Do you avoid social events, experience worry or fear, sometimes expecting the worst even where there's no apparent reason? If you answered yes, you are not alone.
Approximately 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and above struggle with anxiety.
It’s an epidemic that it is taking over and destroying the lives of many—Christians and non-Christians alike. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress; however, if not managed well, it can lead to a negative outcome.
For many people, anxiety can become excessive as they experience an intense fear and worry of the unknown, the future, and the “what if”. Not only does anxiety impact the individual emotionally, but it can also affect him/her physically with muscle tension, headaches, insomnia and loss of appetite.
There are many variables that trigger anxiety, but the most common causes are related to negative/irrational thoughts and changes in the brain.
Paul tells us in the book of Philippians that "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things”. Our thoughts impact our emotions and, consequently, they affect our brain.
When one chooses to believe an irrational/illogical thought as truth, this will cause an emotional reaction that may produce anxiety. For example, if I choose to believe and dwell on a thought that I am going to fail a test because I have in the past, this negative thought will trigger my emotions and, as a result, impact my brain.
The amygdala is the emotional and fear center of the brain. It is reactive by our irrational, negative thoughts, and it triggers the hippocampus, which is the memory part of the brain. When the amygdala kicks in, our negative memories are activated, which can lead to anxiety and even panic attacks. This is the cycle that many become stuck in and it can be debilitating; however, this pattern can be broken and many can be free from anxiety.
The prefrontal cortex is the logical, rational, and wisdom part of the brain, and it is called the executive functioning. This is the part of the brain that God created to help us choose to think rationally and truthfully. For example, when a fear-producing thought comes through our minds, we can use the prefrontal cortex and choose to be mindful on rational/logical thoughts.
Mindfulness, which is a therapeutic tool that focuses on an awareness of thought patterns, reduces anxious thoughts. Setting our thoughts on things above--on what is true, pure, honorable, lovely and of excellence, can lead one to have a sound mind and eventually set one free from anxiety.
If you are struggling with anxiety, there’s hope in God. Remember, you are not alone and you do not need to face this without the help and support of others, including professional help and even medication, if needed. Lean into the support of others and seek help and encouragement in your journey.
2 Timothy 1:7: "God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and sound mind."
Bio: Rosanna Sierra-Swiech is on staff at Moody Theological Seminary and holds a masterʼs degree in Family Community Counseling and is also certified in couples and Family Counseling. Rosanna has received extensive “continuing education training” in anxiety related disorder and mindfulness.