The Bible's 'Do Not Be Afraid' Means Something Different When You Have Anxiety

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The phrase “do not be afraid” is mentioned roughly 365 times in the Bible. Countless pastors, authors, and speakers have put that number in their arsenal of quick-witted Christian responses, pulling it out in conversations like a cheap party trick.

“Don’t worry. Just pray.”

This Bob Marley approach to the issue is sadly in line with the Church’s historical approach to most issues of controversy and confusion. Since the first bite of the forbidden fruit, we’ve often used scripture as a rug, sweeping under it anything and everything we can’t explain, using God’s name in vain, treating it as a manifest destiny barrier between us and the uncomfortable.

But that phrase means something very different when you have anxiety. It’s like a declaration of your ineptitude, a pointed finger of shame at your ungodly existence.

I don’t believe God meant it that way, but that’s the twisted interpretation I’ve experienced with the Church. That’s the knock-off gospel I believe they’ve sold us, the one I’ve payed for with my dignity and peace of mind. But it’s not the one Christ payed for with His own life. It’s not the one God wrote with His own holy hands. And it’s certainly not the one He intends us to live by or believe.

The truth is it’s OK to worry.

It’s OK to be afraid, just like it’s OK to be angry, or sad, or hurt, or happy. I believe my emotions are God-given expressions of who I am and who He made me to be. Feeling things, both good and bad, is healthy. The problem only comes in how I act on those feelings.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes, “in your anger do not sin,” (4:26). He doesn’t say, “Don’t be angry.” He says, “Don’t let your anger cause you to sin.” Anger isn’t wrong.

In the same way, worry isn’t wrong.

It isn’t when I take a sharp breath in angst that I sin. It isn’t when I lie awake at night in fear of the future that I do wrong. It’s when I let that angst and fear come between me and God, when I let my fear consume me to the point that I don’t trust God anymore.

The problem isn’t in having fear, the problem is in not having faith.

I’m not saying it’s always easy to distinguish the line between the two, but I am saying there’s a difference, an important difference, that we as the Church need to recognize and reiterate.

So dear one, you fear fighter, you anxiety abolisher, you worry wrestler: take heart. For I don’t believe God has condemned us for the war waged inside our minds but rather desperately wants to fight it for us.

I don’t have to stop being scared; I just have to start being still.

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To the Guy Who Was Patient With Me While I Was Having a Breakdown

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I tend to have my moments where I have breakdowns and begin to panic over every little thing. I’ve always been the one to bottle up my emotions and keep everything inside until I collapse. I know it’s wrong of me to do that, yet I always find myself doing it. I remember one night a lot was going on, and I couldn’t control my feelings. Something sparked my emotions, and I couldn’t stop crying. I started wondering if I needed to take another one of my antidepressants because my anxiety was so high.

And then you were there on the driver’s side slowly watching the one you care for fall apart. You’ve never seen the side of me where I felt like I lost all control. You’ve never seen the side where I couldn’t stop crying because I didn’t know what to do. You’ve never seen the side where I felt like I wasn’t good enough — not until that one night.

You didn’t know what to do. You saw me having a breakdown because of my anxiety and depression, and you didn’t know how to react. You tried to hold my hand, but I pulled away because I didn’t want to be held. I wanted to be left alone in my own misery, but something in you knew that wasn’t for the best. You tried to make me feel better. You tried to put a smile on my face and tell me things will eventually be OK. You tried your hardest, and I felt like I was failing you inside.

I wasn’t happy mentally nor emotionally, and you still wanted to be by me. You still wanted to be in my presence. I sat there at the kitchen table with tears streaming down my face, and you looked at me and said, “I’ll be here if you need me.”

So, thank you. Thank you for being so patient with me after I thought I’d “lost it.” Thank you for trying to understand where I was coming from when my anxiety and depression started taking control. And thank you for still being by my side ever since you saw me on that night I couldn’t control my feelings. I know it takes a lot to handle me, and I appreciate that in more ways than you’ll ever know.

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Anxiety, and Dealing With the Loss of a Beloved Co-Worker

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The only thing worse than fearing loss and sickness on a daily basis is actually losing people around you – it can trigger your anxiety in ways so unpredictable that the anxiety in turn causes even more anxiety.

I was shocked by the sudden passing of a beloved co-worker a few months back, one who felt like the “mom” of our group and my first boss in my current occupation. The loss was jarring in so many ways that I still find myself thinking about it or experiencing memories of her at the most unexpected times. My co-worker was someone whom I greatly admired professionally, who kept her cool in situations where my anxiety was screaming at me that we needed to do something. She would always remind me: “We aren’t saving lives, we’re advising clients.” Her perspective can be applied to so many areas of anxiety and how easy it is to say but for someone with anxiety, how difficult it is to actually do.

The self-effacing anxious doubt that comes with this kind of loss was ever-present as well. I often found myself asking: “Will I ever be as good of a person as she was? How can I make sure I’m honoring her and living life to the best of my ability daily?” This might come up for any person struggling with the loss of someone who played a prominent part in their life, but for someone with anxiety, these thoughts are almost always swirling around, and when they come to the forefront, it’s uncomfortable.

Everyone is suddenly feeling just like you do, and that’s weird. Loss is even more pronounced when you have such a solid group of co-workers who I have been blessed to have for the last five years, a group that has become more of a family than simply those I work with day in and day out. And while it made me appreciate that “family,” it also brought up that anxious feeling of loss again, of losing family. Selfishness sets in too, that old familiar “beat yourself up about your anxiety” adage that comes up for me so often: those who were close to her, related to her, must be going through so much worse — and knowing this only made me feel worse.

So what can I as an anxious 32-year-old woman take away from this experience? Part of it is the knowledge that I’m going to be anxious – I will push myself to remember her as best I can and I will face the perhaps unpleasant side effects of that. I need to know I’m going to struggle through it, but I also need to be OK with that. If something like this puts my anxiety front and center, then I’ve got to understand it’s going to be that much harder to control for a certain period of time. I think one of the hardest things for an anxious person is acceptance — acceptance that this is who you are, that you are going to react to something and you know it, and that there may be nothing you can do about it. But a small comfort, if any, is that can you accept it and know it’s coming.

***

At this point it’s been quite a few months since I originally wrote this post and I do, in fact, still remember my co-worker when I pass by my old office or something comes up at work that she would find funny. But I’ve taken the good with me, and the anxiety around the situation has faded, as it always does. So I take comfort in that, too.

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The Complexity of Being a Mom With 'Functional' Anxiety

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The problem with appearing “functional” is that people expect functionality. My anxiety does not always allow for functionality. Not in any real, productive sense anyway. I do what I consider the bare minimum: I feed and clean my children (and myself), I make sure they know I love them, I clean the house and make sure the fridge is full. I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere though.

I see my husband, who is fantastic at his job and is so successful, and I feel like I’m missing out. I don’t diminish what I do as a mom, being a mom 24/7 is tough work! Even when I get sleep I’m still exhausted! But I find myself wanting for something more. I want to see myself functioning in a role other than “Mom.” It doesn’t have to be outside the house. It could be as simple as this, talking about something that is hard for me to talk about. Maybe finding a way to help someone else feel better about themselves in an effort to feel better about myself.

Honestly, I think I use cleaning the house as a little bit of an escape most of the time. It’s a stress reliever for me, but it’s also an excuse for me. If I’m cleaning the house or taking care of babies, or some other motherly duty, then I can’t go out. I find that I more and more want nothing to do with going out. I use the fact that we moved to a different state as an excuse that I’m holing up in the house. We moved a year ago. I know. But the thought of leaving the security of my home for any longer than necessary seems to put me in a state of discomfort and even sometimes panic. I like my home, not feeling outside scrutiny or criticism. I guess part of me feels like I scrutinize myself enough, so why get it from the outside too? That’s my fear and anxiety taking over.

My anxiety has left me feeling like I’m struggling (and not winning) a battle just to be a functional person. There are so many things I want to accomplish that I feel my anxiety is holding me back from. These are things I have wanted to accomplish for years but feel no closer to now than I did 10 years ago. It’s infuriating! I know what is holding me back, but I still haven’t been able to overcome this.

That’s not entirely true though. I feel, for the first time in a long time, like I have taken a step toward doing what I want. It started with writing about my anxiety and being open about it. It was (it still is) terrifying! But I am being open and pushing myself to try and ease some of that anxiety because as ironic as it is, talking about it helps. It doesn’t stop being scary, talking about what feels like my biggest weakness, but when I get it out there, I start to heal a little. And I think the only way I will feel like a “functional” person again is through healing. I need to be able to go out of my comfort zone, out of the house, but I need to be able to heal a little first. Baby steps, right?

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To the People Who Love Me Through My Anxiety

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This piece was written bKirsten Corley, a Thought Catalog contributor.

I know sometimes I’m difficult.

Loving me comes with double texts and triple texts. It comes in the form of phone calls and the only person who still leaves voicemails.

Loving me comes in the form of many screen shots, as I ask if I worded this properly. It comes in analyzing how to say something, sending you three different choices. It’s being paralyzed with fear of saying or doing something wrong that I don’t do anything. Then you give me a little push.

Loving me comes with talking me through everything.

It comes with hearing many unrealistic scenarios play out that seem all too real in my mind. It’s the overthinking and analyzing things and talking about the same thing or person longer than you’d like to sometimes.

Loving me comes with late night conversations because I can’t ever sleep.

It comes in telling you about my previous night out, as I’m milking a hangover and you simply respond, “You didn’t do anything wrong. No one hates you.”

It comes in listening to me get worked up and holding me when I cry.

It’s the reassurance as you tell me, I’m enough. It’s the confidence you instill in me, even though I have to hear it over and over again. Because there are moments when I never feel good enough or I never feel like I’ve achieved enough.

There are moments when even if I’m falling apart taking on too much, I will never ask for help. But you help me anyway even when I don’t ask.

It comes in me being my own worst critic and you having to be my number one fan.

Loving me not understanding why I don’t see myself the way you do, and you doing everything to try and change that. It comes in fixating upon flaws you don’t even notice.

Thank you for loving me in ways I’m still trying to learn to love myself.

Loving me comes in the form of being my strength sometimes. Because as much as I’d love to stand strong there are times I get knocked. There are moments of rejection that completely shatter me. It’s in moments of failure I beat myself up over it and you’re the one telling me to stop being so hard on myself.

It comes with apologizing too much. Instead of wondering why I said it, you simply accept it, tell me it’s OK and you we move on.

It’s the phrases like “don’t worry” or “you’re overthinking this.” If we got a dollar for every time you said that to me, neither of us would have to work.

But more than anything, loving me comes with an acceptance of this is who I am and you’re OK with it.

And you should know there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. As much as you love and care for me, in words I struggle to articulate, I love you even more. I can honestly say I’d be lost without you and I am so grateful to have you in my life.

Because I know I’m not easy sometimes. And I do everything I possibly can to show that appreciation, even if it comes in overcompensating sometimes. I care. And it’s something you understand about me that takes people a little while to get. Anxiety is caring too much and I can’t make it stop. I can’t care less about people if I tried. And while a lot of people may look at this as a flaw, people like you see it as a strength.

You’ve never once tried to change me. Thank you for that.

And if I can give you anything in return, it’s the same love and loyalty you’ve shown me.

Because there are a few things people with anxiety completely suck at — texting, patience, not jumping to conclusions. But of the things we’re good at, it’s loving people with everything we’ve got.

And I’m always going to worry about people coming and going but with you, by my side, I never seem to. Regardless of things I’ve done and mistakes I can’t forgive myself for, I look at you because you’re the one thing I got right.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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What It's Like Living With 'What-If?'

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Not so very long ago, I’d have been labelled a hypochondriac; mid-last century I’d have been labelled a hysterical woman and perhaps reside in a sanatorium. I’m far more comfortable with the term “health anxiety.”

For most of us, the onset of a headache might prompt us to seek relief with paracetamol without further thought. A sudden, short-lived pain in the chest might lead most of us to believe we are simply experiencing indigestion or need to adjust our posture. For me, these sensations spark a “What if?” What if it’s not a cold at all but the sudden onset of meningitis? What if what I’m feeling is my body is sending me a signal of imminent danger and probable sudden death? For the last 18 years my health anxiety has trained my brain to interpret changes in my body’s normal function, no matter how small, as a sure sign of impending death. In the same way a person with a fear of flying is hyper-alert to the slightest vibration of a plane or a change in the sound of the engine, I am deeply sensitized to any transient or lasting physiological sensation my body may experience and am sure they are harbingers of certain death.

My health anxiety holds me hostage, demanding I put measures in place to minimize the perceived danger of being away from medical help. I am the local (and perhaps only) leading expert in which medical clinics are closest, the hospitals that lie not too far off the freeway exits, and where ambulance stations are located; my expertise covers an impressive 100-kilometer radius. My pervasive fear of sudden death and the what-ifs fear creates dictate that I must undertake the appropriate preparation for any drive, including making detailed notes of the location of potential sources of “help” and checking that the important medical contacts in my phone are up to date (including a doctor friend and my paramedic uncle). While on the road, I take regular breaks outside hospitals or medical clinics before plunging myself into the fearful unknown again, a leapfrog of terror from “safe” spot to “safe” spot.

My overwhelming need to be close to medical help has many and varied implications for the way I live my life, none of them positive. When looking at potential new homes, the distance between the house and the local hospital must be calculated. If it exceeds 6 kilometers, it must be re-evaluated. Weekends and public holidays, so eagerly anticipated by most, for me pose a serious threat – most medical clinics are shut. There are some nights, when my fear is at its worst, that I park outside the local ambulance station, lurking in my car with the seat down and with the glow of my phone turned low so as to avoid detection. In, what with the passing of time I can now see as a funny turn of events, the time I did call the ambulance while parked outside the station it was busy with another call out and had to travel further than it would have had I remained in my own home.

My life’s motto used to be “seize the day.” Over time this has been replaced with “What if?” Attempts to rationalize my fears are met with the all too familiar refrains: “Yes, you’ve felt this way before and there’s been nothing wrong, but what if this time (insert medical catastrophe here)?” At times the what-ifs are more specific: “Sure, odds are nothing will happen to you if you drive to the beach, but what if it does and you die before the ambulance gets there?”

The what-ifs keep me from so many of the activities I used to take for granted. Last-minute shopping trips in the city, camping, playing competitive basketball, and trips away with my partner are now things of the past. I’ve become a flaky friend, cancelling plans at the last minute with silly and oft repeated excuses that have resulted in fewer invitations being extended. The what-ifs have meant I’ve avoided multiple Christmases and family celebrations, and by extension, so has my partner, who has also had to learn how to offer a range of excuses for my absence should he attend without me.

I’ve now been expecting to die for longer than I’ve been alive. Perhaps the scariest what-if for me is, “What if I waste my life waiting for a what-if?”

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