You know, when I get anxious about anything, my legs become heavy. I don’t start to quiver and shake or sweat or get a fast heartbeat; it’s always the top of my legs that become heavy. I wonder if I’m starting to take flu. It takes me a few days to realise that I’m worried and anxious. Why do I not learn to recognise what’s happening sooner? Perhaps because anxiety is insidious, it sneaks in under the covers at night and snuggles up to you. It pretends to be something else, another feeling.
There are other signs that I’m anxious, too—lack of concentration, a quickness to get angry, sometimes a feeling that nothing is going right. I start to blame events and people around me, and I hear myself say, ‘if only they wouldn’t do that, I would be alright, or ‘I’ve had enough, leave me alone, give me some peace’.
And then, behind all these feelings, there’s a pang of additional guilt. Let’s call it the guilt of small ‘c’ christianity. So, not only am I anxious, but I also feel I shouldn’t be because I misinterpret the meaning of Jesus’ words on the subject.
Christians are often asked why we worry. People make statements like: you’re not supposed to worry – consider the lilies how they grow! Or, isn’t there something about the birds of the air in the bible, referring to Luke 12:24?
Consider the ravens: They don’t sow or reap; they don’t have a storeroom or a barn, yet God feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than the birds? Let’s come back to that thought after considering what we should do about our feeling of anxiety.
Once I recognise that I’m anxious, another problem faces me. What am I going to do about it?
Feeling guilty isn’t going to get me very far; there is a better way to approach the problem.
Feel, think, breathe, understand and act
Anxiety is a healthy response to actual issues – but don’t get stuck in it. There are lots of associated feelings. Recognition of these feelings is essential.
So Feel: recognise the feelings of anxiety as real. Remember, these feelings can be associated with other emotions such as anger, confusion, despair. These are all signs that there is an area of your life that isn’t right. Don’t go any further at this point than recognising the emotion. We’ll come to the reasons why you feel like that in a moment.
Think: why am I upset? There may be several causes or a single one. See if you can work out the area of life that is contributing most to the feelings. Is it work, time pressure, a colleague or workmate? Perhaps a relationship at home or financial problem. It doesn’t matter what it is. At this step, allow yourself to say aloud, if possible, “this …. is making me anxious”.
Then Breathe: take a break. You’ve done loads of work getting this far. Step back and recognise that you’ve begun to make a change already. You’re no longer in the dark, and you’re in a better place to manage the feelings you have.
Understand: this step may take some time, or you may already know the answer. Why have I not dealt with the cause of my anxiety? This is the understanding you need. Not who or what is to blame for my anxiety; that is only part of it. Why is it still an issue is the main question to be answered? There may be many reasons or just one. You will usually know why but may never have said the cause/s out loud or written them down.
Then Act: you need to plan to make a change, and the plan will almost always need the help of someone else to succeed. A friend you can trust, a partner, a colleague—anyone who will support you and listen to you without judgement.
Each of these steps may be something you can work through on your own, or you may need help. This might be from a friend or through professional help from trained counsellors. That is okay; it’s good to get help. Anxiety can make you inward-looking, incline you to curl up in your shell. You may need someone to help you out – a person who can let you see things from a different viewpoint.
Let’s return to the question of guilt that we can feel as Christians when we find ourselves anxious. It is easy and very common for readers of the bible to lift sections, verses out of context. Never read a bible verse on its own and expect to understand the full meaning. When Jesus said: don’t worry about your life, he didn’t mean this in a judgemental way or a as part of a telling us off. It was a plea and a request. Jesus never set himself on a pedestal as the ultimate Christian, and we shouldn’t think of the way he led his life as some unattainable goal. Instead, He was always concerned that we look to God for guidance.
In the same passage where he says don’t worry (Luke Chap 12 v 22 – 34), he says this.
“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be provided for you.
Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom”.
Rather than feeling guilty about being anxious, Christians have another level of help available to them. Beyond Feel, Think, Breathe, Understand and Act, there is God. God wants the best for us in all things. God wants us to understand what is essential in life. God will help us if we turn to him. This is what Jesus was pointing out in the passage in Luke. If God cares so much for the ravens, wildflowers and grasses, how much more does he care for you? Jesus was making a plea to us all to let God help us out.
Is this a panacea for all ills, a pill for all illness? Of course not. It is a recognition that living in the world was as tough then as it is today. The world is not how God hoped it would be, the way he wanted it to be. In this passage and others, God is saying, let me help you. Let me help you think your problems through. Let me show you who can help.
As Christians let’s not feel guilty when we’re anxious. It is not really possible to have zen-like calm and live the maelstrom of life today. Recognise your anxious feelings as a sign that change is needed. Whether that change is in our personal lives or in the broader world around us. For example, Eco-anxiety is becoming an issue for young and old. An anxiety that Climate change will adversely affect us all, and leave a terrible legacy for the young today. We need that anxiety to make us think. Anxiety is normal and can drive us on to make change. What is not helpful is dwelling on our problems.
Feel, think, breathe, understand and act
If you are struggling with anxious thoughts and you’re not able to move forwards through them there is a lot of help out available. Locally, if you live on Bute The Lade Centre has taken over The Listening Service. You can enquire about speaking to a counsellor by privately messaging them through their FaceBook page.
The Listening Service has also teamed up with another mental health charity called ACUMEN who have developed a programme of mental health self-care called Supported Self-Care Planning – there’s more detail at the end of this video. This programme of self help is available to everyone living in Argyll and Bute and information can be found here: or by calling 01546 607210 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition there are organisations and people willing help with specific problems that may cause anxiety. These are listed at the end of video as well and can be found on the Surprising Christianity and the United Church of Bute websites.
Here’s the link to other sources of help: #Mental-health-support
Please take care of yourselves and let others help when they can. We’re all in this together with God.