What is Worry?

Worry, stress, fear and panic are words that have different technical meanings but are often used interchangeably to describe a common condition that have globally reached epidemic proportions. Anxiety. While fear is a response to a direct threat, anxiety is a response to a possible negative outcome ahead and it has been called “the price we pay for an ability to imagine the future.”

While anxiety symptoms vary widely, odds are good that at some point you’ve experienced occasional physical and emotional distress with symptoms such as panicky breathing, your heart pounding in your chest, trouble sleeping, feelings of dread, or even loops of worry.

Is anxiety real?
Anxiety is normal, and a certain level of anxiety might even be beneficial because it anchors our protective biological response to danger. Moderate anxiety is often motivating, helps people avoid dangerous situations and can lead to increased efficiency such as persuade you to get to work on time or push you to study hard for an exam. This type of anxiety can be recognized, managed and reduced, especially when circumstances change and/or the danger or threat is reduced.

What are the effects of anxiety?
When anxiety is intense, prolonged or uncontrollable it takes a toll on our health – physically, emotionally and spiritually. It leads to inner feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, worry and or dread which in turn can shorten our attention span, hinder performance, block effective communication, arouse panic and cause unpleasant physical symptoms such as paralysis, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath or intense headaches. This is because anxiety increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which inhibits the brain to regulate and naturally restore its balance to the way God intended it to be.

The quality of our lives suffers, too. Intrusive thoughts, dread of panic attacks, intense self-consciousness and fear of rejection, amongst others, compel people to avoid anxiety-provoking situations. This interferes with relationships, work, school, and activities as people often isolate themselves, turn down opportunities, and miss out on the joys of life.

What can I do when I’m anxious?
In times of anxiety many people turn to God for help but anxiety can also drive people away from God because when we are fraught with worry and distracted by the pressures of everyday life, we find that there is less time for prayer, bitterness about God’s seeming silence in the face of crisis and even anger because God seems to let bad things happen to good people.

Let’s be honest: It is difficult to never worry about anything and anxiety in the form of a realistic concern is part of human nature. Jesus however shows us that we should not worry (be anxious) about the future or about life’s basic needs because we have a heavenly Father who knows what we need and will provide (Matthew 6: 25-34). In the new testament this is confirmed by Peter where he says: “Give all your worries (anxieties) and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to you” (1 Peter 5:7). Philippians 4:6 also teaches us to turn our anxiety into specific requests from God, adding thanksgiving and allowing the peace of Jesus Christ to guard our minds. We must trust Him based on His character and not our circumstances.

This does not mean that we should ignore danger and casually wait for a miracle from heaven. God’s word doesn’t say that there is anything wrong with facing anxious situations honestly or with using our God-given brains to find ways of dealing with problems of life. To ignore anxiety is foolish and wrong but we can move forward with confidence if we commit our actions to God and seek His guidance.

Guidelines on how to control and even prevent anxiety:
1.         Trust in God – the Bible encourages us to realistically confront our problems and to be
flexible in our decision making while at the same time having confidence in the
sovereignty and wisdom of an all-powerful God.
2.         Distinguish between concern and worry – it is normal to have everyday concerns such as paying bills and getting all the work done.  It usually leads to actions to alleviate them.  However, it becomes problematic when the healthy concern turns into habitual worrying that is difficult to disengage from and drains your mental energy.
3.         Learn what the causes of the anxiety are and how to cope with it  – then prevention is easier. Coping mechanism include:
·          Distract your mind and relax your body
·          Recognize your thoughts and believes
·          Challenge your thoughts
·          Identify your true feelings
·          Determine what you CAN do.
·          Building self-confidence, which involves belief in one’s own abilities to meet the
challenges of life.
·          Admitting insecurities, fears and anxieties as they arise
·         Talking these over with someone else like a spouse, friend or counselor
·          Having a good support network
·          Be involved in meaningful activities.
4.         Keep things in perspective – don’t always assume that the worse is going to happen.
5.         Reach out to others – helping people and bearing one another’s burdens can be an
effective way to cope with our own anxieties.
Remember: Letting go of worry and anxiousness is a daily process of replacing worrying thoughts with the truth of who God really is and what that means in your life. May the Lord bless you as you trust in His guidance to help you let go of worry and anxiousness.

By Susan Du Preez
Matters of the Soul (www.mattersofthesoul.org)

Matters of the Soul is an Article 18A non-profit organization registered in South Africa.