Have you noticed how often Scripture tells us to not fear or be anxious? This command makes sense when we are in the presence of divine visitations. However, you may find it more challenging to “fear not” in the presence of your daily struggles or an uncertain future. Fear and anxiety are future-oriented emotions that may show up when negative outcomes are possible or imagined. While many believers chide themselves when they are anxious, Scripture probably would not talk so much about anxiety if it wasn’t part of our God-given human condition; we are born with our neural “danger detection system” turned on. Infants’ brains evaluate the world in terms of safety or danger, good for me or bad for me, pleasure or pain. This either/or brain analysis continues into our adulthood and operates outside of our conscious awareness. When a threat shows up, we experience fear and anxiety. Babies use their relationship with a loving adult to help them self-sooth and turn off their alarm bells. But as adults sometimes these “alarm bells” can become overactive, causing too much anxiety.
Here are five things you can do to turn off your God-given anxiety alarm bells when they are over active:
- Ask yourself “What is really happening?” Just because your brain’s anxiety alarm goes off doesn’t mean that you are really in danger. Look around. Evaluate your present-moment situation. If you are physically in REAL danger, pay attention and respond appropriately. If your thinking is making you anxious, then move onto points two through five.
- Just breathe. Once you have determined that you are not in real physical danger, turn your attention to your breath. For a few minutes just breathe in and out, slowly and mindfully. Breathing, with a focus on exhaling, begins to activate the body’s calming system. As you inhale and exhale, focus your thoughts on Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God” (NIV).
- Manage your thought life. Once your heart rate is under control, examine the content of your thoughts. Often we make ourselves anxious by what we think. We borrow troubles from tomorrow and fill in the blanks of the future when we do not have enough data to do so. Shift your focus to the present moment. God will provide you with the information you need to make today’s decisions. Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)
- Just do it. If there is something that realistically can be done today to help address an anxious situation, do it. Do you need to make a phone call? Do it. Meet with someone? Do it. If there is nothing you can do right now to make a difference, because there is nothing you can do or because the information you need to make the decision is not presently available, then put 1 Peter 5:7 into effect: “Throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you.” (CEB) Lean into Psalm 94:19: “When my anxieties multiple, your comforting presence calms me down.” (CEB)
- Lean on the One who holds your future. Just like babies, we adults also look to those people who care about us to help us calm ourselves down. Who do you turn to for comfort when you become alarmed? Your Heavenly Father is standing by you, wrapping his strong arms around you to help calm your anxious heart. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to Go in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.” (CEB)
To read more about dealing with anxiety, see the following resources:
From InterVarsity Press, a downloadable, Christian Devotional Meditation for Anxiety: While a bit more academic in tone, this article will introduce you to the power of Christian devotional meditation to help you address anxiety.
The God Shaped Brain by Timothy Jennings (InterVarsity Press). The Addendum offers you simple steps to a healthier brain. If you have time to read the first part of the book, you gain insight into the components and function of your brains “danger detection system.”
“Beginners Guide to Polyvagal Theory,” Deb Dana.
This short document introduces you to the body’s alarm system and provides guidance on how you can help yourself be less anxious by befriending your vagus nerve.
Meditations on the Mount: This YouTube link provides a six-minute guided meditation based on the Sermon on the Mount.
Be Not Afraid by David Ivaska (InterVarsity Press). Week 10 Small Group Bible Study: Cast All Your Anxieties on God. This book is a 10-week daily devotional that deals with aspects of fear and anxiety. Each week concludes with a small group Bible study guide. The small group Bible study in Week 10 deals specifically with casting your anxieties on God.
Guest emotional contributor: Virginia Holeman, Ph.D. Co-Chair (Kentucky), Department of Counseling & Pastoral Care, Asbury Theological Seminary.
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle