Anxiety is a monster, an intense, often debilitating monster. It can cripple us with fear and keep us from living our lives. If there ever was a time to call out the monster, it’s now.
In 2020, our collective anxiety rose dramatically. With a pandemic, racial injustice, social isolation, closed campuses, and all the typical stressors that make life difficult, you’d be some kind of superhuman not to have felt anxious at least once this past year. So, how do we get rid of the monster?
Scripture, spending time with loved ones and friends from your chapter, therapy, exercise, and even picking up new hobbies all can help mitigate anxiety. Still, overcoming this mental health giant can be quite complicated.
One resource that really helped me in turning to Scripture was Skip McDonald’s LifeGuide Bible Study, Anxiety: Finding Comfort and Reassurance from God, which took me through an individual crash course learning what God has to say about this stressful emotion. Here are just a couple things I learned from its eight sessions.
In the first section of the study, McDonald asks a simple question: why? Why worry? Doesn’t that feel like an infuriating question when you’re in the thick of it? It’s easy to dismiss worry when you’re not actively dealing with it, I thought.
I was close to skipping this section completely. But, after reexamining a passage of Scripture I’ve read a million times, I realized that I didn’t fully understand God’s reason for instructing us not to worry.
Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt 6:34). Earlier, he reminds us that God sees our needs and will sustain us like he sustains the rest of his creation. Jesus then finishes by reminding us to be present.
I really failed to be present back in March of 2020.This was one of the most anxious times of my life. Because of the pandemic, I was unexpectedly forced to return home from a job that I loved on the other side of the country. I left behind a lifestyle and community I deeply cared about and became overwhelmed with worry over the future.
My story isn’t entirely unique, either. Maybe you were sent home from college just as you were beginning to thrive. Maybe you were separated from friends, your InterVarsity community, and a campus that held so many memories.
And if you’re anything like me, you might not have coped with this jarring experience very well. After I was sent home, I spent months cooped up in my room reading article after article, searching desperately for any tiny kernel of hope that things would return to normal soon. In the end, the only thing that this nonstop research did was stress me out.
The truth is, some of my worst fears about the pandemic came to pass. But they would have passed whether I worried or not. I wish I could go back and tell myself things would not be okay for a while. I think it would have helped me accept that reality, so I could focus on the things that actually were in my control.
I had control over how I spent my time back home. Because of my constant fear, I neglected the rare chance I had to spend quality time with family. I put off investing in hobbies and passions that I’ve only now discovered. There were so many missed opportunities because I chose to worry instead. I chose not to be present.
So, yes, worry is real and valid. God isn’t saying it’s a silly, easy-to-ignore feeling. What he is saying is that we might sabotage the blessings of today by worrying about the troubles of tomorrow and about situations we may not have control over anyway.
Realizing this has been liberating. It’s allowed me to choose not to be burdened with worry.
When I was a kid, I thought God only heard my prayers if I performed them a certain way: eyes closed, kneeling down, hands clasped together, and repeating certain phrases. I don’t remember why I believed that this was the only way God would listen to me, but I’m glad I was wrong.
How great is it that we can be completely honest when we talk to God! That we can be reflective, upset, joyful, and yes, even anxious. While I love this freedom, this section of the Bible study helped me consider practicing prayer in a way that allows me to have a healthier, less anxious mindset in the process.
One instruction that stood out was to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable . . .” (Phil 4:8). Paul advises us to reflect on peaceful and positive things when we pray.
Anxiety is the opposite of peace and positivity. It makes my mind race. I think of nightmare scenarios. I’m terrified and irrational. Maybe you can relate. As you transition back to campus, enter college for the first time, or start your career postcollege, it’s easy to worry through your prayer time.
However, not quieting our minds, not practicing gratitude, and not thinking of the good things that Paul talks about can have consequences for us: we miss out on prayer’s restorative and life-giving power.
I still find it hard to quiet my mind when I turn to prayer in times of anxiety. But I know that God is patient with me as I continue this practice. It’s helped make my prayer times less distracted, and I come away from them feeling more hopeful.
I completed this study on my own, which I enjoyed, but I think it would be even more valuable in a group setting. The book contains helpful advice for small group leaders, ranging from tips on how to care for and shepherd others to how to facilitate deep, impactful conversations. If you’ve noticed anxiety rising in your small group, this guide will help you provide a much needed space to openly and effectively address it.
While I know that the monster of anxiety may still lurk around corners, thanks to this study, I know that the peace our Creator offers us—peace that surpasses all understanding—is also within reach.
Information on this web site solely reflects the opinions of the author and is provided for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute medical advice or mental health advice and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by a licensed physician, counselor, or other healthcare professional. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional about any mental health or medical concerns.
Emily Baez is a writer on InterVarsity’s Communications Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys long hikes, watching movies, and overly competitive game nights with friends. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#22836.