We live in a stress-filled world. No surprises there; however, this permeation of stress has lead to anxiety being the most common mental health disorder in America. Statistically, the percentage of people reporting anxiety jumped from 11% in 2019 to 35.8% in 2021. Where do we find peace in an anxious world?
Anxiety-The Good and the Bad
“Anxiety is the body’s normal response to stress. It helps us stay motivated while studying, focused while completing an important project at work, or alert while protecting children from everyday dangers.” We actually need a level of anxiety to inspire us to move forward sometimes.
That’s the good side.
As many of us know, anxiety becomes a problem when it begins to control us. For example, if it keeps us from going out with friends even though we want to see them. Or, when we lose sleep because we’re ruminating over something that, in reality, is a minor thing. (I’ve done that more times than I like to admit.)
Or if getting on an elevator makes you break out in a sweat.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, Euro/Anglo nations experience a higher level of anxiety in their citizens than the lower to middle income nations. I guess the old saying from the book, Fight Club, is true: “The things you own end up owning you.” (https://amzn.to/3t3AIDp) Thus, the stress and anxiety to hold on to the lifestyle, the job, the grind to pay the bills…is slowly crippling us.
That’s a portion of the bad.
You’re Not The Only One
Approximately 40 million Americans suffer with some form of an anxiety disorder, i.e. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks, Phobias, PTSD, etc. 40 million – remember that number the next time you feel like you are the only one.
Sadly, although anxiety disorders are treatable, only 36.9% of the 40M are being treated. I wonder why we choose to suffer from this, sometimes, debilitating disorder?
Reasons We Choose to Suffer
Unfortunately, the first reason is the fear of social repercussions. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness is still very much a problem.” It’s shocking, really. Society continues to cling to ancient beliefs regarding mental illness, despite living in an age where science is highly touted. Furthermore, we know more about the brain than ever before.
Stigma surrounding any form of mental illness can be crushing to the spirit. “Individuals with anxiety disorders are often considered unpredictable, neurotic, or weak and need to just toughen up.” This stigma can affect employment or career advancement, and causes social isolation.
Shame is the second reason people choose to suffer in silence. Shame creates false beliefs which are destructive. The shame voice berates us for being losers or being broken.
Having shame about excessive anxiety is like punishing yourself for having a broken foot. You already have a broken foot, and now you feel bad about yourself too,” said Emily Bilek, Ph.D, an assistant professor of clinical psychology who specializes in anxiety disorders at the University of Michigan.
Shame also is destructive because it leads to avoidance. “Imagine a child who is struggling to learn how to ride her bicycle,” Bilek said. “What would happen if we shamed that child by telling her that all her friends already know how to ride their bikes, and that she must be a loser?” Naturally, she’d stop riding her bike (and thereby stop practicing) to stop feeling shame, Bilek said. Which is similar to what we do. We avoid situations that are anxiety-provoking…
Shame is a powerful silencer.
It isn’t only found in the workplace. Shaming of mental illness is also found in several denominations and churches.
We Are What We Think
The majority of psychiatrists and therapists agree that the underlying cause of ongoing cases of anxiety and depression is a negative thought process. A negative thought occurs, something happens which reinforces the thought, which causes another, stronger negative thought, and so on. As this process continues to occur, a habit forms in the brain and you have a belief – which is usually false, but it’s nevertheless a belief.
In Healing Anxiety and Depression, neuroscientist/psychiatrist Daniel Amen said, “What you allow to occupy your mind will sooner or later determine your feelings, your speech and your actions. Thoughts…have a real impact on how you feel and behave.” ( https://amzn.to/3dQ2GfB)
In other words, we are what we think.
And What We Believe
But, as noted earlier, it’s more than what we’re thinking or saying to ourselves, it’s what we believe about ourselves.
…studies show that to change our brain chemistry, to defeat anxiety and depression, and have a pervasive sense of well-being, it is crucial that we spot the false ways we think about life and replace them with thoughts we take to be true. As psychologists Edmund Bourne and Lorna Garano remind us, “The truth is that it’s what we say to ourselves [the self-talk of our thought life] in response to any particular situation that mainly determines our mood and feelings.”
Coping With Anxiety, (https://amzn.to/3d5pg4J)
*Finding Quiet, My Story Of Overcoming Anxiety and The Practices That Brought Peace, J.P. Moreland, (https://amzn.to/3wDHIcB)
Finding Peace in an Anxious World
I haven’t met very many people in my life who possess true peace. Even Christians, who have the Prince of Peace available to us every moment, have difficulty keeping our eyes fixed on Him rather than on the circumstances of our lives or world.
If Philippians 4:6-7, (NKJV) is to be our guide, then I believe we stumble on nothing and everything in verse 6.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Either we flat-out don’t believe it or we believe it doesn’t apply to us…the lies are simply louder than the truth.
In I Peter 5:6-7, we’ve passed over the all in verse 7.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (ESV)
Is there a question in your mind or spirit about His caring for you? Because it’s really difficult to humble ourselves before someone, or cast our fears and anxieties on him if we don’t believe that he cares about us.
Put your mind at ease with these:
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19, ESV
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3, ESV
It is God’s desire to console us and to give us peace. We must keep our minds on Him, cast our cares on Him, and bring every anxious thought to Him…
The peace we receive in return is all encompassing.
This song has been in my head all week. Be blessed, sisters!
*J.P. Moreland’s book, Finding Quiet offers excellent steps, which he followed to overcome an extended battle with anxiety and depression.