By Cortni Marrazzo, Crosswalk.com
Anxiety disorders can be a hard topic to talk about in many churches and Christian circles. Some people equate chronic anxiety with a lack of faith and trust in God. However, many Christians who have a close relationship with God—and trust Him deeply—still experience high anxiety.
If you are someone who loves and trusts God, yet still regularly face anxiety, I want to encourage you that you are not alone. Hope is not lost. It’s possible to experience the freedom of Christ in your life, even when anxiety is persistently knocking at your door. I want to share with you, based on my experience with anxiety, seven habits for living well in the midst of struggling with anxiety:
1. Focus on the true freedom of Christ.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2
To experience true freedom in Christ, it helps to recognize what that freedom really entails. The freedom we have in Christ is freedom from condemnation and freedom from the separation from God. If you struggle with anxiety, it’s likely you face a lot of guilt and shame from not doing enough or not being enough (or both). While this guilt and shame can easily overwhelm you, it’s important to remember that this is not how God sees you.
Experiencing freedom in Christ doesn't necessarily mean you will ever be free from all the symptoms of anxiety on this side of heaven, but you can be free from being in bondage to that anxiety. Despite how you may feel and what you physically experience, you can always stand on the truth of God’s word that promises that God never condemns you and that you are always loved and accepted by Him.
2. Keep coming to God for help with your anxious feelings.
Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. – Hebrews 4:15-16
My own experience with anxiety has caused me to run to God a lot, because I find myself in desperate need of His peace to overcome anxious feelings. I used to try to numb my anxious thoughts with shopping, food, tv, social media...whatever I could do to temporarily drown it out. This was mostly because I felt shame about my struggles, and didn’t want to take it to God for fear of judgement.
I know in my mind that God doesn’t judge me in my weaknesses, but anxiety tries to convince you of things that aren’t true. Jesus was human and experienced anxiety Himself, so not only does He accept and love us no matter what, He can actually relate to our struggles! He was so anxious before dying on the cross that he actually sweated drops like blood (Luke 22:44).
When you are anxious, you are in need of God’s peace, and God tells you to come bravely to Him when you are in need. He promises that you will be treated with undeserved kindness and that He will help you.
Anxiety can cause us to feel ashamed when we are in need, but God actually created us to need Him!
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3. Embrace outside help in dealing with your anxiety.
Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances. – Proverbs 11:14 MSG
It is very important to seek God’s help when struggling with anxiety, and sometimes part of that help may come from outside sources like a professional counselor. When my son was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I found myself struggling with my own anxiety in trying to navigate how to help my son.
I sought out a Christian counselor who has since helped point me back to God's Word, while also equipping me with tools and actions to help me physically train my brain to do what God had actually made it to do.
Counselors are trained in methods of dealing with anxiety that make changes at a physical level. They can teach us how we can help our brain recover from the fight or flight reactions that kick into overdrive when anxiety shows up.
Healthy habits like journaling, deep breathing, practicing mindfulness, and many others have personally helped (and continue to help) me when I struggle to get past anxious thoughts and feelings in my life.
4. Take care of your body.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Exercise and diet are huge factors in helping anxiety. Running is something that has personally helped me immensely. I actually didn’t realize just how much until recently when my running partner went on vacation and I took a week off from running and found that I struggled with a lot more anxiety that week than I did when I was regularly running.
For me, when I run or do some other form of exercise consistently, it helps me eat less junk and eat more nutrient-dense foods. Exercise and nutrition have a big impact on your brain and can contribute to the levels of anxiety you experience in your day to day life.
5. Follow God’s leading on how best to tend to your unique anxiety needs.
The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” – Psalm 32:8
There is a wealth of information out there and a lot of people advising those struggling with anxiety. While research, knowledge, and advice are valuable, it’s important to listen to what God is specifically telling you to do.
Prescription medicines for anxiety disorders can be a controversial choice for some people, but I believe each person should follow God’s leading on this decision. Because an anxiety disorder is a medical diagnosis that stems from the way your brain is wired—and can be genetic—it is highly possible that you may benefit from a medication to help you. This is especially applicable if you’ve found that counseling, diet, exercise, and even prayer just don’t seem to be relieving your anxiety.
If you feel like you could possibly benefit from the help of medication, pray for God’s guidance in this matter, and don’t let fear stop you from at least talking to a counselor and/or your doctor about your options. God may lead to you this resource as a way to help you.
There have been a few times in my life where I’ve taken medication to help me through some particularly rough seasons. Before making that decision, I prayed about it and when I sensed His peace about it, I continued to trust that God would help the medication work in my brain.
I continued to seek God and use other strategies to help myself while taking medication, but I believe God used the medication to help me quiet my brain down enough to make those positive choices every day. More importantly, it helped me connect with Him on a daily basis. My hope wasn’t in the medication, but my hope was in God using it for good in my life.
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6. Give yourself grace when you feel anxiety.
Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. – Colossians 1:22
One of the worst things about anxiety is the guilt and shame that often accompany it. It’s easy to blame yourself for how you feel or feel guilty about it, yet experiencing anxiety about your anxiety is very easy to slip into. Have you ever struggled with any of these thoughts?
“If I trusted God enough, I wouldn’t be anxious.”
“Why do I keep struggling with this?”
“I’m just not good enough to get past this.”
Anxiety isn’t something anyone chooses, but it is something many struggle with. There are many different reasons someone may experience more anxiety than the next person: genetics, how your brain is wired, previous trauma, perfectionism, and many others.
The point is, it’s not your fault. You are not less than others, or less than God wants you to be because you struggle with this.
You are human and your struggle is part of your humanity.
7. See the good in your struggle with anxiety.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Even though we don’t know for sure what Paul’s particular thorn was, we know it was something he struggled with. I don’t know about you, but anxiety sure feels like a thorn in the flesh to me because it’s definitely a struggle! But when I struggle, I run to God because I know He is the only one who can ultimately help me. This keeps me coming to God a lot, and as a result, I am growing closer to Him and growing in my faith.
Dealing with anxiety isn’t easy or fun, but it keeps you aware of your need for God and helps you continue to see just how much His power works through your weaknesses. And when you experience God and His strength more powerfully, you are able to share your experiences with and encourage others who are also struggling.
Truth is, even when you have to consistently face the monster of anxiety, you can still freely live out the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave: to love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
Cortni Marrazzo is the Communication Director at ONE* Church in Spokane, WA. She and her husband Jason have two elementary-age sons, one of which has special needs. She has a Degree in Biblical Discipleship and has a passion for ministry and encouraging the body of Christ. You can contact her at [email protected] or on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CortniMarrazzo)
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Cortni Marrazzo lives in Spokane, WA with her husband Jason and their two elementary-age sons, one of which has special needs. She has a Degree in Biblical Discipleship and has a passion for the local church and encouraging and inspiring people toward God's word. You can contact her at [email protected] or on Facebook.