2013 I had a full nervous breakdown. I guess they don’t call it that anymore, but that’s what it was. It was a Saturday and my wife and I were driving around frantically trying to find some items to use at during our church service the next day. I’m a pastor of a small church north of Orlando, so this was pretty normal for me. We are always rushing around at the last moment — tying together loose ends and getting things ready for the congregation.
All of the sudden, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My chest was tight — like there was an 80 lb. weight sitting on it. I wasn’t sure what to tell my wife. I didn’t want her to freak out.
“I think I need to go to the hospital,” I said.
“You what?” she answered. Then repeated, “You need to go to the hospital? Why?”
“I think I’m having a heart-attack…”
Without hesitation we drove to the nearest ER where I casually tried to inform the attending nurse that I was having chest pains. Before I could finish my sentence they had me back on an examination table.
As I’m sure you have already guessed, I wasn’t having a heart attack, I was just way too stressed out and anxious and it had finally caught up with me.
In the months that followed, I took several steps to remedy the problem, and to be honest, I did take some anti-anxiety medication to help the process. There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, the main adjustments that I made were simple changes to my work schedule and to my personal life. Among the changes, I found several ideas for stress relief that are clearly represented in the Bible. They are natural antidotes to stress. I still work on them every day to help my anxiety and perhaps they will work for you too.
Prayer Helps with Anxiety
When the apostle Paul was writing to his friends in Philippi, he offered a prescription for anxiety when he said,
“…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6)
For a Christian, prayer is an important part of dealing with anxiety. There are two reasons why it is beneficial. First, because when you pray, you confess what worries you. The simple act of voicing your troubles provides strength and disarms fear. That’s one of the reasons why the Bible says that we are to confess to one another and to God.
Secondly, prayer keeps you humble. When you talk to God and tell him your worries you are acknowledging that you don’t have control, but HE does. Besides, prayer is more than just asking for things. Prayer should be a conversation, a dialogue. Prayer can and should go both ways. When I counsel people on how to pray I often encourage them to follow up their prayer time with extended moments of silence. Call it meditation if you want, but if you spend two minutes in prayer, spend the following two minutes being quiet. If you spend 10 minutes in prayer, follow that up with 10 minutes of silence. If you do, you will be amazed at how much anxiety this simple action will make.
Nature Is Good For Your Soul
When it comes to being silent you will find that it’s actually difficult to do in our modern age. When I’m at home I find it hard to achieve true silence. My phone might beep, my dog might need something, or a package might come to the door.
But if you can go to a quiet place in nature you’ll be surprised at what true silence can do for your soul. Honestly, it’s so good for you. This is true for a few reasons.
First, being in nature is a reminder of your humanity and how we are were created as a part of God’s ecosystem. My wife and I are hikers and we spent a few weeks on the Appalachian Trail each summer backpacking together. Standing on the top of a mountain and looking out over the countryside I feel both significant and insignificant at the same time.
But more importantly, Jesus modeled this very behavior in his own life. The gospel writer Luke says that Jesus withdrew to “desolate” places (5:16). Some Bibles translate desolate as “the wilderness.” Also, Mark says Jesus went to a solitary place very early in the morning (Mark 1:35) and later Luke tells us he went up to the mountain (6:12).
I’m convinced that Jesus went to these out of the way locations in nature so he could find calm and rejuvenate his soul in prayer and quietness.
It might be hard for you to get away often, but if you struggle with anxiety I recommend spending some time in nature. You could find a local park to walk in but I challenge you to go further out. Take a trip to the beach, hike up a mountain, or even spend a night camping in the woods on your own.
Exercise Is A Must
Admittedly, the Bible has very little to say about exercise. There’s probably a reason for that. People who lived in Bible times had little opportunity to be inactive. Each person in the family worked very hard planting and harvesting crops, milling grain, tending flocks, or cooking food. This was a time in history when leisure time was an unknown commodity.
Today, most people who work do so in a sedentary way. We spend the days at desks, in conference rooms, cars, and restaurants. With the exception of the man or woman who is digging ditches, repairing roofs, or landscaping, we don’t burn a lot of calories working.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this is a big problem. We need physical activity to release those feel-good endorphins to our brain. It’s sort of like a runner’s high — a regular routine of exercise can help keep your mind off of your problems and lower the symptoms of mild depression. Plus, you’ll build self-esteem in the process as you see the physical results of your workout over time.
While not specifically addressing exercise, Solomon had this to say about being too sedentary, “How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? (Proverbs 6:9)
So if you struggle with anxiety, get moving! You don’t have to go out and join a gym, just start by taking regular nightly walks, jog a little, do sit-ups or push-ups, yoga, or pilates. You were created to move and exert energy. Exercise is a great way to lessen your anxiety and, of course, there are many, many additional health benefits as well.
Lastly, if you are struggling with serious anxiety or depression please talk with someone about it. You’re not alone.
If you’re a part of a church reach out to your pastor. If you don’t have a church I would be glad to speak with you.
Also, if you are anxious or depressed to the point where you believe you may harm yourself please ask for help. The National Suicide Hotline is 1–800–273–8255 or you can even chat with them online.
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