My legs kicked me awake for the umpteenth night in a row. The air in my bedroom was thick and hot and my pillow was wet from the sweat of my cheek. I could feel my heart thumping quickly inside of my chest, too quickly to sleep.
My entire body knew that I would calm if I simply left the room to sleep on the couch. This was a proven solution to my problems, but I did not want to continue that habit.
Married men should sleep next to their wives.
My legs twitched and my arms ached for the air outside of the covers. My breathing and my heartbeat raced against one another, each accelerating their pace faster and faster. With every ounce of will-power I had, I forced my body to stay still.
And then my mind started to panic without reason. I knew that there was no danger, but that didn’t stop the growing terror.
Within ten minutes, I was fast asleep on my couch.
This was just one of many unusual struggles I was having during a stressful time in my life. I also struggled with headaches, unusual irritability, boredom, laziness, lack of focus, etc. Some of these ‘symptoms’ were sinful actions and responses, but others had no morality. My night freak-outs, boredom, and lack of focus felt completely out of my control.
All of them could be traced back to anxiety. During this time, we were praying about the opportunity to become a pastor of this church, which would involve uprooting our family, moving 600 miles away, and helping two churches to make their ministry transition smooth. My wife had also just had our second child. If those things weren’t enough, I was trying to find reconciliation and peace with a close friend.
There were many factors feeding this behemoth in my life; physical, relational, and spiritual. Some of the symptoms, like my night freak-outs, were not sinful in and of themselves, but the originating issue was a sin. Essentially, I was not trusting God. I anxiously over-thought my situations and allowed bitterness to simmer. In this ongoing cycle in my life, I tried to take control of the situations, failed to assume control, and then continued to over-think my situations. This cycle spiraled out of control to the point that anxiety and fear had become normal feelings in my heart.
I never faced what some people face with anxiety. Some are much further down this cycle than I was. Some are deep in depression and fear because of it. Some experienced far worse physical struggles than I did. My goal is not to claim that I was the worst. I also am not trying to claim that getting out of anxiety is as simple as 1-2-3. My goal is to tell you how I battled my anxiety and found freedom through Christ.
My Path to Freedom: Loved
My freedom from anxiety started with faith in Christ. Everything I did, physically, relationally, or spiritually was because I wanted to live with faith in God, not a life of reckless fear and anxiety.
I started by remembering who I was and who God was. I was a frail, weak sinner–a mere blip on the timeline of the earth–but God loved me enough to make this sinner’s life matter. My faithlessness and bitterness were laid on Christ’s shoulders at the cross so that I could be God’s child. I am forgiven because Christ was punished for me. I have new life because Christ was raised from the dead.
This required some time, but these truths are so profound that they began to impact my irritability, boredom, and stress. If I am experiencing God’s great love, won’t I relate to others in love also? If I am loved by God with a great love, doesn’t that sprinkle joy on the everyday moments of my life? If I know that God loves me, can’t I rest in the fact that he has a good plan for my life?
My Path to Freedom: Repentance
Like a cycle, my stress would cause irritability, which would cause friction, which would cause bitterness, which would cause more unrest in my life, which would cause more stress, which would cause more irritability. I needed to repent of these sins for two reasons: 1) Because Christ died to redeem me from my sins and set me apart for good works 2) Because my ongoing sin was exacerbating my stress (sin’s destructive nature is meant to show us that God does not intend for us to sin)
This, again, took time. My heart was prone to irritability and bitterness because of high tension in my life. As I rested in God’s precious love for me and fought to think and feel the right way about others, my attitude started to change. I needed to reorient my mindset in several key areas:
- The primary problem in my life is my own sin, not someone else’s sin against me
- I cannot control other’s actions, but I can control, through Christ, my responses
- Everyone is created in the image of God and everyone desperately needs God’s love, just like I do
- Because of Christ’s example, I am called to serve and love others. I should not be focused on how others are serving me, but on how I am serving others.
My Path to Freedom: Cutting Off Strengthening Factors of the Sin
Through some help, I realized that I had also been neglecting care for my body physically. This neglect was not the primary cause of my stress, but it did feed it. Here are some things I changed:
- I minimized caffeine/sugar stimulation. For me, this meant I didn’t have any caffeine after noon and cut down my sugar intake.
- I got regular sleep. I still struggled to sleep well at night, but I made sure to schedule my sleep time every day. This meant that I needed to be more disciplined not to stay up late.
- I exercised six days a week. My exercise early on was small; I ran about a mile and stretched. But I tried to get a good sweat worked up before I started my day.
- I followed the principle of Sabbath rest. One day a week, I took a break from work and did something that refreshed me. This was not TV or video games, because they did not relieve my stress (TV and video games would only put off my stress until I was done). For me, this included a lot of writing, gardening, and working on house projects.
I wish I could say that was the last time that I struggled with anxiety, but through these experiences, when I start to be faithless to God and forgetful of his love for me, I know how to repent and reorient my life around God. My faith in God’s precious love for me propels me to repent from my sins and pursue peaceful faith for his glory.
If you are battling stress/anxiety and want someone to talk to, contact us. Our counseling is not psychiatry or psychology; we offer a loving ear and hope from God’s Word. For more information, visit our counseling page.