It seems like I talk to someone who is anxious almost everyday. I myself have suffered from anxiety for most of my adult life. Thankfully, for many years now I have been mostly free of anxiety.
My own experience and my ministry to pastors, leaders, and others has proven to me that there is help for anxiety. These 31 antidotes to anxiety will help you learn to deal with your worries and fears by trusting Jesus.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems in America. One in ten adults have suffered from panic attacks, phobias, or other anxiety disorders in the past year. Many, many other people have problems with worry or stress reactions.
Anxiety can be debilitating! It saps your energy for living, makes relationships feel like more trouble than their worth, diminishes productivity, distracts you from learning, dulls your sense of humor, and, worst of all, it distances you from God.
Apprenticeship to Jesus
It’s important that you put these 31 treatments for anxiety in the category of learning from Jesus how better to love God and your neighbor. Don’t make this into a “self-help” project where you’re trying to engineer more of God’s peace into your life. It won’t work that way. More importantly, that’s a small way to live.
Consider these antidotes as exercises to grow in your trust that God is good and he is in charge of your life and your world. You’ll need to work at this over time. I’ve suggested 31 exercises to encourage you to devote a month to learning new ways of dealing with your worries and fears by trusting God and apprenticing yourself to Jesus. It takes about a month of discipline to develop new, healthy habits of the heart. For 31 days try one idea a day. Or over the month focus on practicing the ideas that God leads you to try.
Have you dedicated yourself to be a student of the Master Jesus? Have you offered to Jesus your life day to be his classroom for you? We call Jesus our Lord and Savior, as we should! But he is so much more besides! Jesus is the Smartest Person in the world. He is the Holy One and the Prince of Peace. He is the Wonderful Counselor.
When our life purpose is to be with Jesus in order to become like him we will grow to be increasingly immersed in the peace of God, naturally, not by trying to make it happen.
Sheila, a mother of three young children, had been struggling with a social phobia for years before she got help.
Sheila described a typical episode like this, “I was at a church gathering last night and they started going around the circle for everybody to introduce themselves. Immediately I panicked. My face flushed, my heart was racing, and I felt sweaty. I couldn’t sit still. So I got up and went to the bathroom.”
A college student named Jared struggles with panic disorder.
Jared becomes panicked about going to his Communications class because he never knows when his teacher will call on him to read out loud or to present his views on a subject. Sometimes his heart races and he has difficulty breathing, he starts sweating and becomes dizzy and disoriented, and he’s sure that he’s going to die or go crazy.
Briana is 26 years old and she has the same symptoms as Jared whenever she feels trapped in public. She’s an agoraphobic and lately won’t go out of her house or her car in public, even to the grocery store, without her husband or her mother.
Why wouldn’t Briana go to the grocery store? She explained, “My cart was full of groceries. I was ready to check out and saw that the lines were really long. I panicked. I was afraid to get stuck in line. What if I had an attack? That’d be so humiliating. I just left my cart in the aisle and went home.”
A father named Randy obsesses over his 10-year old girl’s safety.
Every day Randy checks on his daughter at school, looking in the window to see that she’s okay. Every night he checks many times to see that the doors to their house are locked. Randy has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Are You Anxious?
Even if you don’t suffer from social phobia, panic disorder, agoraphobia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder you may have a significant problems in your relationships or work because of anxiety.
Ask yourself (or the friend or family member you’re concerned about) if you experience any of the following symptoms of generalized anxiety.
- Restlessness and feeling keyed up
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Easily fatigued
- Tension, aches, or tingling in muscles
- Difficulty sleeping
You may want to take our A-N-X-I-E-T-Y self-test.
What Causes Anxiety?
Chronic or debilitating anxiety, like other serious emotional and behavioral problems, is multi-causal. There isn’t just one cause to anxiety; there are always at least a few.
Anxiety is a secondary emotion that is felt when primary emotions like anger, fear, or sadness are repressed. In other words, denial of emotion is a major cause for anxiety.
Heredity and Biology
Some people are born with an anxious and reactive personality type. Their neuro-endocrine and neurotransmitter systems in their brains are particularly vulnerable to stress. Various medical conditions and drug reactions can also cause anxiety symptoms.
Anxious Messages (Especially in Childhood)
Usually, adults with an anxiety disorder grew up with quite a bit of stress in their homes. Probably as children they heard negative, anxious messages (explicit or implicit) like:
- “Don’t be emotional or needy.”
- “I can use you or violate you for my pleasure.”
- “You are as valuable as what you accomplish so try harder.”
- “You must follow the rules.”
- “Do it right. Don’t be late. Don’t make a mistake.”
- “You have to be careful. The world is a dangerous place.”
- “What you feel or need or think is wrong.”
- “You need to take care of yourself.”
Anxiety Provoking Personality Traits
Usually, people with anxiety disorders have internalized into their self-talk one of more of the negative messages above. They relate to themselves and to their world in ways that cause anxiety. When they experience stress they don’t process their feelings and adapt well, but instead become anxious and dysfunctional.
We all experience stress in our daily lives – some of us more than others – in the form of challenges and changes. We can’t avoid stressful life events but we can respond to them with a healthy attitude.
Everyone I have counseled for anxiety has had problems with control. They try to control people, trying to please them or to make a positive impression. They try to control situations, straining to make things happen the way they want. They hurry to get more done in less time.
They haven’t learned to abandon outcomes to God.
Help for Anxiety
There is help for anxiety. I know many people who have either overcome an anxiety disorder or significantly reduced their anxiety — I am one of them. In each case they needed immediate and effective help for their whole person — body, mind, and soul — bringing themselves and their daily lives under the governance of the Lord Jesus.
As part of their submission to the Lord they needed to utilize a variety of relaxation strategies, ways of resting their bodies in God’s sovereignty and love. Anxiety is cumulative; it gests into your body through various stressors over time. So to get free of anxiety, to grow in God’s peace, you need to incorporate a variety of relaxation strategies over time. You know you’re free of anxiety when it is replaced by peace in your body: the butterflies have flown out of your stomach, your muscles are relaxed, your heart rate and pace of life is slowed, your thoughts are calm.
31 Antidotes for Anxiety
Here are 31 different anxiety antidotes in four categories – emergency first aid, physical, psychological, and spiritual – that can increase your sense of peace and your effectiveness in relationships and work. Remember, you need to work on a exercise each day, doing so in the posture of being an apprentice to Jesus who is learning to live in his kingdom.
Emergency First Aid
1. Medication. Randy took medication for his Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as part of his therapy and learned to trust that his daughter wasn’t in constant danger. There are a number of anti-anxiety medications that offer immediate and powerful help. Of course, prospective patients need to consult with their doctor or a psychiatrist.
2. Distraction. If you’re having a panic attack or are highly anxious you can use this technique just to get through it. Focus on something to distract you from your anxiety until it subsides. It could be a reading, watching TV, or a project your working on. Later, when you’re feeling up to it, address your feelings.
3. Floating. People with panic disorder make the mistake of trying to control their symptoms. But you can’t stop a panic attack once it’s started. Instead, realize that it’s not going to hurt you and let it ride its course by “floating” with it. Paradoxically, this should help it subside.
4. Breathing exercises. Anxious people breathe rapid, shallow breaths from their chest. Slow, deep breathing from your stomach helps you relax. Breathe in deep until you fill your lungs, hold it inside for the count of ten, slowly exhale. Repeat this until your body relaxes. This is best done as an exercise of praying to God. (See below for how to combine deep breathing with meditation on Scripture using “Breath Prayers.”)
5. Muscle Relaxation. Anxiety accumulates in our bodies and needs to be discharged. Tensing and then relaxing your muscles is a way to soothe your stressed body.
To start sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Do some deep breathing exercises then go through certain muscle groups in your body, tensing the muscle for a count of ten and then relaxing. You can go through your whole body, head to toe or you can focus just on those muscles that are tight and tense from gathering anxiety – forehead, jaw, neck/shoulders, back, hands.
Do this as a way of offering your body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit.
6. Wait. Briana, the agoraphobic referenced earlier, learned to utilize this technique. Instead of driving home from the grocery store when she felt panicked she went to her car and waited until she calmed down. Then she gathered herself and went back into the store to bring her groceries through the check out line. Retreating to her car gave her permission to go to a safe place to calm down and re-gain her courage to go back into the store.
It was important that Briana went back into the store because that’s what restored her confidence. To not go back and face your fear is avoidance and increases the power of your fear to paralyze you.
7. Prayer. The Bible offers a powerful, immediate prescription for anxiety: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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).
8. Rest. Many people today try to get too much done too quickly and need to set more realistic expectations and get enough rest. Honoring the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments and it’s more needed today than it was 3,000 years ago.
Sabbath is ultimately about attitude. If you learn to be unhurried in your demeanor you’ll probably be free of anxiety. Jesus was never in a hurry.
9. Diet. To reduce anxiety, avoid caffeine and nicotine and decrease sugar intake. Alcohol and other drugs are a problem here. Many people use food or drugs to energize themselves or to calm themselves. They’re trying to control how they feel. It doesn’t work and it actually generates anxiety.
It’s much better to learn to trust God as your portion. We say, “The Lord is my refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Really? Maybe caffeine is the shepherd I can count on for energy?
10. Massage. Deep tissue massage or even a good back rung or neck and should rub can relax your body and help you unwind. Anxiety works it’s way into our bodies. The love of God can be powerfully meditated when you receive a massage or even a hug from someone you trust.
11. Exercise. Jog, bike, lift weights, walk, or do some other aerobic activity for 30 minutes at least three times a week and you’ll feel increases in energy, well-being, and confidence and you’ll release pent up stress in your body. It’s especially powerful to exercise with Jesus!
12. Verbalize your feelings to a safe person. At least once a day, process the events of your day and share your feelings with a caring listener. This is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health. We need one another in the body of Christ.
13. Re-prioritize your schedule. Left unchecked, anxiety feeds on itself by leading you to become helter-skelter in thought and activity. It’s good to take a step back, review your priorities, make a to do list, and focus on them one at a time. Become unhurried. This relates to Sabbath mentioned above.
14. Assess your Anxiety. Understanding when you’re anxious and what causes you to get anxious will enable you to get the help you need before you’re overloaded or in a crisis. As we discussed above, there are many reasons why you might be anxious. Knowing why guides you in your treatment.
15. Admit your Feelings. When you’re angry, afraid, sad, or whatever you’re feeling, accept it and talk it through with your therapist, support group, or friend. Go ahead and vent – get some air! (Learn from the Psalmist — you need to do this with God too!)
16. Accept your Limitations. Learning when to say no empowers you to say yes and accomplish great things. You can’t do everything you want to do, you can’t please everybody, and you can’t do things perfectly. Instead, focus on what’s most important and do your best until you’ve accomplished it. Some people feel like it’s not loving to set limits and say no, but Jesus Set Boundaries.
17. Adjust your Self-talk. Anxious people need to change counter the negative things they say to themselves and use positive self-talk to help them cope with anxiety and to better care for themselves. As I’m using the term, self-talk is not a self-help project. Think of it as saying God’s Word to yourself or prayerfully reminding yourself of God’s grace to you. (For instance read Renew your Mind and Life through Romans 8.)
Sheila learned to do this to overcome her social phobia. Instead of fretting, “They’re going to see me blush. I’ll make a fool of myself.” She said to herself, “I don’t need to impress anybody. I like me. I can introduce myself.”
Other examples of replacing anxious self-talk with affirming self talk are:
- “What will they think if I lose it?” -> “If I start to panic I’ll let it pass and probably no one will notice.”
- “Oh no – my heart is racing again. I feel like I can’t breathe! What’s the matter with me?” -> “I’m experiencing anxiety symptoms. I’m going to trust that God is with me.”
- “I’ll never get over this anxiety.” -> “I’m working to implement my treatment program. God is helping me. It takes time to change.”
- “I’m weak.” -> “It’s taking courage for me to face this problem.”
- “I’m not good enough.” -> “I am loved, forgiven, and valuable.”
- “I’m going to get hurt again.” -> “I can set a boundary to protect myself.”
18. Address Relational Conflicts and Set Boundaries. Most people with anxiety problems fearfully avoid conflicts with other people, thereby internalizing their anger and generating more anxiety. And the more they avoid their fear the bigger it becomes!
To overcome anxiety they need to face their fears. They need to learn say no, express a dissenting opinion, ask for what they need, and verbalize their anger to those who hurt, control, or offend them. They need to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Only then are they able to discover that God’s unconditional love is indeed sufficient for them.
19. Desensitize Yourself. To face your fear you may need to start small. For instance, Jared’s therapist helped him learn to speak out loud in class without panicking by using a technique called systematic desensitization in which he gradually faced his fear.
Jared began by imagining giving a speech in class and he made sure to picture Jesus in the audience smiling his approval. Then he gave his speech in his room in front of the mirror. Then to his roommate. Then to his professor in the classroom. And finally, he gave his speech in front of the whole class. (And in every step of courage he reminded himself that Christ was with him, loving him no matter how he performed.)
In other words, “take courage.” You won’t always have courage when you need it — you have to take it from someone. Ultimately, from Someone.
20. Active Relaxation through Biofeedback. By working with a therapist or a doctor trained in the use of biofeedback you can learn to reprogram the way you respond to stressful events.
21. Thankfulness. Being thankful for God’s blessings in your life – small and large – helps secure those blessings for your benefit and is a healing balm when anxious concerns burden you. Everyday make a gratitude list on paper or in your head. Thank God in prayers of thanks and praise. Verbalize your appreciations with a friend.
22. Worship. Singing songs of praise to God tunes your soul to God and His loving purposes for you. When we worship him as our Lord then we can relax.
23. Bible Study. The Bible offers much comfort and wisdom for those who are anxious and troubled. I’ve gathered some of my favorite Antidotes for Anxiety from the Bible. I also researched the “Fear Nots” of the Bible and wrote, 31 Days to Freedom from Fear.
24. Meditation on Scripture. Meditation on Bible passages is a powerful relaxant. For instance, I often do this with Psalm 23, prayerfully reciting the psalm to myself, imagining it’s vivid, soothing scenes and entrusting my concerns to my Good Shepherd. I also like to meditate on nature. Near my home is a lake, many sycamore trees, flowers of all types, and music-making birds that I use to focus my thoughts and prayers on God and his beauty.
25. Abiding in Prayer. Pick a comforting phrase or verse from the Bible and focus on it, praying it quietly and deeply over and over. For instance, I’ve done this with God’s words to me in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Then I pray the Scripture over my burdens, one by one.
26. Breath Prayers. Many anxious people I have worked with have found tremendous help through using a Breath Prayer exercise that combines deep, relaxing breathing with meditation on Scripture. Breathing in and out a comforting phrase of Scripture can bring extraordinary peace from God.
27. Praying the Psalms. Many of the Psalms address anxiety, worry, and fear. The Psalmist teaches us how to pray about our concerns and find comfort from God – even if our circumstances haven’t improved yet. Psalm 27 is a great example of a Psalm that helps us to overcome our fears by focusing on the Lord and delighting in him.
28. Journaling. Writing down your worries and fears has been proven in research to be cathartic. I can testify to this, along with many people I have counseled. Journaling is especially therapeutic if you approach as writing your own Psalm to God.
29. Submit to God Continually. I believe that learning to submit to the Sovereign Lord, as you do whatever you’re doing, can cure many anxiety problems. This is my own story. To submit to God is to stop trying to control people (and what they think), situations, and results of things and instead trust God and follow his lead. In other words, you need to learn to abandon outcomes to God.
30. Solitude. In Psalm 23 David says of the Good Shepherd: “He restores my soul.” How? The earlier verses tell us: make the Lord your Shepherd (submit to him) and learn to rest quietly with him in his green pastures and beside his still waters.
31. Serve Others. Find someone else who is anxious, or who has some other problem, and offer a listening ear or some practical help. You’re problems won’t seem so big and you’ll feel better about yourself knowing that God is using you to make a difference for someone else.