Being a Christian and a psychologist, it’s often assumed that I would be immune to feelings of anxiety. On one hand, I have the clinical background and technique needed to handle feelings of worry and anxiety, on the other hand, I have my faith reminding me not to worry.
But I am still human after all.
Being a Christian and a psychologist make me more introspective of how both roles play a part in my daily life. Especially at this time, when my conversations with clients have mostly been centered around managing their fear and anxiety with the pandemic the world is facing. It’s hard not to say that this is turning our lives upside down, and people are feeling more anxious than before.
In my experience, many Christians shy away from talking about anxiety because they don’t have answers, or because they are afraid, in some way, that their faith will be discredited. Yet fear and doubt are a normal part of life.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from talking about worry and anxiety. As a member of the Church Of Christ, I often hear Bible verses in the worship services about anxiety and depression like this one:
These feelings are real and can become overwhelming, and, in many cases, even paralyzing. So, how do I deal with anxiety?
Acknowledge Your Anxiety and That it Happens
I have seen first hand that anxiety is a natural human reaction. It’s a way for us to protect ourselves from harm. This is anxiety’s job: to protect ourselves and keep ourselves from danger. Anxiety can be used to activate us and make us more proactive in keeping others safe.
Saying this, our mind is not 100% logical when it is weighing out every fact or piece of evidence. It will take in information and associate it with emotion, and come up with a conclusion (“this is dangerous”, “something bad will happen to me”, etc.). The stronger the emotion (think: fear, sadness, etc.) this information is matched with, the harder it is for us to step away from these thoughts.
Also, our brains are naturally drawn to see the bad, or what is known as negative bias in the field of psychology. Negative bias is defined as the tendency for humans to pay more attention, or give more weight to negative experiences. Sometimes this tendency can go into overdrive. Especially during a time when there are so many unknowns. The human brain likes organization and the ability to predict patterns. During a time of unknown, our brains will be working a little bit more to protect ourselves. The more uncertainty you experience, the more fear and anxiety you will feel. Some say this is what brought about the panic buying we’ve been seeing.
Even though our minds will worry about the outcome of events, research shows that, on average, people are less emotionally affected by negative events that they predict. For example, when you experience heartbreak and you worry that you won’t be able to move past it and think you will be sad for the rest of your life. That is most likely not true, and you cope with it and feel okay about it.
The situation itself is bad, but how you cope with it is better than you think.
Three ways to minimize the anxiety we feel.
While anxiety is a part of life, there are ways to not fuel the feelings of anxiety that come with day to day life.
1. Stop Scrolling
Social media has been shown to have increased the depressive and anxious symptoms. This remains to be true and even worse at this time. There will be a lot of information out there and the current information that is being shared online will perpetuate our fear and anxiety.
Seek out only 1-2 CREDIBLE sources for information about the current affairs (being informed about the facts helps us create understanding and can decrease our anxiety). Limit checking social media and be mindful of how you feel after scrolling. This is a great time to practice replacing this habit with something more effective and healthy.
You can practice by saying, “If I have the urge to scroll on Instagram, I will read a page out of my book instead. Or do 10 jumping jacks. Or etc.” Have a list of “replacement” habits to help decrease scrolling.
2. Virtual Social Support
Right now, the way to protect ourselves and others is through social distancing. This can impact our mental health because humans are naturally social beings and isolating can increase depression and anxiety symptoms. Being able to find ways of converting our usual offline interactions to online connections will be helpful at this time.
- Think of five people you will contact on a regular basis. They can be church friends, colleagues, or healthcare workers (trust me, they will need the check-in also, there is already research showing the negative mental health outcomes due to working through this pandemic).
- Work on a way to check in with each of them on a weekly basis.
- Check out new virtual options for our regular activities, like going to the gym. You can connect with a personal trainer through FaceTime, or utilize telehealth if counseling has been helpful for you. Even co-working spaces where you can log in and just have people in the background while you are working at home.
3. Being mindful of habits
Watch for increases in unhealthy eating, impulse shopping, or binge-watching during these stressful times because these are likely ways we try to distract ourselves from anxiety and numb our emotions. Although temporarily effective, these avoidance strategies lead to more anxiety and worry over time.
Make sure to do at least two things each day that you can look back on and appreciate, actions that feed your sense of meaning, connection, or competence. They can be as small as checking in on a vulnerable relative or reorganizing your pantry, or bigger, like putting together that online photo album for your adult child that you have been meaning to do for a long time.
Coping with anxiety as a Christian
Even in the best conditions, we can’t completely avoid feelings of anxiety.
However, as a Christian, my faith in God and what He can do in my life have given me the tools and coping strategies I need to overcome the feelings of anxiety that can come with day to day life, and most especially in the circumstances, we are currently living in. Being able to identify and recognize the issue is the first big step. Asking for help is the next.
Prayer is used to communicate with God, and our personal prayers to Him are a wonderful opportunity for us to express any anxiety or depression that we may be feeling. Since it’s a private conversation, it can be a place to be totally transparent and lay it all out.
2. Worship Service
Lessons during worship services can provide perspective and an opportunity for a mindshift change when you’re stuck with negative thoughts that are perpetuating the anxiety. Bible verses can be used as a guide during confusing times and reminders of the bigger picture in life.
As a member of the Church Of Christ and a deaconess, the worship services are something I look forward to every week. Here are Bible verses I wrote down during a recent worship service in the Church Of Christ.
31 So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, 32-33 and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to.Matthew 6:31-33 TLB
If you want to learn more about these Bible verses or have any questions about praying to God and what the Bible says about anxiety and finding hope, set up a time to talk. A minister of the gospel will reach out to you and guide you through your questions.
3. Helping Others
A quick mood changer is helping others. There have been studies that show that helping others delivers immense pleasure and that we are hard-wired to help others and connect with other human beings. Helping someone else and volunteering can also provide a sense of purpose and give us a different perspective in life.
Managing anxiety takes work, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Despite being trained to teach others on how to cope with anxiety, I am also anxious about the current state of the world. However, I know I am still able to do the work that I do because of my faith, which has given me perspective, gratitude, and hope. This is the foundation which I can use when managing anxiety.
Here’s another biblical reminder I received during a recent worship service:
Managing anxiety is like any other healthy habit. It takes work. It’s an active process that takes attention and effort. I can’t always control what life throws my way, but I absolutely have a choice in how I respond.
Learn more about what the Bible says about dealing with anxiety
If you’re wondering how the Bible can help guide you through feelings of anxiety or how the words of God can guide your life, set up an appointment to speak to a minister in the Church Of Christ.
This blog was co-written by Sydney Fontanares with biblical support by Richard Juatco, a minister of the gospel of the Church Of Christ. Richard Juatco has been an ordained minister in the Church Of Christ (Iglesia Ni Cristo) since 2014.