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This effort to look at anxiety through the lens of Scripture and psychology was born of conversations in Sunday School, correspondence with a seminary professor, Dr. Steve Stratton, and the lives of some of my counseling clients who identify as Christians and have struggled with anxiety.  I am a licensed clinical psychologist and not a pastor or theologian for my clients, but outside of my sessions I wanted to explore and respond to some of the seemingly unhelpful responses my clients received from their church, Christian friends, and/or own interpretations.  I was greatly helped by the ideas of Dr. Stratton and Dr. Megan Fullerton Strollo (of Union Presbyterian Seminary), as well as with the knowledge of Greek from Dr. Strollo and Rev. Alice Cates Clarke.  I received editing assistance from my Sunday School teacher from Derbyshire Baptist Church, Mrs. LeJeanna Raymond, and from my mother, Betsy Guion, and wife, Brennan Guion.  My educational background includes an M.A. in Counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University.  I am in a private practice in Mechanicsville, VA and work part-time for an addiction rehabilitation center, also in Mechanicsville.  I’ve included an outline that takes less time to read as well as the full paper with references.

 

Anxiety and Scripture

 

Outline

 

-Why do we care about anxiety and its mention in Scripture?

 

-Philippians 4:6, with Paul’s guidance to “not worry about anything”, is one of the most searched verses online.

-It seems Christians are looking for guidance on anxiety, which is consistent with larger societal trends on anxiety.

-Almost 1 in 5 Americans will have a diagnosable anxiety condition in a given year and almost 1 in 3 over the course of their life.  These conditions, by definition, involve impaired functioning in important domains like work, school, and relationships.

-Right now, anxiety seems more heightened with the COVID-19 pandemic and tragic instances of racism and violence.

-As Christians, we can look to Scripture and scientific fields like psychology for help under the premise that “all truth is God’s truth”.

 

-What have we seen of anxiety’s treatment in the Church?

 

-Research shows that mental illness like anxiety disorders often go unmentioned in the church.

-When addressed, some churches and Christian groups advocate holistic approaches that include things like Scripture, prayer, counseling, medication, etc.  

-Some churches and groups only look to Scripture in addressing anxiety.  

-Some Christians report feeling shame if they believe their faith is too weak to overcome anxiety and/or if they feel their sin is the certain reason they are anxious.  As a psychologist, I have heard clients receive messages in this vein and have seen shame in them.  Some Christians still feel shame about anxiety even if they have not received such messages from fellow Christians (e.g., through broader societal messages).

-Shame can exacerbate distress and lead to more anxiety.

 

-Before we dive in on psychology and how to respond:

 

-As Christians, we have a choice to make about whether: we try to integrate Scripture and psychology and how we do so; we see Scripture and psychology as speaking to different things, with both holding validity; we see only Scripture as valid in speaking to matters like emotions.

-I believe in integration, and will attempt to integrate psychology and Scripture here.

 

-What does Scripture say about anxiety?

 

-Paul’s words to the persecuted church in Philippi to not be anxious can seem impossible.

-The Greek for anxious in this passage, and when the term appears in other New Testament passages, seems to indicate that Paul wants the church to not “overthink” about matters not related to the kingdom of God.

-Jesus, similarly, uses the word in that way in passages like Matthew 6.

-This type of anxiety does not seem to address other, perhaps more adaptive, forms of anxiety, such as anxiety in response to an imminent threat.

-Paul himself also reports having anxiety for all the churches in 2 Corinthians.  Paul’s term for anxiety in this passage reads like he is being pulled in different directions.

-Some folks may find it a relief that Paul does not seem to be addressing their type of anxiety and/or that Paul experienced anxiety himself.  Some may still feel shame that they have anxiety about “worldly” matters.

-If shame still lingers about anxiety, it may also help to look at understandings of anxiety from disciplines like psychology and psychiatry.

 

-What does psychology say about anxiety?

 

-Psychology and other scientific disciplines show that anxiety can arise for many different reasons and in different ways.

-Anxiety can show up in things like thoughts, physical feelings (e.g., increased heart rate), and behavioral urges (e.g., fight, flight, or freeze), or some combination thereof.

-Anxiety tends to be future oriented, including the imminent future.

-Anxiety can arise outside of conscious awareness or choice.

-Anxiety reactions and responses can be helpful (e.g., removing us from actual danger) or unhelpful (e.g., leaving us sweating during a public speech).  Either way, the unconscious reactions from the body are typically the body’s attempts to help meet a challenge, even if they turn out to be unhelpful.

-Genetics and experience can impact and lead to anxiety and interact with each other.  Someone who is more genetically predisposed to anxiety may be more easily “triggered” by experience.

-Past traumatic and/or stressful experience can lead to anxiety about current and future situations, even if the situations seem different.  For example, someone might react out of fear to a car backfiring if their brain unconsciously links it to something like a weapon firing.  As another example, people may have received negative stereotypes about someone of a different race and react with anxiety to someone of that race.

-Anxiety can occur in response to us sinning and/or violating our values (e.g., worry about getting caught for cheating on our taxes), but again, it can arise for other reasons.

 

-Fields like psychology and psychiatry take different approaches to treat anxiety.

-Some approaches, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), seek to change our thinking (e.g., that we must be liked by everyone; that someone not making eye contact necessarily means they don’t like us) so that we will feel less anxious.  Such approaches might also try to help with behavioral tools like deep breathing to calm down anxious feelings.  CBT has the most robust research support among psychotherapies at present.

-Interpersonal therapy approaches seek to alter our expectations about relationships (e.g., that I must please others or they will not love me) and/or provide things that went missing in relationships (e.g., unconditional acceptance) through providing insight and different experiences in the therapeutic relationship.

-Other approaches like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; a younger relative of CBT) seek to help us accept and be curious about our emotions, rather than avoid or have shame about them, in service of moving toward our values.  ACT research, in particular, has found empirical support for the value of accepting and acknowledging feelings like anxiety (i.e., staying present with those feelings).

-Research shows that “common factors”, which can be present in the different forms of counseling supported by research, are extremely important.  They include agreement on goals, empathy, and helpful explanation of the presenting concern and related treatment, among others. 

-Psychiatric medication can serve as a long-term and short-term option to treat the flow of chemicals in the brain associated with anxiety.  In some instances, medication can provide a “boost” that helps things like counseling work better.

-Research shows that counseling, medication, and a combination of both can all help.

-We can also help treat our own anxiety by things like adequate sleep, exercise, and diet, but these means of intervening, like intervening through prayer and faith, may also need to be supplemented by counseling and/or medication if the anxiety is severe enough.

 

How can we as Christians respond? 

 

-We can start by acknowledging that it is not God’s will for us to experience the kind of anxiety referred to in Philippians 4.

-We can also acknowledge that anxiety can occur for many reasons, some of which are not addressed in such scriptures, and that anxiety does not necessarily occur due to individual sin and/or lack of trust in God.

-We can respond to anxiety by methods advocated by Paul such as prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.  We can also respond with Jesus’ call to prayer, forgiveness, and service of God’s kingdom.  Such behavioral responses are in line with psychology’s understanding that it is easier (not necessarily easy, but easier) to alter behavioral responses to anxiety (e.g., adding deep breathing and/or trying to stop self-criticism) than to stop a feeling like anxiety by force of will.

-We can explicitly offer compassion to those experiencing anxiety and worry (as Jesus did with Martha in Luke 10), noting that it is a complex issue and encouraging folks to seek licensed, professional help, should they be willing, if anxiety and worry continue to interfere in their life (e.g., with work; relationships; sleep; physical health).

-We can also learn about and promote methods and responses to anxiety that seek to integrate Christian practice with psychological findings. For example, contemplative and centering prayer provide a way of praying that helps people meditate and ground themselves in God’s constant presence in their life and can serve as an antidote and/or preventative measure against pervasive worry.

-More than anything, I hope you are left with, or continue to have, humility and curiosity about pervasive worry and anxiety, as well as compassion for those who experience it.

 

Full Paper

 

-Why do we care about anxiety and its mention in Scripture?

One verse from Paul’s letter to the Philippians some 2000 years ago has been among the most searched and read in Scripture (Blumberg, 2014). The church in Philippi received guidance from Paul to “not worry about anything” (Philippians 4:6), and we Christians continue to seek out those words. Why do we still look to those words, and where does the American church stand in terms of worry and anxiety (with worry as thoughts that are a component of anxiety (Marques, 2018)), after so many generations have had access to Paul’s words? In this paper, we will consider anxiety as an emotion with possible components to include thoughts (e.g., worrying about something negative happening), physical feelings (e.g., rapid heart rate, tension in the body), and behaviors (e.g., avoidance of a feared situation) (Siegel, 2010). Anxiety typically involves concern about an imminent event and/or feared outcome, but there may not always be an identifiable source of anxiety. 

 

We know that anxiety is highly prevalent in the American public, and signs indicate that is the case in the church, as well. Almost one in five American adults have a diagnosable anxiety disorder in a given year and almost one in three will have one over the course of their life (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017). Diagnosable anxiety disorders involve some level of impairment (e.g., in social or work settings) that point toward their cost on individuals and society. At the time of this writing, environmental factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and tragic instances of racism and violence, are contributing to additional anxiety for many. While Paul’s words are not the only ones in Scripture to speak to anxiety (for example, Jesus guides us to “Worry not for tomorrow” in Matthew 6), this paper will focus on them given their prominence in the public mind. What are we to make of them in today’s church, and how are we to respond to them? This paper will seek to outline an understanding of Paul’s message about anxiety and integrate that with scientific based approaches to the understanding and treatment of anxiety under the premise that all truth, both from Scripture and science (e.g., psychology, psychiatry), is God’s truth. I hope this paper will help readers better respond to anxiety in themselves and in their neighbors. I am writing it because I have seen some unhelpful responses to anxiety in clients and friends from within the church and hope to point toward more helpful responses.

 

-What have we seen of anxiety’s treatment in the Church?

 

Before examining how to respond to Paul’s words going forward, how have we as a church been responding to and addressing anxiety in our midst? While a truly adequate answer to that question is beyond the scope of this paper and is as at least as vast as our collective encounters with anxiety, I will offer some general anecdotal observations as well as some survey data. A Lifeway study found, for example, that about half the pastors surveyed say they “rarely or never” speak about mental illness at church (Earls, 2018). When anxiety is addressed, some churches, as well as Christian organizations, follow approaches such as those advocated by groups like Focus on the Family that acknowledge a role for scientific disciplines like psychology and psychiatry alongside Christian faith (Graber, 2014). In that vein, some churches offer programs like the Stephen’s Ministry that provide supportive care for folks with anxious feelings, among other concerns, and refer out to licensed mental health professionals if indicated. 

 

Some Christians take a sola scriptura (only Scripture) approach and believe fields like psychology and psychiatry are not needed. For example, nouthetic counseling (a.k.a. the Biblical Counseling Movement) advocates for counseling using only scripture, asserting that things like an absence of appreciation for sin and lack of a unifying theory in psychology render psychology not useful (Collins et al., 2000). Some Christians find that approach helpful. My anecdotal personal and professional experience, though, has shown that many Christians who continue to experience significant anxiety, despite their efforts to address it through their faith, feel shame in the belief that their faith does not seem “strong enough” to help “remove” or adequately decrease their anxiety. In that context, I have heard some clients receive messages from pastors and/or friends that their anxiety is predominantly a result of sin and/or insufficient faith without allowing for other possibilities and without much curiosity. Some folks still feel shame even if they have not received those messages from fellow Christians, perhaps due to factors like broader societal messages about anxiety. As we will discuss later, shame can significantly impact how we experience anxiety and can exacerbate distress (e.g., Link et al., 2017).  

 

-Before we dive in on psychology and how to respond:

 

If you will allow one more aside before we dive into Scripture and psychology, I want to point out that there are different positions, as briefly noted above, about whether and how Scripture and fields like psychology can be integrated. For instance, some Christians in counseling say that these fields address different questions and should not be integrated, and some, such as those in nouthetic counseling, do not look to ‘secular’ psychology at all (Collins et al., 2000). For purposes of this paper, I will do my best to employ a stance that tries to integrate them. Both may speak to some methods and knowledge of human functioning not contained within the other. As indicated above, I am following the maxim attributed to St. Augustine that “All truth is God’s truth” (Sproul, 2009, p. x).

 

-What does Scripture say about anxiety?

 

Paul’s exhortation to the church in Philippi to not be anxious seems like an impossible directive, but we may be taking it differently than Paul intended if we are taking it to prohibit all forms of anxiety. As we will explore, Paul seems to be advocating against a pervasive mindset of anxiety toward certain matters, while advocating for the actions of rejoicing, praying, and thanksgiving, which would lead to an incomprehensible peace. Paul appears to have been writing to the church while incarcerated and while the church was facing persecution for its faith. Paul used the greek term merimnao or merimnate, which we now read as anxiety (e.g., Bible Hub, n.d.c). The term means “anxious” or “solicitious” in this passage. In other passages it takes on different shades of meaning: “expend careful thought” (Matthew 6:27, 28, 31, 34, 10:19; Luke 10:41, 12:11, 22, 25, 26); “to concern one’s self” (Matthew 6:25; 1 Corinthians 12:25); “to have the thoughts occupied with” (1 Corinthians 7:32, 33, 34); “to feel an interest in” (Philippians 2:20) (Mounce, n.d.). In general, the term appears to be based on thought related to care or concern and could be translated as “overthink” (M. F. Strollo, personal communication, July 2, 2020). 

 

In the verse of focus here in Philippians 4, as well as in Matthew 6, Paul and Jesus seem to be addressing overthinking on matters not related to the kingdom of God. Jesus acknowledges that matters like food and clothing are basic needs to think of, but speaks to not overthinking about them to the exclusion of kingdom matters (M. F. Strollo, personal communication, July 2, 2020). Note, then, what Paul seems to be saying to the church in Philippi. Paul does not seem to be addressing the adaptive and protective aspects of anxiety (e.g., that arises in our bodies in response to imminent threats), but rather seems to be saying it is not God’s desire for us to have pervasive or dispositional anxiety, particularly the cognitive or thinking aspect of anxiety, about certain aspects of our future unrelated to the kingdom of God (S. Stratton, personal communication, July 1, 2019). Although unanimous agreement is lacking, biblical scholars such as Gill also seem to think Paul was speaking to an “anxious solicitude for worldly things” (e.g., things lacking in eternal significance). The scholar Ellicott sees Paul as speaking to “painful anxiety” that comes from “self-dependence” in Philippians 4 (Bible Hub, n.d.b). Such commentaries, then, assert that Paul was not speaking to anxiety for things like immediate threats or “kingdom” matters such as the care of others’ souls, like Paul wrote of in his second letter to church in Corinth. 

 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes of being “afraid” and of “being under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11). Paul, then, identifies having anxiety himself. The Greek for anxiety here is merimna, which can mean to be pulled in different directions (e.g., between a more direct focus on “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” and worry for the circumstances and/or faith of the churches) and/or a more general anxiety and worry (Bible Hub, n.d.a). Paul’s anxiety here seems to be more about his concern for others than the anxiety referenced in Philippians 4. There is no mention of how Paul evaluated his anxiety in 2 Corinthians, such as whether he felt that anxiety was ‘ok’. No matter the nature of Paul’s anxiety and his appraisal of it, Paul spoke openly of having anxiety himself.  

 

Some of you reading this may feel relieved, and perhaps like some shame has been lifted, that Paul felt anxiety, too. Some of you who experience anxiety for “worldly things”, or who find that prayer and petition does not seem to lead to peace for you, may be wondering where this leaves you. Let’s see what fields like psychology and psychiatry have to say about anxiety and its treatment, and then see how we can, and others have, integrated a scriptural? Christian understanding of anxiety with a psychological understanding.

 

-What does psychology say about anxiety?

 

Fields like psychology also hope to help people move away from pervasive anxiety, particularly anxiety that leads to impairment in important aspects of life. Psychology works to explain the nature of emotions like anxiety and offers some additional options for intervention. Within psychology there are different theories for how emotions arise (e.g., does thinking about experience impact which emotions are felt?; are emotions more of a physical reaction that we identify after the experience?; etc.) and what purposes they serve (Leahy & Jackson, 2000). Research has found that emotions like anxiety and fear can arise from outside our conscious awareness, meaning that in essence we do not consciously choose at least some of our emotions (Diano et al., 2017). As mentioned above, a general consensus and understanding of emotions points toward physical (e.g., increased heart rate for anxiety), behavioral (e.g., avoid or approach), and cognitive components (e.g., appraisal of the challenge; naming of an emotion; thinking about the challenge or stressor) (Siegel, 2010). Also, as noted above, Paul’s use of anxiety seems to focus on the cognitive component. Emotions (including all their components), if working in helpful ways, provide important information to us (e.g., about possible threats) as well as communicate to others (e.g., that a threat is looming) and propel us toward helpful action. For instance, anxiety could prompt us to exit an unhealthy relationship. 

 

Our reactions to emotions can be harmful at times, however. For example, anxiety about commitment or possible rejection and our reaction to it could lead to not moving forward in a healthy relationship. Anxiety could also lead us to get tongue tied in a speech and to shortness of breath driving across a high bridge. Severe anxiety and our reaction to it could lead to not leaving home for fear of the outside world.  Whether actually helpful or not, the unconscious reactions from the body are typically the body’s attempts to help meet a challenge. Anxiety tends to be future oriented, with the future being imminent at times, and can engage the fight, flight, or freeze response along with corresponding physiological reactions. Emotions, in general, and anxiety, in particular, can be influenced by factors such as past experience and related appraisals of current and future experience, other feelings (e.g., hunger), temperament, and neurobiology. In general, psychosocial factors and genetics interact to influence anxiety (e.g., Bevilacqua & Goldman, 2011; Day Sclater et al., 2009), and these in turn can impact each other.  For example, people who are more genetically predisposed to anxiety may be more readily impacted by environmental experiences. With regard to past experience, there are numerous possibilities for how they may impact current emotions. For instance, trauma can lead people to associate a seemingly innocuous experience (e.g., a car backfiring) with a threatening past experience (e.g., a gun shot) and lead to anxiety. Behavior outside of values (i.e., personal and/or Christian values) could lead to anxiety (e.g., lying on a tax return and having anxiety about getting caught). We could have gained faulty information in the past that influences feelings about the future (e.g., receiving racist messages from family and feeling anxiety around racial minorities; being given a biased report about a future boss and fearing their leadership). People have different temperaments and that also can affect our experience of anxiety (Fisher et al., 2015). For example, some folks are “geared” to more typically approach novel situations, where others more typically avoid new situations, which can foster anxiety. As you can see, emotions such as anxiety are complex, as are the different ways fields like psychology and psychiatry seek to intervene in altering our emotions and/or our response to them. 

 

Different theories within psychology seek different means of altering our emotional experience with the goal of less anxiety and/or less of an unhelpful impact on our lives from anxiety. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) seeks to alter the thoughts associated with “problematic” emotions and behaviors (e.g., Wedding & Corsini, 2018). CBT might have someone examine the evidence for and against a thought that leads to anxiety in order to weaken, alter, eliminate, etc. that thought from leading to problematic emotions and/or behavior (e.g., the thought that nobody likes me being linked to social anxiety). 

 

Psychodynamic and interpersonal approaches, which explore the impact of primary relationships in particular, aim to help people alter their internalized relational templates (e.g., that I must please others or they will not love me) through things like insight into such dynamics and new relational experiences (e.g., a relationship with a therapist who is consistently there for them no matter how they behave). These therapies may also provide things that went missing in relationships (e.g., unconditional acceptance) (Wedding & Corsini, 2018). 

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a sort of younger relative of CBT that is rooted in mindfulness and meditation methods (e.g., that promote being more present in and accepting of current experience), seeks to help people commit to and live out their values and accept their emotions rather than avoid experiences associated with “negative” emotions. For instance, ACT practitioners may help clients learn to be fully present with the thoughts, physical sensations, and behavioral urges that accompany emotions and be curious about them (e.g., is this anxiety trying to tell me something helpful?) rather than reflexively reacting to them and/or avoiding them (Hayes et al., 2012). The hope is that being present with emotions rather than avoiding them will help people move toward their values for a more fulfilling life. The felt experience of emotions, like anxiety, may also lessen but as a second order change. CBT and ACT, as well as other approaches, also provide more behavioral coping skills (e.g., deep breathing) to help address anxiety symptoms as they arise. 

 

While a discussion of the relative efficacy of these different approaches is beyond the scope of this paper, they all have found empirical support to varying degrees (e.g., Association for Contextual Behavioral Science, n.d.; Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2009; Society of Clinical Psychology, n.d.), with CBT having the most robust support at present. ACT research, in particular, has found empirical support for the value of accepting and acknowledging feelings like anxiety (i.e., staying present with feelings like anxiety) rather than avoiding them and/or criticizing ourselves for having them (e.g., Levitt et al., 2004). There are numerous different therapeutic theories and approaches that are also beyond the scope of this paper to detail in full, and research also points to the power of “common factors” that different therapies can share and that provide help, often more than the specific treatment approaches mentioned above, when present (e.g., a strong therapeutic alliance, agreement on goals, empathy, helpful explanation of the presenting concern and related treatment) (Wampold & Imel, 2015). 

 

For some folks, anxiety can be so intense that it is difficult to do much else (e.g., learn how to face some stressors; question whether some stressors are indicating needed life changes; etc.) until psychiatric medication helps to reduce that intensity. Within psychiatry, different medications seek to alter the flow of chemicals that move between brain cells (a.k.a. neurotransmitters) that impact our experience of anxiety. Such medications can help to lower anxiety to the point where psychotherapy can be more helpful, and some may find that anxiety has been sufficiently lowered to the point they would no longer desire psychotherapy. Note that some psychiatric providers engage in psychotherapy in addition to, or to the exclusion of, prescribing medication. Research has found support for the efficacy of psychiatric medication, psychotherapy, and both psychiatric medication and psychotherapy in combination for the treatment of anxiety (Bandelow et al., 2017).   We can also help treat our own anxiety by things like adequate sleep, exercise, and diet, but these means of intervening, like intervening through prayer and faith, may also need to be supplemented by counseling and/or medication if the anxiety is severe enough (e.g., Sawchuk, 2017).  

 

Now that we have covered some basics of psychological understanding of anxiety and psychological and psychiatric intervention methods, how can we apply that to Paul’s directive against anxiety?

 

How can we as Christians respond?

 

How can we as Christians respond to anxiety in ourselves and anxiety in our midst? We can start by acknowledging that it is not God’s will for us to experience anxiety and worry of the type referred to by Paul in Philippians 4, as well as by Jesus in Matthew 6. It is also important to acknowledge that anxiety can occur for many reasons. In particular, anxiety does not necessarily occur due to individual sin and/or lack of trust in God. While the theology of sin is way beyond my training, we can likely come to a general acknowledgement that we can suffer the painful effects of our fallen world without a direct link to our personal behavior at least some of the time (e.g., Matthew 9:3). I want to acknowledge that reality both because it is accurate and to reduce shame and increase compassion and curiosity around anxiety. Because we tend to assume there is more overlap between the care of our spiritual health and psychological health than between our spiritual health and our health in arenas like our physical health (e.g., pastors can pursue training in pastoral counseling but not medical training as part of their coursework), it is important that we understand there is not necessarily a direct link between anxiety and sin and/or lack of faith. 

 

Within that overlap between Christian ministry and scientifically grounded fields like psychology, we as Christians can follow Paul’s guidance when we feel anxious. We can practice prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, making our requests known to God so that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Such practice also follows guidance from psychology that it tends to be easier (not easy, but perhaps easier) to alter behavioral responses to anxiety as the anxiety occurs than to stop/change a feeling by force of will, so to speak. For instance, the directive to stop being anxious on its own (or imagine someone telling you to “Calm down” in a firm tone) can be hard to implement but tends to yield more fruit when paired with behavior like a soft tone or a hug and/or with behavioral suggestions like deep breathing and/or grounding in the present. Paul, then, does provide some behavioral suggestions to respond to anxiety. 

 

Similarly, Jesus gives us behavioral charges toward prayer, forgiveness, and service of God’s kingdom in Matthew 6  alongside his encouragement to not worry. In addition, we can explicitly offer compassion to those experiencing anxiety and worry (as Jesus did with Martha in Luke 10), noting that it is a complex issue and encouraging folks to seek licensed, professional help, should they be willing, if anxiety and worry continue to interfere in their life (e.g., with work; relationships; sleep; physical health). Again, such compassion can reduce shame and increase acceptance of feelings like anxiety, with research showing support for acceptance, as opposed to avoidance and suppression of anxiety. Recommendations for referral to professionals honor the aforementioned maxim that “all truth is God’s truth”, including truth in psychology and psychiatry. 

 

Both within and outside of professional mental health fields, we can also learn about and promote methods and responses to anxiety that seek to integrate Christian practice with psychological findings. For example, contemplative and centering prayer provide a way of praying that helps people meditate and ground themselves in God’s constant presence in their life and can serve as an antidote and/or preventative measure against pervasive worry (e.g., Ferguson et al., 2010; Wilhoit, 2014). While there are many more ways that we can respond to anxiety as Christians, I wanted to at least highlight a few that I hope will prove helpful and that can be shared both in corporate and private contexts, such as from the pulpit and in individual talks with friends, family, and neighbors. More than anything, I hope you are left with, or continue to have, humility and curiosity about pervasive worry and anxiety, as well as compassion for those who experience it.

 

References

 

Association for Contextual Behavioral Science. (n.d.). State of the ACT evidence. https://contextualscience.org/state_of_the_act_evidence 

 

Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2), 93-107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573566/

 

Bevilacqua, L., & Goldman, D. (2011, August 10). Genetics of emotion. Trends in Cognitive Science, 15(9), 401-408. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408019/

 

Bible Hub (n.d.a). 3308. merimna. https://biblehub.com/greek/3308.htm 

 

Bible Hub (n.d.b). Philippians 4:6 Commentaries. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/philippians/4-6.htm 

 

Bible Hub (n.d.c). Philippians 4:6 Lexicon. https://biblehub.com/lexicon/philippians/4-6.htm 

 

Blumberg, A. (2014, November 14). What Philipplians 4:6-7 Bible passage can teach us about managing anxiety today. Huffpost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bible-anxiety_n_6171272

 

Collins, G. R., Myers, D. G., Powlison, D., & Roberts, R. C. (2000). Psychology & Christianity: Four views. (E. L. Johnson & S. L. Jones, Eds.). IVP Academic.

 

Day Sclater, S., Yates, C., Price, H., & Jones, D. W. (2009). Introducing psychosocial studies of emotion. In S. Day Sclater, D. W. Jones, H. Price, & C. Yates (Eds.), Emotion: New psychosocial perspectives (pp. 1-16). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

 

Diano, M., Celeghin, A., Bagnis, A., & Tamietto, M. (2017, January 10). Amygdala response to emotional stimuli without awareness: Facts and interpretations. Frontiers in Psychology: Emotion Science. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02029 

Earls, A. (2018, May 1). 13 stats on mental health. LifeWay Facts & Trends. https://factsandtrends.net/2018/05/01/13-stats-on-mental-health-and-the-church/ 

Ferguson, J. K., Willemsen, E. W., & Castañeto, M. V. (2010). Centering prayer as a healing response to everyday stress: A psychological and spiritual process. Pastoral Psychology, 59(3), 305-329. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-009-0225-7 

Fisher, H. E., Island, H. D., Rich, J., Marchalik, D., & Brown, L. L. (2015, August 3). Four broad temperament dimensions: Description, convergent validation correlations, and comparison with the Big Five. Frontiers in Psychology: Personality and Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01098   

Graber, D. (2014, February 1). Anxiety disorders – Frequently asked questions. Focus on the Family. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/get-help/anxiety-disorders-ai-frequently-asked-questions/

Harvard Health Women’s Watch. (2009, October). Psychodynamic therapy is effective in treating chronic worry. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/psychodynamic-therapy-is-effective-in-treating-chronic-worry 

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.

Leahy, T. H. & Jackson, R. J. (2000). Learning and cognition (5th ed.). Prentice Hall.

Levitt, J. T., Brown, T. A., Orsillo, S. M., & Barlow, D. H. (2004). The effects of acceptance versus suppression of emotion on subjective and psychophysiological response to carbon dioxide challenge in patients with panic disorder. Behavior Therapy, 35(4), 747-766, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0005-7894(04)80018-2 

Link, B. G., Phelan, J. C., & Sullivan, G. (2017). Mental and physical health consequences of the stigma associated with mental illnesses. In B. Major, J. F. Dovidio, & B. G. Link (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of stigma and health (pp. 521-539). Oxford University Press.

Marques, L. (2018, July 23). Do I have worry or anxiety: What’s the difference? Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/do-i-have-anxiety-or-worry-whats-the-difference-2018072314303

Mounce, B. (n.d.). μεριμνάω. https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/merimnao 

 

 

National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Any anxiety disorder. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml

Sawchuk, C. N. (2017, May 24). Coping with anxiety: Can diet make a difference? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/coping-with-anxiety/faq-20057987

Siegel, R. (2010). The mindfulness solution: Everyday practices for everyday problems.  Guilford Press.

Society of Clinical Psychology. (n.d.). Cognitive and behavioral therapies for generalized anxiety disorder: Status: Strong support. https://div12.org/treatment/cognitive-and-behavioral-therapies-for-generalized-anxiety-disorder/ 

Sproul, R. C. (2009). The consequences of ideas: Understanding the concepts that shaped our world. Crossway. quote available at https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/612855-the-concept-of-divine-revelation-was-central-to-augustine-s-epistemology

Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate: The evidence for what makes psychotherapy work. Routledge.

Wedding, R., & Corsini, R.J. (2018). Current psychotherapies (11th ed.) Cengage Learning.

Wilhoit, J. C. (2014). Contemplative and centering prayer. Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, 7(1), 107-117. https://doi.org/10.1177/193979091400700110 

 

Helpful resource for church leaders:

American Psychiatric Association Foundation. (2018). Mental health: A guide for faith leaders. American Psychiatric Association. https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/apa-releases-new-resources-on-mental-health-for-faith-leaders 

Please also see the citation for centering and contemplative prayer from Wilhoit