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Friday, November 11, 2011

The Five-Step Cure for Anxiety

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God," (Philippians 4:6 NIV).

The past few months have been a real test for me in the realm of anxiousness.  I see that, just like the church at Philippi, I still need to work on my worry.  I have too often given in to anxiety about money, or about wasted time, or about relationships.  I don't know what the Philippians were worried about, but I suspect it was about these same sorts of things, or perhaps a more general need for security in the midst of trials.

We don't have to let anxiety shut us down.  In fact, we should not even let it enter our lives!  It is the opposite of what God wants for us.  He has given us a hope and a future (Proverbs 23: 18; Jeremiah 29: 11), one that we can look forward to, and be certain of.  Let me say it again: Our future is not in jeopardy; it is determined, and certain! Our future and our very lives may seem threatened, but God is in control, and He is holding us.

Even though I know this is true, I still struggle with it from time to time.  I imagine I am not alone in this feeling.  Paul gave us some good tips for dealing with anxiety, if we read the context of the verse at the beginning of this post, in Philippians chapter 4.
  1. Have an attitude of praise, no matter the circumstances (verse 4).  Paul didn't say "rejoice in the Lord when things are going good," nor did he write, "You are allowed to stop celebrating when things are rough."  Why should we praise God when we are having a hard time?  Because directing our minds off our troubles and onto the God who takes care of us can improve our mood and maybe even put some things in perspective.  Why should we praise God when we are having an easy time?  Because God gave us the good times and the bad, and He is with us through them all!
  2. Be gentle to others; God is near (verse 5).  When we are upset, harried, or otherwise burdened down or burned out, we tend to be rough on others around us.  The resulting arguments and troubles between ourselves and others will only make a bad situation seem worse to us.  It adds to worry and anxiety, rather than lessening it.  It's important to remember that God is near to comfort us, and He sometimes sends others to comfort us.  We need to be gentle and ready to receive that strength from others, rather than receiving them with unkindness, in an unchristian manner.
  3. Always pray, thanking God (verse 6). We serve an awesome God, who is always listening to our requests and is ready to deal with them for us.  There is no need to worry about how we're going to perform miracles to solve our problems--God will take care of our needs, and He will take care of us during the time of need.  Remembering to pray always shuts down anxiety in me, and I imagine it works for others just as well.
  4. Focus your thoughts on good, positive, and praiseworthy things (verse 8). The key to furthering your anxiety is continually mulling over every circumstance that is worrying you, one by one, without stopping.  I've soured many good moods this way, and I've let a few bad things cause me to forget the good things that happened during the course of the day.  If you find yourself only thinking about worrisome things,  change your thoughts.  Play some uplifting music.  Read your Bible.  Talk to God about what He did for you in the past.  Read a chapter in a fun novel.  Go outside, away from things that remind you of trouble and anxiety.  This is very important!
  5. Mimic good examples and good habits that take you away from anxiety and into the peace of God (verse 9).  If a Christian you admire has overcome the circumstances that are making you anxious, study how he or she did it and glean what you can from that example.  A good teacher can help you learn how to apply the principles in the Bible to your own life, so seek out good examples!
If we can get into the habit of following these steps, our moods and anxiety will improve greatly.  In fact, I believe this is the cure for anxiety.  God's ways of doing things are greater than our solutions.  We should give it a try, and let God work in our lives.