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  • Helen Thorne

Paralysed by Anxiety?

“Sometimes I just get stuck. In my head, I know that my to-do list would be manageable if I just tackled each item step by step but, as I look at it in its entirety, I seem to freeze. It’s too big. Too complex. Too overwhelming. The weight of responsibility and the expectations of others seems so heavy I can’t even begin to move. And so I do nothing. Or very little. And I then get even more overwhelmed by how much there is to do.”



The challenge

Many of us will have heard words like that from our friends. Many of us will have uttered something similar ourselves. Indeed, it’s the kind of sentiment that seems to have been on the rise in recent years. And those of us who have been there will know that paralysis that stems from anxiety can be a place of deep pain.


It’s not that we don’t want to get things done, it’s that we feel frozen by the pressure around us - and pushed to explosion point by the pressure from within. And any suggestion from others or resolution from ourselves only seems to make things worse.


Those who have never experienced such pain do not always understand. Sometimes the problem is seen as laziness – that people do not want to pull their weight. Sometimes it is described as weakness – people just aren’t resilient enough these days. Sometimes it is couched in terms of disobedience – people should just trust God more. Sometimes we think those things about ourselves. But all those views miss the nub of the problem. Anxiety can act like a brake on our minds – pulling us to a stop – shouting that it’s all too much and there’s nothing we can do.


The context

We live in a fallen world, we have done ever since Genesis 3. That means our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work and everything else is broken. In different eras, in different nations, that brokenness tended to be expressed in different ways. For us, in 21st century UK, anxiety is one of the main ways we face the brokenness of this world. Over the last 30 or so years, the incidence of anxiety has either stayed the same or gone up every year.


Part of that is because life has genuine challenges – economic uncertainty; environmental instability; relational poverty - these all work together to make the world feel a deeply unstable place. The pandemic was a genuinely hard experience for many of us. We have, as a society, lost trust in the metanarratives – the big stories of life – and now assess life by our own experiences. That in itself is a greater eroder of hope. We also have more data and information than any generation before which makes decisions harder, and fuels a desire to ensure we do not miss out on something important. Add in genetic predispositions and hormonal imbalances, anxiety is rife. Our culture screams everything is out of control, it’s not safe, just be proud of who you are and live your best life, no matter what others say. That is a heavy load to bear. If that is our baseline, then anything on top of that has the potential to feel too much.


Within the church we are not immune. Yes we have a great story – God’s story. We have a diverse community – the church. And a God who provides for our needs – his are the cattle on a thousand hills. But still our bodies are broken, our context is hard and our old self is constantly lured back to thinking in the ways our culture thinks. No surprise then that, within the church, anxiety is prevalent too. No surprise that the things that once felt manageable now feel heavy and hard.


The hope

Christians may not be immune to the pressures, but we do have hope. There is the possibility of change. And pursuing that is our privilege and call.


Perspective: It’s so easy for this world to seem like all there is. Its pressures are real, but they are not what has final sway. As Christians, we can look beyond the brokenness around to the wholeness of God and his Kingdom – he is the ultimate context in which we dwell. As we lift our eyes, we can see that there is a good God, on a powerful throne, ruling with justice and lavishing his children with grace. We begin to see that we do not need to be defined by the pain but by the beauty of being “in Christ”. We may struggle, but we do so as chosen, children of the living God who are loved beyond measure and can trust in purposes that far surpass anything our world can conceive.


Power: Once we have reframed the bigger picture, we can zoom down to God’s activity in our lives. The Spirit is within – the same power that raised Jesus from death is at work in us – and that means we can rest without guilt and labour without feeling the full weight of our tasks. There is freedom in knowing that the Lord, our Shepherd is leading, guiding, protecting, providing. He is the one carrying the load.


Praise: Such truths can lead us to praise. And how rejoicing makes a difference to our state of mind. I’m not speaking here of rank emotionalism or faked happiness but an intentional choice to remember how generous is our God. Can we take time to see how blessed we are? How many corners of life bear witness to his sustaining hand? What thankfulness can flow from knowing we are saved?


Prayer: Here there are opportunities to be real with God. To tell him our fears and express what is hard. He knows when we are stuck. He sees. He cares. And he loves to hear our voice. We can ask for his help to see life as it really is, to know his sustaining power – to see he grace-fuelled call to turn away from culture’s snares and turn back to him - we can ask for his help to act.


Practicalities: And with those new perspectives and power ringing in our ears, we can begin to dispel the notion that life is too hard and know that practical strategies can work. We can remember we are embodied souls, and taking care of our body matters. We need natural light, our bodies were made to move: exercise, good nutrition, screen breaks, enjoying the wonder of creation whether that’s in the countryside or a small city park, can help us live more as God designed. We can sit with a friend – community matters too – and talk about strategies and next steps. We can make a plan and enact that plan and know that it is good.


And in the process we can begin to break free from the things that entangle. Slowly, gradually – these shifts take time . But little by little and with hope ringing in our hearts we can find we are no longer stuck.


_________

Helen Thorne is the Director of Training and Mentoring at London City Mission and a trustee of Biblical Counselling UK.


Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.

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