“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.” Philippians 4:6-7 NIV
I read these words from my online devotion (The Bible in One Year with Nicky Gumbel of Alpha) yesterday:
Corrie ten Boom defined worry as ‘a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around a center of fear.’ Worry can wreck our lives. Some of our worries like the [Apostle] Paul’s, are real, and some are illusory, but in either case, a life weighed down by worry is not really living.
Yes, worry, or anxiety, is a lot of unhelpful thoughts whirling and swirling around fear that grips at the heart. People who are stuck in anxiety KNOW this and what they are feeling – the physical sense of being ill, stressed, unable to think straight, to sleep, eat, or get rid of dread, etc. They know tearfulness and a sense of isolation as everyone else seems to be functioning. What they don’t always know is how to break free.
What are some faith based ways to find help and freedom from anxiety? Here are 6 that will help relieve anxiety.
1. Thankfulness Can Relieve Anxiety
This is not always easy. Often it can be quite hard depending on the situation. I regularly meet with people who have no job, have lost custody of their children, are in debt because of legal fees, or have some other calamity going on. It can make no sense to them to hear, “Be thankful and happy and trust God.”
But, I do tell them, “Try very hard to think of even the smallest thing that is going right and say, “I’m grateful for this.” It’s a struggle for them, but it begins to shift the atmosphere if they can be thankful. The verse above says that we ought to enter the gates (this was the gates of the Temple of Jerusalem in ancient times) with thanksgiving and then into his courts with praise.
This is a spiritual tool that still helps us even today. Begin to say thank you for the smallest gifts and benefits and praise God. This enables you to “enter into His presence” and His presence starts to work on the anxiety on your behalf. It’s like the sun coming out and driving away clouds.
2. Remember How God Has Helped You Before
One of the things that can begin to change our thoughts and calm our minds is to remember the ways that God has helped us in the past. Now, some reading this may say, “I’m not sure that I really believe in God.” Then think, “How have past troubles been resolved for me?” Remember those times. And since worries can be for nothing, you may also think about this: “When have I worried, and what I was worrying about did not happen?”
My prayer is that you would begin to see God in the blessings and help that you have experienced, but a sure way of alleviating anxiety is to remember past “escapes” from trouble and stress.
It is also helpful to hear others talk about their lives and how God delivered them from trouble. When you hear many testimonies of relief and provision, it encourages you to look up and start trusting that you, too, will find relief.
3. Find Community To Encourage You
The verses above encourage prayer, taking all your worries and cares to God. Quite honestly, sometimes when you’re anxious, you may find it hard to quiet your mind enough to pray. It is good always to go to God first, but if that is hard, find loving, encouraging people willing to listen; people who will see a bigger, better picture than you in your state of anxiety.
Let them help you with their hope, suggestions, kindness, and their prayers. That human support can definitely ease anxiety.
4. Pray to Relieve Anxiety
But, yes, above all else “in every situation, by prayer and petition…present your requests to God.”
Pray. Tell your good Father in heaven exactly what you’re feeling, what you’re going through. Tears, fears, be the real you.
“Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you.” 1 Peter 5:7 TLB
5. Use Scripture to Counter Anxious Thoughts
The Bible is so full of promises and stories of the goodness of God. It tells of His supernatural help in impossible situations. Reading these stories and passages will give you hope for an unexpected outcome.
You can speak the words over your life. For example, “My heavenly Father knows my needs.” (Matthew 6:32 NIV)
Or, using the verse in #4 above, “God is always thinking about me and watching everything that concerns me.”
Saying these positive words, writing them down, putting them on the bathroom mirror, will help them to become more real than your worries. The words of the Bible have power.
Paul, in the verses right after Philippians 4:6-7 advises this: “…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.” Philippians 4:8 NIV
6. Taking Care of Yourself Physically Can Relieve Anxiety
One of the things that can help us so much in situations of anxiety is to get up and get moving. Exercise is so important to burn off the tension that is felt. Eating a really nutritious diet, drinking plenty of water – these things help us tremendously. It is hard, sometimes, in seasons of anxiety to eat, to sleep, but ask God for the strength to continue to care for yourself.
I recognize sometimes the bag of potato chips or the carton of ice cream (been there and done that!) seem to be all you want when not feeling peaceful, but as best you can, reach for the things that will really keep you well and strong.
The promise of the Bible is that if we will come to God with our needs in “every situation,” the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
That peace is not just the absence of anxiety. It is a glorious state of calm, beauty, hope, joy, serenity, love, fearlessness, and so much more. Peace.