How to Deal with Anxiety, Worry, and Fear
Many people struggle with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, worry and fear. They often talk about being trapped by their feelings. They just can’t think of anything else, or they don’t know what to do to make them not feel so overwhelming.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, as of 2018, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.”
If you are struggling with anxiety in one form or another, take a look at the list we’ve put together below. These suggestions are only a few things people can do to help with anxiety and should not necessarily be presumed as a one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. The list includes some of the best research and practice from authorities in the fields of psychology and Christian counseling.
Many of those with severe and persistent anxiety, worry and fear may need to see a psychiatrist or family doctor to be placed on medication. Some anxiety disorders are the result of a genetic predisposition to anxiety and are best treated by medical professionals.
Many individuals suffering from anxiety, worry, or fear learned to have these feelings from very traumatic and frightening events in their past or from parents or caretakers who modeled this way of thinking and feeling. Often, individuals experienced these events when they were very young. They made sense of the events using the mental abilities they had at the time, but often these reflect very young minds.
Anxiety related to traumatic events and/or modeling by others is often best aided by a trained therapist or counselor. If you have a strong faith or hold some religious belief it is often helpful to find a counselor who also shares those beliefs and can bring in faith-based perspectives into the counseling.
Sometimes, both medication AND counseling can be effective. They are not always mutually exclusive. You can feel better!
What to Do if You Struggle with Anxiety
As you think about whether pursuing counseling or medication is right for you, we encourage you to also take a look at our list of resources on what steps you can take to ease your anxiety.
In this guide, you’ll learn to:
- Identify the source of your anxiety
- Understand that feelings are not truth
- Evaluate your feelings
- Make sure your feelings are really yours
- Separate lies from truth
- Recall the times you made it through
- Replace your thoughts
- Read Scripture
- Observe yourself
- Lay your burdens down
Identify the Source of Your Anxiety
See if you can identify what is driving your anxiety, fear, or worry. This means identifying the underlying beliefs or thoughts that your emotions are based on. Don’t just react to the emotions (the part of the iceberg above the water), see what lies beneath them. These may have been events that occurred in childhood you actually forgot about or things you try not to remember. If you don’t pull the weed out by the roots, it will just grow back. Attempting to simply deal with the feeling is seldom successful.
Understand that Feelings are not Truth
Feelings are symptoms of deeply held beliefs or the learned thoughts and behaviors that we pick up when we’re young. Our feelings are often the result of the ways we tried to make sense of the behavior of those around us or the experiences that we’ve had. If you were very young when you experienced a traumatic event, then give yourself some grace. You were basically using a very young mind to try and figure things out. It may be time to update your beliefs and thought process.
Evaluate Your Feelings
Evaluate whether your feelings are based on beliefs that make sense, or are realistic, when you say them out loud. What real evidence is there for them? Even if they are based on real events from your experience, don’t conclude that your beliefs are helpful, or remain true, for all situations and all people. If you grew up in an abusive household, what was true for you at that time in your life may have been true for you specifically in that moment, but it does not necessarily apply to all situations.
Learn to bracket your beliefs. A good exercise is for those of you who instantly say, “but it might happen again,” is to see if you can challenge that belief. For example, ask yourself, “are the people in your life now really the same? Are you really the same?” Haven’t you grown in understanding, wisdom and strength since the events from the past happened?
Make Sure Your Feelings are Really Yours
Can you really trust your feelings are from you? Are you just repeating the thoughts and beliefs of your parents, an ex-lover, or someone else in your life because they impressed it upon you, or are these thoughts and feelings actually your own? If you come from a Christian worldview, how do you know your true thoughts and feelings are not being manipulated by your enemy – Satan, the world, and your own sinful desires?
Separate Lies from Truth
It is often helpful to write out the lies you have been believing, then write the truth next to it – even if you are not completely convinced, it is likely that you know the truth deep inside. For Christians, a great resource is the ministry, Freedom in Christ. They have a bookmark and online list of the lies of Satan and God’s truth, followed by a collection of verses on how we are fully accepted, secure, and significant in Christ. This is a helpful resource to help you practice this exercise.
Recall the Times You Made it Through
Can you recall times in the past, even one, when what you feared would happen didn’t happen? Can you use this information to help you see the truth and find peace? Can you see your feelings as just feelings, transient, temporary experiences that will only get worse if you treat them as true and dwell on them?
Replace Your Thoughts
Sometimes, just removing your negative thoughts and feelings isn’t enough. Unless you are a devout practicing Buddhist, you may find it difficult to have nothing in your mind. For most of us, we can’t just get rid of our bad or unwanted thoughts without replacing them with something else. Otherwise, we return to them frequently.
One technique is to count your blessings. This is not just for religious people. It is actually critical if you want to retrain your brain. If you grew up around people who were both anxious and depressed, you really need to do some mental spring-cleaning on your thoughts and beliefs.
So, what are some things you can be thankful for and appreciative of? Write them all down, and expand on them. Don’t short-change their power or effectiveness by withholding their significance in your list. Many people during the COVID-19 lockdown became very aware of all the people, things, and experiences they took for granted every day and missed so much. Consider what things, COVID or not, that you take for granted everyday.
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
“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. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-8)
Whether you are Christian or not, you may find it helpful to Google all the Bible verses on anxiety, peace, and fearlessness. Write them all out, don’t just copy and paste them. Meditate on these words and know that they are God’s Word to you. You can also hear many of these spoken in a presentation found at: fathersloveletter.com. This is based on their love-letter-from-God format, which is very powerful.
Learn to sit with your emotions and thoughts. Imagine watching yourself as an observer would watch a play. No need to react to them; you are just observing. See them as random thoughts, impressions, passing feelings. If these were actually narratives in a play or movie, what would the author be telling the audience? What can you learn from them? Instead of internally saying something like, “Oh, no, I can’t stand this,” try “This is really fascinating, I wonder why this theme always emerges, or why these people are always in the play?”
Lay Your Burdens Down
As a Christian, don’t fight or wrestle with your fears, hand them over to Jesus, moment by moment. Take time to read through Romans 5:1-6 and 1 Peter 1:1-7. Take the opportunity to challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith.
Some people say, “I know all this, even believe it, but am still afraid.” We all become fearful or anxious at times. Face it – life is tough, and people can be unkind, but you grow in your humility, trust, and dependence on God through these tough circumstances.
Don’t avoid the feelings; learn from them. External challenges and internal distress can both lead us to a closer relationship with Christ. You can really learn to “count it all joy” (James 1:2-4) as you bury your face in your Father’s embrace and let Him comfort you.
Learn How to Relax
No one can just turn off their feelings, and it is not always as simple as “throwing your cares on God because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Many people need time, practice, support from others, and knowledge on how to truly do this. So here are some relaxation skills:
- Take a warm bath or shower. Play music that you find relaxing. Scented candles of lavender are very helpful. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Walk, jog, or go bicycling and enjoy the scenery. Strength training and high-intensity aerobics is also helpful if you are able. Getting up from where you are when you’re upset and changing rooms, going to a friend’s house or local park, anything that can get you out of your head is helpful.
- Natural supplements and vitamins are helpful. Common ones cited include Vitamin B Complex, Calcium-Magnesium, and Kava-kava. Ashawanda and Melatonin are also helpful for sleep.
- Many people feel all alone and when upset tend to have more negative thoughts, assuming an even darker picture of their life. When you’re not in distress, sit and make out a list of all the people you could reach out to the next time you feel alone. Include friends, family, pastors, church friends, people in hobby or sports groups, both those you know well and those you think you might want to know better.
- Fight off the lies that “No one really cares”, “I don’t want to bother anyone, they have their own problems”, “I don’t want people to think I’m crazy”, or “I’m just a private person.”
- Many behavioral scientists are now saying we are suffering a pandemic of loneliness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Since most people are feeling exactly like you are, almost everyone wants someone to connect to, share life with, or feel needed by. That is the way we are built. When you reach out to someone else you are likely helping them as much as you are helping yourself!
- Lastly, read through the resource below, “How to Relax”, and learn seven specific skills that research has shown to be very helpful when dealing with emotional distress.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Feelings of anxiety, fear, and worry can be extremely distressing, even disabling at times. Just remember, they are feelings that come and go. They are often based on a combination of traumatic or distressing events, have been modeled by others important to you growing up, may be genetically inherited and treatable medically, and can be greatly improved just by trying a few of the practices listed above. Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.