Written by Jessica Sledge, LMSW, Living Well Counseling
Anxiety can often show up in our thoughts, especially in any thought that contains the phrase “what if.” “What if the paycheck isn’t enough to cover these bills?” “What if she never changes?” “What if this isn’t only a phase?” “What if I screw it up?” “What if I’m not enough or not good enough?” “What if God doesn’t follow through the way I need Him to this time?”
Whatever variety of words involved, the thought stems from the same source – fear. Anxiety at its core is fear. The Bible is very clear on God’s stance on fear—fear not. But how do we get to that place when our minds are a loud whirlwind of anxious thoughts drowning out our best intentions to “fear not”?
We go back to the basics.
Basics about who God is – Remind yourself of God’s character, the aspects of Him that you know from personal experience. He is good. He is faithful. He is constant. He keeps His promises. He speaks only Truth and is therefore trustworthy. God helps me and equips me to obey His commands through his Holy Spirit in me.
Basics about your foundation – As believers, the Bible is our foundation. We can trust it. So, remind yourself of the promises within. God works all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). I can find contentment in any situation through Jesus (Philippians 4:13). The same Spirit who rose Jesus from the grave is the One working in me (Romans 8:11). Nothing at all can ever separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:31-39).
Basics about managing your thought life – The Bible tells us to take captive every thought to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Anxiety is often strong in our thoughts, so this command is vital to managing it. There are a variety of ways in which we can practice this:
- Prayerfully remind yourself of the basics about God’s character and your foundation, then speak these truths out loud to yourself. Our thoughts can often seem so loud until they’re interrupted by an external sound. So, speak the truth out loud so that the fear can be interrupted.
- Challenge the anxious thought. Identify evidence to support the thought, then identify evidence that proves it to be false, and then look at the evidence through the lens of Jesus and Truth.
- Play the scenario out to its completion. Imagine what the worst-case scenario would look like, then imagine the ways that God could show up or respond in the scenario. Remove the fear of the unknown by remembering that in the worst-case scenario your anxiety comes up with, we have a known God who has shown us His consistent character, enabling us to know how He would care for us. Change the “what if” thought to “even if.” “Even if this happens, God will be with me and sustain me.”
- Create distance from our thoughts and feelings. We are not our thoughts and emotions. We have the ability to choose our actions despite whatever thought or feeling we may be experiencing at the moment. One way to do this is to reframe your thought to “I am having the thought that ….” or even “I notice that I’m having the thought that …” Gaining distance from our anxiety in this way gives us the chance to take our anxieties to God in prayer, changing our perspective from a problem I need to solve to reminding myself that God is in charge and I can trust Him to work out the situation because He has the answers.
If any of these approaches are difficult, try practicing them with someone else. Ask them to help you remember the basics, challenge the lies, imagine how God would respond in accordance with His character, and gain distance from the thought or feeling. Anxiety, like all emotions, can be overwhelming. Even so, the Lord provides ways such as these that allow us to overcome anxiety so that He rules our lives. We can “fear not.”