7 Ways Christians Should Deal With Stress and Anxiety

To those who are in that place right now.

I’ve always considered myself to be a person who handles stress pretty well. I like to be busy. I enjoy taking risks. I never thought anxiety was my problem.

Then, a little less than a year ago, I hit a wall. I could never seem to get enough sleep. Small tasks I had normally done with little thought or stress were suddenly accompanied with an almost crippling anxiety.

One day as I was driving, it suddenly felt as though my heart was malfunctioning. That was my first panic attack. It was also the moment I realized I could no longer ignore the stress and anxiety that was slowly taking over my life.

Something had to change.

After that day, I began seeking counsel. I saw a doctor. I began making changes. By God’s grace, I am now no longer on any medication, the panic attacks are gone and my anxiety is at an all-time low. I still have days that are harder than others, but those days are increasingly few and far between.

I continue to meet many people who find themselves in a similar place to where I was just a year ago. Those conversations have confirmed that we the Church have a long way to go when it comes to addressing issues of mental health. Many aren’t sure how to understand or respond to their struggle as Christians.

Taking care of our bodies is a spiritual endeavor.

So to those who find themselves in that place right now, here are seven ways to deal with anxiety and stress:

1. Admit There's a Problem

Those familiar with programs like AA will tell you the first step to recovery is owning up to the fact that a problem exists. And they are right.

This requires a lot of humility. Anxiety in particular can be hard to own up to because it makes us feel weak in an area where so many others appear to be strong. The temptation is to keep pushing and hope the anxiety goes away on its own.

As I learned the hard way, however, pushing through without addressing the problem can lead to an inevitable and ugly crash. I was dealing with anxiety for a very long time before I would acknowledge it. It wasn’t until I started having debilitating panic attacks that I finally admitted there was a problem.

Had I owned up to the problem sooner, I could have spared both myself and my family a lot of pain.

2. Stop Self-Medicating

Many who struggle with stress and anxiety develop their own ways of coping along the way. Some respond to stress by snacking constantly on junk food. Some drink to take the edge off. Others camp out in front of the television for hours on end.

None of these are healthy ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. Most of us intrinsically know this. What we don’t often realize, however, is that responding to stress in these ways can actually work against our body’s ability to fight back and get healthy, not to mention what it can do to our soul.

In other words, unhealthy coping mechanisms often make it worse, creating an endless cycle of stress and self-medication. 

3. Take Care of Yourself Physically

In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul encourages believers to remember that our body is a living temple, one that has been bought at a great price, and therefore we ought to glorify God with it. Taking care of our bodies, therefore, is a spiritual endeavor.

This is particularly important for those who struggle with stress and anxiety as our physical health is connected to our mental health. Regular exercise, for example, has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. One study in particular showed that those who regularly exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years.

One of my favorite anxiety moments in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is so overwhelmed by his circumstances that he wants to end his life. In that moment, God didn’t give him a pep talk or shame him for his lack of faith. Instead, He gave him a meal and let him go to sleep. Twice.

Learning to rest is an important part of taking care of the body God has entrusted us with. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap.

There are some things about God that can only be learned through suffering.

4. Be Intentional About What Goes into Your Mind

Philippians 4:8 says this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Paul is pointing to the fact that what we fill our minds with has a profound effect on us. We see this truth at work whenever the Scriptures speak of meditation. Hebrew meditation isn’t just about emptying one’s mind of wrong things, it’s about filling one’s mind with the right things.

5. Don’t Neglect the Spiritual

You and I are spiritual beings, which means there is always more going on than meets the eye.

We must never forget that we live in a world at war. And while God desires for us to flourish, there is another who would love nothing else than to see to see us suffer. When you are overwhelmed with grief and anxiety, he will whisper in your ear lies about your identity, your self-worth, your status before God, your past, your future, your hope. It is important that you recognize these for what they are.

You must make a habit of utilizing the power of prayer, the gift of the Scriptures and the support of Christian community who can help you discern the lies you are tempted to believe and who will remind you of who you truly are in Christ. 

6. Consider Seeing a Doctor

Personally, I believe medicine is not a rejection of God’s power, but rather a provision of his grace. Sometimes it’s exactly what we need.

That said, medicine is not the cure-all when it comes to treating anxiety (or any mental health struggle). It can include side-effects and it often takes multiple tries to find the right one. But it can help tremendously. Don’t be afraid to see a doctor and ask about treatments—just like you would with a physical ailment.

7. Embrace the Blessing of Brokenness

When I was in the worst of my depression and anxiety, there were days when getting out of bed was difficult work. Hardly a moment went by when I was not painfully aware of my shortcomings as a man, as a husband, as a dad, as a leader. It was awful. But it also created in me a dependency like I’d never previously experienced.

I held onto Jesus with white knuckles as I prayed during panic attacks. I desperately felt my need for prayer every single day. Words like those of Psalm 23 weren’t just nice words to casually read or embroider on a throw blanket. They were my life.

There are some things about God that can only be learned through suffering. Sometimes I wonder if this is why God refused to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Because a broken and dependent Paul was a Paul through whom God could change the world. He was the kind of Paul that could write and mean words like this:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take this suffering away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

If you are walking through the valley of anxiety right now, there is a way out, and I pray you find it. But in the meantime, don’t miss what God may have for you right where you are.

This article was originally published on aarongloy.com. Used with permission.

Top Comments

Jennifer Gibson Callaway

1

Jennifer Gibson Callaway commented…

Yes, yes, yes. I have dealt with this off and on for twenty years; by God's grace, this time I hope to put in place those things that will permanently control and relieve it.
But I think also that Michelle brings up an excellent point, which has frustrated me and made me keep silent. Anxiety and worry are not really the same thing, and yet they get lumped together and either people in the church think they understand or they are embarrassed by my seeming incapability of dealing with life. I recently listened to a message from Charles Stanley in which he chastised the anxious for unbelief and gave some verses as a prescription. If I had not had a long history of understanding my own struggles, this message would have devastated me. The church needs to be aware of the difference, and to realize the impact words can have on a struggling believer.

Chris Depew

16

Chris Depew commented…

Find a licensed therapist in your area. Psychologytoday.com. Research shows that talk therapy and medication is the best treatment for Depression and Anxiety. Not one or the other. Please make sure you see a licensed therapist in your state.

5 Comments

Chris Depew

16

Chris Depew commented…

Find a licensed therapist in your area. Psychologytoday.com. Research shows that talk therapy and medication is the best treatment for Depression and Anxiety. Not one or the other. Please make sure you see a licensed therapist in your state.

Elizabeth Roque

8

Elizabeth Roque commented…

Thanks so much for this.

Michelle Labonte

3

Michelle Labonte commented…

I think that much of what you say is good and necessary.

"we the Church have a long way to go when it comes to addressing issues of mental health. Many aren’t sure how to understand or respond to their struggle as Christians."

I think this needs to be brought into your first point, which is to have the CHURCH admit that there's a problem--and that the problem is not always sin. To be blunt, there are people who die by suicide because the nurturance they needed was neither found in the church nor the world.

"Anxiety in particular can be hard to own up to because it makes us feel weak in an area where so many others appear to be strong. The temptation is to keep pushing and hope the anxiety goes away on its own."

My response to this is... that is your experience. The temptation of the church to the anxious is to beat them over the head with verses about contentment or worry. I have had a lifelong vested interest in following God. However, I could not NOT worry, every second all of the time. Even if I had full willingness to "worry not," I didn't have the actual capacity.

In my experience, debilitating depression and suicide are much harder to address in a Christian setting. For a depressive, the "worry not" verses get combined with verses about joy and how much the Christian is sinning. Add that to the statement that suicide is WRONG WRONG WRONG; "you are a sinner; stop that right now!" When this is all balled together and thrown at mentally hurting persons like a grenade, it does nothing good for anyone.

This: "One of my favorite anxiety moments in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah is so overwhelmed by his circumstances that he wants to end his life. In that moment, God didn’t give him a pep talk or shame him for his lack of faith. Instead, He gave him a meal and let him go to sleep. Twice."

is an excellent point; thank you for bringing it into the conversation. I would argue that anxiety was less the driving factor for Elijah than despair, depression, and anguish. Anxiety may have been a sub-factor, but as one with 5 (yes 5) separate diagnoses, I can verify that there are a continuum of madnesses, some of which work more potently than others, and each of which have their own defining characteristics.

However, that is less the point than to say, "thank you for sharing this as an example." No one can say that Elijah was slacking in his faith. (Though some people in the church, were they to meet him today, would.) The reason that I am alive today is because I have a pastor who treated me like a person... rather than a SINNER(savedbygrace), which is what I had been used to. The acknowledgement of my being human and his care for people were what allowed me to turn to him in a moment of paralyzing need. (And significant decision making. (See: life or death)

"We must never forget that we live in a world at war. And while God desires for us to flourish, there is another who would love nothing else than to see to see us suffer."
Agreed. However, here is yet another place where I have found a point of rebuke far more often than added prayer or agreement. "Oh, don't let the devil [whatever]," as if he were a. imaginary, b. powerless, and c. one to whom I gave permission to begin with.

Ironically, my faith is questioned at the exact moment when I admit to the spiritual reality which Jesus deliberately taught ("the reason the son of God came was to destroy the work of the devil"), cautioned against, and told his people to fight. Satan is a formidable enemy. Can we acknowledge this? Pretending he doesn't exist does NOT make him go away; if anything, it allows for more and deeper lies. We can't look at the source, lest we see the imaginary bad guy, making him real.

"Don’t be afraid to see a doctor and ask about treatments—just like you would with a physical ailment."

Yes, just like one. Because it is one. Naturally the whole of the person is involved, but Anxiety/depression are as much illnesses as hypothyroidism or diabetes. I was not into the "this is a legitimate illness," concept until I had lived with it for 30 years, without realizing that, untreated, it erodes the brain (actual brain imaging reveals this). It does so further and further, making the condition considerably worse as time progresses. I needed, in a sense, "permission" from my pastor to get medical help--not because he stood against it, but because I had been trained to suck it up and get more spiritual in a (previous) spiritually oppressive and abusive setting.

"There are some things about God that can only be learned through suffering."
Word.

"If you are walking through the valley of anxiety right now, there is a way out"

Please be careful with this statement. Here too, from people who misunderstand, there can be another reason to accuse an anxious believer. The, "God healed me in [amount of time]; why haven't you gotten better yet??" is accusation. An unfair accusation. That's like a cancer survivor telling a cancer patient that, because he got well, that the other person "had no excuse" to still be sick. It's arrogant. It assumes that everybody's story is meant to be the same. It's not.

And for some of us, this is chronic. It has never not been present in my life. I felt depression, aided by some anxiety-provoking occurrences that would make any ADULT anxious in a PTSD-y way. I was between 3 months and 3 years old when these things happened. My ability to process them was to... not. My mind hadn't developed yet. I've never known life that wasn't afraid. When people gasp at my horrible mental state, they don't realize that so much of this is my normal.

"Don't you want to go back to life before Depression?"
There was no life before depression.
"Don't you want to return to that idyllic childhood feeling of freedom and wonder?"
I never had such a time of freedom or wonder.
"You know how kids are, they think they're invincible."
It was long before adolescence that I had learned that I was "vincible." As a toddler, the death of a younger child had me convinced that there was no guarantee for life or safety, whatsoever. Therefore there is no idyllic state to which I can return.

The expectation to:
a. understand happiness/freedom/the complete emotional spectrum as a norm
b. want that completely unknown state to be our normal
c. heal
were burdens laid upon me by others, and also confusing. A new normal is confusing. It is not necessarily comforting. One is made to assume that the person without the experience of depression (or other malady) is correct. Does this address the afflicted or the one who is made uncomfortable by the afflicted? It is our burden to care for others' feelings at all times while being unable to care for or share our own. Some people only know a few tricks. (The, "get saved and win," technique didn't work. I had been walking with the Lord steadily.) That doesn't mean that they are correct. Blaming the sufferer only adds to their pain.

As you noted, "There are some things about God that can only be learned through suffering." And some can only be learned (apparently) by chronic suffering. With depression, even as a constant state, and 4 other diagnoses, came some gifts as well, like the ability to sit with someone else's pain. This (sitting with someone else's pain) makes some ministers uncomfortable. Thus we who have walked through the valley (or lived there) need to be at the ready for the people that enthusiastic optimists can't handle. Deep pain requires deep understanding. Guess what, where people are broken (everywhere), that is an asset, not a liability.

I personally reached a point where I refused to feel guilty for depression. I felt guilty for every other thing in my life (such as the many things leading me to hell, which I knew in my conscience were not things to ignore or overlook). That kind of guilt is one with the capacity to drive someone to salvation. That's not necessarily a bad thing. (Having it forever speaks to the reality of depressive symptoms and bad theology.) What I did understand correctly was that Jesus was the Man of Sorrows and he hung out (among other places) in the valley of the shadow of death. Guess what, peeps; if Jesus isn't mad at me for being depressed, you've got nothin. I ultimately answer to him.

The church needs to be able to accept people who are at peace with their state of being and have accepted them. Paul didn't want his "thorn". But that thorn sounded like one that showed up at some point; he wasn't born with it.

I've watched my father (also a pastor) handle 35 years of diabetes. (He had it before it was trendy.) He had to take care of himself in a particular way. This did not take away from him as a person, pastor, or father. Having taken care of that (thank God), he is now living in sunny Florida, recently retired. (And pursuing a PhD, because what else would one do with retirement?) Beating him up about "not being better yet" (or the food/sugar scare which was not used as a fear mechanism when he was diagnosed--obesity was also not an issue) would have been more of a thorn in his side than the needles that he had to face multiple times every single day.

I have 5 diagnoses. I believe that two of them are with me for life, and manageable with treatment. The other three may be able to be overcome. That would make life more convenient. However, the fear of speaking about mental illness in the church, and the fact that the chronically ill are maligned more than those in temporary states indicates to me that there is need for a voice who has unapologetically lived with all of these things, while also maintaining a solid walk with the Lord. It may be that I'm an example that others don't have the strength to be or that I'm the voice that shelters persons who are sick, confused, and afraid. The Incarnation was a manifestation of God taking on flesh for a lifetime, with whatever came with it (apart from sin). If God allowed that for his own beautiful son, maybe for some of us, it's not a curse, but a calling.

-M

Jennifer Gibson Callaway

1

Jennifer Gibson Callaway commented…

Yes, yes, yes. I have dealt with this off and on for twenty years; by God's grace, this time I hope to put in place those things that will permanently control and relieve it.
But I think also that Michelle brings up an excellent point, which has frustrated me and made me keep silent. Anxiety and worry are not really the same thing, and yet they get lumped together and either people in the church think they understand or they are embarrassed by my seeming incapability of dealing with life. I recently listened to a message from Charles Stanley in which he chastised the anxious for unbelief and gave some verses as a prescription. If I had not had a long history of understanding my own struggles, this message would have devastated me. The church needs to be aware of the difference, and to realize the impact words can have on a struggling believer.

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