Below is a typical response I give to religious people who are struggling with anxiety and write asking for guidance. They tend to feel as if taking medication is a cop-out and that prayer should be able to completely alleviate the problem. The thing is, in a person without clinically significant anxiety, prayer and other spiritual exercises will probably go a long way toward resolving the problem. In people who have struggled for years and tried approaches of all kinds, spiritual approaches will probably not do the trick either, and this will often leave the person feeling guilty and as if his/her faith is questionable.
I know this will sound strange to hear from a pastor, but I recommend spiritual approaches in moderation. The reason is because so many of us today have been conditioned to use spiritual approaches as a kind of bludgeon, where we feel unspiritual and out of sorts if we can’t fix the problem through prayer, etc. When spiritual approaches help us find, face, and follow truth, and when they help us love and accept ourselves for who we are (just as God does), they are valuable. When they dictate to us lists of musts and shoulds and lay more burdens on us, they just become one more thing to worry about, and that’s the last thing you need. If the spiritual stuff is oppressing you and making you feel bad right now, drop it for the time being and pursue other approaches. Spirituality is a really powerful tool, but just like any tool, if we don’t know how to use it properly it can be very dangerous. In other words, if you notice that every time you swing a hammer you hit yourself on the head, I’d suggest leaving hammers alone for a while.
As far as how you should be relying on your faith, there are a lot of things you should be doing. You should avoid most red meat, not drink soda, work out 45 minutes a day, take a multivitamin every day, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, never waste time at work, etc. The fact is, almost nobody is capable of doing everything we are told we should be doing. We take that same inability with us into our spiritual lives. You simply cannot, right now, be a person who gives all this over to God. If you could, you’d have already done it. Start there, with the reality of your powerlessness. Having seen that, don’t jump right into “Yes, but by God’s power…” That’s simply not true for you right now. At some point, by the power of God, perhaps you’ll do a lot of things, but we tend to want to acknowledge our powerlessness only long enough to declare God’s power working in us so that we can effectively be powerful again.
The other thing we really need to consider, obviously, is what does it actually mean to do something “by the power of God.” About 99.5% of the time, we can rule out magic, or anything that even appears magic. It is usually an attitude of submission to God, stemming from knowledge of our limitations, and a certain kind of letting go, or resignation to reality. When we can get into this head-space (call it heart-space if you prefer), we stop getting in the way of our own healing. It is our desperate attempts to fix everything, to make everything okay, that keep us locked up and neurotic. And anxious.
A portion of people who struggle with anxiety and depression are simply going to have to get on medication if they are ever going to see substantial relief. Most people will not have to do this, but for those who do, do it sooner rather than later. Align your life with truth and reality, which is just another way of saying get on the same page with God. Every time you do this you will find yourself delivered into greater peace and freedom. I don’t usually specifically refer people to the automatically suggested posts at the end of my articles, but I strongly suggest you check some of them out in this case.
Anxiety treatment options, in no particular order:
- Reduce caffeine and other diet changes
- Get plenty of rest
- Have regular sex with someone you love deeply
- Practice staying in the moment. When you start thinking of anything other than what’s happening right now, reign yourself in. Your life is always happening now.
- Prayer and other spiritual activities
- Control your intake of media
- Read Edmund Bourne’s seminal resource book The Anger and Phobia Workbook for these suggestions and many, many more.
Disclaimer: The Anger and Phobia Workbook is a book I own, use, and highly recommend to others. I receive a commission when a person purchases this book after linking to it from this website.