Having been a neuropsychologist for nearly three decades, I can spot the signs: wringing the hands, chewing the bottom lip, and bouncing the leg. For others, the signs might include pacing back and forth, or fiddling with something in their hands. There are days I feel like I can barely walk and talk at the same time but watching them do all that simultaneously could wear me out. The thing was, they aren’t even aware they were doing any of it, but they were all a sign of a much bigger issue: worry and anxiety. The question is, where do anxiety, worry, and fear come from? And, what can we do about them?
Have you experienced anxiety, worry, or fear?
If you have ever said or even thought the following, then you have experienced worry, fear, or anxiety to some degree:
“I can’t do ___, because I’m afraid that ___.”
“I won’t do ___, because I’m worried about ___.”
“I’m not sure about ___, because I fear ____ might happen.”
If you have ever come face to face with worry, fear, or anxiety, you’re not alone. Many people experience them but have come to accept them as an inescapable way of life. Hardly a day goes by without me hearing someone admit, “I’m afraid that…” or “I’m just worried about…” or “I’m anxious because…”
Anxiety, worry, and fear—the common cold of mental illness
Worry, fear, and anxiety are so commonplace in our lives that we’ve come to accept them as unavoidable, much like a cold—the reason, in fact, that they are considered “the common cold of mental illness.” An estimated 7.3 percent of the population worldwide suffers from an anxiety disorder. That translates to approximately one in thirteen individuals or 264 million people. They are thought to be “the common cold of mental illness” because
- we all experience them to some degree and
- we accept them as if they are unavoidable like the common cold.
I can relate; I hated anxiety with every fiber of my being, but I felt powerless to change it. Every morning my thoughts raced before I even opened my eyes, a boulder of worries took up residence in the pit of my stomach, and I cried during my commute to work. I remember feeling powerless to fight back against the state of anxiety and overwhelm that smothered me. That was before I truly understood that God has already given us the tools to fight back against the spirit of fear.
That being said, we don’t HAVE to accept them. In fact, I would encourage you not to. Why? Because over 300 times in the Bible, God tells, no, commands us to “Fear not…”, “Do not worry,” and “Be anxious for nothing.” The thing is, God wouldn’t give us a command unless he also gave us the choice whether or not to obey. Is it easy to say no to worry, fear, and anxiety? Probably not. But is it possible? Absolutely.
God has revealed the origin and solution for worry, fear, and anxiety
The scope of a blog post prevents me from going into elaborate detail, but I’m not saying there aren’t genetic contributors, or chemical contributors, or situational contributors to worry, fear, and anxiety. There are. Finances, relationship discord, health crises, job pressures, comparison to others’ picture-perfect social media profiles, even the fear of missing out are just a few of the daily contributors to our emotional well-being, or lack thereof. But ultimately those are not the origin of our worry, fear, and anxiety.
In His word, God revealed both the origin and the solution for worry, fear, and anxiety: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV). Ultimately, the enemy of our soul is the cause of all our worries, fears, and anxieties. His desire is to steal our peace and make us not trust God, and one of the easiest ways for him to do this is to invoke, worry, fear, or anxiety and we immediately lose our peace—the very peace that Jesus came to give.
What are worry, fear, and anxiety?
Fear is basically the way our body responds emotionally to either a real or perceived immediate threat, and often involves engagement of our autonomic arousal in order for us to either fight or flee a perceived danger. Anxiety is our anticipation of an event in the future and may carry with it muscle tension or hypervigilance in preparation for potential danger. Worry is basically our thoughts about the future, including problems that can’t yet or might not even need solving.
All of those things that I mentioned above which contribute to our emotional state (finances, relationships, health, etc.) influence us through our thoughts. And that is exactly where the enemy of our soul attacks. He influences our thoughts: thoughts about ourselves, others, our situations, our future, and even God.
If the enemy can get us to believe those thoughts, which are often lies, then he has gained the upper hand, and we fall prey to depression, despair, worry, fear, anxiety, doubt, etc. And all of this represents a path certain to rob us of peace.
For more differences between worry, fear, and anxiety, visit What is the Difference Between Worry, Fear, and Anxiety?
In sum, as humans, we desire and we strive to be in control of as much as we can, as often as we can. When we can’t be in control, and we don’t fully trust the only One who always is, a doorway is opened to the breeding ground of worry, fear, or anxiety. That’s exactly the psychological mechanism behind the often unconscious thought, “What if…?”
“What if I lose my job?”
“What if the chemotherapy doesn’t cure the cancer?”
“What if my marriage doesn’t survive?”
For myself, when I start going down that “what if?” trail, I know I’ve sacrificed my peace while I’ve entertained worry or anxiety. Logically, we know that statistically speaking, the majority of things we worry about never happen, and yet those relatively few that do just fan the flame of future propensity to worry.
As a neuropsychologist, I can tell you that it is physiologically impossible for our brains to be both anxious/worried/afraid and relaxed (at peace) at the same time. As long as anxiety rules our thoughts and our emotions, we sacrifice our peace.
Now that we’ve identified what worry, fear, and anxiety really are, and ultimately where they come from, in the next blog post we’ll discuss what we can do about it so that we close the door on their pesky influence in our lives so that we can reclaim the peace God promises!
10 Scriptures to Fight Worry, Fear, and Anxiety
In the meantime, here are some Scriptures to recite and commit to memory so that when worry, fear, and anxiety rise up, we can respond with the truth of God’s word:
1. Philippians 4:6-7
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
2. Matthew 6:34
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
3. Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
4. Deuteronomy 31:6
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
5. Luke 12:24-26
“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span? “If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?” (Luke 12:24-26)
6. Matthew 6:25
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
7. John 14:1
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)
8. John 14:27
“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)
9. Psalm 34:4
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” (Psalm 34:4)
10. Joshua 1:9
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
What are your favorite scriptures to fight against worry, fear, and anxiety? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Resource to Break Anxiety’s Grip
No question, we have a lot to worry about. Children, jobs, homes, health, finances, and more. The solution isn’t to rid ourselves of the sources of anxiety – as if we could. Instead, we need to recognize that anxiety originates from a spiritual influence and that we can fight back using the God-given weapons of power, love, and a sound mind.
We can discover true peace in an age of anxiety.
In Breaking Anxiety’s Grip, Dr. Michelle Bengtson shares her own story of emerging from the battle with anxiety as well as the stories of others. She reminds you of your identity as a follower of Christ and of the peace he promises you in spite of everything.
She provides tools to cope with the crushing emotional burden of anxiety now and, more importantly, shows you how to reclaim God’s peace as a way of life so that you can break anxiety’s grip.
Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBooks.com, Books-A-Million, and other fine book retailers.
Click here to learn more: Breaking Anxiety’s Grip
More resources for fighting anxiety, fear, and worry