For me, my anxiety is a symptom of a problem - not the problem itself.

Why I Don't Medicate my Anxiety

A few weeks ago I shared on my Instagram about my decision to deal with anxiety non-medically. I have since been asked to share details of that decision, a topic I’ve avoided due to its explosively controversial nature.

Like most emotions and personal struggles, anxiety is often hidden and handled alone. Unfortunately, hiding our struggles only multiplies them exponentially. I neither recognized nor addressed my emotional stress until I came to a breaking point several years ago. Since then, I’ve been on a journey to discover how what I believe applies to my emotions. I’ve learned that faith is essential to living above anxiety, and I’ve found freedom from it in my daily life.

We may get tired of hearing the same old verses applied to anxiety, but it was one of these verses that spurred my decision to address anxiety non-medically, dealing with my emotions at their root instead of simply treating the feelings at face value. The verse was Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

For years I let anxiety, worry, and people-pleasing destroy my confidence. I failed to recognize the connection between my thoughts and my emotions. And worst of all, I claimed to be a Christian, yet didn’t believe Christ had the power to change the quality of my life on earth. That final lie was the root of all my worry, but the day I embraced Philippians 4:6-7 as truth I received the key to emotional freedom.

The peace of God… will guard your hearts and minds. Every year, month, day and hour that I refused to trust this, I walked in anxiety. Trying to address the emotions themselves doesn’t work because the emotions are not the problem. The problem is first spiritual, then mental, and then emotional. Peace is not found by numbing emotion but by addressing the spiritual battle being waged for our minds.

I’ve talked about this often in my posts about lust, and it’s equally relevant here. How we think dictates how we feel. If I think I’m alone, unworthy, inadequate, ill-equipped and incapable, I will feel lonely, insecure, worthless, and anxious. But all of those thoughts are lies, and as I recognized the lies I was believing I began to take them captive before they could alter my emotions.

It’s silly to tell someone who struggles with anxiety to “just have more faith in God”. It’s more complicated than that, but at the same time, this is the truth. If we really believe what God says about His faithfulness and love, we don’t worry about our lives. Jesus made this abundantly clear when He said:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? (Matt. 6:25-27)

This is not a suggestion; it is a command. Francis Chan put it well when he said:

When I am consumed by my problems – stressed out by my life, my family, my job – I actually convey the belief that I think the circumstances are more important than God’s command to always rejoice.  In other words, that I have a “right” to disobey God because of the magnitude of my responsibilities.

I personally choose not to medicate my anxiety because I see it as a spiritual issue affecting my emotions, not an emotional issue affecting my mind. Our spirits, minds, and bodies are integrally connected. As Christians, we bear the Spirit of God within us. If we truly believe in Christ, we must also believe in Christ’s power, or we are simply “practical atheists”, Christian only in name.

There are situations where medical intervention may be needed – I don’t have time to address those here (and I expect readers to be civil in the comments). This post is not personal to individual lives and opinions, either; it’s simply my choice based on my study of God’s Word and the calling on my life. I want to feel the full gamut of human emotion – in order to experience the height of joy, I also have to feel the depth of pain. Rather than avoid my emotions, I allow them to draw me closer to my God. I want to experience the freedom God has for His children, the design He intended from the beginning. And by taking Him at His word, I have had that privilege.

As I addressed my anxiety spiritually first, I took some practical steps in line with God’s design for my emotions. Here are three things you can do today to practically address anxiety, in addition to strengthening your faith in God’s sufficiency.

Change Your Thought Patterns

Our thoughts control our actions. Quite often we go through life without acknowledging exactly what we’re thinking. In order to see emotional transformation, we have to change how we think.

I noticed my thought patterns revolved around the same things: old quarrels and offenses (unforgiveness), lists of to-dos (lack of time management and organization), who liked my stuff on social media (narcissism), and random videos, articles, and facts I’d use as distractions. I wrote down the things I thought about the most, then came up with a plan for changing those patterns:

  • Either address your unforgiveness or address the person you refuse to forgive.
  • Write down to-dos; keep a notepad always handy to get them out of your mind and onto paper.
  • Check social media only twice a day, and only if you are actively responding – no scrolling.
  • Change the input: no more videos, movies, or fiction. (I started reading more newspapers, magazines like Harper’s and Forbes, and by changing my social media habits opened my mind to things that matter)

Assess Your Habits

One of greatest contributors to happiness is our ability to maintain good habits. We feel anxious when we lack control, but quite often, the things that makes us anxious are 1) under God’s control or 2) under ours, but we aren’t doing anything about it. A few things under our control (not an exhaustive list):

  • Our physical fitness
  • Our eating habits
  • Our friendships
  • Our cleanliness and organization

I pinpointed the areas that would bring me the most relief: fitness, eating habits, and relationships (not necessarily in that order). I’ve worked out for seven years now, but I needed a more enjoyable routine. Exercise is the most under-used antidepressant available. The natural endorphins make a profound difference in emotional health, not to mention the physical benefits.

I also changed how I ate. I no longer eat sugar or gluten on a regular basis (we use Trim Healthy Mama’s plan), and for happiness’ sake I integrated a new recipe a week into my meal plan. What we eat directly affects our hormones, which in turn affects our emotional response. By eliminating sugar and high-carb foods from my diet my blood sugar levels stay consistent, and I don’t have to deal with the temptation to get upset, anxious, or stressed as much throughout the day.

Finally, I scheduled more face time with my friends. Online interaction is fine, but it cannot replicate phone calls and face-to-face meetings. We need those in order to receive the emotional and relational connection of friendship. I try to make time at least once a week to meet in person with friends or schedule a Skype call at the very least.

Another option is to seek help through a counselor or psychologist. I recommend starting with a biblical counselor, and supplementing with a psychologist as needed. A great online resource is BetterHelp.

My favorite resources: Gretchen Rubin and Lara Casey’s PowerSheets.

Cast Your Cares

I’ve decided to take God at His Word when it comes to my anxiety:

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be sober-minded and alert. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith and in the knowledge that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

This isn’t easy for me. But I actively choose to believe that this verse is true. God says He cares for me, and because He cares for me, I should cast all my anxiety on Him. I choose to do that.

Anxiety is a spiritual-emotional battle. The enemy wants us to live in worry and stress because it pulls us away from the peace of God. He is seeking to devour our hearts and destroy our effectiveness for the gospel. We can choose to “resist him, standing firm in your faith and in the knowledge” that we are all in this together.