Can You Really Pray Anxiety Away?
- Alyssa Roat Contributing Writer
- 2019 3 Oct
“Do not be anxious about anything,” Christians will quote from Philippians 4:6. This might be followed by “have joy in the Lord!” or “his eye is on the sparrow, dear.”
None of these platitudes feel helpful to the Christian who has just confessed to dealing with anxiety.
In the church, there is often an idea that anxiety is simply the result of a lack of trust in God and can be prayed away, if we just have enough faith. But is there more to the situation?
Is Anxiety Mentioned in the Bible?
The Bible has a lot to say about anxiety, though the word “anxiety” itself only pops up in the New International Version seven times, often instead replaced by “troubles,” “distress,” or “cares.”
The Bible has many instances of people who experienced anxiety: Jacob in Genesis 32 worried about seeing his brother Esau again, the Jewish people were anxious in Esther 4 because of the king’s decree that they might be massacred, and Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was distressed in 1 Samuel because of her inability to conceive.
Notably, all of these people experiencing anxiety were God’s chosen people, His followers. Believers suffer with anxiety, too.
Different Kinds of Anxiety
“Anxiety” is a broad word. Sometimes, anxiety stems from a specific need. For example, someone might be anxious about where they will get their next meal. Jacob was specifically anxious about seeing his brother again. Often, this kind of anxiety will go away after the problem has passed or is addressed.
If something is making us anxious, it’s usually a sign that we should work to better understand or resolve the situation, or get help to do so, whether it’s recurring sin, a broken relationship, or a physical need.
However, anxiety can also be generalized, a feeling of worry or stress about everything, or even about what feels like nothing. This kind of anxiety can be harder to tackle.
Biblical Responses to Anxiety
There are several ways to combat anxiety.
One is to read God’s Word and reflect on His promises. There are many verses in which God promises to care for us and reminds us not to worry. A few are Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:6-8, 1 Peter 5:7, Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 6:34, and Jeremiah 29:11.
Reading the stories of followers of God in the Bible can also help, whether reading about David’s struggles while running from Saul in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel and the Psalms or reading the pleas of Job. Time and again, God cares for His people even in desperate situations.
Another way to fight anxiety is through prayer. Rather than just praying, “God, help me not to be anxious,” try spending time praising Him. Praise Him for His goodness, His might, His holiness. Praising God is not only an excellent form of worship, it also helps remind us of who God is and His ability to care for us. We can also bring our worries to God and tell Him exactly what is making us anxious, placing those worries in His hands.
Sometimes we just need to talk through what’s bothering us.We are instructed to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Seek out a trusted friend who is a Christ follower, or even a pastor or Christian counselor. Talking and praying with someone else can help us to talk things out and put things in perspective.
What If Reading, Prayer, and Counseling Don’t Help with My Anxiety?
Sometimes, even Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and communing with other Christians won’t eradicate anxiety.
This is not necessarily the result of a lack of faith or any failure. Instead, it might be wise to seek out a doctor. Sometimes, explains this article from the Mayo Clinic, anxiety is actually a symptom of an underlying medical problem, such as heart disease or hyperthyroidism. In this case, anxiety can be eliminated by treating the underlying medical issue. Anxiety can also be caused by medications you might be taking for a different medical issue.
However, sometimes anxiety is simply that—anxiety.
Should a Christian Take Anxiety Medication?
A psychiatrist or other medical professional can help with a diagnosis. If a Christian is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, a doctor may prescribe medication.
Is it wrong for the Christian to turn to medication? Shouldn’t we pray it away?
First of all, it’s important to note that anxiety often has biological components that we have no control over. Genetics, hormone imbalances, and faulty brain circuitry can all cause anxiety, writes Adam Felman for Medical News Today. Therefore, anxiety can sometimes be classified as a legitimate medical issue on the level of diabetes or heart disease.
No one would shame a diabetic for taking insulin. Nor would we tell the person that they should be able to pray their illness away. Taking anxiety medication can be no different. Although it is true that those with more recognizable illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, etc. can somewhat improve their conditions with healthy life choices, medication is needed to completely manage their symptoms.
Likewise, though it is good to approach anxiety spiritually and with good life choices, sometimes medication is needed to completely manage the disorder.
But What If I Don’t Have an ‘Actual Medical Disorder?’
So maybe a person doesn’t have a genetic or hormonal or chemical component to their anxiety. Or maybe they’re not sure. Does that mean they still can’t take medication?
In the end, it’s a personal choice. Sometimes a doctor might prescribe medication to temporarily manage symptoms to the point where a person is capable of addressing the root issues. Sometimes it may be too difficult to address those issues right away, but with the help of medication, therapy and other means might be more accessible.
Eventually, a doctor may wean a person off the medication. You should always ask your doctor first if you want to wean off, and you should never quit cold turkey.
Are Medication and Therapy Wrong?
God made us with ingenuity to create and minds to relate. When used properly, medication can be extremely helpful.
Also, God created us with minds to comprehend. Therapy to talk through what is happening in our brains is a legitimate use of our intellect to better understand ourselves and our world. God can use multiple means to heal us, whether modern medicine, Biblical meditation, Christian fellowship, or professional therapy.
Whatever we choose, instead of focusing on what makes us anxious or even anxiety itself, the Bible has told us what we are to focus our minds on:
“…Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ian Espinosa
Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for Biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood releases Nov. 7, 2020. She has had 150+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.