By Jolene Underwood, Crosswalk.com
"Do not be anxious about anything" Paul tells us in Philippians 4:6. Sounds easy until the moment hits like a train and every ounce of peace disappears from your mind. How are Christians commanded to not care or not have concern of things? What does really expect us to do in times of trial, confusion and unrest?
Levels of anxiety peaked when PTSD settled in. Every nerve seemed ready to burst out of my skin at any moment. I couldn’t settle the sensation down. Friends attempted encouragement through words, prayer, and scripture. I tried much of the same. No matter how many soothing moments I experienced, the effects didn’t stick.
While truth impacted my soul, I still felt jumpy. Worship music ministered comfort to my heart, and I believed God was working through it all— but my body didn’t get the memo. Have you ever felt like this?
It’s easy to feel like you’ve failed as a Christian when Christian deeds don’t instantly make everything better. For some reason, people like me believe the right path will get us to the outcomes we want. As a result, we place expectations on ourselves and God that aren’t realistic. When our carefully chosen plans don’t result in full and lasting relief, defeat clings.
Choices are important, but they aren’t the full picture. Unattended trauma resides in bodies unaware. Stressful and painful incidents accumulate.
Sometimes, even though you know Philippians 4:6; you can’t “not be anxious.’ What then? Here are seven helpful tips on how you can live without being anxious:
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1. Receive God’s Commands as an Invitation with Hope
My anxiety felt sinful. As if I’d somehow fallen short as a believer since I couldn’t make the trembling disappear.
Verses like Philippians 4:6 fueled shame instead of hope.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.
I believed God’s words demanded strict obedience. It was up to me to obey; don’t be anxious—or else. If I messed up, I wasn’t faithful enough. This left me feeling incapable of living differently.
Through God’s healing work, I started seeing verses like this in a new way. Not as a demand, but a command. And there’s a difference. This healthier perspective welcomed the power of God at work within me rather than expecting me to work hard enough to please God.
He doesn’t make demands and expect us to figure it out, alone. Instead, His commands offer instructions with hope-filled declarations of His presence so we can enjoy more of Him and the life He gives.
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2. Remember Anxiety is a State, Not a Sin
In a recent video training from Think Differently Academy, “Freedom from Anxiety,” counselor Bob Hamp explained that anxiety is a state. It’s something our bodies experience in response to some event, or stimulus.
Paralyzing anxiety is the distortion of a physiological state of preparedness meant to help us. What God originally intended for good, so we could respond appropriately to situations that need quick action, becomes twisted when unhealthy experiences dig in and impact how we live.
The state of anxiety comes through many means, including:
- Shame-filled moments
- Fearful experiences
- Long-term living under stress
- Unhealthy beliefs tied to past events
- Unhealthy expectations
If we’re aware of anxiety rising in our bodies, we can attend to the thoughts and actions which contribute to feeling better or worse. Then, a short-term experience may result in feelings that are fairly easy to calm down.
Left unresolved, these experiences build into a state that isn’t easily changed. Layer upon layer of painful moments adds complexity to what our bodies, minds, and souls need.
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3. Release Spiritual Expectations & Shame
Christian memes and singled-out verses make it seem like we can wish anxiety away. As if we can digest verses like a pill that stops all our fretting.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking burdens us with spiritual expectations that cause greater anxiety instead of relief.
The shame we feel from not getting it right, or failing once again, only fuels unhealthy beliefs that our future is up to us. If that were true, then there’s a whole lot to worry about. Thankfully, God never intended us to figure it all out. Much less, make it all happen.
We don’t need to get stuck with shame because we feel weak in faith or haven’t memorized enough scripture. There is no shame in not knowing how to make it through with confidence or being unable to fix what seems unfixable.
God is fully capable of guiding us through every situation and meeting us in any circumstance. He is already doing things we don’t know about.
Our role is to receive and respond, not cling and control.
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4. Rest with God
God’s Word changes lives. It gives life. Even so, in our attempts to make sure we’re doing the right thing and getting this whole faith-life right, we may look to scripture as one more way of fixing our lives. Not as a way of connecting to the One we need most.
Unfortunately, we then miss the powerful effects of God’s life-giving message by seeking to know the words, not the Word-giver. It’s all too easy to turn the Bible into a message of do’s and don’ts rather than a source of God’s heartbeat for mankind.
It’s vital we spend time with God. God wants to be with us. His presence changes how we experience life. Choose rest with God over rightness.
Through making space to listen, God may reveal a verse, a picture, or a word that impacts how you know Him. By experiencing God’s power personally and relationally, He soothes our souls in places we can’t reach on our own.
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5. Recognize What Anxiety Tells You
My body remembers pain from past events, even when my mind seems free of it. Something in me still experiences years of burdens that weren’t mine to carry. Even though I’ve been healed of many things, my driven heart struggles to rest. This pattern reveals an undercurrent in need of more.
Anxiety creeps in for many of us, though we may not all be aware of it. It looks different and it isn’t always visible or noticeable.
What the world sees as drive and confidence may be rooted in shame and fear. Addictions reveal ways we tune out from the world around us and the pain within us. Our avoidant tendencies to say ‘everything is great’ regardless of what we’re going through, could be a sign of anxiety. Racing thoughts, irritability, restlessness, and an inability to stop working may signal anxiety’s presence too.
Opportunities for new levels of healing abound through the signals of anxiety. When we recognize our bodies reactions, we can attend to what’s underneath.
Take a moment to notice what you feel in your body now, noticing where it shows up. Describe it out loud, or write it down, or use Unleash: Heart & Soul Care Sheets. Ask God to speak about what you need most from Him.
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6. Refuse Quick-Fix Answers
When someone shares a struggle, well-meaning Christians often respond with fix-it answers. We want to help, but our attempts aren’t helpful. Often, they’re not even about helping the other person, but about avoiding the anxiety within us when things aren’t already fully redeemed.
I ache for how quick-fix answers become our go-to responses, whether for ourselves or someone else. It’s easy to say a verse in response to someone’s pain. It’s harder, and more healing, to allow pain an avenue for release.
When anxiety continues longer than our approved time frames, we feel pressure to make it better. Immediately. This leaves us prone to more short-term solutions that only cover up the source of real pain.
Whether you’re putting expectations on yourself or others, please know God works in ways we don’t always understand. Sometimes, the healing comes quickly. Many times, it comes through slow processes, deep work, and even the uncomfortable moments of quiet and doubt.
Refuse the burden of having to get better overnight and ask God to lead you through his redemption resolutions instead.
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7. Recover through a Whole-Person Perspective
Sudden shakiness and startle responses may come from legitimate and immediate threats, or past threats which our body treats as current. The resulting state can become paralyzing, especially as it impacts us physiologically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically.
Recovery to states of calm and confidence may require attendance to multiple aspects of who we are as created beings.
Our bodies, brains, spirits, and souls are so intricately interconnected that what we do in one area impacts the other. We need approaches that take this into account.
If we don’t deal with what’s underneath, the experiences, beliefs, and physiological impacts of anxiety sticks.
Digging out unhealthy beliefs and working through unhealed hurts may come through counsel with trauma-informed therapists. Exercise can impact our body’s ability to manage additional stresses. Safe community provides a place to fail and experience that we’re still OK.
God’s design for you is more than what you feel and think. More than the condition of your body. He’s always working, even through ways we don’t expect. This may include doctors, therapists, safe community, and quiet moments with Him.
Embrace His plan for you as a whole person impacted by anxiety.
I still feel anxiety. I don’t live condemned because of it. When guilt surfaces, because anxiety remains, ask God to reveal His healing grace instead.
He is with you in every tremble.
Jolene Underwood is an emotional health warrior and soul care mentor. She provides practical and spiritual support for cultivating life within the Christian soul by drawing upon her personal journey towards emotional health, her psychology background, and a passion for Christian counseling.Jolene writes regularly at JoleneUnderwood.com. She also leads a community of writers called Rise Up Writers. Her tool, Unleash : Heart and Soul Care Sheets, has helped hundreds experience greater freedom. Connect with her online via YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest at @theJoleneU or via the Cultivated Life Newsletter.
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