Anxiety: The Nagging Emotion
It was Thursday morning and time for the weekly staff meeting. The
20 or so employees filed into the conference room, some laughing
and talking. But Michelle was quiet as she sat alongside other coworkers.
If it had been possible to accurately assess just how each person
in the room was feeling, it would have revealed that Michelle was
more anxious than the others.
Was she especially frightened or threatened that morning? No, not
really. That was how she felt much of the time. Her life was marked
by a persistent feeling of nervousness and worry. She often felt
ill at ease, tense, and restless.
All people experience some anxiety at times. But millions feel
anxious and fearful nearly all of the time. They are rarely free
Once, during the course of a seminar I was conducting, a woman
raised this question: "My grandson, who is in his thirties, is having
some serious problems. The doctor says he has an 'anxiety disorder.'
Would you kindly discuss this and the causes?"
Naturally, I would need to see this young man and spend some
time working with him before I could accurately know about
Psychologists identify at least 12 different anxiety disorders
ranging from specific phobias and panic attacks to generalized
post-traumatic stress disorders. Each of these has a different
set of symptoms, but they all have anxiety at the root
of the problem.
Perhaps the most obvious symptom of persistent anxiety
is an intense concern or fear in the absence of actual
is often accompanied by restlessness, difficulty concentrating,
sleep problems, or muscle tension. The person may be
fearful in situations
in which there are few indications of probable difficulties.
He may worry, for example, that things will go wrong,
that something unpleasant
is going to happen to him, that he or a member of his
going to get sick, that an accident will occur in his
family, or even about
routine daily activities.
cause of anxiety is the belief that
in some way, danger is lurking."
Generalized anxiety is different
from panic attacks which are limited to specific periods of time
person feels incredibly
often with physical
symptoms like choking sensations, dizziness, heaviness in the
chest, excessive sweating, heart palpitations, difficult breathing,
and nausea. People suffering
panic attacks may fear they are going crazy, dying, or losing
control over their lives.
Conditions in today's society, such as terrorism,
crime, and secularism, give all of us reason to
and they put some people under extra
Wars, both small and large, are raging in many parts of the
earth. Severe weather catastrophes are plaguing many countries.
heat or cold, volcanic eruptions, and other devastations are
impacting all of us as we view these tragedies
television. Diseases for
is no cure
are rampant. All of these can make any of us somewhat anxious.
Indeed, the Bible tells us that one of the signs
of the last days before
is "perilous times" (II Timothy 3:1). But people suffering from anxiety
disorders are not necessarily focused on these events. They are restless, tense,
fatigued, or have difficulty sleeping and concentrating without knowing why.
The roots of their excessive anxiety usually run deep.
The fundamental underlying cause of anxiety is the belief that
in some way, danger is lurking. Typically those perceived
we are vulnerable and not in control of either our circumstances
or inner thoughts, feelings and wishes. Anxiety usually
relates to one's
(fear of making mistakes or not being good enough), distrust
of one's environment (for example, the fear of being rejected
or to one's own
unwanted thoughts or feelings (like repressed anger, rebellious
or the wish
to hurt others).
Problematic anxiety usually has at least some of its roots
in our childhood experiences. Here are examples of childhood
certain people to
be especially anxious as adults.
Billy was sensitive and a bit awkward, making his share
of mistakes. His mother wasn't a happy person and pounced
Billy at every
turn. "You always spill
your milk." "Do you have to trip over everything all the time?" In
public she would embarrass him by calling attention to the things he did that
Naturally, Billy felt like crawling into a hole. His
father wasn't any better, and Billy had no one to talk to about his
he stuffed his feelings deep inside. The result? He grew up feeling
he couldn't do anything right. He became highly anxious, because
deep down, he believed he could never please others or live up to
their expectations. No matter what he was about to do, he inwardly
assumed that he would mess it up. Billy also developed strong feelings
of anger and resentment because of the verbal abuse he suffered as
a child. Now part of his anxiety is due to his fear of losing his
temper and lashing out in anger.
Mary's life fell apart when her parents got a divorce when she
was seven. She felt lonely, abandoned, confused, and fearful
the future would bring without both her mother and daddy. Her parents
continued fighting after their divorce until her father moved to
another state. But who was listening to Mary? People often forget
that when the parents get a divorce, the children do also, and
they are much less able to handle it. They can't figure it out,
probably love both parents. Mary's deepest fears now center around
abandonment. She is always afraid she will be rejected, unloved,
or left out. Like Billy, Mary kept her fears and uncertainties
to herself. As a child she couldn't know they would nag her for
Donna had a hard time obeying her parents. She's so stubborn, they
thought. Rather that seeking professional help, they determined
her a lesson." They frequently pushed her into a dark closet
and locked the door. The child almost died of fright, and although
she didn't talk about the dreadful experience, neither was she able
to forget it. Today as an adult, she's unduly nervous, anxious, and
depressed. She always expects something terrible to happen to her
and is fearful of abuse, rejection, and mistreatment.
One of the most serious of all childhood traumas is losing a
family member by death.
This happened to Laura. Her sister, who
two years older, died suddenly. The friends and relatives were
so busy consoling the grieving parents that little attention
to Laura. No one explained death to her. Not being Christian,
her parents were at a loss as to what to say. She was left
overwhelming thought that her sister whom she loved dearly,
was now buried in
a dark hole in the ground. The traumatic experience stamped
itself indelibly on her young mind. This and other negative experiences
produced a lingering concern that something similarly dreadful
would go wrong in her life. Little wonder that now, as an adult,
insecure and nervous.
In the case of each child mentioned above, severe feelings of
anxiety persisted through their adult years. Even though the
and thoughts were not always on their conscious minds, the
anxiety continued just the same because the painful memories
below the surface.
quote [Bible] verses .... They then
expect their friend's anxiety
to miraculously disappear.
Is Everything Spiritual?"
Sometimes Christians forget that
not all problems are spiritual. If a person suffers from anxiety
his friends at church
may immediately think the roots
of the problem are strictly spiritual. Some well-meaning Christians
quote verses like, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee" (Isaiah
26:3) or "Be anxious for nothing..." (Philippians 4:6).
They then expect their friend's anxiety to miraculously disappear.
These, of course, are examples of splendid Bible verses, and they
are potentially helpful to any Christian. They can bring great
comfort by reminding us
that God is ultimately in charge of this world, and that we can
find security in our relationship with Him. But simply knowing
serious problems of anxiety. Why? Because we are not only spiritual
beings. We have bodies, minds, feelings, and personalities which
our developmental years. God puts babies in families with parents
who help to shape their emotional and relational lives. When those
poor, it takes time, understanding, and more healthy relationships
them change. Some well-meaning Christians do not have an understanding
of this fact. With genuine concern for the victim of anxiety, they
cure that is doomed to fail.
Take Mrs. S. who lived in a constant state of nervousness and apprehension.
Her Christian friends began to tell her what she should do to
overcome this condition. One suggested, "Maybe if you spent more time writing to missionaries
or helping at a Rescue Mission, you would feel better. So she tried to busy
herself with a variety of good activities. She liked helping others, but it
did little to solve her problem. The nervousness continued.
"You need to pull yourself together," counseled another well-meaning friend.
But as Mrs. S. shared with me, "I don't know what or how to pull!"
Mr. J's friendly counselors advised him to "just read the Bible." They
figured this in itself would take care of his nagging worry. But Mr. J. had
already been reading the Bible and spending time praying each day. He usually
got a little relief, but it didn't begin to eliminate his suffering. His problem—and
those of victims of deep, debilitating nervousness and anxiety— warranted
professional help. We can be grateful that when life is such that many of us
struggle with anxiety, depression, and serious relational problems, God has
raised up well-trained Christian counselors to help. Skilled and experienced,
these men and women can sit with us in our worry and help uncover the causes
of emotional trauma. They can help the Bible become even more alive as they
help sweep away the barriers to feeling comfortable with ourselves, God, and
the people around us.
Just as there are many causes for headaches, there
are also various causes for anxiety. The symptom is most effectively
relieved by eliminating
the true cause. That calls for a broad, comprehensive look at the
Anxiety and nervousness are often caused by physical disorders.
They can also be exacerbated by inappropriate medication. For
example, when Jeff became ill, the doctor prescribed medication
the pain. Jeff soon experienced a more troublesome problem than
pain. He was not able to relax enough to get a restful night's
his medication was reviewed and changed, the anxiety disappeared.
In addition to side effects from certain medications, there are
now some excellent medications for treating anxiety. Since anxiety
be a medical problem, a medical specialist should be consulted
immediately in any prolonged case of severe anxiety.
Mrs. T., a fine Christian woman, became so upset and anxous that
she could scarcely function. She saw a counselor and discussed
her problem with Christian friends. But nothing seemed to help.
worse, she resorted to her family medical doctor. Still no
help. Finally, she sought out an endocrinologist (medical doctor
specializes in glandular functions). After extensive tests
he pinpointed the
cause of her emotional problems, prescribed treatment, and
she gradually improved. Now she is relatively free of the nagging
anxiety and chronic
nervousness she suffered for so long. Her problem was actually
As the Twig Is Bent
It's a fact of life that we are what we have been becoming.
No one suddenly sprouts a personality. And rarely does
a person have a case
of "instant maladjustment," or "instant anxiety."
Let's look then for a moment at some of the problems of
childhood emotional deprivations that can create anxiety
problems. Parents of infants and young children need
to be reminded that
the early years of personality development can be critical.
establish lasting patterns of tranquil relaxation and
enjoyment of life, or, on the other hand, the opposite.
When a child comes into the world, he has certain needs:
One is to be loved and wanted. He needs to hear his parents
tell him every day that he's loved, that they're
so happy because God gave him to them. And the child needs to
be hugged and
for what he is; not so much for what he does.
|"There is in
all of us the need
to feel we are worthy human
beings, that we can contribute
something to our world."
The need to belong. God made us
with an intense desire to be a part of something significant. It
God who set people
to meet each other's needs.
A child needs more than the same surname and his parents'
inner needs call out for acceptance as a loved
member of the family. As such, he
will be disciplined when the occasion calls for it, but
even this will make him feel that he is cared for and
him enough to want
him to be happy and productive as he grows up.
The need to feel worthwhile. There is in all of us the
need to feel we are worthy human beings, that we can
going to grow up reasonably well-adjusted, we need to
feel confident that the world can be a better place for our
It is in childhood when these and other basic needs should
be met. But in many homes, perhaps most homes, they
Tommy was fortunate to grow up in a family where his
basic emotional needs were well met. Consequently,
years were happy
and relaxed. Naturally,
he had the normal ups and downs of childhood, but
essentially his life was satisfying. As he entered into manhood,
he took with him
and a healthy self-image that stood him in good stead.
He was relatively confident about using his God-given
with others. And consequently,
he was not plagued by anxieties and insecurity.
Prevention Is Important
It is difficult to bring about major changes in behavioral
patterns after they have once become established.
Remember the so-called "psychotic" monkeys
years ago at the Seattle World's Fair? They really weren't psychotic; they
had "personality disorders." This happened when Dr. Harlow removed
them from their natural mothers as soon as possible after birth. Their feeding
needs were served by "surrogate mothers" (cloth skins stretched over
wire netting with exchangeable bottles of warm milk inserted into their frames).
The baby monkeys grew strong and healthy physically, but their behavior was
strange; they did not act or play like normal monkeys. Among other things,
when they became older, they demonstrated little or no interest in mating.
When a few of these monkeys were induced to mate
and have offspring, the mothers showed almost
babies. No amount
of retraining was able
to build into these adult monkeys the traits
possessed by normal monkeys who learned them
lacked normal contact with their mothers, they
grew up emotionally unhealthy.
We humans aren't as set in our ways as monkeys,
and with insight, professional help, and
we can resolve
many of our childhood
problems. But it doesn't happen overnight,
and it is much better to have our needs
met correctly as infants and children than
it is to work
out the kinks later.
The Spiritual Dimension
One of the most necessary ingredients for peace of mind is being
related to our Creator. There is no real security in any of the
temporal factors of our few short years here on earth which will
compensate for an insecurity about our eternal destiny. Matthew
16:26 says, "What is a man profited if he gains the whole
world and loses his own soul?" When any human being comes
to Jesus Christ in faith, confessing his sins and receiving Christ's
free pardon, he enters into a relationship with God Himself. This
is the spiritual beginning point for dealing with anxiety. I John
4:18 says, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts
out fear, because fear involves torment." One incredible resource
for overcoming fear is the assurance that all of our sins have
been paid for. God isn't angry at us, and He will never punish
us because His Son took the punishment we deserved in our place.
Knowing that God has forgiven our sins, that His Holy Spirit indwells
us, and that we will spend eternity with Him, provide a wonderful
spiritual foundation for overcoming anxiety.
We seldom think of Christian parents or of church teachings as
having a negative effect on a child. But it is possible in
a distorted sense.
Take for example the concept of "father." Most people's
concept of God is much like the concept they hold of their own earthly
father. They perceive their heavenly Father, whom they have not seen,
as being much like their earthly father whom they have seen and know.
If you should ask a child what God is like, he may very well describe
his earthly father. This is reasonable inasmuch as from the time
of early childhood, a child knows that along with his mother, his
father is in charge, that he is a provider, that he represents authority,
and that he can make things happen. So it is with God.
Consequently, a child's view of God is usually shaped by the
qualities of his dad. When a father (or mother) is critical,
unkind, impatient, unloving, or punitive, the child is likely
to grow up thinking of God as having many of the same characteristics.
This is often true of adults who are unduly anxious. They think
of God in negative terms, afraid that He will punish them or
them, or find them unacceptable. This adds to their anxiety
nearly everything they do.
Occasionally, a well-meaning pastor or evangelist repeatedly
threatens his parishioners with fears that God will toss them
out if they
don't do things God's way. Instead of proclaiming God's love
along with His righteous judgment, such pastors may keep their
listeners in a constant state of uncertainty, fearing that
they may lose their
salvation, and that they may never measure up to God's demands
and standards. This is a common cause of spiritual anxiety.
But the message of God's grace is just the opposite. God places
us in His family because Christ paid for our sins, not because
well enough to earn it. The Bible says, "And I give them eternal
life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them
out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than
all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I
and my Father are one" (John 10:28-30). Security is a gift God
gives to us. That is real security!
A person who is anxious and nervous in most situations can
realize some relief through practical procedures. First,
with whom you can discuss your anxieties. All of us do
better when we
have a caring friend with whom we can share our burdens.
In fact, the Bible instructs us to "bear each other's burdens" (Galatians
6:2), and to encourage each other and build each other up.
Next, try to identify the culprits in your environment.
Make a list of the situations that trigger anxiety
in your life.
Perhaps in your
marriage or your daily work there are conditions which
you can avoid. If you know that certain situations
your best to avoid or change them.
The same with people. If you know there are certain
personalities that cause you to feel ill at ease
and insecure, don't
keep asking for trouble. If it isn't necessary to
be around them,
to stay away. If it is a family member or someone
you want or need
in relationship with, talk with that person and tell
him or her how you feel. That person may be doing
never be aware that he is causing you real concern
and pain. Even if it is strictly your problem, he
to help you.
|"While we are
all products of
our past to some extent, we need
not be prisoners of our past."
Next, take note of your activities.
For example, are you being pressured to volunteer to do jobs
anxiety? If so, try to make
the necessary changes. It is not pleasing to the Lord to
needlessly put yourself in harm's way. Many people who once
anxiety have learned what
to avoid, just as a person who cannot tolerate certain
foods does not eat them. Modern life may also be bearing
that you need to
simplify your lifestyle. There are numerous ways to reduce
stress by living more simply. Take time for renewal
If your marriage is unfulfilling, seek help from
a Christian counselor. If a child is causing
counseling for him. If in-laws
creating pressure in your life, talk to your mate about
making definite changes.
Look inside. Since most anxiety comes from
longstanding inner conflicts, memories, habits
it is usually necessary to gain
greater understanding as to the reasons for your anxiety.
to a caring friend
enough. But often we need a trained professional counselor
to help us uncover the hidden sources of
anxiety and learn
with undue anxiety when there is help available.
Rework your childish thoughts. Once you have identified
the causes of your fears, decide whether the threat
feared is real.
we have been afraid because we have been continuing
to view things through a little child's eyes rather
through the eyes of
an adult. The Bible
I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a
child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (I Corinthians
13:11). As adults we can put off childish thinking, including childish fears,
and see things more realistically. Things are rarely as potentially catastrophic
in an adult's eyes as they are in a young child's!
Take time each day to read a portion of God's Word.
It may not supernaturally make your anxiety disappear,
penetrate your life,
it can bring unbelievable comfort. God gives us
this promise: "For He shall give
His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. They shall bear you
up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone" (Psalm 91:11,12).
In summary, nervousness and anxiety have various
causes. Some are physiological, some are spiritual,
out of childhood
experiences involving losing control.
While we are all products of our past to some
extent, we need not be prisoners of our past.
have to go
ridden. We can turn to God, and we can also
have the help of friends, family members,
or professional counselors whom God has gifted
in doing His will on earth!
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