Seven Steps to Overcoming Anxiety
We live in a world that can provoke deep anxiety, even for the stout-hearted. The pace of life, difficulties in the economy, the unsettled global balance of power, and our spiritually antagonistic culture can wear us down.
Over the years, I’ve not been prone to anxiety. In fact, as an entrepreneurial leader, I have tended to ignore caution and safety in order to take on the next great challenge with little regard for risk. (This creates anxiety for those around me!)
I have, however, been prone to melancholy. Some describe my leadership style as choleric/melancholy, which is a portrait of a driven, often creative person who occasionally gets down.
I find myself asking, as David did, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God” (Psalm 42:11). The Bible has much good advice about anxiety. Theologians and pastors have written books and preached great sermons on the subject. Counselors and doctors are often helpful on these issues. My advice can probably not compare to theirs, but I do want to share with you seven simple ideas that have helped me in my journey. Perhaps they will prove helpful to you as well.
1. Get Up!
The simplest and best thing I’ve been able to do in the face of my deep anxiety is to simply get up. I find that lying in bed, mulling over the emotions, fears, doubts, and questions just tends to make it worse. So, I have learned to get up – make a good cup of dark roast, take a shower, or just start reading the Bible.
The simplest and best thing I’ve been able to do in the face of my deep anxiety is to simply get up. I find that lying in bed, mulling over the emotions, fears, doubts, and questions just tends to make it worse.
This resolve reminds me of God’s word to Joshua after Israel’s defeat at Ai. Joshua was on his face (normally a good posture), but he was asking the “why” and “what” questions, stewing in his misery and confusion. God said to Joshua, “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves…” (Joshua 7:10 & 13). Joshua needed to get up and do what needed to be done.
When Elijah hit his spiritual and emotional valley after the “high” of defeating Baal’s prophets on Mt. Carmel, God spoke to him. In one case, God tells him to get up and eat, rather than grovel in his self-pity (1 Kings 19:4-8). When he once again wallows in subjective gloom in the cave at Horeb, God again tells him to get up and go to the mouth of the cave to hear from the Lord. Still another time, the Lord tells him to get up and go back to anoint two kings and prepare Elisha as the next mighty prophet (1 Kings 19:10–18). God also reminds him that he is not the only “good guy” left but that the Lord has 7,000 other faithful people still serving Him. Like he did with Joshua, God often gives us fresh perspective when we get up and do what is right.
God often gives us fresh perspective when we get up and do what is right.
2. Get Perspective!
I often say that “discouragement is a temporary loss of perspective.” As the previous story of Elijah reminds us, we need to get fresh perspective when we are anxious and in the dumps.
Discouragement is a temporary loss of perspective.
Psalm 94:19 tells us, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul” (NASB). Isaiah 26:3 tells us, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (NKJV).
An anxious heart is often comforted by the objective truth of God’s word and divine counsel. Each morning the Lord is faithful to meet me in the pages of His word to pull me out of the darkness of subjectivity into the hope that comes from His character and promises.
An anxious heart is often comforted by the objective truth of God’s word and divine counsel.
3. Get Close!
In Psalm 73 we see the priority of drawing close to God for a restoration of hope and peace when we are overwhelmed with negative emotion. The psalmist describes his internal angst that resulted from his focus on the apparent prosperity and ease of the godless. His heart was grieved and his mind vexed (v. 21). But, he writes, “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me — until I went into the sanctuary of God” (vv. 16&17). Experiencing God’s presence made the difference.
The Bible tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). When we are intimate with the Father, peace and well-being can replace anxiety. Psalm 73 goes on to say it this way: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works” (vv. 25-26, 28).
When we are intimate with the Father, peace and well-being can replace anxiety.
We know that Philippians 4:6 & 7 affirms the power of drawing close to God in prayer: “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.”
4. Get Honest!
Sometimes unconfessed sin is at the root of anxiety. David describes the effect of this in Psalm 32, when he writes, “My bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”
In Psalm 139:23-24 David offers the antidote to the anxiety of unresolved sin: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NIV). We can trade in anxiety for the benefits that are consistent with the gift of everlasting life most often tied to ready confession and eager obedience.
We can trade in anxiety for the benefits that are consistent with the gift of everlasting life most often tied to ready confession and eager obedience.
5. Get Engaged!
Jesus understands our anxieties. He spoke wisdom to us in Luke 12:29-31 where He stated, “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” My translation: Don’t fret about the temporal things of life. Give your life away to kingdom purposes and you will experience a greater trust and peace.
Don’t fret about the temporal things of life. Give your life away to kingdom purposes and you will experience a greater trust and peace.
In Acts 20, Paul had ample reason to wake up 30 minutes before the morning alarm. He was on his way to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had already revealed to him that he would be arrested and suffer. But in Acts 20:35 he reveals his ability to live above anxiety when he says, “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Happiness is usually the experience of those who focus on giving their life away to others.
Happiness is usually the experience of those who focus on giving their life away to others.
Engaging our energies in serving others in eternally significant ways pulls us out of the pit of anxiety in a powerful and positive fashion.
6. Get Input!
We are blessed beyond measure when we have family and friends who are willing to let us talk about our debilitating feelings. Their understanding and objectivity are a gift. Proverbs 12:25 says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (NIV). God commanded the prophet Isaiah to, “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, but He will save you’” (Isaiah 35:3-4).
We are blessed beyond measure when we have family and friends who are willing to let us talk about our debilitating feelings. Their understanding and objectivity are a gift.
Friends help us remember that the “movie” of our life is not over. We might be in a challenging “scene” – but we have true hope in knowing the “Movie-maker.” He wins and He is good. This input is vital for us all at times.
Friends help us remember that the “movie” of our life is not over. We might be in a challenging “scene” – but we have true hope in knowing the “Movie-maker.” He wins and He is good.
7. Get Help!
Sometimes we eventually need to find a wise counselor, pastor, or doctor to help us understand and address the unrelenting anxiety. (Of course, I highly recommend the previous six steps first!) Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” The safety of caring, wise, and professional input is often necessary to give us the advice we need to deal with anxiety.
So may the Lord give us the practical tools and the supernatural grace to “Be still, let go, relax, cease striving – and know that He is God.” It sure beats anxiety.
Be still, let go, relax, cease striving – and know that He is God. It sure beats anxiety.
Copyright © 2019 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.