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When I was in Kindergarten, I distinctly remember the day I graduated. After learning my a,b,c’s, and 1,2,3’s, I was pumped and ready to go.
Through nasal-pitched serenades and songs, Miss. Astley’s class would glide through the air. Not literally, of course, but you can imagine dozens of children singing in the pitch of F sharp or flat. A precious sight, but not the most beautiful sound.
But for me, the thing I remember most about that anticipated day was puking my guts out in the elementary school bathroom. Unfortunately, I had somehow contracted a stomach disease, so as soon as received my diploma, you can believe I ran off the stage to the nearest latrine.
Between the white walls and my even paler skin, it was evident I was sick. I had been determined as a five-year-old to never miss a day of school and it proved to be true. But never did I imagine the anxiety sickness would cause me as I grew and matured.
An Early Inkling
Health Anxiety is defined as spending so much time fretting over an illness that it takes over your life. It includes worrying about if you are currently ill or will get sick in the future, regardless of its validity. It is also related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
For myself, I do not know why or when my health anxiety fully developed. I do not know how I became so afraid of things that can kill the body rather than the soul, but I am. And to the outside world, this anxiety is silly.
You’re too concerned with yourself.
Just learn to meditate and think about God.
God will keep you healthy.
Stop overthinking everything you feel and just be.
But if I could simply stop worrying about my health, I would. And like the other types of anxiety, I experience, if it were a matter of mind over matter, dispelling anxiety would be easy. I could turn off my mind or separate my fears from reality and walk anxiety-free. Yet that isn’t always the case.
The Reality of Anxiety
As of 2022, over 6.8 million adults suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (the type of anxiety I have, in which triggers are not specified, but generalized). 6 million suffer from panic disorders, a symptom commonly present with anxiety, while 15 million have social anxiety (the fear of interacting with those around them).1
Sadly, though much of the population experiences this never-ending dread and fear, only 43.2% receive treatment. In a similar fashion, according to ADAA (Anxiety & Depression Association of America), “it is not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder”.
What Scripture Says About Anxiety?
As much as I would like to tell you that my childhood anxiety has dissipated, I must be honest that it has increasingly gotten worse.
Contrary to the phrase that one needs to have more faith or simply not worry, those who experience clinical anxiety merely do not face just the typical anxieties of everyday life, but paralyzing fears to the point that daily functioning is nearly impossible.
And in all honesty, I believe that Jesus understood this.
Because when Scripture tells us that Jesus interacted with and healed all types of people with all varieties of diseases, I believe that included mental health struggles like anxiety. And how did He respond? With love.
Jesus told Mary not to worry about tomorrow, to have faith, and to believe, but He did not judge her for struggling.
Jesus told Jairus to not be afraid and to believe, but He still went with Him to meet Him where he was.
Jesus healed a woman who had been in chronic pain for years. I assume she had periods of lost hope and despair, and yet when she saw Jesus, she was drawn to Him and not away. Clearly, He had a reputation for calming one’s anxiety rather than provoking it.
Characteristics Of Those Who Suffer
Today, little is said about the intersection between faith and mental health. Even less is said about anxiety beyond the caveat that one needs to pray more or simply not worry. But when Jesus tells us not to worry, He is not condemning those of us who do. And while anxiety can be a sin, that nine times out of ten, isn’t the case.
Most people who worry don’t want to do so. It is not always an active decision.
Most people who have a fear of their health don’t not trust God, they just struggle to be in the present.
Most people who have anxiety want to be shown love but are given judgment.
Most people who experience mental health struggles are trying to get better, but they alternate between good and bad days.
And most people who have anxiety want to be reminded that God still sees and loves them even while they are still struggling.
What Jesus Says About Our Anxiety Today?
Jesus says to cast your anxiety on me because I care for you (1 Peter 5:7). It does not say we will not worry or face trials like anxiety, but that as humans in a fallen world, we are destined to do just that (John 16:33).
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, New Living Translation).
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, New Living Translation).
Jesus says do not worry, but lay your burdens and concerns on me. Submit them to me, and give me your fears, anxieties, concerns, and questions (Philippians 4:7).
“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7, New Living Translation).
And when we cry out to Him, we are guaranteed His patient presence. He unending grace. His relenting love. His empathetic mercy, compassion, and empathy (Psalm 34:17).
“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Psalm 34:17, New Living Translation).
Support Those Who Suffer:
People who have anxiety, myself included, do not need to be rebuked for their struggles; they need to be reminded of God’s love, concern, and comfort for them within them.
It is time we treat those with mental health struggles like anxiety how Jesus would treat them: Full of hope for healing and believing in His strength and power. But also recognizing the fallenness of humanity and sitting with them where they are free of judgment.
“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, New Living Translation).