We’ve all had moments where we were afraid. Fear is a natural emotion, a normal response to a real threat. We may feel afraid if someone unknown enters our home. We may feel afraid if we are in a situation where our life or wellbeing is endangered. I was afraid one night when I was driving down the interstate and a deer ran out in front of my car. I was terrified the day I stood in front of my television and watched two enormous towers fall.
Anxiety can have some similarities to fear, yet anxiety is a response that describes lingering apprehension, or a chronic sense of worry or tension, the sources of which may be totally unclear or unknown. I’m anxious because I am uncertain at times how my words will be received. I get unsettled with worry that something will happen to my children, my husband. Living in challenging times, I can become overwhelmed with apprehension at what lies in store for our world, our country, our families.
Though fear and anxiety can have similar appearances, and though many people use the words quite interchangeably, they are unique. We can even distinguish the two by our bodily experience. The neurobiology of fear is different than the neurobiology of anxiety. The sudden re-arrangement of your guts when an intruder holds a knife to your back (fear), is different from the mild nausea, dizziness and butterflies in your stomach as you’re about to make a difficult phone call (anxiety).
The truth is, we all experience anxiety to one degree or another. We as individuals may express it differently, some through a stomachache, some through anger or depression, while others experience symptoms of panic, which can lead to panic attacks.
Anxiety, like all uncomfortable emotions, is a normal part of the human experience. It is what we do with these emotions that will ultimately determine how we face the challenges in life and how we engage ourselves and our relationships.
Many people spend their lives running away from anxiety. Though for some, medication is absolutely necessary, for many a pill is a quick-fix, a way out of feeling and dealing with this uncomfortable pain. Many of us seek to numb the pain with alcohol, work, success, food, relationships, sex, television, phones, games, etc. so that we can avoid feeling anxiety. In the church our focus has historically been in praying anxiety away.
Yet if emotions are God’s flashing lights to help guide us on our journey, do we miss healing and growing opportunities by simply praying these emotions away and avoiding them at all costs? What if there is something about which God is trying to gain our attention? What if there is an area in which He wants to teach us and grow us?
If we live our lives avoiding anxiety, I believe there is a chance we are missing out on God.
I am convinced the more we can look anxiety in the eye, with courage, diligence, and curiosity, the more we will understand ourselves, understand the heart of God, gain wisdom about life, and the less grip anxiety will ultimately have on us.
Only when we face our emotions, experience our emotions as both potential stumbling blocks and wise guides, can we begin to live more fully in the present and move into the future with courage, clarity, humor, and hope.
How do you deal with anxiety?
Do you run away, avoid, or medicate your feelings?
I encourage you to stop running, face your anxiety. Lean in. Listen to it. Breathe into it. Ask God to help you understand it.
Make your anxiety start working for you. Let it strengthen you. Let it build within you courage you never knew existed. Let it take you one step further down the road on your journey toward healing and wholeness.