How can a Christian deal with anxiety?

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How can a Christian deal with anxiety?

April 8, 2024 -

A man lies on his back on a couch, his arm covering his eyes, in a state of anxiety. By fizkes/

A man lies on his back on a couch, his arm covering his eyes, in a state of anxiety. By fizkes/

A man lies on his back on a couch, his arm covering his eyes, in a state of anxiety. By fizkes/

Christians are not exempt from mental health issues. Everyone will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. As explained in my previous article, anxiety is a protective response to a real or perceived threat. The extent to which that anxiety manifests and disrupts functioning will differ from person to person.

One thing is true for everyone: anxiety is always triggered by ruptured connection. A disconnect comes from an imbalance in the internal or external environment. This is why the phrase “divided mind,” as it is used in the Bible, is so appropriate.

Since anxiety affects everyone, what can you do to support the symptoms when they hit?

Check in with yourself

I like to separate anxiety into two categories: physiological anxiety and environmental anxiety.

  • Physiological anxiety is triggered from substances creating stress in the body, impacting how the brain responds to a perceived or real threat.
  • Environmental anxiety comes from factors in the world around us that bump against wounds of trauma or create a sense of dread or unsafety in the body.

What is physiological anxiety?

Common triggers for physiological anxiety include:

  • Refined sugar: Unstable blood sugar can feel a lot like a panic attack. Frequent consumption of refined sugar and carbohydrates without sufficient protein or fiber can lead to dysregulated blood sugar, increasing mental symptoms.
  • Ultra-processed foods: More and more research links the consumption of ultra-processed foods to adverse health effects like anxiety due to the way they deplete nutrients and are engineered to hook the brain, creating overconsumption and perpetual hunger. They often contain additives like MSG, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes, which are also linked to anxiety.
  • Some medications: Many commonly used medications can create depletions of nutrients needed to maintain healthy mental well-being. If you struggle with anxiety, talk to your doctor to determine if any medications are contributing.
  • Excess caffeine and energy drinks: It should come as no surprise that too much caffeine can lead to jitters, mimicking anxiety. Combine that caffeine with sugar and it’s a recipe for major mental chaos. Don’t forget that artificial sweeteners are also linked to anxiety.
  • Not getting enough protein: Protein contains amino acids that help to create calming neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that impact mood. Most neurotransmitters are created with amino acids from protein, like tryptophan for serotonin and tyrosine for dopamine. These neurotransmitters are then synthesized by bacteria in the digestive tract. The gut-brain connection is constantly being studied, and there is still much we don’t know. But we know getting quality food impacts mental health.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Nutrients like magnesium, Vitamin B6, or zinc are also crucial for brain health. If the body doesn’t have key nutrients, there will be alerts, and those alerts can show up in the form of anxiety.

This list is not extensive, as the physiological cause of anxiety is very individual. Working with a knowledgeable practitioner can help you determine what is happening physiologically in your body.

What is environmental anxiety?

Common triggers for environmental anxiety include:

  • Trauma: As described in this article, trauma can trigger very real imbalances in mental health.
  • Relationship struggles: When you don’t feel safe in your closest relationships, your body takes notice.
  • Grief: Grief impacts the whole body, from the brain to the immune system. It’s not uncommon to experience anxiety after a period of grief.
  • Parenting overwhelm: Stress from caretaking can cause anxiety, and if children are experiencing mental and physical health issues, it creates more overwhelm.
  • Burnout or work stress: The World Health Organization recently listed burnout as an occupational phenomenon that occurs when stress hasn’t been managed.
  • Spiritual disconnect: When the connection with your heavenly Father feels ruptured, everything feels ruptured.
  • Technology addiction: Being preoccupied with technology is linked to increasing anxiety, especially in young children and teens.
  • World events: We live in an age when we are overly aware of breaking news happening in real time, all the time.

Here’s the kicker: You may have factors from both categories impacting your anxiety. That’s normal.

When we allow unpleasant feelings like anxiety to fester under the surface, without addressing the cause, we risk increasing symptoms. If we try to “snap out of it,” we just get more frustrated with ourselves. This creates more disconnect between our bodies, our brains, and our relationship with the Lord.

There is a healthier way.

Two ways to approach anxiety

As believers, we are often torn between wanting to turn to God during times of anxiety or succumbing to our human instincts of letting the anxiety spiral.

In my personal struggle with anxiety, as well as the work I do with clients who struggle, I’ve found two approaches to be helpful.

1. Investigate your anxiety.

Ask yourself:

  • “What is causing my body to feel unsafe?”
  • “What is the source of the anxiety?”
  • “Is it from a physiological source or environmental?”
  • Then, pinpoint the anxious thought.

For example, “I’m feeling anxious about my work evaluation.” Or “I’m feeling anxious about my daughter’s health issues.”

Are you creating stories about the outcome of the anxious thought? Evaluate the data. What evidence do you have to support that outcome?

Do you have data to prove that things will happen exactly as your anxious thoughts are predicting? More often than not, the data isn’t there.

In the case of trauma, when you have experienced negative outcomes, ask yourself if you have data predicting that things will happen the exact same way again. Chances are, you don’t have data for that either.

While you can’t always reason your way past the anxiety you feel, acting as though the thing you’re worried about has already happened is fruitless and causes more physiological dysfunction in the body, perpetuating the cycle. As Jesus instructs us, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).

So instead of spending your energy worrying about what tomorrow may bring, direct it toward more immediate needs to send your body signals of safety.

2. Mobilize your anxiety.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of “fight or flight,” but you don’t get a chance to move the body through those emotions, you may feel stuck and powerless. That increases symptoms.

God created our bodies to move, and he provided incredible ways to improve mental health through movement. When you move your body, you release myokines (also known as “hope molecules”) into your brain. You increase synaptic connections through the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which renews your mind.

Finding a physical outlet for your emotions is a healing tool we were created with. Bilateral stimulation like walking, writing, and placing your hands over your chest and tapping left and right is a way to bring calming to the brain through movement of the body. Meditating on God’s word by listening to Scripture or worship songs while breathing deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth mobilizes anxious thoughts into actions grounded in truth.

Remember that your Creator designed you with a body that is constantly alerting you. How you choose to pay attention to and reroute those alerts can make a big impact on your symptoms.

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