What if you could be anxious for nothing—even though there are still things to be anxious about? Maybe you can. We asked a few people who have firsthand experience battling anxious thoughts or helping those who do to share a few things they’ve learned along the way.
In this extensive guide, we’ll work through anxiety from several diverse and hopeful points of view. Use the links below to find what you need today. Then, bookmark this guide so you can come back to whenever you need it.
- What is anxiety and what can I do about it?
- What can I learn from battling anxiety?
- How constant digital connection can lead to anxiety?
- How can I help someone dealing with anxiety?
- How can I learn to deal with anxiety?
- A list of great resources for fighting anxiety.
Ready to start the journey toward finding peace? Let’s get started.
What is Anxiety and What Can I Do About It?
By Michelle Garrett, MS, LMFT
We have all experienced anxiety and fear. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to learn many life lessons without it. As a baby grows and develops, they need the ability to sense fear so that they will be able to learn about themselves, others, and the world. From fear, they will learn what to avoid. Fear is necessary for survival—anxiety, not so much.
Living busy, over-committed lives can keep us living in chronic anxiety, which can signal a need for help and some life changes. How can you tell if you’re experiencing anxiety or fear?
According to Anxiety.org, anxiety is defined as “a physiological and emotional response to a threat that the brain perceives. Fear, on the other hand, is a response to real danger.” Differentiating necessary and realistic fear from chronic, problematic anxiety is often difficult because anxiety and fear both send messages to the brain that are then interpreted as a potential threat, triggering the fight-or-flight response.
Think about it like this—healthy fear is in response to a specific event. For example, the fear of a hot stove keeps you from touching it. But unhealthy fear that triggers anxiety is about something general—an overwhelming sense of worry or fear that you can’t stop thinking about.
So, what happens when anxiety becomes an all too familiar companion, interrupting our sleep, thoughts, relationships, health, and well-being? Many people experience anxiety from time to time, but repeated, continued bouts of anxiety may indicate an anxiety disorder. Mayo Clinic offers a general list of symptoms that are common to people dealing with chronic, diagnosable anxiety disorders:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly / hyperventilating
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Experiencing a couple of these symptoms from time to time is probably not a concern. But if you or someone you love is experiencing multiple symptoms, experiencing severe symptoms, or experiencing one or more symptoms on a regular basis, you might have a specific disorder.
There’s often a stigma about mental health disorders, but having anxiety doesn’t mean that you’re weak, less than, or not faithful enough. The same way that someone might have a cold or physical illness, someone might have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is often a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain or something on the physiological level, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.
Please note: If symptoms are getting in the way of daily functioning in the areas of work, sleep, health, relationships or emotional well-being, it is best to talk to your doctor or a professional counselor.
Anxiety is one of the most common and treatable issues that brings people into therapy. The good news is that anxiety disorders respond well to many types of counseling including cognitive and behavioral therapy, meditation, lifestyle changes, and medication, to name a few.
If you were coming into my office, we would first look at your health, current medications, sleep, and lifestyle. Many people suffer from stressful, over-packed lives. Inadequate sleep is also an issue, contributing to a vicious cycle. We would then work on developing self-awareness and healthy coping strategies. Sometimes medication might be necessary as well to treat any chemical imbalances and decrease symptoms.
Next, let’s look at what you can do to reduce anxiety and stress:
- Make some physical well-being and lifestyle changes.
- Get healthy sleep. Healthy REM sleep is associated with better emotional regulation and boosts memory, learning, and creativity. Sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders.
- Change your diet. Maybe it’s drinking more water or less caffeine. Maybe it’s increasing protein, healthy fats, or complex carbs. Or, maybe it’s decreasing simple carbs, unhealthy fats, and alcohol.
- Are you low in vitamins or minerals? Is your thyroid regulated? A doctor and/or nutritionist can help if you’re experiencing medical issues that might be interfering with your mental health.
- Integrate exercise into your life. What’s your passion? Do it. Yoga and walking are excellent for anxiety reduction, improving sleep, and reducing stress and depression.
- Try mindfulness meditation. Benefits of meditation include reducing stress by slowing your breathing while fully attuning yourself to present awareness and experience. Try researching Christian mindfulness meditations.
- Breathe. Deep breathing reduces anxiety by sending more oxygen to your brain. The more oxygen you get to the brain, the more brain function you can receive. P.S. Exercise, meditation, yoga and guided relaxation also increase oxygen levels.
- Reduce stress. Look at your priorities and your schedule. Does your schedule reflect the important things in your life, or does it reflect your overcommitment?
- Stop overcommitting! The sun is going to rise and set with or without the treadmill of busy lives and shallow living.
- Develop self-awareness.
- Do an energy audit on your time. On a scale of 1-10, where are your stress and anxiety currently? Where are they on an average day? What habits can you start to give you more energy? What things can you stop that might give you more time to take care of yourself?
- Identify what helps you reduce anxiety. Is it music? Spending time with friends? Laughter? Getting outdoors? A workout? Google relaxation techniques and implement some into your daily routines.
- Invest in your emotional well-being: Find support. Call a friend, family member, mentor, pastor, counselor, or join a LifeGroup or support group. Don’t carry anxiety alone.
- Spend time with God.
- Jesus is with you. He loves you. He tells us that we can cast all our anxiety on Him (1 Peter 5:7). So spend time with Him. Vent your worries and shape them into prayers (Philippians 4:7).
- Reading God’s Word is a great resource for dealing with anxiety. Scriptures like Philippians 4:6-7, John 14:27, Psalm 23, Psalm 46:10, and many others are great to meditate on when dealing with anxiety. Say it, memorize it, write it down, and pray it.
- Start small but start today. Anxiety overwhelms us. Don’t overwhelm yourself further by changing everything at once, but make each step count. Choose one action step from this list to focus on for a week. Small changes over time add up to the big results we all want.
What lens you are viewing life through? Is it the lens of stress and anxiety? Or is it a lens that sees all things from the eyes of the Lord? This is something I am constantly working on in my life. Try this: Think about your life through the eyes of stress and anxiety and deadlines. How does that feel? Stressed out yet? Sorry—but you’re welcome. What we focus on matters (Philippians 4:8).
Now try this: Imagine seeing things through God’s eyes. Marvel at His creation for a moment. When I do this, my life feels different, and I make decisions and experience life from a place of peace, wonder, and gratitude.
Remember, you are important. You are a vessel for the Holy Spirit. If you’re carrying too much anxiety and stress, you won’t be as effective in the most important things in your life. If you need help, there is so much hope and support out there. Don’t let anxiety get in the way of seeking help.
What I’ve Learned from Battling Anxiety
By Ben Decker
Growing up, I was considered a “nervous kid.” After struggling with what I would come to learn was anxiety for most of my young life, it came to a head in my early 20s when I suffered from my first panic attack. One minute, I was racing around the house trying to do 15 things that had to be done this minute, and the next I found myself face down on the couch trying to catch my breath and stop the room from spinning.
This became a more frequent experience as my problems officially moved from kid problems to adult problems—jobs, bills, home maintenance, family dynamics, marriage—you get it. Intense periods of anxiety sometimes turned into times of depression. The noise of all my problems was deafening, and I didn’t feel like I could do anything. I didn’t know who to talk to or even how to describe what I was going through.
My faith in Jesus gave me hope, but I had to fight for the hope over the feelings of guilt that I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. It was a vicious cycle.
Through counseling, prayer, and processing these feelings and experiences with people over the last several years, I can say with joy and confidence that I’ve come a long way. While my battle with anxiety hasn’t gone away, I’ve found a new perspective and new tools that help me press on and continue to fight.
I’ve learned to be more aware of my thoughts and feelings and not to stuff them away until they overflow. I’ve learned that these episodes are often triggered by something, to be more in tune with what those triggers are, and to run to Jesus and not my own strength or understanding when I encounter them.
Often, my triggers are centered around scarcity—feeling like there is not enough money or time, or simply that I am not enough. And strangely, I discovered that these triggers are often self-inflicted. I would set unrealistic expectations on myself as a husband, employee, and even as a follower of Jesus, and then refuse to show myself grace when I failed to measure up. Since then, I’ve learned to extend to myself the same grace I would show others who’ve fallen short. Better yet, I’m discovering the grace that Jesus has extended to me, which He promises in His Word, to be sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So even though I may not ever be as perfect as I want to be in this life, and even though I may not be able to pray my anxiety away all the time, His grace is sufficient for me.
I’ve also learned to find true rest in Jesus. I can’t rest when I count my sins and shortcomings. I can’t rest when I try to control the outcome of every situation every day. I can only rest when I sit at the feet of the One who loves me, whose power is made perfect in my anxiety. Which is good news, because I’ve discovered that my battle with anxiety is actually His battle, and He’s already won.
How Constant Digital Connection Can Lead to Anxiety
By Amy Van Slambrook, MA, LMHC
We live in a time when we can connect globally in an instant thanks to technology. But what happens when that same blessing turns into an anxiety-inducing dilemma?
Psychologist and best-selling author, Dr. Henry Cloud, points out that God designed our brains to need just three things to be happy—oxygen, glucose, and relationships that lead to connection. When measuring happiness, connection is the number one differentiating factor— the more we have it, the happier we are.
Unfortunately, the converse is true as well—the less connection we have, the unhappier we become. This leads us to turn to social media for relationships, which often leads to anxiety and depression. In the last 15 years, anxiety and depression have increased by 70 percent! Not surprisingly, the frequency of people taking anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants has also risen dramatically.
This may not be the first piece you’ve read about the importance of real connection, the dangers of virtual relationships and social media, and how both are transforming our culture—especially our mental well-being. Yet, we still seek connection in social media sites—email, text, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. All of these offer a behind-the-glass relationship that isn’t wrong; it’s just partial. This relationship provides some connection, but often an incomplete version that leaves us wanting more.
So, we search some more and keep coming up short. There’s a good reason for this. The kind of connection that can calm the anxiety of isolation is found in face-to-face, voice-to-voice, presence-to-presence conversations—and not so much in the news of our digital friends (all 572 of them).
In this world of a million life-hacks, deep, brain-satisfying, anxiety-reducing connection is not something that can be “hacked” despite our feverish attempts to do so, because this digital connection will never fully satisfy the God-created need in our spirit to be connected.
While there are amazing advantages to having such instant access to one another, the illusion of closeness and connection felt through the glass of our screens seems to be becoming more intense. At the same time, so is our dissatisfaction with it.
So, how do we conquer the anxiety of social media isolation?
1. Use technology, but don’t let technology use you. All healthy relationships, including the behind-the-glass, digital kind, require boundaries to keep anxiety at bay. Thankfully a real person created technology to help!
- Download an app that tracks your phone’s use and time, like Moment, Hours, RescueTime, or Toggl. Or, if you have an Apple device, use the Screen Time feature. These tools can show you how your time is really spent, and then you get to decide if that’s how you really want to use it.
- Set a reminder on your phone to kick you out of that Instagram coma. In the middle of your scrolling, set timers every 20 minutes or so to stop you. This can help you snap out of a digital feed and back into your real life that’s happening in front of you.
2. Set boundaries. If you notice you’re spending too much time on screens and too little time connecting with real people, set boundaries to fix it. Maybe that’s putting your phone away every night at a certain time in a different room. Maybe it’s giving yourself a screen time limit for every day of the week. Whatever it is, notice your emotional experiences after using screens and decide to prevent future burnout tomorrow by limiting distractions and depletions today.
3. Schedule in-person or non-virtual time. Our brains and bodies benefit from any interaction with other people. In-person or non-virtual time with people significantly calms our anxiety and snuffs out burning isolation. How can you practically make this a priority?
- Schedule it. Make time for other people in real life by adding it to your calendar and sticking to it. Likewise, you can set limited, scheduled times to use social media in a healthy way.
- Look up. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but simply looking up from your device and at your surroundings will prompt you to gain perspective. The real live world and real live people around you are pretty amazing—if we’re actually present.
- Disconnect. Despite painful FOMO, anxiety, and withdrawal, the world will survive, and so will we. If you can’t do a full day without devices, start with an afternoon, or an hour, or 30 minutes! Just start. Notice how it feels. Take time to observe the people around you.
You can get the connection and relationships you desperately crave. You can overcome the anxiety and isolation our technology feeds. You can achieve balance through boundaries and free yourself from living life from behind the glass. It’s just one swipe (off) away.
How Can I Help Someone Dealing With Anxiety?
By Markey Motsinger
When someone you love lives with anxiety, it can be confusing, frustrating, and scary. I felt all of these things 10 years ago when my husband, Ryan, was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. At the same time he was diagnosed, we were starting a cross-country move for a new job, pregnant with twins, and raising a 16-month-old. Instead of enjoying a new season of life, we were sitting in a doctor’s office learning about anxiety medicine. Feeling fearful and helpless, I had no idea how I was going to survive, let alone help someone dealing with anxiety.
Over the next few months, I started asking God to show me how to make Proverbs 12:25 come alive. I learned that to support Ryan, my new normal had to consist of living one day at a time. A good day would come, and I would think we were making progress, only to wake up the next day to another bad attack. Learning to take it one day at a time helped me focus on what he needed that particular day instead of pushing him to where I thought he should be.
Another new normal became letting go of expectations. In the beginning, I expected medicine, studying Scripture, counseling, and reading books to quickly take the anxiety away. Yet after all of that, anxiety was still staring back at me, daring me to find another way to help him. I expected anxiety to be cured with logic or reasoning, and this expectation couldn’t be further from the truth. I had to let go of the control I wanted and trust God to lead us.
I started learning to become less of a fixer and more of a listener. I began to realize that I couldn’t fix something that I didn’t understand. Instead of trying to fix the anxiety by asking, “How is your anxiety?” I started asking about his day and the thoughts and feelings that went along with it. This allowed him to process and identify what had potentially triggered his attacks. It also opened up doors for me to ask helpful questions, and to reassure him that, even though things looked different, he was still an amazing man, husband, and father.
Lastly, my new normal consisted of giving myself a lot of grace. I was often stressed, frustrated, and even mad as I took care of newborn twins and an 18-month-old. These feelings would cause me to feel guilty, but over time, I learned that my feelings weren’t right or wrong—they were an expression of what was going on in my life. By accepting God’s grace, I began to see that I too needed support, time alone, and people to help me heal and process all the ways that anxiety had affected me.
Everybody’s journey with anxiety is different, but one thing everyone needs is support. It isn’t easy, but with God’s help, we can learn to communicate, love, and support someone right where they are in their journey with anxiety.
Here’s How I’m Learning to Deal with My Anxiety
By Brian Russell
I first dealt with acute anxiety and panic some years ago while living in a foreign country during a challenging stage of life. Over the course of several months, I suffered from chest pains, headaches and other illnesses that served as a catalyst for fear and concern unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
People have asked whether my anxiety was circumstantial, physiological, or spiritual. Having considered this, I am fairly convinced that the answer is “yes.” I believe that there can be multiple things at play. Stressful circumstances can boil to a point where even those not normally affected by anxiety find themselves susceptible to its building force. Like other physical limitations or illnesses, some of us experience times when our bodies’ chemicals are out of balance. And our spiritual enemy seems to be an opportunist, adding pressure to our areas of weakness.
Over the years as I evaluate different things that I get anxious or stressed out about, there is one common thread in my response to them—a desire to be in control. It’s as if playing out potential negative outcomes or imagining unsuccessful work projects puts me in the driver’s seat. The problem, however, is that trust and control do not coexist. You can have control or you can have trust, but you can’t have both. This presents a challenge, considering that throughout Scripture God’s instruction to us is to trust Him (Proverbs 3:5).
In fact, we often see that God’s guidance does not include the final picture nor all the details. He desires our trust and dependence on Him along the way. Abraham was instructed to leave his country, but not given a specific destination ahead of time (Genesis 12). The people of God were told to step into the raging river without a guarantee that God would part the waters (Exodus 14). Mary and Martha were challenged to trust when Jesus ordered the stone to be removed from their dead brother’s tomb (John 11).
Evaluate your heart and motives today. How much of your stressing and worrying is an attempt to be in control? Make an attempt today to put your trust in Him. Maybe for you, that starts by simply acknowledging your struggle to Him and declaring that you want to trust Him.
Another practical tip is to try to stop negative thoughts within 30 seconds and replace them with different thoughts. Many scientists believe this is how to create new neural pathways, breaking unhelpful thought patterns. The apostle Paul talked about taking thoughts captive. Ironically, one of the first steps in releasing control of your life may be gaining control of your thoughts.
Great Resources for Fighting Anxiety
- Watch the Anxious for Nothing message series from Pastor Craig.
- Find more hope from real people about fighting anxiety.
- Start the Anxious for Nothing Bible Plan.
- Here are some helpful Scriptures about dealing with anxiety and finding peace: