By Benjamin Deu
In the early 90s, a hip-hop group called the Wu-Tang Clan popularized the acronym C.R.E.A.M. or “cash rules everything around me.” But for some, it might be more accurate to say, “anxiety rules everything around me.” Although everyone worries or has doubts from time to time, some people just cannot shut off the mechanism that shouts imminent destruction and failure. Some people turn minor health problems into life-threatening illnesses, others exaggerate their children’s missteps into indications they are doomed to mediocrity. Some just stop sleeping for days at the possibility of trouble in their life. However, as Dr. Joseph Luciani discusses in his book Self-Coaching: The powerful Program to Beat Anxiety and Depression, it’s not their problems that are the problem– it’s their “long-standing habit of insecurity and distrust.” (56)
Good anxiety and bad anxiety
Luciani separates anxiety into two categories: destructive anxiety and natural anxiety.
Destructive anxiety: excessive worry “driven by insecurity, disproportionate to the circumstance, always exaggerated, and persistent. Its purpose is to control life with an intense flurry of mental gyrations (worrying, ruminating, obsessing, and the like).”
Example: Your doctor has performed numerous tests that show you could not be healthier and you come from a healthy, long-living family, yet you can’t stop worrying you might have a fatal illness.
Natural anxiety: “unlike destructive anxiety, is normal, proportionate to the circumstance, not exaggerated and time limited… an inescapable part of life.” (59)
Example: You were diagnosed with lung cancer, and immediately after your diagnosis you lie awake terrified you may die.
While both kinds of anxiety involve extreme reactions to a matter of concern, one reaction is more reasonable than the other and won’t last as long. The person who was just diagnosed with cancer is losing sleep now over their diagnosis, but they won’t always be. However, the person who fears they will be diagnosed with a fatal illness has the power of their mental worry-machine behind their anxiety and therefore more fuel to burn.
Anxiety can be both caused and alleviated by medication. If you can’t discern a reason in your life for any anxiety you may be experiencing, Luciani suggests visiting your doctor to determine whether it could be the side effect of any medication you’re taking. It may also be caused by a physical condition such as problems with your adrenal gland, heart disease, or a mental health issue.
When considering medicine to alleviate anxiety, Luciani says it’s important to consider the severity of your anxiety. Does it significantly interfere with your ability to work, relate, or relax? If you’re unsure about how to deal with your anxiety, make an appointment with a mental-health professional to get some informed advice. (63)
Why do I worry so much?
People like to be in control. But, if they can’t be in control, they want things to be controlled by someone they approve – which is kind of like being in control because they wouldn’t accept this person’s leadership if they didn’t think they would do a good job. However, in absence of these two situations, people start worrying. Anxiety arises from a lack of control and a fear of what may occur because of that lack of control. Rather than relaxing in an optimism that good things will happen, people can’t stop fearing all the bad things that might happen.
For example, Joanna and Marcy are paired for a work project. They’ve never met before, but both have been assured by various co-workers that the other is diligent, meticulous, and timely. However, Joanna has been tossing and turning until 4 a.m. ever since she was assigned to work with Marcy because she can’t stop thinking about all the ways Marcy might botch her half of the project. Joanna has not been given a reason to expect Marcy to slack off, yet she’s terrified she will. Joanna is terrified of her lack of control over the future; that’s why she’s so anxious.
However, as Luciani describes in his book, not all people deal with loss of control by winding themselves into a frenzy. Some alternate between anxiety and depression. This is because their body is trying to deal with the problem in two different ways. Anxiety rises to the surface as an attempt to deal with the problem by expending energy. Depression alternately rears its head because the body is trying to deal with the problem by conserving energy. (31, 32) But what does this look like? Let’s say a woman (let’s call her Lisa) is simultaneously planning her wedding and trying to finish her dissertation for a Ph. D (please don’t ask why they didn’t wait until after she graduated to get engaged; I don’t know either) She may feel consumed by worry and stress for an hour and then plunge into depression so powerful she has to go lie down. As Luciani explains, the body’s goal is to keep you away from the “threat.” In Lisa’s case, the threat is any variety of mishaps that may befall her regarding her wedding or Ph. D (wedding will be a poorly planned disaster; she won’t finish her dissertation). If she is so debilitated she can’t leave her room, she won’t have to deal with either of these challenges, thus eliminating the threat. Problem solved! But not really. It’s just that her body doesn’t recognize the catastrophe of not finishing the dissertation or the wedding planning, it only sees the hazard of trying to deal with these things and so seeks to avoid them.
Is it a sin to worry?
How should Christians deal with anxiety? Believers are taught “perfect” Christians never worry because they trust the
Lord. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you..” Psalm 9:10 NIV As we can see in this verse, the “perfect” believer never frets because they have a faith in the Lord that supersedes their concerns about earthly troubles. But as none of the people reading this article are perfect believers (if you were, you would not perusing a counseling service’s website), it is up to we mere mortals to scrounge up enough faith to acknowledge that even the worst calamity will ultimately benefit us. One way to do this is by remembering times God has been faithful to you in the past. I heard a story about how Maya Angelou chose not to commit suicide after a friend suggested she make a list of all the blessings in her life. Now, this is not aimed at dismissing legitimate mental health issues and depression, but for those being consumed by anxiety, it can help slow the mental worry treadmill.
Pastor Paul Stith of Grace Heritage Church in Auburn, Ala., used this principle to explain the theme of “vanity” in Ecclesiastes. His message was not so much about the vain things of the world people obsess over, but rather the vanity of trying to understand the wisdom of God.
“And the vanity is not in working, and doing a good job; vanity is not in enjoying life; the vanity is not in relishing in God’s goodness. The vanity is in the attempt to understand it the way that God does. Because the idea of wisdom is being able to submit to God ruling and reigning over all these things. And to understand God is designing for us circumstances that are not to satisfy our curiosity, but to build in us humility. God’s not working so that we go, ‘OK, God, that’s making sense to me,’ but to say, ‘OK, God, I submit to you.'”
And, yet you still have trouble sleeping when you find out your house is in foreclosure or your spouse loses their job. Learning to trust the Lord is one of the most difficult struggles for people who are used to living in a world where they feel like they can’t depend on anything. Circumstances change; people let you down; things don’t go the way you’d planned. It seems like the only solution is to stay in the Word. Remind yourself of times when God came through at the last minute. His ways are not our ways, and he often does not give us what we want because he has something better in mind. Happenings that at first seem like disappointments eventually turn into blessings.
How to deal with anxiety as a Christian
A lot of Christians are discouraged from seeking help outside the church for their problems. They’re told life’s problems are best dealt with by reading scripture and praying. While you should take your problems to the Lord, some are best dealt with by also seeking a professional. It does not make you any less of a Christian to get medical help for a medical condition. You’d get a cast to fix a broken arm. Why wouldn’t you get help to correct a mental disorder?
If you think your anxiety is too much for you to handle alone, consider seeking a professional Christian counselor. They’ll be able to help you determine what is causing your anxiety and different ways you can work to alleviate it. Sometimes it helps just to talk about your problems from someone trained to listen well. You can find a listening ear in professional Christian therapy.
Don’t wait to get help with your anxiety. Excess emotional stress can cause heightened blood sugar, muscular tension, rapid heartbeat, and impotence, among other health problems. (56, 57)
Images cc: freedigitalphotos.com -“Man Lying On Chaise Longue” by Ambro
“Business Lady Talking On Phone” by imagerymajestic
“Boating” by Carlos Porto