I write a lot about the integration of the Christian faith and mental health. Some have a hard time seeing how the two co-exist. However, the Bible is very much a psychological book – just as it is spiritual – because it is our very best guide to human behavior. Since the beginning of the world we read about human nature and the effects our thinking and behavior have on our lives and the lives around us. God’s Word is the instruction manual God endowed to us to understand how humanity was formed and how to operate through this world so we may live an abundant life! I don’t know about you, but wherever there is a major breakdown or dysfunction in my life I can easily point it to the areas that I didn’t apply the Word;’ where things like pride or selfishness or isolation crept in and began to self-destruct.
When it comes to mental health challenges like anxiety, the Bible may not give you a clearly listed 10-point plan on what to do, but in its entire context we are guided on how to apply specific practices that combat anxiety. This is why it’s so important to not only know the Word but have it stored in your mind and heart so that you know what God’s wisdom has to say about the troubles you’re facing. And what’s really cool is that psychological research has discovered these very same practices to be the most effective.
I’ve deeply struggled with anxiety in my life and the scriptures have played a defining role in my ongoing recovery. So I want to share with you what some of the scriptures have to say about facing anxiety, and how it’s psychologically proven to be true.
Renewing Thought Patterns.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. – Romans 12:2
I know this verse pops up a lot, but let’s talk about what it means practically. God knows that our life is made up of our thoughts. Our thoughts turn into behaviors, our behaviors become habits and the sum of our habits become the way we live our life. This is why there are so many verse on fixing our thoughts (Philippians 4:8) and letting the spirit renew our thoughts (Ephesians 4:23). If there is a dysfunction in our thinking it is because there is a dysfunction at the root of how we are framing situations in our mind.
When it comes to anxiety many times without realizing it we’ve dethroned God in our minds, put ourselves on the throne and taken it upon us to try and carry and control the outcome of our lives, our job, relationship, education, future, etc. But Jesus says that these are the types of earthly worries that dominate the minds of non believers, those who don’t know or have a relationship with God (Matthew 6:32). But God is with you and He knows what you need so in practice you should view your troubles differently, as someone who is covered by the Creator of the universe.
In the world of Psychology, the Cognitive Behavioral Theory is a therapeutic approach that has proven to be highly effective for anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on the dysfunctional thought patterns you have operated through for years, and through identifying these thoughts and practice, helps to restructure them into a healthy way of thinking about how you face life. This is the practical side of renewing your mind and changing your thoughts- and in our case, into a more Christ-centered mindset.
Replacing Worry with Prayer and Gratitude.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. – Philippians 4:6
I love this verse because it addresses two pivotal ways to deal with in-the-moment-anxiety: prayer and gratitude. Remember, prayer is not just to remind God what our problems are but to remind our problems who God is. It is the release of our burdens onto God and trusting Him to sovereignly take care of us (1 Peter 5:7). Meanwhile, gratitude also gives us a shift in perspective. It takes us from laser-focusing in on negative thinking to zooming out and opening us up to see the positive opportunities we’ve so easily overlooked.
According to a study by Baylor, it is not prayer itself but the perspective and spirit that you pray from which can lead to less symptoms of anxiety. In short, if you pray with the deep belief that God is loving and supportive and is faithful to cover you in times of need then you are less likely experience anxiety. If you pray but aren’t really expecting God to care for your life, then this insecure relationship with God will likely result in more manifestations of anxiety. Moral of the story? It’s not about what you know but what you believe – and your belief in these moments is made up of what you choose to put your hope in. Give your anxieties to God and let it go.
Gratitude has also been known to be a great antidote in the mental health world for some time. In fact, “Gratitude is related to 23 percent lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol)” according to US Davis.
Meditation and the Practice of Being Present.
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”- Matthew 6:34
In this verse Jesus calls us to be present and take each day as it comes, instead of overthinking and over-worrying about what hasn’t happened yet (or may not happen at all)! Anyone who overthinks as much as I do is really put to the challenge here, but once again the Lord knows what He’s talking about. Being mindful and focusing on the present can bring evidential relief if anxiety is overwhelming you with life.
Often when we think of mindfulness or meditation our culture commonly associates the practice with Zen or Buddhism. However, there is a Biblical context to these things. For example, in Joshua 1:8 God calls us to meditate on His word day and night in order to carry out a prosperous life. In essence, to meditate is to set your mind on a singular focus and let it become the center of your thinking- for us that would be God’s truth. Meanwhile mindfulness in itself, is shifting your awareness to what’s around you and becoming present. Both of these practices in itself have proven to be helpful treatment for anxiety. However, since it can be such a slippery slope in todays culture, this is something I would recommend talking about with Christ-centered counsel.
The Positive Effects of Counsel and Supportive Relationships.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
This verse can be applied to all areas of struggle in our lives, but specifically in cases of mental illness, it is always better for you to seek help than try to figure it out alone. Whether it be a therapist, spiritual advisor, or mentor, the results of your recovery are likely to improve better and quicker with a partner to walk you through it. Having supportive friends and community also plays a big role in how you bounce back from your anxieties.
Research has shown strong and healthy relationships to really act as a lifeline and anxiety-reliever not only in the face of mental illness but in helping promote general health and well-being. According to Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “caring behaviors trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.” There’s literally a biological change in our bodies when we have meaningful interactions with others that add to our lives.
That may start by finding a therapist near you.
Letting Go of Perfectionist Control and Living in Grace.
Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Galatians 3:3
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.- Philippians 1:6
Both of these verses continue to convict me because they bring me back to the realization that efforts of perfectionism and self-sufficiency are all in vain. We’re prompted to rest in the work God is doing within us and not make an idol of our works. Accepting grace can be one of the hardest things to grasp because it is a gift of inherent worth and unearned favor. But you and I are a work in progress and we can practice acceptance for who we are and where we are while simultaneously pursuing growth.
Anxiety is directly linked to perfectionism because anxiety is a deep fear of loss of control and perfectionism must always be in control so that things play out perfectly. Like many other findings, a study published by BMC Psychiatry found perfectionism to be a “significant positive predictor of anxiety”. This study looked at the view of how self-worth is linked with personal standards, which can play a foundational role in generalized anxiety and pathological worry. However you are called to not constantly define yourself based off of what you do or don’t do but adapting to the progress of your life and how God is shaping you in the midst.
Overcoming anxiety is easier said than done. And sometimes when we’ve won one battle we find ourselves having to pick up our swords to fight again another day…and that’s okay. With God’s word, through His Spirit and alongside supportive relationships we can have an upper hand on the fears that try to rule our life. God has given us the tools we need but faith without works is dead. It’s up to us to apply it, to put it in to practice and to reach out for the help we need. And there’s no shame in that. I’m praying for whoever is reading this and I believe that what seems impossible for you is possible with God. Amen?
You can find more articles like this on Faith and Mental Health from Brittney here: http://brittneyamoses.com/
Brittney Moses is passionate about seeing this generation live on purpose. The Los Angeles native is currently a Clinical Psychology Major advancing into the fields of Therapy and Mental Health. However, her favorite part of life is being called Mommy to her sweet son Austin. Brittney’s mission exists around encouraging genuine faith and mental wellness for healthy everyday living.