try to do the right thing, keep our emotions in check and quickly move on to the next challenge to be tackled. I call it overdrive. I’m also the first-born of four girls which brings it’s own set of responsibilities and unspoken rules. So, essentially, I spent 37 years of my life stuffing negative emotions. And guess what? They eventually ALL came spewing out over my life and my loved ones. Anger, sadness, grief, and fear are not bad. They are human responses to the pain of this world. Allow yourself to fully feel those emotions. Jesus did. Let them wash over you and then release them in Christ’s loving hands.
6. YOU ARE NOT THE HERO OF YOUR STORY (and this is a good thing)!
Much anxiety stems from trying to be in control of what happens in our lives and in the lives of others. At the beginning of my breakdown, I thought if I just read the right book, prayed the right prayer, found the right meditation, or took the right herb, my problems would cease. I had this idea about what healing should look like for me. After a year of chasing one magic cure after another, I finally laid down in the middle of my living room floor and gave up. I didn’t give up on life or hope, I gave up my control.
We can ONLY do the next right thing. That’s it. We can’t plan our future. We can’t erase our past. We can do everything right and still not get what we want. However, we can simply do the next right thing in love and trust God with the outcome. That’s true peace. That is divine surrender.
7. JESUS IS THE HERO OF YOUR STORY
You are NOT the Hero of your story, darling. No, you are the wanderer, the broken. You are UNABLE to work your way out of your life’s web of hurt, pain, lies and heartache. It’s true. You are the one who needs to be rescued. Oh, how your soul longs to be rescued! Christ, the true Hero sees you here, hurting. And He is so good and so true and so full of light and love that He cannot bear to leave even one broken soul separated from Him. Not one. Not you. This Hero doesn’t do what you expect. He does not flex His muscles or call in an army. No, the Hero does something much more radical. Something so shocking, so undeserved.
The Hero takes your place.
So please don’t be ashamed of your anxiety or fears. When God says “Do not fear,” 365 times in the Bible, it is not a command to be obeyed. Rather, it is the assuring words of a Father comforting His child. The Hero has already made a way for you. Just do the next right thing. Whatever that may be. And watch how your Hero makes a way for you to seek the still. Maybe…just maybe, this new dependance on Him will be the best thing to ever happen to you, too.