Adversity is wrapped up in anxiety. Where there is trouble, there is also fear, worry, fretfulness and distress. Statistics tell us that over forty million Americans struggle with anxiety disorders, with women diagnosed at a rate twice that of men. Even without an official pronouncement of a “disorder”, worry affects even the most spiritually mature and faithful. It drains us spiritually, emotionally and is exhausting. How can we best manage anxiety? Here are three suggestions:
1. Face the “What if...?”
Years ago I learned a valuable lesson when I least expected it (isn't that how it always happens?) One of our young daughters had plaguing allergies. At that time, traveling always exacerbated her problems, making her miserable. One Sunday morning prior to a family trip, I ran into Luanna, one of my prayer partners. I asked her to pray that Holly's allergies would not flare up while traveling. She agreed, then casually remarked, “But if they do, it's not the end of the world.” I was stunned. I could not believe her insensitivity. I fumed all during church but later that afternoon, I began to think about it. Actually Luanna was right. Yes, it had happened before. Yes, we had managed to get through it, and no, it wasn't the end of the world. I learned something valuable that day. When I am fearful and embark on “What If Road”, the bravest thing I can do is follow it to the very end and look at the worst case scenario. Yes, the “what if” could end badly, but it rarely does. And even if the worst happens, hasn't God given us assurances of His faithfulness and provision? Do I truly believe Him? Facing a fear boldly is empowering and keeps us anchored to God's promises.
2. Remind yourself how little control you actually have over your life.
Our anxieties should remind us that we have needs and limitations that only Jesus can manage. To expend energy worrying over something we cannot control is counter productive. Rhett Smith, an author and therapist says in “The Anxious Christian” that God can use anxiety to bring us closer to Him. Fellow worrier Laura Ortberg Turner says, “...anxiety can remind me constantly and fruitfully of my joyful dependence on and confidence in God.”
3. Cultivate gratitude. “Gratitude is the key that unlocks the door of an anxious and fearful heart.”
This is the most effective method to manage worry - recounting specific instances of God's goodness and care for us, and thanking Him for it. I recently laid awake for hours one night, imagining the worst scenario for one of my family members. Yes, it was the “What If” trap, and once again, I tumbled right into it. The next morning I realized how foolish I had been (things always seem worse at night) and I repented, asking God's forgiveness. I was so ashamed. How dishonoring that was to my Lord Who has poured out blessing upon blessing upon me and mine! I realized anew- gratitude is my best weapon against my anxieties.
It is reassuring that Jesus knew that life would bring us worries. He put it succinctly in John 14: 1, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me”.
What is the ultimate cure for anxiety? Jesus Himself, and He invites us to share our wearisome burdens with Him, “Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”, (Matt. 11:28-29.)