There’s an enormous difference between being anxious from time to time and suffering from anxiety.
Someone who is genuinely suffering from an anxiety disorder can feel debilitated, terrified, riddled with shame and completely hopeless. They can feel like their entire world is shattered and they have no idea if they’ll ever “be themselves” again. Unless you’ve walked through this yourself it’s next to impossible to fully understand just how devastating it can be. This isn’t helped by how little vocabulary we have within the church for conveying how overwhelming anxiety can be.
Men are designed to be protectors and providers. We are pressured externally and wired internally to be strong and resilient in the face of opposition. You can go to almost any church on any given Sunday and hear a sermon on the need to be strong and courageous. The image of manhood within the church has at times become synonymous with that of someone who is tough and sacrifices himself to “get the job done”. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong or even bad about this, it can exasperate the plight of someone dealing with anxiety.
If you’re reading this and currently suffering from an anxiety or panic disorder, here are three things that will help you as you navigate your recovery.
Stop Fighting, Start Waiting
I know this may sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Men like to be in control and we like to take action. We’re fixers so we’re often looking for the solution, and trying to resolve everything.
But recovery will require patience, not force, and that’s much harder for most men. You didn’t get here overnight, and the journey to wellness will not be instantaneous. You’re going to have to learn to rid yourself of the pressure and expectation to “get better”.
Healing from anxiety is only made more difficult if you try to recover on a schedule. The more eager you are to “get better,” the longer it can take. Often times, the desire to “be normal again” only adds more anxiety. Consider this a lesson on surrendering to God.
Psalm 27:13-14 says “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”.
The word “wait” here in Hebrew means to wait patiently with expectation. It’s the kind of waiting that trusts that God is good and that he will, in his time and in his way, deliver you. You have survived 100% of your worst days up until now. You will overcome but learn to trust in God as you wait.
Focus on Today
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
This is great advice from our Lord. Much of our anxiety stems from fears surrounding potential events – most of which never happen. We exhaust ourselves by living in a constant state of future-based fear. But this worry for tomorrow doesn’t rid tomorrow of its stress, it only empties today of its joys.
How many days have come and gone and instead of enjoying the day and making the most of it, you spent it worrying? Isn’t it fascinating to look back, and see that you made it through? But not without exhaustion from navigating incessant fear.
Lamentations 3:22-23 teaches us that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
This means that while there may be issues to face tomorrow and while there may be challenges to endure, the grace of our Lord will be there waiting for you when you wake up. For every worry tomorrow has, there will be grace tomorrow to carry you through. We are often so drained because we are living on today’s mercies but worrying about tomorrow’s struggles.
Today’s mercy is for today, to get you through today. When tomorrow arrives, the grace of God will strengthen you then. So, try to find something good and praiseworthy to enjoy and think about today. Don’t let today pass you by spending it all worrying about tomorrow.
Take Care of What You Can
Many men who struggle with anxiety feel as though they have no control over anything. While you may not be able to control many things, you should invest time in taking care of your body where possible.
This is something you can do. Anxiety is draining and not just emotionally, it fatigues your whole body. Recovery takes time, and to address your spiritual and emotional health you will need physical energy and strength.
We see this powerful lesson modelled for us in the life of Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:4-8, we see that Elijah is so emotionally drained immediately following a spiritual high, that he’s become depressed to the point of asking the Lord to take his life. This is serious. His exhaustion is evident. What’s interesting is the way the Lord handles this.
Instead of correcting him (as He will do towards the end of the chapter) He first takes care of Elijah’s physical needs so that he can be in a place to receive and process God’s instructions. Before God addressed the emotional and spiritual issues, He fed him and let him sleep to regain strength.
So you see, eating and sleeping are just as important for spiritual and emotional well-being as praying and reading your bible are. You will be able to process your anxiety much better if your body is in a place to support you. Set time aside every day to rest and recharge your body, this will give you a base from which to process life’s burdens.