Total Life Blog   |  An Anxious Heart

An Anxious Heart

For its December 5, 2011 issue, Time Magazine’s cover boasted the bold statement: “Why Anxiety is Good for You.” Of course, there was a small asterisk attached. It further explained “As long as you know how to use it.” Being a worrywart myself, I had to get my hands on this article.  If you’re like most people, you feel anxiety is anything but beneficial.  The overwhelming feelings of fear, worry, stress and the physical side effects that go with it reap havoc on your life. You wish you could shrug off the smothering burden that anxiety brings you, but it feels as if you have no control over your invasive feelings. So what’s this about anxiety being good for me?

To start off, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America tells us that “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.” While not everyone may find themselves with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, we can all identify with feelings of fear about the future, or maybe remembering a traumatic event from the past.  Anxiety can be a small nuisance or a complicated debilitating illness. We are all familiar with the negative impact of unchecked anxiety: fatigue, raised blood pressure, obesity, heartburn, compromised immune system, not to mention being constantly distracted with pervading thoughts of worry. While only a doctor can determine if the kind of anxiety you experience is serious enough to be treated, scientists have discovered that anxiety can also be beneficial to us.

In Alice Park’s Time article, “The Two Faces of Anxiety,” she states that “in just the right amounts, the hormones that drive anxiety can be powerful stimulants, arousing the sense to functions at their sharpest… The key isn’t not to feel anxious; it’s to learn ways to manage that experience.” Park also quotes Sally Winston from the Anxiety & Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland: “Anxiety itself is neither helpful nor hurtful. It’s your response to your anxiety that is helpful or hurtful.”  Being able to handle our feelings of anxiety is completely up to us. You see the productive output of helpful anxiety every day: athletes, performers, and your pastor as he preaches the Sunday sermon. All of these people experience stressful feelings before performing, no matter how long they’ve been doing it. What separates those individuals (besides a lot of talent!) is the ability to choose how they were going to expend the energy.  God has given us a powerful mind that we can use even to help overcome something as influential as anxiety.

So what does the Bible say on the issue of anxiety? Surprisingly, it’s similar to Time Magazine’s study on the positive aspects of anxiety!  In Deuteronomy, Moses preaches to the Israelites from Mount Ebal about the blessings of following God’s commandments and also about the wrath that will befall them if they disobey. If the Israelites choose to disobey, they will be uprooted from the Promised Land. Chapter 28:64-65 says, “Then the LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods—gods of wood and stone, which neither you nor your ancestors have known. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the LORD will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” The repercussions that fall upon us for disobeying God’s commandments are just as harsh as for the Israelites in this modern time. We can choose to see anxiety as a burden that makes us worrisome and restless. Or we can choose to see it as something that is bequeathed to us to direct us back towards the narrow path. If the Israelites were scattered from the Lord without the feelings of anxiety and emptiness, what would encourage them to not sin, or to return to God if they were cast out?  Even anxiety can be the catalyst for positive change.

The New Testament also addresses the amazing gift we have been given as children of God. We are not alone in our feelings of anxiety. Philippians 4:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Along our journey of overcoming anxiety and worry, we can rest in the peace that God actually desires us to unburden ourselves of anxiety that distracts us from Him.

He wants us to be free to worship Him and to find peace in His mercy alone.

 

Author: Karly Wood

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