A Few Thoughts on Fear & Anxiety

How do you deal with fear and anxiety?

It is certainly a relevant question since all of us deal with fear and anxiety in some form or another, whether we recognize it or not.

And the pandemic has only increased that reality.

A recent article in Scientific American noted: “COVID has posed a threat to body–and mind–for all people on the planet.”

There has been a dramatic rise in anxiety and depression, not only in America but around the entire globe, since the start of the COVID pandemic.

This rise has particularly impacted younger people whose lives have been perhaps the most disrupted and who are also perhaps more connected to the constant media attention (almost always negative) given to COVID.

Even though the mental health side of the pandemic is often ignored, it is not surprising.

The pandemic has reminded us all of our vulnerability, fragility, and mortality.

We are weak.

We are mortal.

We are not in control of the universe…and something as small as a microscopic virus can quickly spread around the world, infect our bodies, and make us all vulnerable to sickness and possibly death.

This is the reality of the human condition.

We can’t escape it…no matter how many VR headsets we may buy.

The Bible identifies fear as the first emotion that humanity felt after sinning against God and being separated from Him.

And “do not fear” is the most frequently given command in Scripture…indicating that it is a command that we all need to hear.

So how do we live a life free from fear?

Well, to be frank, we can’t live totally free from fear. And if we did, then we probably wouldn’t live very long before we did something stupid that killed us.

Fear, in some ways, is good.

We need to know that we are vulnerable, fragile, and mortal.

It keeps us alive!

It is the fear-free antelope that is the dead antelope.

The “flight or fight” response is built into the core of our brains as a safety mechanism. And for that, we should be thankful.

What the Bible wants to deliver us from is the “spirit of fear.”

For God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

The “spirit of fear” is what I would call persistent anxiety or panic attacks or an over-activated adrenal response that puts a person in a perpetual state of feeling “flight or fight” even in the normal course of life.

And this spirit of fear does several things to us. It paralyzes us, isolates us, and makes us think irrationally about the threats around us. In other words, it does the very opposite of having a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.

It kills our power, our confidence, our sense of security inside ourselves.

It kills our love, our relationships, our sense of connectedness with others.

It kills our thinking, our discernment, our sense of sanity in this world.

And, in the context of 2 Timothy 1, it also kills our purpose and our ability to live the life that we were created to live.

Paul gives this verse to his young protege, Timothy, who appears to be prone to anxiety to the point that it affected his stomach and his ability to use his gifts in ministry.

Fear (if Timothy let it) could keep him from fulfilling his calling.

I can identify with Timothy.

I was a pretty “nervy kid” growing up. I put more pressure on myself that I needed to and often found myself with tension headaches and stomach problems, even as young as eight, nine, or ten years old. I can remember taking an Excedrin pretty frequently, almost daily, when I was in junior high and high school.

I was trying to be perfect in school…and just about every other area of life…and I just couldn’t do it.

As I got older, I carried some of these same tendencies into ministry.

Later, I developed panic attacks which would paralyze me and make me want to escape in any way possible.

Some can relate…others can’t.

Personality plays a role…as well as upbringing and experience…in how we handle fear.

Some turn to alcohol or other addictions to numb any feelings of fear. Some manage to distract it through endless activities, pleasures, or pursuits. Some become angry or cynical, not realizing that behind most anger is fear.

But fear is still there.

It lingers under the surface.

It cannot be denied any more than our mortality can be denied.

So how do we deal with it?

As a lifelong recovering fear-feeler, here are some things that have helped me.

  1. Trust in Jesus Christ. Okay, maybe this sounds like a cliche or a “bait-and-switch” gospel message wrapped in an article about fear. But that is not my intent. I am just stating the facts. If at the root of our fear is a sense of our separation from God, our vulnerability in a sin-cursed world, and our mortality, then the only real solution is going to come from reconciliation with God, a security in a sovereign Savior, and a hope beyond the grave. That can only be found in Jesus Christ. It is not a “magic pill” that eliminates all fear but it does give a person a foundation for dealing with fear.
  2. Learn to breathe. I can remember reading a book on anxiety when I was in the midst of dealing with panic attacks. It recommended sitting down and learning to breathe. I thought it was crazy. I couldn’t even sit down…much less gain control of my thinking and breathing. But over time, I have realized the wisdom of this advice. It is a daily discipline not a quick fix. The results come slowly over time. The Hebrew word for “be still” in that famous verse, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), means “to sink down, relax, let drop.” It pictures a big exhale. A dropping of the tension in the shoulders. A relaxing in the arms of God. This is not empty meditation…this is an intentional resting in the sovereignty of God.
  3. Limit media intake. There is no question in my mind that much of the increase that we are seeing in anxiety is directly related to the increase of media consumption. We are literally addicted to our smartphones, to 24/7 news, to scrolling through social media, to trying to know everything about everything. Study after study has shown that these things, especially social media, increase our anxiety, our depression, and our anger (which is fear masking as strength). Yet we keep going back and consuming more. We say we want peace but we won’t put down our pieces of technology to experience it.
  4. Start your day right. In concert with the two points above, I have found that one of the best overall strategies to reducing anxiety is to reserve the first one or two hours of your day to a media-free time of reading, praying, meditating, walking, and/or exercising. I know everyone is different and their schedules are different, but somehow we must gain control of the first moments, minutes, and hours of our day if we are going to maintain the best mindset throughout the day.
  5. Take medication, if needed. Christians often wonder if taking medication is somehow contrary to “having faith in God.” Short answer. “Nope.” We are body, soul, and spirit creatures. Our bodies can play as much a part of our battle with anxiety as our soul and our spirits. Paul told Timothy to “use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Wine, in moderation, had medicinal effects in ancient days. Today, Paul might say something like, “Take a little medication for your frequent battles with anxiety.” Medication is not the cure-all and it certainly can be over-prescribed and over-used but if medication can help break the cycle and cut the edge off a panic attack, then take it. At the same time, take an inventory of your regular diet and your physical condition and make adjustments to a healthier lifestyle. It will be good for your body and your soul.

In the end, anxiety is a battle…and a journey. It is learning to take one day at a time, realize your limits, and trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God.

I am reminded of the first line of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Peace comes in knowing what you can control and what you cannot. And if we are honest, we will realize that there is not much under our control! The entire creation, along with every creature under the sun and your neighbor down the street, are beyond your control. Your own body even functions mostly outside your control.

What you can control is where you put your hope, where you fix your focus, and on whom you put your faith.

If your faith, focus, and hope are not built on the eternal Rock, then you have every reason to fear.

But if they are, then you have every reason to rest…and to rejoice!

He is in control.

And the One who upholds the universe can certainly uphold you.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

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One Response to A Few Thoughts on Fear & Anxiety

  1. Clare Godleski says:

    Wow! Pastor Steve, you have done it again, nailed the subject right on the head. Your writings inspire me to so much more. They explain and communicate in a way that hits home. I feel blessed to receive your writings. Don’t stop! What you write about is relevant and honest and you bare your soul in a way that speaks to all of us. Thank you and God bless you for what you share with us!
    In Him,
    Clare Godleski

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