5 dangerous demands of anxiety and how to defeat them
tim st. john | SEPTEMBer 23, 2019 | 4 MIN READ
Take a slow breath in through your nose, then exhale through your mouth. Think about how the air feels cooler coming in and warmer going out. Now take another slow breath. Do you feel more relaxed?
Techniques like slow breathing can be real lifelines for people in the midst of an anxiety attack. It slows the heart rate, focuses the mind, and can even stabilize blood pressure. Though it seems simple, it is a real way we can help those struggling with anxiety. After all, God has made us embodied souls, and so we must see and care for the entire person God has made us to be.
On the flip side, caring for the entire person means that we must be equipped to help not just physically, but also spiritually. Unfortunately, when it comes to caring for the spiritual side of anxiety, we can often take a dangerous approach that never gets to the issues in our hearts and that can even lead to more anxiety.
Here are five dangerous demands that our anxious hearts can make and some specific ways Christ speaks to these demands.
1. I must minimize
“I’m just being too sensitive,” “I’m sure it will work out,” “It’s just money,” “It’s just a wedding,” “It’s not the end of the world.”
We all have stock phrases we like to use to fight anxiety through minimizing situations. They seem to get life back in the proper perspective so we can move forward. But as well-intended as these phrases might be, just saying that something should be less important does not mean that it will magically become less important. In fact, the things that occupy our hearts often do really matter and require attention so it’s best not to just push them down.
Thankfully this is not how our God handles our anxieties. In Matthew 6, when Jesus addresses the anxieties of a crowd through the Sermon on the Mount, he doesn’t minimize the needs they feel. He doesn’t say that food or clothing isn’t important or rebuke them for caring about such things. Rather, Christ points the crowd to the freedom from anxiety found in knowing that God cares about the very things that are on their hearts. He says, “Your Father knows you need these things” (Matt 6:32).
What parts of your life do you tend to minimize as a way to deal with anxiety? Remember that God sees every part of your life as significant and he wants to transform places of anxiety to places of hope as you rest in the truth that his love is at work.
2. I must procrastinate
When pressures start to pile up, productivity can come to a standstill because we want to move away from what is stressing us. We’re cleaning the house, and we just tell ourselves, “I’m not going to look in that room. There’s just too much to deal with.” We come back from vacation and see a dozen complicated emails that we choose to read later because the amount of thought required feels overwhelming.
In Matthew 6:34, Jesus says, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” We cannot address our anxieties by trying to postpone pressure, and God has promised that his grace is sufficient to carry us through everything we face (2 Cor 12:9).
Where pressures of today do you tend to deal with by putting off? Consider today how you might take a step of faith to face one pressure, knowing that we have a God who promises to give sufficient grace to those who humbly depend on him (James 4:6).
3. I must work harder
I think most of us can easily fall into this approach because it seems to work. We feel anxious about certain challenges, so we double our efforts. We wake up earlier, we put in more hours, we get a third job. We do whatever it takes to overcome. While hard work can be a virtue, it can also come from a place of legalism that enslaves us to live for the demands of the moment and the kingdom of self.
In Matthew 6:33, Jesus points our hearts toward seeking his kingdom, saying that is the work that provides real peace. Seeking first the Kingdom of God provides peace not only by reminding us of the King who upholds our life through every challenge, but it also provides a purpose for every activity. The pressures of life can actually contribute to peace as we see them as opportunities to bring glory to our King!
Where do you try to quiet anxiety through hard work? Can you see your King who purchased peace for you through his efforts alone? Let this Gospel truth free you to seek first the kingdom of our loving Savior who has given you his Spirit to empower every effort you put forth in seeking him.
4. I must have immediate comfort
How do you feel after reading the news, after reading your new class syllabus, or after a conversation that didn’t end well? The anxiety of feeling helpless in the face of pressure can demand immediate relief. We walk into our kitchen and think, “Someone has to eat that cake.” Or perhaps we feel like it’s the right time to binge on Netflix or treat ourselves with some online shopping. Anxiety forces us to zoom in on a singular uncomfortable reality, and our hearts tell us we can only cope by reaching for the nearest Häagen-Dazs bar.
Jesus speaks to this demand of anxiety too. When the world seems too chaotic and our relationships feel too messy, we can hear our Savior telling us to look at his creation and to take comfort in his promise of care. In Matthew 6:26-30, Christ observes how our heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the flowers of the field. He tells the crowd to consider what their Father is promising to them through creation’s voice. It’s a call to zoom out from our anxieties and to take comfort in the sovereign God who controls the universe and genuinely cares about our lives.
When do you feel most drawn to find relief in immediate comfort? In those moments, go outside. Take a walk. Look at the stars. Meditate on the beauty of creation and join creation in rehearsing God’s promises and worshiping him.
5. I must find relief through sin
We can often notice the presence of specific sin battles in our lives (e.g. lust, impatience, slander, envy), but we likely don’t see anxiety as an enemy on the battlefield tempting and taunting us toward certain sins. For example, anxiety over school can be part of the deception that leads us to cheat. Anxiety over wanting our plans to be accomplished can be part of the deception that leads us toward anger and even abuse of those who stand in our way.
Christ provides mercy to quiet our anxieties here too. In Matthew 6:25. Christ knows and names the anxieties of the crowd: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” If Christ was sitting with you right now, which of your anxieties would he name? Imagine him saying, “Your life is more than ________ & ________.” How would you fill in those blanks?
Your life isn’t less than those things, but it’s about so much more than those things. Your life is about an immense Kingdom that is promised to you and protected for you. Your life is about your King who comes to you, cares for you, and walks with you as you journey toward him.
Giving in to the demands of anxiety is similar to telling someone having a panic attack to hold their breath. If we address anxiety in the wrong way, it could be deadly. In the end, all our anxieties want to deceive us into building our own kingdoms and pull us away from seeking the Kingdom of God. Thankfully Christ rescues us again and again. May we each see the active love of God toward us in Christ today and treasure the sufficient grace he promises.
Tim St. John serves as the counseling pastor at Lighthouse Community Church in Torrance, CA. He's a graduate of the Master's Seminary (M.Div, Th.M) and completed counseling certificate training through ACBC and CCEF. Tim's passion is to see the grace of gospel-centered counseling grow and thrive in local churches.