Renee Johnson Fisher of devotionaldiva.com is happily married, has a fulfilling career as a Christian speaker and author, and she’s got a great smile. But as she bravely shared here last week, Renee is plagued by anxiety and panic attacks. Her words got me thinking this week about anxiety and its impact on women’s lives and faith.
If you or someone you know is dealing with anxiety, here are some things you need to know:
1. Anxiety is not a sin. Anxiety and depression can be tricky in Christian circles. Even some well-meaning Christians might view anxiety and depression merely as symptoms of weak faith. In doing so, they send the message that if you were just a better Christian and trusted God more, you wouldn’t have these problems. This approach encourages shame, denial, and isolation, things that ultimately reinforce feelings of anxiety and worthlessness.
Instead, what if we asked how God might be using your anxiety for your good? That’s the question Christian counselor and author Rhett Smith encourages his clients to ask when faced with anxiety. He points out that times of anxiety help humble us before God and make us more receptive to Him. He may be using your anxiety to draw you closer to Him or to direct your path.
2. You’re not alone. When my friend Lisa started her first job out of college, she was plagued by the fear that she wasn’t “good enough.” Everyone else at work seemed to have it all together, but Lisa felt like an imposter. Lisa tried to hide her feelings, but that only made more isolated and fearful. Without release, or the benefit of outside perspective, her anxiety flourished.
Then one day at dinner with a college friend, Lisa had a breakthrough. Her friend started to share that she was having feelings of anxiousness and worthlessness. Hearing those words brought tears to Lisa’s eyes and also opened a door: “By the time dinner was over, we’d both had a good cry, and this horrible tension I’d been feeling had started to ease. I knew then that I wasn’t alone, and that talking about these feelings could help.”
Don’t let feelings of anxiety isolate you. Talking and praying about anxiety with people who care about you helps. Chances are, they’ve been there, but even if they haven’t, simply opening up to others makes it harder for anxiety to thrive.
3. There is help available. Okay, everyone deals with some anxiety, and there are some healthy ways to try to manage anxiety on your own, including sharing and praying with friends, or stress-releasing activities like walking. But high levels of anxiety can mess with your brain chemistry and actually change the way your body works. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S. and it’s considered highly treatable, yet only about one-third of anxiety sufferers receive treatment.
How do you know if you need to seek help?
Review the list of symptoms below (shared by counselors from Sparrow House Counseling center in Dallas ). If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms to the point where they impact your daily functioning, or if your symptoms occur often or are increasing in intensity it’s best to seek help through counseling:
- Feelings of apprehension and dread
- Having trouble concentrating
- Feeling tense and jumpy or agitated
- Anticipating the worst
- Pounding heart
- Frequent stomach upset or dizziness
- Frequent urination or diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Tremors and twitches
For the best results, seek a licensed therapist or psychologist who uses cognitive-behavioral therapy. Try to meet with a potential counselor ahead of time to ensure that you feel comfortable with them, and don’t be afraid to try more than one.
For more information or help for anxiety, please check out these additional resources:
- Sparrow House counseling center, Dallas, Texas
- Helpguide Anxiety Help Center – information about diagnosing anxiety, treatment options, and a free stress-management tool kit.
- Freedom From Fear- national organization seeking to positively impact the lives of anxiety sufferers through advocacy, education, research, and community support.
- American Association of Christian Counselors searchable directory