Some say that anxiety is excess future, depression is excess past, and stress is excess present.
Now imagine someone who has an excess of all of these! Laura was that person.
When she was five years old, Laura’s father abandoned her family, pursuing a woman much younger than her mother. Laura’s mother had to work hard to keep up the household. Laura spent much of her time at a day care centre while her mother wore herself out with two jobs.
Laura frequently heard her mother complain about their lack of money, so Laura began to fear the future. She feared her mother would leave just as her father had. She was afraid of losing her house, her room, her life. She was unable to relax. She continually felt that a disaster was about to happen. Simply put, she was unable to control her negative thought patterns.
Two years filled with an overwhelming routine caused Laura’s mother to pay a high price—a serious disease overtook her, and she passed away a few months later. Once again, Laura was abandoned, and her insecurity reached alarming levels.
Adopted by a great-aunt, Laura grew up without the warmth of her mother’s love and the protection of her father. She was afraid of everything—especially the future.
The anxious person suffers from overwhelming apprehension and worry, altering the normality of the individual’s life extensively. The most frequent concerns are interpersonal relationships, work, finances, health, and the future in general. Frequently this person experiences generalised anxiety where no reason exists.
Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues. In large urban centres, one in three people suffers from anxiety.
(A. J. Baxter et al., “Global Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-regression,” Psychological Medicine 43, no. 5 (May 2013): 897–910, doi:10.1017/S003329171200147X.)
Unfortunately, the current conditions under which people live favour these problems and bring a great deal of suffering to the afflicted and their families.
How to prevent and overcome anxiety
Frequently, the symptoms of anxiety do not emerge until a stressful situation triggers a crisis. Easily applied prevention activities can deter the emergence of anxiety as well as serve to calm the symptoms when they appear:
Talk about your problems. Seek to associate with individuals in a close friendship, those with whom you can share your experiences. People who are always isolated run a greater risk of developing anxiety. If this is your case, maintain a good relationship with a family member or friend who can fulfil your need of companionship.
Practice relaxation. Tension accompanies all forms of anxiety, and it is essential to know how to relax in a systematic and habitual manner.
Use breathing as a means to avoid tension. It is surprising how some simple breaks and deep breathing exercises (from the abdomen to the thorax) can provide calmness in an anxious or anguishing situation, thereby avoiding complications.
Eat properly. Research shows that avoiding hypoglyceamia (low blood sugar) and eating a breakfast that includes protein helps you to maintain the biochemical balance of the body and prevent thoughts that bring about worry. Therefore, eat healthy food and begin the day with a good breakfast.
Find support groups. These are groups of people with similar problems. In many cities, there are organised therapy groups. In this context, you will learn much through the experience of others, and they can understand your difficulties as well.
Clinical research leads us to the conclusion that the most successful techniques in treating anxiety are based on cognitive-behavioural psychology.
– F. Hohagen et al., “Combination of Behavior Therapy With Fluvoxamine in Comparison With Behavior Therapy and Placebo: Results of a Multicentre Study,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 173, Sppl. 35 (August 1998): 71–78;
– K. O’Connor et al., “Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy and Medication in the Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Controlled Study,” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 44, no. 1 (1999): 64–71;
– K. Salaberria and E. Echeburúa, “Long-term Outcome of Cognitive Therapy’s Contribution to Self-exposure In Vivo to the Treatment of Generalized Social Phobia,” Behavior Modification 22, no. 3 (July 1998): 262–284, doi:10.1177/01454455980223003;
– A. Stravynski and D. Greenberg, “The Treatment of Social Phobia: A Critical Assessment,” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 98, no. 3 (September 1998): 171–181.
Let’s take a look at some of them:
Thought control. It has been proven that thought control is effective, especially in matters that trigger anxiety. If, for example, the reason for anxiety is fear of having a fatal disease, identify the thoughts related to this fear (perhaps the illness of a family member) or any idea that triggers a chain of worries that bring about anxiety. At the first sign of this thought approaching, say, “No!” and focus on something else or begin an activity that can distract your mind.
Systematic desensitisation. This approach consists of learning relaxation techniques that help identify and confront the source of anxiety. The possibility of success is high, and the procedure is fast. However, it requires the involvement of a psychologist.
These techniques can be efficient but superficial. Many times, the problems relating to anxiety have deep roots, as in the case of Laura and her childhood. In these circumstances, it is necessary to confront the cause of the problem, and not just the symptoms.
Types of anxiety and their symptoms
Generalised anxiety disorder. This type of anxiety can present three or more of the symptoms listed below, on most days within the past six months:
– Feelings of uneasiness or nervousness
– Difficulty in concentrating
– Muscle tension
– Problems sleeping
Anxiety with panic attack. Four or more of the symptoms listed below can be present with this type of anxiety. They may develop abruptly and reach a peak within ten minutes.
– Heart palpitations or accelerated heartbeat
– Shortness of breath
– Quivers or shaking
– Chills or hot flashes
– Feeling suffocated
– Feelings of panic
– Thoracic pain or discomfort
– Nausea or abdominal discomfort
– Dry mouth
– Fear of losing control or going crazy
– Fear of dying
Profound causes of anxiety
Experience teaches us that personal insecurity and the feeling of failure are profound causes of anxiety. As we will see, Laura aimed to be successful in everything she did to avoid feeling insecure and unsuccessful. It is also common to find a feeling of guilt, as though the individual is responsible for these manifestations. This shows the importance of forgiveness—of ourselves and others.
Personal insecurity and the feeling of failure are related to low self-esteem. Regarding the individual who suffers from a sense of guilt, it is important to examine the past and seek to obtain forgiveness. As we continue Laura’s story, notice that the Holy Spirit was working in her mind (Philippians 4:6-7) with the purpose of leading her to ask for forgiveness of those she had mistreated at work and to forgive her father, who had abandoned her in childhood.
The individual who accepts God as the source of forgiveness receives vast benefits through prayer. This is a reconciling experience that offers a new beginning.
The turning point
The little orphan Laura grew up. During the time she was in high school, her life made a turnaround. Her great-aunt, who had raised her, did not believe in God and had taught her niece that the universe and life had simply emerged billions of years ago. For Laura, human beings were the result of a cosmic accident, and she saw existence as a series of factors that come about through pure chance. Of course, these ideas contributed to her feelings that her life was meaningless.
As a teenager, Laura enjoyed walking on the beach near her home. Often, she strolled until sunset and then lie down on the sand to watch the stars appear in the sky. She was an intelligent girl and knew a little about astronomy and cosmology. She was aware of the fact that the existence of the universe depended on delicately adjusted laws and very precise parameters. Without them, the entire reality that surrounded her would disintegrate. Observing the starry sky led her mind to the strange conclusion that, if there is a mechanism, like a type of watch, there has to be a watchmaker.
But if the watchmaker does not exist, if there is nothing or no one who created everything and who managed everything, what meaning would her life have? What hope would there be for the universe itself?
According to a naturalistic perspective, Laura was sure there is no future life. She knew that the earth might be destroyed by a solar storm or that the human race might eliminate itself in a worldwide war. The universe could collapse, crumbling in upon itself, or it could expand indefinitely, consume all energy, and become incapable of maintaining any type of living organism. Was life an illusion? The majority of people avoid thinking about this, especially because they do not want their life to be based on an illusion. However, they end up doing exactly what they want to avoid; they live based on the illusions of momentary pleasures and passing successes, or the artificial dreams invented by the film industry, electronic games, or various forms of entertainment. Some feel that it is better to ignore cold, hard reality while they live in a consciously illusionary reality.
Laura decided that she would fight to be successful and independent. Abandonment and death would not affect her, because she would not live for anyone else. She would be a good professional. She would earn her money. And then . . . well, then her end would come. Period.
Laura advanced financially and academically, as she planned. After finishing her undergraduate degree, she obtained her master’s degree, landed a great job, moved up the company ladder, and reached a much-coveted position. However, her anxiety did not disappear. There in the back of her mind, a cry for a meaningful life still existed. Without realising it, Laura ended up transferring all of her anxiety, her stress and frustrations, to her subordinates. She was extremely demanding and, at times, even unjust.
The turning point in Laura’s life took place when she met a fellow colleague who seemed different from all her other co-workers. Her colleague was calm, happy, confident, and always had a word of encouragement to offer. Laura was intrigued about the source of hope that seemed to spring from this young woman.
Providentially, the two became friends. As they talked, Laura discovered that Christianity is a coherent religion and that the Bible is a trustworthy book, whose historical background is confirmed by dozens and dozens of archaeological findings. Laura discovered that the creationist belief that God created the universe and life is not an “old wives’ tale”. There are consistent philosophical and scientific arguments that seriously challenge the naturalistic, atheistic view, which she had believed up to that point.
She found that numerous Bible texts guarantee that God exists and maintains the life of all of His created beings. It was a very special discovery for Laura to learn that she was not part of a cosmic accident or that she did not exist by chance. No! She had been planned. Finally her life had a purpose. She was discovering where she had come from, why she existed, and where she was going.
But another discovery was even more liberating for the young Laura. Reading several books, she realised that such famous personalities as Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis had endured problems with their parents in their childhood, and this bad relationship ended up contaminating their view of God. The result was that both of these men became atheists. However, Lewis experienced conversion later in his life that produced a true inner revolution, a change in his heart, thoughts, and feelings. Lewis overcame the past and forgave his father. Freud, according to what is known, never had an experience of this type. He continued as an atheist, although the idea of God always bothered him.
Laura saw herself reflected in these two individuals and in many other people who attribute to God the qualities and defects found in their own father. For Laura, God had abandoned her, just as her father had. But this perception did not correspond to reality. The one who had abandoned her was her flesh-and-blood father. Her heavenly Father had always been by her side.
This is a reality that applies to you also. It does not matter what evil may have been done to you during your childhood — if you suffered abuse by someone close to you or if you were assaulted by someone. God is not that person! God is a loving Father. He only wants what is best for you eternally.
Laura finally discovered that God exists, that He loves her and is by her side. Learning this removed her accumulated burden of anxiety. She would still have to learn many other important things that would adjust her focus and place her on the path to recovery. At that time, however, God’s Holy Spirit was planting a seed in her heart. Two ideas would not leave her mind: she needed to forgive her father, and she needed to treat others differently. Divine therapy was having an effect on her life.
Anxiety sometimes emerges because of fear of the future. Laura was learning that only God knows the future. This led her to place her faith and trust in the Almighty, who loves and protects those who accept Him. Divine therapy has three aspects:
The individual needs to influence his or her inner life, taking time to reflect that life is not summed up in being born, living, and dying. This reflection opens the way for a perspective that goes beyond the here and now. It includes the comprehension of the destiny of the human family and, especially, God’s plan for eternal salvation, as explained in the Bible. This helps the individual to acquire a long-term perspective that gives them assurance in the final triumph of good over evil. As a measure for immediate assistance, divine therapy uses the repetition of clear, strength-filled Bible verses. It also includes meditation with a basis in biblical promises, such as, for example, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you” (Psalm 91:7).
It is not only through worship in community (church service) and through the words of other people that God may intervene. He also does this by the example and the attitude that people demonstrate. The Holy Spirit may use these people to carry out His “therapy”. Finally, it’s good to mention that God can also use qualified professionals’ techniques and strategies to help individuals.
The divine aspect encompasses the growing intimate relationship between the human being and God through prayer. Prayer consists of talking to God as a friend and counsellor: talking about fears, anxieties, doubts and problems, as well as expressing gratitude to the Creator for the good things in our life. Sincere prayer has helped many to grow in faith— which is incompatible with anxiety and uncertainty. Faith, in reality, means trust in God. The more that we get to know God through prayer and the study of the Bible, the more we develop this trust and the more our faith is strengthened.
Assurance regarding the future
One of the big doubts Laura harboured as a teenager had to do with the future. The science books she read were useful in certain aspects, but they did not express any hope for the future. In one way or another, the universe would come to an end one day. This does not provide consolation to an anxious person.
Laura evaluated her recent discoveries—that God exists and that He loves her regardless of who she was or what happened to her in the past. This God revealed Himself in a special way in the Holy Bible, and there are many good reasons to believe that this unique book is trustworthy and reliable.
In conversations and studies with her work colleague, Laura discovered that the Bible contains more than 2,500 references to a wonderful future event — the return of Christ. Jesus Himself promised,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”(John 14:1–3)
At the time Jesus returned to heaven — after He had spent three decades on earth, died on the cross and was resurrected — two angels came to console His disciples with these words: “‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:11). How? In what manner? Personally, visibly, among the clouds and surrounded by angels. It will be the most spectacular event in history!
Revelation 1:7 states that every eye will see Jesus — believers and unbelievers alike. Laura understood it would not be intelligent on her part to ignore the various prophecies related to Jesus’ return that have already been fulfilled. She was convinced of the promises that He will return. Jesus never lied, and He would not play around with such a serious matter that has nurtured the faith and hope of innumerable Christians throughout history.
Actually, what the Bible teaches is “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12, 13).
Another subject where Laura found relief was the question of what is referred to as “eternal hell.” In his book, Is Your Soul Immortal? Robert Leo Odom writes,
“Suppose, for example, that the judge of your county should sentence a man convicted of murder to be tortured continuously day and night with scalding water and red-hot irons so as to keep him constantly suffering the most excruciating pain. What would the news media have to say about that? What would be the reaction of the people in general to punishment of that sort? Does it make sense to say that our Creator, who is a God of justice and love, could be a monster of cruelty worse than that?” (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald®, 1989, p. 63)
The idea of eternal torment goes against the just and loving character of God. The Bible affirms that the unjust will be consumed (Revelation 20:8-9), and they will become ashes (Malachi 4:1-3) by their own choice, as a result of their rebellion. But how should the expression “eternal fire” be understood? Odom explains:
“It is not the suffering that is said to be eternal, but the fire which God employed to destroy them is eternal in its effect. . . . By the word ‘unquenchable’ [Luke 3:17] he means fire that no man can extinguish or put out.” (Ibid., p. 69.) (See also 2 Peter 3:7,10.)
A good example of punishment by eternal fire is what took place at Sodom and Gomorrah (Jude 7). These cities are not still burning today. They were extinguished.
Laura was very pleased to understand this, because it had been another barrier between her and the God she hadn’t known before. When she thought about the myth of eternal hellfire, in her mind she could not see a loving Father. It was contradictory and illogical. But the Bible has nothing to do with this myth. The future presented for the redeemed is a place and a time where there will be no more “death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Obviously, for Laura to overcome anxiety, professional support was very good for her. However, her recently acquired knowledge of the God of the Bible and hope in the return of Jesus was decisive in turning her toward the peace that began to fill her life. Now she was no longer afraid of the future, because she knew that God was already there, waiting for her with open arms—a good Father who never abandons His children.
Biblical promises to face anxiety
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:19).
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your re- quests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns; and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25, 26).
The content of this post is taken from The Power of Hope — Overcoming depression, anxiety, guilt, and stress, authored by Julián Melgosa and Michelson Borges.
Julián Melgosa holds a doctorate in educational psychology from Andrews University. A member of the British Psychological Society, he was a university professor and is the author of various articles and books in the area of emotional health.
Michelson Borges is a journalist with a master’s in theology from Brazil Adventist University. He is the editor of “Vida e Saúde” (Life and Health magazine), is a seminar presenter and has authored books on media, science and religion.