by James Rudy Gray
Anxiety and worry are so closely aligned it is often difficult to detect any difference in the two. Anxiety, however, is a more potent force than worry, with many of the same feelings.
Anxiety is a painful and apprehensive state of mind in which inner turmoil, distress, uneasiness, nervousness, fear, and other feelings combine to pull a person in two different directions inwardly. Some anxiety is good and productive, but too much anxiety for too long is destructive and unhealthy.
When anxiety becomes so strong in a person's life that it disrupts his or her normal way of living, it is often classified or diagnosed as an "anxiety disorder." Some anxiety disorders, in a numerous and growing list, are: agoraphobia, panic disorder without agoraphobia, panic disorder with agoraphobia, agoraphobia without a history of panic disorder, specific phobias, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety disorder due to a general medical condition, and substance-induced anxiety disorder.
In our work as pastors and counselors, we will likely encounter people who are in the grip of anxiety. We need to know why people experience anxiety. Genetics can be a predisposing factor for some people while the environment can also play a role in influencing anxious feelings. Anxiety can result from chemical imbalances in the body or can be the result of certain drugs and medications.
A common source of anxiety is related to the body's release of adrenaline. When this happens (because our brains have sent a danger signal), the nervous system is put on alert and the brain then produces stimulants that gear the body up for action. If a person is facing an actual dangerous circumstance, this can be a life-saving function. However, if the person is not facing an actual danger, this state can create harm both physically and emotionally. The longer the body receives this adrenaline influence when there is no real threat, the more damage can be done.
There are several different types of medication that can be prescribed by knowledgeable and caring physicians who understand anxiety and know the persons they are treating. Anti-anxiety medication may be needed for a period of time but it should not be a regular part of a person's daily life. As Norm Wright has said, "Medication is a legitimate help but it is not a permanent cure."
For those of us who counsel but are not medical doctors, what can we do to help the anxiety-prone people we encounter? We must do a solid and thorough history and evaluation of the person. We may need to interview some family members and even work associates. After we have convincing evidence that the person is suffering from anxiety in one of its many manifestations, we could then refer him to a competent M.D. We may need to also refer the client to a professional Christian counselor who has some expertise in dealing with anxiety disorders.
If we continue to counsel with such persons, there are probably two major general keys that we can focus on that should offer relief and help. First, we can help them learn to think in new ways. The chances are they are focused on single "solutions," and we can help them see there are other alternatives to explore. Simply realizing they have more than one alternative often helps them feel better and even cope more effectively with their situations.
The second thing we can help the client do is learn to relax. People who are anxious are tense. This creates other problems physically and emotionally and it also helps to perpetuate the anxiety.
Persons suffering from anxiety are hurting. They need help. They may need medication for a limited period of time But they definitely need to learn to think differently about their lives. A powerful verse of Scripture that can open the door to a new strategy of living for an anxious person is 1 Peter 5:7: "casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you."
This verse works for us in two ways: 1) We do something with the anxiety. We literally throw it to God. We release it and trust it to Him. 2) We believe something. We embrace the truth that God cares for His people. That thought is powerful and builds confidence.
Anxiety often occurs in the wake of adversity. God does not change, even when our circumstances do. He is wise and loving. He knows what He is doing. It is often through adversity that a loving Father helps us to grow the most. Anxious people can be helped to see that better days are coming. God always loves His children and He has purposed that we should grow spiritually. Anxiety may appear because of adversity, but when adversity is seen as an experience under God's control, a person can find hope. Hope does not disappoint. One of the aims of good counseling is to provide genuine and honest hope for those we counsel.