This is a Part 2 of a 2 part series on “5 things a Christian needs to know when living with anxiety disorders”
In Part 1 we explored:
- Anxiety disorders in the Christian context
- the unhelpful and self condemning thoughts that one might encounter
- the unhelpful things one might hear from well meaning Christian brothers and sisters
- the unhelpful “teachings” that one might hear from well meaning preachers and how these may worsen and perpetuate the anxiety
- the relationship between our experiences in our family lives , our image of God and anxiety disoders
- the relational nature of counselling that may assist in healing from anxiety disorders
In Part 2 we will explore:
- The prevalence of anxiety disorder in our society (how common it is)
- what are anxiety disorders
- some of the symptoms of anxiety disorders
- some possible causes of anxiety disorders
- things you can do to help yourself
Putting anxiety into perspective:
Living with an anxiety disorder can distort your thinking. Sometimes you might feel like you are the only one living with the beast inside you but the truth is you are NOT alone.
Anxiety disorders are common in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2007 14% of the population between 16 and 65yr old experienced some form of anxiety disorder in the previous 12 months (The Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008) . That is nearly 1 in 7 people.
WHEN YOU STAND IN A ROOM OF 100 PEOPLE , THERE COULD BE UP TO 13 OTHERS who would have experienced some form of anxiety disorder in the last 12 months.
Someone in that room could be in the same boat as you in that very moment.
You just don’t know who they are because like you they don’t wear a sign on their head that says “ANXIETY” …. Just know you are not the odd one out.
Anxiety disorders can come in many different forms eg General Anxiety Disorder , panic attacks , obsessive compulsive disorders , post traumatic disorders , agoraphobia just to name a few.
You may be suffering from one or more types of anxiety disorders. At times anxiety disorders can also coexist with other mental disorders like depression. That is why it is very important to go see someone professional to check out the symptoms and seek out the appropriate treatments. Sometimes various types of anxiety disorders are not so clear cut , and may have overlapping symptoms.
From experience the intensity of the anxiety may vary over time but it is unlikely to resolve if you don’t seek help.
What are anxiety disorders ?
Simply put, it is a group of mental disorders where a person feels anxiety , that is feeling fear in the absence of real and obvious danger (PDM Task Force, 2006).
Anxiety is birthed out of fear but the fear has become out of control. The nature of fear is meant to alert us of danger and the fear is meant to subside when the danger is over. It should function like a fire alarm in the presence of fire.
God has given us fear to keep us alive. It warns us of danger so we can either fight , flee and freeze.
But in the case of anxiety disorders for various reasons the fire alarm is going off when there is no apparent danger.
Something has gone wrong in that process.
Anxiety can present in many different ways.
For example, a person might be fearful of germs therefore washes his hands obsessively as may be in the case of someone suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. But the obsession to clean your hands in order to relieve the fear of germs actually produces more anxiety and becomes the fuel for the anxiety. This experience becomes a vicious self perpetuating cycle.
Another example is someone experiencing panic attacks because he fears he is going to lose his mind when obviously it is not going to happen.
Amongst Christians I have had clients who battled with the persistent fear of losing their salvation and compulsively act out behaviours to insure they regain or keep their salvation.
What are the symptoms of anxiety disorders ?
Again, before you go ticking off the boxes to see if you are suffering from an anxiety disorder it is probably best if you go and see your doctor or look up a counsellor to do a screening test.
The following are only SOME of the symptoms that may indicate you are suffering from some form of anxiety disorder. The list below is not a definitive list of symptoms of anxiety disorder. In no way the list below is to be used as a diagnostic tool.
It is only here to help you identify some symptoms that you might experience:
From DSM V (American Psychiatric Association 2013)
- Palpitation, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Choking sensation
- Chest pain
- Nausea, abdominal distress
- Dizziness, light headedness
- Tingling , numbness
- Feeling of unreality or being detached from oneself
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
- Fear of panic attacks or their consequences
- Adopting behaviours in order to avoid certain situations
- Difficulty in concentration , mind going blank
- Sleep disturbances
- Flash backs ( in the case of PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- Plus more……….
What causes anxiety disorders ?
Anxiety disorders can have a single origin or can be due to different factors coming together:
- Sometimes it is from trauma eg accident, abuse (physical , sexual , spiritual etc)
- Chronic stress
- Sometimes it is from poor relationship with parents and caregivers
- Sometimes it is from caregivers not being able to model for you how to regulate your fear and emotions and this lays a weak foundation for opportunities later on in life that may trigger anxiety disorders
- Sometimes it is a case of conditioning where your brain has linked something that is innocuous with a danger response.
- Plus more……
Whatever the triggers may be there is profound detrimental changes in someone’s neural pathways (in your brain) that affect how they regulate fear in their brains (Siegel, 2012).
If you question how can someone not be able to regulate their own fear. Think of this. Think if you have never been taught to speak , your brain will not develop the necessary neural pathways that allows you to think, recall, and produce sounds for words in order for you to speak.
Our ability to regulate fear and emotions is learnt from our caregivers from the moment we are born.
When we speak about “regulating emotions” think of it this way. Think of it as “calming” yourself down both consciously and unconsciously. We learn to calm down , or turn down the previously discussed fire alarm both on a conscious level and automatically. This dialing down is usually learnt from our experiences with our caregivers in many ways.
Our caregivers teach us how to regulate by physically holding us affectionately ,
speaking to us in a calm and authoritative voice , remaining calm themselves in the face of danger, seeing and identifying our distress and helping us identify our emotions by saying something like “I know you are scared, you are going to be ok”. There are many different behaviours that our caregivers model for us but those are just as few. All these experiences in our childhood add up and form a scaffold or programme in our brains to follow in order to regulate our own emotions.
But when there are mishaps in our experiences in our caregivers (as discussed earlier), we don’t learn to dial down or regulate our emotions. The unabated emotions, in this case fear may predispose us to developing anxiety disorder.
Whatever the cause may be, anxiety disorder can be extremely frightening. You feel like your fear and other emotions can overwhelm you like a tidal wave.
But this does not have to be the case forever…. You can seek help.
Things we can do for ourselves :
- Seek professional help
- Stop looking at a one single spiritual hammer – “I have to find the demon” , “I must repent of this or that”
- Manage your expectations of what others can do for you, seek help from the right people for that particular purpose – eg friends for companionship , therapists for treatment and understanding , preachers and pastors to hold you in their prayers – no one can be everything to you- you will get disappointed
- Good rest
- Eat well
- Manage your motivation, schedule , manage your urge to please everyone , sometimes you have to cut back and and know that you cannot make everyone happy
- Stay connected with God.. this is hard because those suffering anxiety find it hard to connect with others , pray , read
- try to meditate … learn Christian forms of meditation
- You need to learn to take care of yourself …. No one else can do that for you….
- You are not alone
- Your anxiety disorder may have had its foundations in your childhood experiences
- Through counselling you will come to gain more insight into how it has occurred
- Through counselling you will learn how to regulate your fears and emotions
- Through counselling you will gain more awareness of your emotions
- God is for you
- Your image of God may not reflect His true kind, merciful , loving nature
- Once you come to a more deeper realization of the loving nature God you will find safety and have a safe place to land in your anxiety
- A major component in recovery and healing from anxiety disorder is through good relational experiences – from others , from therapist and from God
- Seek professional help
Hang in there
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). DSM 5. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.
PDM Task Force. (2006). Psychodynamic diagnostic manual. Silver Springs: Alliance of Psychoanalytic Organisations.
Siegel, D. (2012). The developing mind (3rd ed.). New York: The Guildford Press.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). ABS national survey of mental health and wellbeing 2007. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.