All winter long, many of us huddled by our heaters and longed for the relief of warmer weather. We pushed through the muck and gloom of the spring, and now our beloved summer season is here. Yet unfortunately, it seems to be slipping away before we have time to enjoy it. For many of us, we looked forward to summer as a time to relax and recharge — and to be honest, that just isn’t happening. Instead, there’s a looming problem that lies unresolved: our anxiety.
I have suffered with anxiety myself. Soon after my 21st birthday, I married my high school sweetheart. I had waited seven years for that magical day. Despite the prep time, there was a weight of adulthood I wasn’t prepared for. It hit me hard. I went from living with few major responsibilities to purchasing a home and trying to prove to my in-laws that I was a worthy candidate to marry their daughter. I was burnt out from long work days, poor self-care and a complete lack of rest. The spiral started without me even realizing it. I started playing video games as a “healthy” way to decompress and relax. A year after my wedding I found myself playing video games 16 hours a day, eating entire pizzas in one sitting and 50 pounds heavier. On top of all of that, I was paralyzed with anxiety, unable to even show up to work.
Anxiety is a rampant issue. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) notes that anxiety is the number one mental illness in the United States and claims that more than 40 million Americans suffer from it. Importantly, anxiety is more than just feeling nervous or worried. The ADAA says this about anxiety: “worry and fear are constant and overwhelming, and can be disabling. But with treatment, many people can manage those feelings and get back to a fulfilling life.”
So what does it all mean for a Gospel believer? It means that our Designer knows us and all of our working and non-working parts. We believe He made us with a purpose and is also in the business of restoring our brokenness in order to meet that purpose, through medical doctors who reflect the knowledge of God in their practice, pharmaceuticals built from God’s building blocks and/or for His ability to heal our bodies supernaturally. Seeking the help of a medical professional is not something to be ashamed of and may be completely necessary.
With that in mind, there are three steps you can take on your own to help conquer the anxiety that might be controlling your mind. If you haven’t dealt with anxiety, these steps may just keep you from it.
Step 1: Expect the worst
This sounds like terrible advice for someone paralyzed with worry, right? Part of what sent me into an anxious spiral was my unrealistic view of marriage and the joy I expected home ownership to bring. When those expectations were not met, I fought hard to argue why things should be different. Ultimately, the problem was me. I expected things I didn’t deserve and things that were not realistic.
When we look to the Gospel, we no longer focus on our own pleasure and blessing, but rather on the pleasure of our Creator. When our aim is to choose God’s way instead of our own, it exposes how we naturally choose ourselves first. The road of selfish consumption always leads to our own demise. Our selfishness eats away at our body and our soul. As gospel believers, we expect the worst because we know it’s what we deserve and chose by going our own way.
2. Pray your fears
Maybe it’s the fear of mailing in that traffic ticket late and the uncertainty of the repercussions. Maybe it’s the fear of checking your bank account, knowing that what you find might be messy. Maybe we can’t fill out that application because we’re paralyzed by a fear of its result. Maybe it’s the fear of simply getting out of bed and who or what you’ll have to face that day.
When we start to pray our fears, we give God permission to intercede into our situations. While He doesn’t need an invitation, it helps us align our hearts with His. Seeing things the way God does changes our perspective. Our worries and anxieties are minimized when we maximize God’s ability to carry the weight of our worries. Not only that, but our conversation with God should remind us of His power over all our circumstances. We look to God to put our broken pieces back together for His glory and our good, whether in this life or the next. We can even thank God for our suffering, because it’s what draws our hearts back to him, our only hope.
3. Rest in the one who blesses, not in your stresses
I don’t know about you, but I spend way more time looking at my to-do list than I do in reading or thinking about who God is. So is this a charge to read your Bible more? Maybe, but I think it’s beyond that.
We’ve all heard phrases like, “You are what you eat” and “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” The implication is that you become like that which you behold. Where our minds hang out is just as important as who we physically associate with. This isn’t meant to be some sort of gimmicky self-help trick — it’s Gospel truth. When we rest our minds in the hope of God alone, we no longer listen to the voices identifying we don’t measure up. It’s vital to rehearse the truth of who God is over and over so that we don’t fall into hopelessness. We don’t push aside our anxieties and turn to God. Instead, we turn to God and face our anxieties with the victory over them that He already won through His son Jesus. Who better to face the battle against your broken mind than the one who created it from the dust?
Remember, part of resting is doing just that. It’s essential for us to have one day a week that we reflect on the beauty and power of our Creator and simply appreciate it all. This Sunday (or whenever your Sabbath is) ditch the to-do list and take it all in. Your mental health depends on it.