What Does the Bible Say About Anxiety?
While sitting down and brainstorming about what I should write next, my mind kept returning to using my Psychology degree paired with my Christian faith. To use the unique journey the Lord has put me on to help walk alongside others. I kept wondering, 'what is something I know about that can help people?' Yes, writing these articles is a great way to teach me something, but in the end, I want the readers (you!) to get something helpful from it.
I know almost everyone, at some point, deals with anxiety and all the pieces that come with it. The CDC says that 50% of Americans will experience some type of mental illness in their lives, with anxiety and depression at the top of the list (https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm). It is almost a given with how our lives are structured today that we will experience one of these two things. We are go-go-go, even when we are sitting down and "relaxing" while scrolling through social media. A Psychology program focuses a lot on anxiety, and the Bible also focuses a lot on anxiety, whether it says it outright or not. So, with this article, we will break down and work through anxiety together. We will describe anxiety in a way many of us may have heard before in our western society. We are going to discuss how the Bible sees anxiety. Finally, we will work through a combination of western study and Bible study to discuss ways to remedy our differing bouts with anxiety. Before we get started, I want to say that I hope this helps everyone in some way and if you have any further questions about faith and anxiety, please email us. Do not go through your fight alone.
Anxiety in Today's Western Society?
To diagnose mental illness in today's western society, we use the DSM-5, also known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th version). I am not saying you or any of your loved ones have a mental illness if they match this definition of anxiety, I am saying that if they do, they should probably seek some sort of assistance, as we will discuss later. The DSM-5 states that anxiety is "excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about several events or activities (such as work or school performance)" (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t15/). What this is saying is for at least half a year, on most days, you feel like you worry excessively or have many apprehensions about multiple activities. Not just 'oh, I am worried about my big basketball game.' But 'I will probably play badly in my game, and I think I will fail my math test Friday, and there is no way I will be able to make it home if it snows today.’ It's a multitude of things where some, or all, may not be in your control. The questions you may ask now are, how does anxiety look in my life as an adult Christian? Do I have anxiety?
I can answer these by giving an example from my life that happened recently. With about one month left in college, I had finally saved up enough money to go out and buy a used car with cash. I worked through college to pay for a wedding and hopefully get a car. And now I could. So, I took a chance on a couple of young guys running a dealership that bought cars from auction, fixed them up, and sold them again. I have always worried about cars, and things going wrong while I’m driving them (like a tire going flat, a brake messing up, or the engine smoking). I thought this time was going to be different. In my mind, I saw a vehicle that would last my wife and I a few years until we could get something new. That's not how it went. The vehicle ended up being a death trap and something we needed to replace. Now is where my anxiety comes in. My wife and I were sitting in a Honda dealership, with the possibility of adding a pretty substantial car loan to our names. If you know me, you know that debt like that scares the socks off me. While test driving a vehicle and looking around, seeing numbers, I found myself in a constant negative feedback loop with the dread I felt. How will we pay this off? Is this the right call? Does this car answer our prayers? Then it hit me. Noah, you are not trusting God on this. If this is meant to be, you will know! After talking to the gentleman helping us with the car, and getting to know him, we found out he was a former Chaplain in the Air Force. It is like God came to me, hit me upside the head, and said, "Fear not, for I am with you" (Isaiah 41:10). At that moment, I felt complete peace. I felt the Lord with us, looking down on us, and letting us know to cast our anxieties away to Him. For He is our Lord and He will ensure we have the things we need. We just have to open our hearts for His blessings.
What does the Bible describe Anxiety as?
Now that we have a new knowledge of what anxiety is defined as in western Psychology and we discussed one moment in my life in which I felt overwhelmed with some anxiety, we are ready to look at the Bible. My first question is, 'what does the Bible say about anxiety?' The Bible mentions anxiety, and what could be considered anxiety, countless times all throughout the book. All the verses we mention come from a CSB or Christian Standard Bible. Let's first start in the book of Daniel to see how the Bible describes the feeling of anxiety. In Daniel 7:15 it says, "As for me, Daniel, my spirit was deeply distressed within me, and the visions in my mind terrified me." Now, how does that line up with our textbook definition of anxiety? The DSM states that anxiety is excessive worry about an event. Daniel 7:15 shows a distressed spirit (some would call worry) and terrifying visions (thoughts of an event). Really, I see this as almost a one-for-one biblical representation of what anxiety is. It is just put in some context and not boiled down to science verbiage.
Now that we have broken down how the Bible describes anxiety, we can look at what the Bible says to do with that anxiety. We know from general knowledge, talking to people, reading, or websites like www.adaa.org that if we feel we have anxiety, there are many ways we can combat it. Things like working out, taking some time away from anxiety-inducing tasks, thinking positive thoughts, eating a nutritious meal, or talking to someone are all considered coping tools. I'm sure the Bible talks about all of these coping tools in some way or another, but I want to take a look at two that stick out to me; thinking positive thoughts and taking time away from anxiety-inducing tasks. In Psalm 23:4, I believe the Bible discusses positive thinking when things seem grim. It states, "Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me, your rod and your staff – they comfort me." The Lord wants us to know that there will be times when negative and frightening thoughts engulf our minds. In those times we need to understand that He is with us. He is there to protect us with His love. He is there to comfort us with His light, even when we feel like the valley we are in could never produce light. When those negative thoughts come to us, we know we can think the most positive thought of all, 'my Savior is here with me, every step of the way.' Knowing He is there makes taking time away from anxiety-inducing tasks easier. The Bible brings up this topic in Matthew 6:34 which says, "Therefore don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." I believe in this verse, Jesus is telling us that there are times when we need to just step away from worry. Each day will have its own challenges and sometimes we need to take it one day at a time. Focus on the present. Focus on His presence. Today is a gift from Him, no matter the challenge, and deserves our full attention.
How does the Bible help us deal with Anxiety?
We now know how our society/science defines anxiety, and we know how the Bible defines anxiety. Now, we can take both of those definitions and documents and understand how they can be used to help us work through our anxieties. My question is, 'how does the Bible tell us to deal with anxiety?' Generally speaking, it follows a few avenues; take it to God, surround yourself with positive people/things, and take some time away from anxieties. So, first, we see how the Bible says we should take our anxieties to the Lord, for he knows how we can work through it and that we can work through it with all He gives us. Psalm 55:22 talks about the Lord shouldering our anxieties for us when it says, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken." And in Matthew 6:25-26 the Lord tells us again that He will shoulder those things that give us anxiety because he knows how important it is for us to be taken care of so we can spread his word. The passage says, "Therefore I tell you: Don't worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing?" Jesus, Himself, is saying that life is more than our anxieties. It is what we do for Him and what we do for others. We need to cast those things on Him so we can live like Him.
Next, we look at the Bible talking about surrounding yourself with positive people and things. Proverbs 12:25 says, "Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up." While anxiety may put us in a bad spot mentally, a good word brings us up. Now, you may ask, 'what is a good word?' Well, I think a good word is anything positive. Whether the words of the Lord, some great pieces of a motivational book, being around some motivating mentors, or just talking to a loving friend. Surrounding yourself with positive things/people cheers up a heart that is weighed down with anxieties. Next time you feel weighed down, take a deep breath and try one of the pieces above. I have a feeling you will lower that weight.
Finally, we can look at what the Bible says about helping with your anxieties, which is that we need to take some time away from them. In Matthew 11:28 the Lord says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." The Lord is saying that those of us with anxieties and burdens (ALL OF US) need to reach out to Him and he will give us time away from those times. Whether a mental rest or a physical rest. He will give us those opportunities away, and we need to take them. He will allow us to work out, go to the movies with our significant other, or go to a Christmas celebration. No matter what it is, He will provide us with an opportunity to take time away, and it is up to us to do so.
After going through all the notes I made for this post, and after actually writing this post, I started to understand that a mental health walk is much like a Christian walk. Both of these are better completed while locked arm and arm with others who care about us. One of those who care for us, whom I believe we need for both journeys, is our Lord. Nobody cares for us as He cares for us. In 2 Timothy 1:7 it says, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love and sound judgment." God has given us the spirit to do well in the face of adversity because he loves us. He knows this will all make us stronger. The stronger we are, the better we can spread the word of His love. He will give us what we need. Philippians 4:6 says, "Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." God fills the requests we need. If we should find that answer to our anxieties, through hard work and prayer, God will make it available. If not yet available to us, then there is more growth for us. All aspects of our life, good and bad, allow us to grow, and that (to me) is one of the beauties of this life the Lord has given us. We have the free will to decide which path to go down and He can help us grow with either. Take the step today of working through your anxieties with prayer and a state of mind that understands that the Lord gives us each hardship for a reason. One day we will know that reason, but today we need to ask Him for His guidance and live as much like Him as we can.
If you want to learn more about how to become a better Christian and person then check out “What Are the 5 Love Languages” to develop your relationships or “The PRAY Acronym” to develop your prayer life. You can also read our sin series that starts with, “Where Did Sin Come From?”
“Tips and Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Stress.” Tips and Strategies to Manage Anxiety and Stress | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, https://adaa.org/tips.
Table 3.15, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Comparison ... https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t15/.
“About Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 June 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm.