Everyone gets anxious at some point. Maybe it’s on a first date, or during a class presentation, or maybe you’re starting at a new job. In all these cases, anxiety is an expected, normal reaction. But there are times when our anxious reaction is out of proportion to the situation.
Though “out-of-proportion” is a measurement relative to each individual, let’s unpack the idea more. Say you’re presenting your Master’s thesis project, but when you step up front before your classmates, people you know so well because you spent the last three years trapped alongside them in the dungeon called grad school—though they’re familiar faces, you start feeling your heart beat through your chest, you suddenly become short of breath, sweat stains your shirt, and finally your body begins trembling as if you hadn’t eaten in days.
Now imagine experiencing this kind of fear constantly. Imagine these attacks of panic returning for months on end with little to no warning, much less any relief other than to let the anxiety run its course. That’s when anxiety has become a disorder. In this case, it’s called Panic Disorder.
Another manifestation of anxiety is called GAD, otherwise called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some people describe their lives as feeling constantly on edge. For professional diagnostic criteria, we measure a period of at least 6 months of this non-abating anxious feeling. Usually the anxiety itself doesn’t make sense to you; why are you even worrying, you wonder. And the fact that it’s irrational doesn’t make you feel better. You can’t reason away the fears and you instead worry even more. You even worry about worrying. I’ve seen this disorder daily in my time as a psychiatry PA.
But remember this: the simple presence of anxiety is not a disorder. Worry is actually an adaptive feature of our minds that helps us survive this mess of a world. You see, anxiety keeps us from going too near the crumbling precipice. Anxiety keeps us from swimming in the deep end of the lake. Anxiety can even keep us from investing in that sketch pyramid scheme your uncle keeps pushing. But here’s what’s important: anxiety is a raw emotion meant to be reined in by the Spirit. That is to say, the Wisdom of God is meant to temper our natural fear and worries.
Take as an example the temptation satan put before Jesus:
“Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’””
Matthew 4:5-6 NLT
Jesus however responded with masterful Wisdom:
“Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’””
Matthew 4:7 NLT
I believe the ultimate and decisive healing of anxiety disorders is through the Spirit of God. However, while we heal, medication can help take the edge off. And really, that’s all the stuff is meant for. Medication does not cure anxiety disorders, rather it lessens or masks the symptoms. That’s why I don’t want my patients dependent solely on medication. I say this because talk therapy is integral to the equation of healing. But on the side of the equal sign that matters, the answer to whatever formula Medicine comes up with, must always be Jesus. Because he’s the one who told us to “worry not” (Matthew 6:25).
And why would Jesus command us to do the impossible? Therefore it must be possible to not be anxious. It must be possible to be cured of anxiety disorders. So I pray this:
Lord, I am eager to learn from you the straight paths of peace and to teach others the same Way.