An Unwanted House Guest, When Anxiety Decides To Stay.

                Many years ago, Amy and I lived in a single-wide mobile home. It was just a temporary situation in southern Ohio. We enjoyed the open skies and beautiful landscapes. Things worked well through most of the winter. As the spring came, winter loosened its tight grasp. The days were filled with hope but there was a slight problem. It started with just a slight smell. We really did not notice it very much at all. Maybe a small mouse had died in some tiny corner, well hidden away. Slowly and slowly the smell grew. What was once barely observed was growing in intensity day by day. It became unbearable! We had to find out what had died in our midst. Eventually we discovered a dead possum neatly tucked right under the heating duct.

                Anxiety can be like that dead possum. In the beginning we hardly notice how it is impacting our lives. Slowly but surely its impact can grow until all of life is controlled by it and it dominates us. Anxiety is a very normal response to life. Life can be very difficult and there are times in our lives when we struggle to function and operate. Fortunately, God did not leave us helpless. He gives us many different weapons to battle this persistent enemy. We can overcome! We can thrive! We can battle and win!

                Overcoming anxiety and worry takes work. We cannot “wish it” away. We cannot wave a magic wand and make it disappear. Often it takes time for it to lift. If we follow the steps below, the cycles of depression can become shorter and less severe. We will be able to identify the circumstances that lead to sorrow and reverse the negative consequences.  


                Before we can address the steps of overcoming anxiety there are several principles we must understand.

1. It might be biological.

                God designed the physical body and the emotions to work as a unit. They function together very effectively. This is the reason why our stomach has “butterflies” when we are asked to give a presentation before a large group. It is why our muscles might feel stiff if we have been in a particularly contentious meeting at work. The body and the emotions usually mimic each other.

                There are many physical ailments that will cause a downturn in emotions. The endocrine system is one area of the body that can be a source of sadness and lack of energy. Tumors can create many different emotional responses. Hormonal changes can and will cause a wide variety of physical and emotional reactions.

                As a person works to overcome their anxiety, they should seek a medical exam to rule out any observable, biological sources for anxiety. Sometimes the adjustment of medicine or diet can be a great help. Occasionally, the discovery of what is happening biologically reveals an underlying medical reason for the depression.

2. Emotions follow the heart (mind).

                Anxiety and discouragement are effects of something. Anxiety does not appear without some underlying reason. There might be a biological reason and there might be a spiritual reason. Biblically speaking, people do not just have anxiety. Something causes it to appear. This is true of all emotions.

God gave humans emotions. He wanted us to feel and to express our feelings. It adds a lot of color to our lives. Emotions reveal what is happening in our minds and hearts. If we read something funny, we laugh. If we think of something sad, we feel sad. A large, barking dog will usually produce fear. The emotions are designed to follow the mind.

                How one views his circumstances will impact how he feels about them. The Apostle Paul gives a great example in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
In chapters 11 and 12, Paul was addressing the problem false teachers had raised in the church in Corinth. They had been accusing him of not having the truth of God. They also did not think he was approved to speak because he had not suffered as much as they had suffered.  They taught that real teachers boast of their accomplishments. Humanly speaking, Paul possessed the same elite Jewish background the false teachers possessed, and he had suffered much more. Paul had even received special revelation directly from God. If anyone had a reason to boast and be proud, Paul did.  

                Notice now chapter 12, verses 7-10. So that he would not be boastful in the revelations he received, God allowed Paul to have a thorn in the flesh. (Imagine having a thorn stuck in your arm. You cannot remove it and it is painful.) This was a persistent, physical ailment or pain that Paul had. We do not know what it was. Paul prayed three times for it to be removed. Even though he had healed others, he could not remove his pain.

                God allowed Paul to have this in his life to teach him several lessons. When Paul realized that he was not in control he would rely more on the Lord. There was no place for him to be proud. He needed to be reminded of his weakness. When Paul understood his own weakness, then the power of Christ could be mature. Paul would be in the right place to be used by God.

                Once Paul had a right perspective on his “thorn” he could respond appropriately. Can we identify with how Paul responded to the thorn in verses nine and ten? He was able to “boast all the more gladly”. He was able to be glad because he understood the necessity of the pain. He was also content. To be content means to be satisfied, fully resting. Paul was willing to be completely satisfied in Christ not just in the “thorn” but also through weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.  The correct perspective of his difficulties led him to possess gladness and contentment.

                How we think (ponder, meditate) on our difficulties will make an enormous impact on the way we feel about them. If we think they are unjust and unfair, we will react with anger and frustration. If we view them as random and out of control, we will react with fear and anxiousness. If we view them as sovereign gifts by a loving God, we will react with gladness and contentment. The emotions follow the heart. How we feel will demonstrate what we are constantly thinking about.  

This is demonstrated over and over in the Bible. Think about how the children of Israel responded to their trials in the desert wanderings. Those who trusted and followed God responded with energy, confidence, faith and obedience (Think about Joshua, Caleb and Moses). Those who did not trust in God responded with fear, anger and frustration. This model can be seen in the life of David, Nehemiah and many others. (See Psalm 51, 77 and 143)

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 
13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 (ESV) 
                There is great help and hope to be found in this teaching. If we do not like the way we are feeling, we can change our feelings. We are not helpless in this aspect. We are not a prisoner to them. The key is to analyze what we are thinking about. We must try to understand how we are interpreting and responding to our circumstances. Do we view them unbiblically or sinfully? If we do, we will feel worry, fear, anxiousness and doubt.

3. Habits of the heart.

                God created man with the great ability to develop habits. When we do something repeatedly, we will soon be able to do that action with little or no thought. That is why basketball players shoot the ball at the basket thousands of times. In practice, they work on having their feet in the right place and their hands placed correctly. They look at the right point on the rim. They do this over and over and over. They drill that way until they can shoot well without thinking about it. We live each day performing many tasks without thinking about them. It is the blessing of being able to form habits.

Our heart also develops habits. We see a situation and react to it. Our body learns to act and react. Our mind acts and reacts. Our emotions also respond. If we think the same thoughts about a situation and we do this repeatedly, we will also feel the same way about that situation. We train our minds (hearts) to respond habitually and our emotions dutifully follow. We can feel happy or sad emotions and not even realize we are thinking rightly or wrongly about it. We get better and better at it. We respond faster and faster each time. We soon respond habitually.

                That is the reason why some people develop “panic attacks”. They seem to come from nowhere. Out of the blue, they suddenly start sweating, their hearts start pounding, they become scared. A panic attack is not a germ that is floating around and randomly hits. It is a learned, habitual response to a circumstance. The person has so trained their hearts that when a thought or situation appears, they instantaneously respond in fear or worry.

4. People can change the way they feel by changing the way they think.

                People can change how they feel by changing their thinking. This takes time. It also will require the changing of habits. The key is to evaluate how one is thinking. Is the thought process Biblical? Is it full of faith and obedience? Is it full of doubt? James 1:5-8 teaches, the person who lacks faith will be “double minded and unstable in all his ways.”

                The process of overcoming our emotions begins with the controlling of our thinking by orienting our heart to act and react biblically. 2 Cor. 10:5 says, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Our whole thought process should honor God. We should meditate regularly on His goodness and mercy. We should desperately desire to be conformed to the image of Christ and we should view our circumstances as opportunities to be transformed. This always begins with our minds.

This change can take weeks and months to develop. There will be times of great failure and great success. Habits are hard to change. That is why they are so good. Good habits help us do what we want to do with little or no effort. Bad habits work the same way. They enable us to respond with little or no thinking. We must break the sinful thinking patterns and replace them with biblical patterns. If we change our thinking, the emotions will follow.

WHAT WE CAN DO TODAY – Here are a few steps to help overcome anxiety.

1. Use all the tools in our toolbox.

                God has given us all the resources we need to live the life He expects us to live (2 Peter 1:3-11). Our toolbox is full of great resources. If we are not using all that God has given, then we will be hindered. We should be taking full advantage of these wonderful helps. Here are the main tools we should use.

  • God – God is working in and through us. We need to make sure we are praying and seeking to honor Him with all our thinking and doing. He is a kind, gracious, loving God and wants us to live fruitfully. Do I know Him? How do His characteristics (attributes) impact my life? If we cannot answer these questions, we need to learn more about Him. We need to know Him personally if we want to succeed.  
  • The Word of God – God gave us His Word to help us. It will give us all we need to know to make sure our heart is meditating the correct way. We need to have God’s perspective on life, the Bible gives us that perspective.                
  • The Local Church – The local church is a body and it is to function with all its members. Other believers will help us have the correct perspective on life. They will correct our unbiblical thinking and provide encouragement to make right decisions. Where else in our life will someone tell us that we are not acting and reacting in a Christ-like manner? A good, biblical, loving church will do that. Make sure you are in good fellowship with your local church and are seeking godly advice from it. You need the church’s teaching, fellowship, advice and support.
  • Ourselves – We have a role to play in this process. We are not helpless. We can grow and change. There are circumstances in our life that cannot be changed but there are areas that are our responsibility. We are responsible to control our thinking. Notice these passages: Philippians 2:5, “Have this mind among yourselves…”; Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are responsible for how we think. We must take control.                                

2. Begin new habits

                Once we are employing good tools, we begin to create godly habits. Our resources enable us to respond Biblically to our circumstances. We will be able to respond correctly when someone sins against us (James 1:19-21). We will act appropriately when we sin against someone else (James 5:16). We will respond with joy when we go through trials (1 Peter 1:6-7).

                In order to do so, we must train our hearts to approach these situations in ways that honor God and reflect Christlikeness. We need to do this over and over. This takes effort and time. We are required to keep our focus (be habitual) on God. If we do this, we will not be anxious about tomorrow nor the problems it brings (Matt. 6:19-34).

3. Identify incorrect thoughts and replace them.

                Here a few actions we can do when we realize that we are feeling anxious and fearful. We must practice godly responses.

  1. Pray – Pray to God and ask for wisdom and discernment. It might not be His desire to remove us from the situation. We need to focus on His perspective more than ours.
  2. Focus on the Bible – We can find examples of people who suffered like we are suffering. Some responded correctly and others did not. Can we identify the difference? We should find verses to memorize that remind us of the truth on which we should be meditating.
  3. Worship – Suffering can cause us to stop moving. It should cause us to worship. When we find ourselves fearful, we need to take time to thank God for His wonderful blessings. We should train our heart to turn to the Lord and not to our limited perspective. Thank the Lord for who He is and all that He does. We should work toward thankfulness and away from bitterness.
  4. Move – Once we have taken time to pray, rehearsed Scripture and worshipped, it is time to start moving.
  5. We can seek out godly friends and share our grief with them. We need their perspective and advice. A good friend will be a great encouragement. In 2 Cor. 7:5-16, Paul explained how God comforted his downcast heart with the arrival of Titus and with the good news of the believers in Corinth.
  6. We should seek to overcome any selfishness by loving God and others. Worry and fear encourage us to become more selfish. We need to overcome the tendency to remove ourselves from others. Instead, we should seek to move toward others and find ways to be generous and loving.
  7. We can find something active to do to prevent rehearsing any unbiblical thinking. We need to be thinking Biblically while being active. This might be a hobby, craft or project. Find something to do. Resist the desire to daydream. Some suggestions are exercising, gardening, cooking, cleaning, painting a room, drawing, reading. We should set weekly and daily goals for ourselves. Idleness is not our friend when we are struggling in this area.

4. Caution and Care with Medications

                There are times when people need to see their physician. Often the symptoms of worry impact their physical health. A physician might recommend medication to alleviate the signs of worry, guilt or stress. These medications can lessen the impact of the source problem. This is extremely helpful if the root cause is physical. If the problem is spiritual the medication will only mask the problem.

                It is important to realize that guilt, anger, disappointment, greed, and worry will eventually cause physical problems like headaches, stomach ulcers, back aches, tiredness, fear and a whole host of other difficulties. If medication is taken to relieve these symptoms without solving the root cause, then issues will continue indefinitely.

Often the drugs given to treat anxiousness, fear, worry and panic come with very serious side-effects. They can also be awfully hard to discontinue. When the root cause is not diagnosed but hidden by medication, there will be more severe symptoms in the future when medication needs to be changed or stopped. The fear and anxiousness can be worse than it was before. This leads some to take more potent medication with more severe side effects. They cycle can continue to spiral worse and worse.

Make sure the root cause is examined and determined. It is important not to rely on medication to deny the symptoms of a spiritual problem. A medical physician often will not have the time or accurate theology to deal with the root cause of sin. The best he can do is medicate the symptoms to give relief. If the cause is spiritual (guilt, faithlessness, doubt, sin) then the solution will also be spiritual. When the root problem is solved the symptoms will lessen or disappear.

Anxiousness is something we all fight to overcome. Our world can be a very scary place in which to live. We do not have be slaves to our worry and fears. We can grow and be strong. We can live our lives to honor God in all that we do and say, without complaining and groaning. It takes work and practice to live contented lives. God wants us to succeed in this area and has given us everything we need to do so.

Text Box: For more online resources, please visit the following link.
                If you have read this article and would like more help, please reach out. We have helped dozens of people move from being anxious to living fully productive lives. We want to help you. This is a free service offered by Hope Baptist Church of Akron You can have victory in this area.

Hope Baptist of Akron

Phone: 330-376-5548                                                             Website:

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