Fear! Anxiety! Most of Us Have Experienced
these emotions at one time or another. They are not all bad. There are times when they can actually be beneficial in that they can motivate us, increase our productivity, and even enable us to protect ourselves when faced with danger.
For many, however, fear and anxiety are a problem. Some health experts report that fear and anxiety have increased in the United States since 9/11 and heightened even more with the economic downturn in our world. Anxiety disorders—a psychiatric term used for different forms of abnormal and pathological fear and anxiety—are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older (18% of the US population). It is also one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses.
How does one know that anxiety has become a problem? It does the following:
- disrupts daily activities
- leads to easily feeling upset
- lasts for an extended period of time
- leaves one to feel out of control
If you or someone you know is having this type of debilitating experience, take heart. There is hope!
How to Overcome
It is important to point out that fear and anxiety are interrelated, but slightly different. Fear is an emotional response to known dangers or threats. Anxiety is a response to unknown ones. Even though they are different, they typically produce the same response when one is faced with either an actual or perceived threatening situation, including increased heart rate, tensing of muscles, shallow breathing, avoidance behavior, etc. For this article, we will address them as the same phenomenon.
If you are dealing with anxiety or fear that is affecting your life, you may consider consulting a health professional.
However, the following are steps you may be able to implement yourself.
- Acknowledge that you have a choice. You may feel that you cannot control your fears, but the truth is that you can. Once you acknowledge this and recognize that God has given you the power of choice, even in overcoming anxiety, this will be a springboard from which you can begin to take steps in the right direction.
- Identify your “self-talk”—what you tell yourself when faced with a perceived or real danger. The wise man Solomon tells us, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Many who struggle with anxiety and fear do so because they tell themselves things that are not necessarily true.
For example, I was recently talking to someone who used to be anxious about driving on freeways. She stated that she used to tell herself, “I won’t be able to drive next to big trucks” or “The traffic moves so fast that I will not be able to keep up.” Statements such as these are unproven assumptions that we make. This same woman told me that she overcame her anxiety by deciding to drive on the freeway. She discovered that she was able to drive near trucks and not be frightened by fast-moving traffic.
It may not be easy to conquer every apprehension.
But the point is that each issue can be addressed by asking, “What am I telling myself when I feel afraid?” and then addressing each thought with the truth.
For example, if you are faced with a fear that feels overwhelming, instead of saying “I can’t do this,” you can say, “Even though this is scary for me, with God’s help, I can do it.” Or, if you didn’t do well in a particular situation, instead of saying, “I am a failure. I can’t do anything right” you can say, “I am disappointed that I didn’t do well. But, this is not the end of the world. I will try again, or try something else.”
Challenging and changing your self-talk takes practice. You must learn to identify what you typically tell yourself and then replace those thoughts with more realistic ones.
- “Do it afraid.” We cannot wait for our fearful feelings to go away in order to face an anxious situation. I once heard a speaker say that we must address the situation that makes us anxious, while still feeling the fear. It is as we do this that our fears will start to subside. One psychologist says, “Do you want to know the surefire way to stay anxious? Don’t do the thing that makes you nervous.” 1
- Exercise. There is increasing evidence that exercise proves useful for managing anxiety. In a review of about 40 clinical trials, researchers found that, on average, patients who exercised regularly reported a 20% reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to those who did not exercise. 2
- Get proper rest. Not only is it crucial to get adequate sleep (7 to 8 hours for adults and more for children and adolescents), but the time that we go to bed is equally important. Specifically, getting sleep before 10 pm can be especially helpful because this increases the production of melatonin. Evidence suggests that this beneficial hormone can reduce cortisol, another hormone that tends to increase with anxiety.
- Consume wholesome foods. Some specific foods that are beneficial for strengthening the brain and nervous system include whole grains (because of their complex carbohydrates and B vitamins) and nuts, which have several nutrients that promote optimal brain function. Of course, plenty of vegetables and fruits should also be added to the diet. Staying away from stimulants like caffeine and alcohol as well as limiting or even eliminating processed foods and animal products is strongly recommended.
- Spend more time in nature. One study revealed that those who live close to nature have lower rates of anxiety (and depression) than those who live in the city among buildings.3 If you don’t live close to nature, but are suffering from fear or anxiety, you should make a concerted effort to get out as often as possible to a park or other areas that offer the beauties of God’s creation.
- Ask God to increase your faith. If your fears are greater than your faith, say to God, “Help thou my unbelief,” as did the father who sought healing from Jesus for his son.
One practical step for increasing faith is to memorize Scripture promises that focus on what God can and will do for those who believe in Him. These may include:
“Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
“And which of you with taking thought (or “by worrying”) can add to his stature one cubit.” (Luke 12:25)
“Fear thou not: for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God…” (Isaiah 41:10)
If you implement these steps with God’s help, your attitude toward fear will improve and your anxieties will decrease.
Remember, with God all things are possible!