Stress and Anxiety: A Christian Perspective – Part 1

Stress and Anxiety: A Christian Perspective - Part 1If you’ve struggled with any kind of addiction, you’ve struggled with stress and anxiety, though you probably learned to effectively quash it before the experience became too pervasive. Feeling a little twinge in the pit of our stomach, we called it hunger and grabbed a stack of cookies. Unable to sleep at night because of a racing mind we enjoyed a nightcap—or several. Our high floated us above the discomfort zone. If we could stay high we could stay comfortable and stress-free. But when we became addicts, we learned that this behavior was unsustainable. That which we had used to quell the anxiety was wrecking havoc in our lives full scale, causing only more stress. We had to get to the bottom of our anxiety.

At the base of our stress and anxiety is always fear and disbelief. If we trusted 100% in God’s care, love, and provision, what would we have to fear? What could cause even the smallest upheaval in our emotional condition? The problem is that, though we may affirm the truth of God’s Word with our mouths, we aren’t living like we mean it.

This is what drove many of us to addiction. Though we thought we were trusting God and developing our spiritual lives, we lived in a state of fight or flight. This constant stress and inability to genuinely trust and rely upon God caused the anxiety. The anxiety then led to the misuse of substances or other maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Though we might not have felt very prideful as we cowered in panic, can we call it anything else? If we aren’t trusting God and living in fearless faith, then we are relying upon ourselves and fighting to keep our own heads above water. The mindset that we have to manage all of life on our own, or that we must secure our personal comfort is self-sufficient and ultimately prideful. We have removed God from the equation.

When we perpetuate the sin of unbelief and we sideline God, we invite the stress that plagues our minds. This leads us to negative physical responses such as panic, insomnia, binge eating, alcohol abuse, and the like.

Though much stress and anxiety has a spiritual basis, this is not the entire explanation. We cannot ignore the mind-body-spirit connection. When we understand ourselves as holistic beings, we will better see how the various areas of our lives affect our well-being. Anyone who has seen how a difficult work situation can rob a good night’s sleep will understand the connection between the mind and the body.

Let’s pull this apart and look at each component separately.

Stress is something we all experience if we have opted to live in society and in the presence of others. Each day we are bombarded with numberless stimuli that threaten our emotional, physical and spiritual equilibrium. Some of this we could control and eliminate, but we choose not to. Other stressors are unavoidable. So combatting stress in our lives is two-part.

First, we must exercise good discernment. If you insist on working too much, sleeping too little, and spending more time in front of a screen than in the great outdoors, then you may need to wake up to the fact that you are heaping a lot of extra stressors upon yourself. God has not created us to be superheroes, impervious to the influences and forces of the outside world. We are real humans in needy bodies. If we fail to take care of those bodies, the result will manifest as increased physical and psychological stress.

Sometimes Christians believe (mistakenly) that they should be spiritual enough to rise above physical needs, limitations, and stressors—especially when engaged in ministry or other good works. This is pride and it often has drastic outcomes such as addiction, burnout, and even a falling away from faith. Yes, we are to work hard and depend on the strength that comes from the Lord, but God has specifically and intentionally created us to require sleep, food, and times of leisure. We honor Him when we honor the way in which He has created us and take care of our bodies accordingly.

You will not be able to micromanage or eliminate all of the stressful and anxiety-producing circumstances of your life. Certain outside stressors are neither the effect of poor decisions nor lack of self-care. Some circumstances are severely stressful and out of one’s control, such as the death of a child, the loss of a job, or a spouse’s chronic illness. These circumstances call for a powerful exercise of faith.

The effects of stress may still be felt, but the one who knows that God calls us to meet Him and know Him intimately in the most difficult times will find protection from bitterness, cynicism or the temptation to self-medicate. While we cannot know the exact reasons, we know that God allows these stresses in order to bring us closer to Himself.

Continued in Stress and Anxiety: A Christian Perspective – Part 2.