Stress or anxiety?

Nicky Lock

“When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.”

As a long standing lover of a wide variety of church music, I had the pleasure this weekend of singing at a hymn festival, complete with wonderful organ music and a splendid brass quintet. One of the rousing hymns we sang as we praised God was “Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah” with its emphasis on the assurance of God’s mighty ability to save us from all that life (and death) brings us.

But for many in our churches, despite being faithful Christians, their earthly existence is plagued by great feelings of anxiety – and their constant prayer would be for God to cause their anxious fears to subside. They know well their bible and exhortations to “fear not, for I am with you” and “do not be anxious about anything”. Yet their daily experience can be one of fear and anxiety, which they are well aware, is often not rationally based fear. Their inability to seemingly trust God with the fears they have about life can lead to guilt and depression as they seem to fail to live up to what are seen as, and sometimes preached as, clear commands in the Bible.

Yet many of these people will be suffering from some form of an anxiety disorder which has been well documented by the medical profession. The beyondblue website emphasises the need to distinguish between what is a normal stressful situation and what has developed into an anxiety disorder which can need professional treatment. Anxiety disorders can be caused by genetic susceptibility and environmental factors including present stresses or disruptions to emotional and physical safety during their childhood.

Feeling stressed when faced with a deadline or a major public speaking event is a normal reaction when there is a flooding of stress related hormones which produce the symptoms of a racing heart, fluttering in the stomach and so on. This reaction can even be useful to performers as the increased rush of adrenalin provides extra energy required to complete a performance.

But when these symptoms persist or become overwhelming, for example in the case of panic attacks, what has been a normal reaction has been transformed into one which is draining and frightening.

beyondblue has a helpful checklist concerning the amount of worrying that is done and any additional symptoms of feeling “on the edge’, irritable, easily tired, difficulty in concentrating, difficulty in sleeping or muscle pain in the jaw or back which can help indicate that simple stress has advanced into a anxiety disorder. Professional help which may include counselling and/or medication can be recommended after assessment by a mental health professional.

So what about our Christian response to our own or other’s anxieties? Firstly we can gently remind them and ourselves that God is in control, and ask for his peace about the situation. For our friends with anxiety, we can pray that for them regularly, but also suggest that they see a professional if their anxiety does not lessen over time. Secondly, if someone is seeing a Christian practitioner, counsellor or psychologist, incorporating aspects of faith practices into their treatment, such as using scriptural truths as part of their challenging their irrational thinking, can be greatly helpful.


Feature Photo: anna gutermuth