• Maria Whittaker

So You Struggle With Anxiety...


My first summer of marriage was spent mostly indoors. There was every reason for me to have a fantastic summer. After all, I'm a teacher and have summers off. After all, I had just gotten married to a handsome, sweet man who woke up early to clean the house for me. After all, I, who had never so much as had my own room, was in a new apartment with my husband, in a stunning, historical neighborhood full of old charm, old oaks, lush parks, cute cafes, and lots of sunlight. I had time, money, and opportunity to enjoy myself. And yet, I spent the summer mostly indoors.


Why? You may ask. You guessed it. Anxiety.


You know that feeling you get, of impending doom? It starts as a slight nervousness that expands to a sick feeling in your stomach, and then your muscles get tight and you start to feel downright paralyzed? That feeling that if you move, the world will come crashing down on you and destroy everything you hold dear? Yea - anxiety.


Anxiety kept me pinned to my couch, puttering around my apartment, frozen in the cozy nook of my apartment that, being on the second floor and facing a crop of trees lined along the street, whose sunlit branches beat against my windows, felt like a treehouse hidden away from the rest of the world. Anxiety kept me from exploring, from enjoying, from growing. I frittered away a summer indoors, and I will always regret that.


But what could I do? I was powerless against this massive force that kept me pinned down. I had gone through college experiencing mild anxiety pretty much at any given time, but it only got severe when there was a reason, like a huge paper or project deadline coming up. However, this summer, it got to the point where I was having pretty severe anxiety for no reason at all. I felt afraid of - deeply threatened by - absolutely everything and nothing at all.


I guess this was the point in my life when I realized there wasn't an outside cause. I think it finally came home to me, that in such perfect circumstances, in such a beautiful and monumental phase of my life, my first year of marriage, anxiety was coming not from outside, but from inside me. I realized I was going to be anxious, always and forever, no matter what circumstances I found myself in.


And I simply couldn't have that. I can tolerate with a lot of negative experiences and, unfortunately, even flaws in myself, but one thing about me is that I have is a deep, powerful drive and desire to have a good life. To be happy. To be free. And this was not a good life; what I felt was not happiness. I was not free.


There was something else. I felt that summer that my anxiety had grown from a rather large, intimidating pet Doberman that I normally controlled but sometimes turned against me, into a a monster that blocked the sun. That had me in its control. I felt that if I didn't do something about it now, I would get sucked into a deep, dark hole I maybe couldn't get out of without professional help - maybe have to go on meds or worse. So I started my quest to fix this problem.


And I'm here to share what I found.


Caveats

Before I begin to address a topic that is so sensitive and that so many people struggle with, I would like to make sure no one is misunderstanding me and being unnecessarily triggered. There is a debate about conditions like anxiety, especially among Christians, as to whether these conditions are entirely spiritual, entirely physical, a mix of both, etc. I am not a professional in the medical field, and so I don't feel that I can speak too much in detail to the question. I do want to share my personal opinion that there are anxiety-related conditions that are physiological and need medical treatment. I would also like to mention that there are anxiety-related conditions that are caused by traumatic life experiences such as divorce, abandonment by parents, sexual abuse, etc. While I believe that these two types of anxiety (physical illness and trauma-related) are completely valid, I would like to clarify that the anxiety I am going to be addressing in my post is the spiritual kind, originating from sinful mental and spiritual states. The reason for this is obviously that I am not qualified to speak to the other two types.


I would also like to mention that it is my opinion that oftentimes, anxiety is a mix of many different causes. It can be partially a physical illness, partially a sinful spiritual condition. It would be as unwise to write off the medical aspect as it would be to write off the spiritual aspect, so if you believe your anxiety falls into the category of a physical illness or is trauma-related, it could still be made more severe by sin, so a look at yourself and your attitudes (especially your response to trauma) can be helpful.


What Is Anxiety And Who Has It?

Anyone can have it, but it is an issue many women, specifically deal with (I have met my fair share of men that dealt with this too, however).


As to what it is, it's hard to explain to someone who doesn't experience anxiety. A definition, such as this one from the Merriam Webster dictionary, can help understand the surface of it.


ANXIETY

1. apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill : a state of being anxious

2. (medical) an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.

(Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anxiety).


But really, it's the memes that say it best (click on the images for source).













Anxiety is fear, but it's more than just fear. Fear pops up when we are threatened, say, we look up and see someone standing in the doorway holding a gun. Anxiety can have a cause, but it doesn't need a cause you can point to. Healthy fear is rooted in reality - you encounter a real threat, such as finding out you have stage 3 cancer.


Anxiety, on the other hand, deals in potentials and feeds on the world of our imagination.

For example. You have an interview tomorrow which you have reasonably prepared for. Anxiety will have you up to all hours imagining the absolute worst case scenarios and doubting your abilities, even the sanity of your own reasoning, heart racing, stomach aching, and cold sweats enveloping you. Or you know you have to go somewhere new and you will have to use Google Maps. There's nothing to indicate that Google Maps will lead you astray or that you will have an inability to understand when to take the right turn; you have no knowledge of the parking situation there or how you will find the correct apartment. Anxiety will have you in a panicked state from days before you go to the moment you arrive at the door. Anxiety will have your imagination creating scenario after scenario, coming up with solutions and resolutions to the imagined problem, and finding no peace or comfort in this.


It's not that things couldn't go wrong. They obviously could. You could lose connection and not be able to use your Google Maps. You could take the wrong turn and end up being late. You could arrive there and end up circling your destination, finding nowhere to park. You could end up walking into the wrong apartment (in fact, been there, done that). That's the thing. You simply don't know, and if you suffer from anxiety, it may be hard to believe this but the healthy human thing is to assume things will work out and that if you encounter a problem, you will have the resilience and ingenuity to overcome it. And armed with this assumption, remain totally calm and enjoy the new experience. To add a spiritual dimension, the healthy Christian thing would be to assume that God will smooth the path for you, guide you to where you need to be, and should you encounter any difficulties, provide for them and enable you to deal with them. Armed with faith in His ability to make everything turn out okay, you would remain perfectly calm and enjoy your day.


But, anxiety.


Anxiety is our abnormal, sinful response to the unknown, most especially when the unknown carries with it the potential for disaster.

This fear of the unknown can manifest on the most minute level - I had too much anxiety to get out of the house. It can manifest on a large scale - someone might, for example, live in constant dread of losing a child, of experiencing life-threatening health problems, of any kind of dramatic life tragedy.


The truth is, you simply can't know how your trip to that apartment will turn out. You could get in a car crash and die. It could go perfectly, without a hitch. How it will turn out is a simple, cold, unchangeable unknown, and that is what causes your anxiety. Furthermore, you're too logical to believe someone that says "Relax, it will be fine." Like, it could be fine. But it could not. There's no guarantee. You don't know the future, the future holds the potential for disaster, and so your anxiety isn't going anywhere.


Anxiety is also our abnormal, sinful response to what we do not understand.

The things we do not understand are very similar to the things we don't know. It's still something beyond our grasp. Here are some examples; I generally will not touch an electronic device I don't understand. I'm not a remote person. I never touch the remote if I can help it, partially because I don't understand all the buttons and settings (which kickstarts my anxiety) and partially because I don't know what other people are wanting to watch, what their likes and dislikes are, if they are annoyed at the show I picked, if they are too afraid to express their opinions, if they aren't afraid and will say something annoyed towards me, if I'm scrolling through the options too fast or too slow, etc. I don't know any of those things and so handling the remote causes me far too much anxiety to make me ever want to do it. On a much deeper, more significant level, we can have an anxious response to something difficult God asks us to go through, such as childlessness, the loss of a parent, or a future very different from the one we had planned for/desired/imagined. When we don't understand why God is doing this, or Who He must be to want something like this for us, our response can be a deeply anxious one.


The Root Cause

I intentionally linked the "fear of the unknown" and the "fear of what we cannot understand" by saying that they are something beyond our grasp. Because in my quest to understand and resolve my anxiety, I came to the conclusion that at the end of the day, that's what it's all about. Our grasp. Our hands. You may not see or understand this right away, but stick with me, because here's the truth, the root of the matter.


Ultimately, anxiety is our abnormal, sinful response to what we cannot control.

I have a methodology about solving "problems" or "flaws" in my life that I really want to go away.

To figure out what's causing a negative behavior, I start by assuming its being caused by sin, because the sinless Christ had no negative behaviors at all.

And I know that, as the Bible teaches, the root of all sin is a desire to usurp God's authority and replace it with my own, to dethrone God and sit on the throne myself, to take from His glory and glorify myself. So how would this relate to anxiety?


God designed a perfect universe. When sin entered the world, it introduced the potential for unmitigated disaster. It also introduced a destructive force whose essential drive is to destroy our souls. The nice, very anxiety-relieving thing about God being God is that He committed Himself to not simply mitigating the disaster but redeeming every negative thing that ever happens due to sin. He dedicated Himself to saving our souls. That's His burden, and actually, He's the only one holy enough, powerful enough, faithful enough, wise enough - to bear it. He is able.


Meanwhile, our sinful, divinity-aspiring selves mutiny against Him and desire to usurp His place and His power. And that includes a desire to control the future, something that is entirely within His realm of ability and authority. You see, in our flesh, we see the future, with its terrifying potential for disaster and also its dazzling potential for peace, prosperity and happiness. Faced with this, and knowing in our deepest heart that we desire a good life, that we desire happiness and blessing, we make a sinful move. Instead of entrusting our ultimate good to God's control, we believe the lie that we can and should control it. And we start working on doing just that.


Which is, of course, an impossible task, like trying to collect water in a sieve or attempting to stop a tsunami wave with sandbags. Let me bring it down to practical examples, so that you can understand what I am trying to say. I'll take a practical example from my life.


When I first entered college, I truly thought I could control my destiny. I truly believed that if I made the right choices and planned out my future correctly, I could control my outcomes so that I made the best possible future for myself. I laugh at that starry-eyed freshman now. When life trashed my plans and God changed my future on me, I was literally torn apart by anxiety. Ravaged by it. It was so bad, it even affected my health. I looked anorexic (even though I wasn't); my body was under so much stress and a constant load of anxiety that it was barely scraping by. I had panic attacks where I thought I was losing my mind. I even would mildly self-harm and in my darkest moments have suicidal ideations. All because my eyes were opening to the fact that not only can I not control my future to make sure I end up thriving and happy, there is a very likely possibility that horrible, tragic things could happen to me and the people I loved and I had absolutely no control over them.


God slowly taught me that though I had no control, He did. Unfortunately, that didn't solve the anxiety. You see, even though I knew He had control, I didn't like it. I needed to be the one in control.


It's like Adam and Eve in the garden. God showed her and Adam that they could thrive by remaining in fellowship with Him and acknowledging His authority, trusting His decisions. But that wasn't enough. They wanted to be in the know too, so they could have a say in the decisions. They wanted, like gods, to control their destiny. Because that's the essence of sin.


Lied To

I said that I solve a lot of my personal flaws by assuming there's some sin causing them. But there's something else to add to that. God's way is so excellent; the fruit of obeying Him so blessed and desirable, that only a lie could convince us to abandon it.


That's the second assumption you have to make. That if you are walking in sin, it's because somewhere along the line, you started believing a lie.

So what's the lie that could be causing me to want to control my one destiny? To dethrone God?


We want to be in control because we believe we can take better care of our happiness than God will.

When we started trying to conceive, we found we couldn't. We tried for almost a year and a half, and besides all the feelings that you can imagine that come with that, I felt a lot of anxiety about it. I fell into several sins. First of all, I imagined that not having a baby, ever, meant my life would be empty of a fulfillment only a baby can bring (i.e. I made having a baby an idol rather than trusting that God could fulfill me and bring me joy with or without a baby). Thankfully, by this point in my life I knew I couldn't control this particular situation; God had taught me throughout college that things are out of my control. (Because I could have tried to "control" it and trust only in doctors, timing, etc.) Still, my reaction to being out of control was sinful. I worried and had anxiety. I knew God had the wheel, and yet I didn't trust Him as the driver.


We believe more in our self-loving character than in the character of God.

We believe that if God gave us control of the future, we would have the wisdom make the best choices that would lead to our ultimate happiness.


So essentially, we are believing a lie. Just like Eve did in the garden. And what's the best medicine for a lie? You got it - a pure and unadulterated dose of truth.a


Medicating With Truth

Here's the truth. God made us, and He knows what will bring us happiness. Literally, He created us piece by piece, building block by building block. He designed us, in a far more real sense than engineer designs a brilliant new smartphone with stunning complexity. He knows our ins and outs; He knows the core desires we have and the unique lie we were born believing about Him. He knows how to save us. He knows exactly how to untangle our false ideas about him into sanctification, into a flourishing, loving, joyful relationship with God, as we were meant to be.


The truth is also that unless we address this root sin, the anxiety won't go away. We need to acknowledge the lies we are believing, reject them, and embrace the truth. And if you think simply doing that won't "heal" you, I've got good news. You're wrong. Scripture says very clearly in John 8:32: "and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."


Let's trace the sinful pattern that happens when anxiety arises:


1 - We come up against a situation that has the potential for disaster and think that God will not or cannot control the outcome for our ultimate good. We doubt His character and truthfulness, as Eve did when Satan planted doubt in her mind ("But the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'" Genesis 3:4-5 ESV).


2 - We know we can't control the future, control other people's reactions, control our circumstances, and yet we think we have the best chance if we cover all our bases - so we do.


3 - Even having covered all our bases, we realize there is so much that is absolutely out of our control. At this point, having responsibly covered all our bases, we should trust God. But there's a little, insane voice inside us that says "there's one more thing you can do." That thing? Worry. Fear. Allow anxiety to take over.


4 - At this point, we have falsely believed that anxiety - worrying about an uncontrollable situation - is our last chance at control. We actually believe that we can control the outcome by being anxious. Anxiety is the last hope of a desperately terrified human to control the uncontrollable.


Anxiety is caused by trying to control the uncontrollable. It is the natural reaction of humans when faced with something we know we can't control, but are trying to control regardless.


If that is true, then anxiety will disappear and peace will replace it when we give up. When we stop trying to do the impossible. When we step out of insanity and into sanity. When we give up the lie that we can influence the outcome by anxiety, and step into the truth that only God can control the outcome and only God can be trusted to have the wisdom and power to do so.


Peace will come in the moment in which we take our hands of the wheel and hand it to God - not resentfully, not back-seat driving, but trusting in Who He is: His ability to get us to the destination and that His loving choice of destination will lead to our flourishing and happiness.


To be extremely practical, let's trace a healthy, holy, God-glorifying way to deal with an anxious situation:


1- No one:

Absolutely no one:

My anxiety: Here I am, you called?

That is to say, there's no tangible reason to be anxious and yet your anxiety pops up one day. The first question you should ask yourself is what am I trying to control that I shouldn't be and can't? Usually, I can come up with an answer pretty quickly. Lately, I've been having a resurgence in anxiety. It didn't take me long to figure out why. We're in the middle of selling our house and moving to a different country. There's a whole heck of a lot of things that are completely out of my control.


2 - We need to acknowledge that God can control the future, people's reactions, our circumstances. We need to pick up our Bible and remind ourselves of His omnipotence (He is all-powerful) and His omniscience (He is all-knowing and so can make the most informed decision).


3 - We need to make sure we are being responsible and covering our bases. Scary interview tomorrow that you haven't even begun to prepare for? Maybe you can scale back your anxiety by actually doing your job and preparing. There is a realm that God has placed within our control that we are responsible for influencing. (Even in this area, we shouldn't rely on our own strength and wisdom, though).


4 - We need to repent of doubting God's power, but also thinking evil of God. In Matthew 7, Jesus calls us out on our evil thoughts of God. He points out that it is man who is truly untrustworthy, and evil. "Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him?" (Matthew 7:9-11). He promises the nation of Israel (and the principle can apply to us as His people) in Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." How amazing that God has revealed His heart towards us - we are completely in His power; He could crush us at any moment (which would make anyone sweat) and yet He has good intentions towards us.


5 - We need to repent of trying to control something that is 1) not within our power and 2) not within our jurisdiction. So we need a reality check (Duh, I can't control this. It's literally insane to think I could.) and a humility check (This is God's area of authority. It's arrogant and unwarranted for me to step in.). We have to acknowledge that anxiety is not a true way of controlling the situation and that we shouldn't be trying to control it anyways. We have to repent of putting our trust in man (ourselves) - as the Bible says, "Do not put your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish" (Psalm 146:3-4).


6 - Having removed our trust in man (ourselves, we simply have to let go and let God.


You guys, life is like driving at a high speed in a completely dark tunnel. We realize we're not the driver. Or if we're trying to be, we realize we can't see a single thing in front of us. And the anxiety is REAL. But here's the thing. We can't turn on the lights. So we can get out of the driver's seat and allow only someone we completely and utterly trust to take over. And then we have to learn to get comfortable being completely in someone else's hands; entrusting our future, our happiness, our destiny, to Him.


Of course, none of this is possible in our flesh. We need Christ's power, Christ's life in us, to accomplish the monumental task of truly repenting and letting go. But realizing I couldn't control things anyways, whether or not I repented, went a long way for me. The difference is between a life lived totally chained to crippling anxiety, and a life lived in the freedom that comes from full trust in God.


God Has A Reputation He Has To Upkeep

We are taught not to be concerned about our reputation or our glory. And rightly so, because God's reputation and glory are what matters - even to Him. So one added bonus of trusting Him is that it puts the ball in His court.


When Jesus was on the cross, people said of him, "He trust in God; let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him. For He said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Matthew 27:43).


We also claim to be sons and daughters of God, based on His Word. And God has to stay consistent to His character and His Word (in fact, He can't do otherwise) - but all that means is that He has to show up. He has to take care of it. He has to make sure it all works out for us. And He will.


I love Psalm 131. It's super short and punchy (just 3 verses), and carries in it the full weight of what this kind of surrender means. It highlights the humility and trust it takes to walk with God:


O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.


But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.


O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.


Final Warnings

I wish I could end my post here but I really feel like I need to say this next part. Anxiety is not something that you can ignore. It's not a problem to leave unresolved. The reason is that the spirit of fear is a very aggressive one. I don't know how the spirit world works and why some sins don't seem to be as aggressive as others. Maybe it's just an illusion and they are all aggressive. But I do know that especially for people seriously susceptible to the spirit of fear, you give it an inch and it takes a mile. You give it the tip of your finger and it takes your whole body.


I am sad to say that I have seen people who never resolved their anxiety problem and they literally got to the point where you would talk to them and feel that they are almost unhinged. And I do know someone who actually lost their mind because of an unresolved fear problem. Fear is deadly and gets more and more powerful if you give it a foothold in your life. It can truly take over your mind. I just wanted to say that as a warning. I wish my primary motivation for not giving way to anxiety was a desire for holiness. Unfortunately, it's just more fear. I know that if I give way to anxiety, I could lose my mind to it, and I'm afraid of that. And that's probably a not entirely unhealthy fear, since the threat is real.


Do Not Be Anxious About Anything

It is an amazing thing to believe not that we live in a cold, cruel universe, but that it is a place intentionally designed by a loving God interested in relationship with us Who has redeemed us and promised His children all the goodness in the world.


It is an far, far more amazing thing to actually believe that to the level that it influences how you live. That your faith in God's character and power make you a person of peace and calm in the midst of the most unknown, incomprehensible of circumstances. And it's a lot more rare of a thing, too, even among Christians.


And yet it is what we are all called to. So let's all strain towards it.


There is no magic formula to curing anxiety; just this process of by Christ living in you, choosing to believe truth and trust God. Even now, I have an anxious phone call scheduled for this evening, and I have to actively trust God with it. But if you do want a magic formula, or "medicine" of some sort, one of my favorite verses in the Bible comes close to that and it is this:


...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

P H I L L I P I A N S 4 : 6 - 7


It contains a command - "do not be anxious about anything." It contains a solution - "by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving (I actually ALWAYS thank God for something if I'm praying about release from anxiety, because it's part of the prescription). It contains a promise - "And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."


And in the worst of times, let Christ's words be the ones you cling to.


I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

J O H N 1 6 : 3 3


Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

J O H N 1 4 : 2 7


May Christ give us victory in this area and fill us with His peace. <3


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