Your Anxiety is Not a Sin

The Texas Rangers just walked the bases. It wasn’t that exciting of a baseball game. I was doing my Algebra II homework with the TV playing in the background.

I’ve never been good at math, but this particular assignment was tough. While trying to assign some numerical value to letters (a concept as a writer I will never understand: letters are for words. Numbers are for nerds. Just kidding. If it weren’t for the numbers people in my life, I’d be in jail.), my heart started palpitating.

I placed my hand on my chest and could feel each beat through the muscles under my collarbone. What was happening? Was I going to have a heart attack? I was only 14. This can’t be happening.

I didn’t realize it, but my breathing became fast and shallow. I got lightheaded. My muscles tensed. Not wanting to alarm my parents, I quickly went out the front door unnoticed. I climbed on the top of my mother’s car where there was nothing to trap me; I could simply look out into a big, west Texas sky full of stars.

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But my heart kept pounding and my head kept spinning and I wondered what they’d say the next day at school about the freshman who died on top of her mom’s car last night.

My dad came out a few minutes later and asked what was wrong. I sat up on the car’s top and gave him my symptoms, interrupted by punctuation marks of tears and sobs. He put his hand on my dangling knee and told me he felt this “irrational fear” before and it would soon go away.

It did.

For a little while, anyway.

But for the last twenty years, it’s stayed. It hasn’t been just a season, though sometimes I find relief in weeks or months. Anxiety is the weakness that can either boast Christ’s strength or it can break relationships. It’s either managed or I let it run wild. I’m almost certain it’s here to stay, and with spiritual help, counseling, support from friends and Tim, and even medication, I’m usually okay. I’m functional and happy and it lays dormant in the chemicals and synapses in my mind, hushed by medication that knows when it starts getting too loud.

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I went to speak about sex one time at a college. I’m fairly certain my parents are uncomfortable every time I say that, but hey, it’s one of the things I get to do with my time. Normally after that talk, I get a few girls and maybe a guy or two say how they now feel like they can talk about something they’ve wrestled with sexually.

At this one school, I learned from the Dean that most trips to the counseling center have to do with anxiety. Interesting. In my talk, I mentioned anxiety in a sentence or two, not really going off track. Afterward in the chapel lobby, multiple students came up to me – not because of their questions about sex or pornography – but because they felt so free when I talked about my anxiety.

Really? I thought. I didn’t think there was such a stigma about it anymore. I guess I’m wrong. Noted.

Two weeks later, I logged into my blog and there were two comments from someone I’ve never met, or even heard of online. A google search revealed little. I’ll save you the lengthy comment, but one thing stood out:

You are a false teacher.

Your anxiety is a sin.

Wow.

My anxiety is a sin?

I get it. I’ve heard the lectures on worry as a sin, and trust me, it’s something I lean into my God for every day. And I believe that not trusting God consistently or even rejecting the desire to trust Him, yes, is sin.

But, Mr. Commenter…and those who think like him, let me clearly say to you my anxiety is not a sin.

And here’s the thing. If I speak to 800 college students and ten of them tell me they’re wrestling with true, clinical anxiety, I’m sure there are a hundred that didn’t say a word who are also living in that shaky, unescapable landscape. Statistics tell me that there are a lot of you who struggle, too.

Anxiety presents in a lot of ways: panic, physical symptoms like a rapid heart rate and shallow breathing or lightheadedness, upset stomachs, tense muscles, and insomnia. It can also have emotional and relational symptoms too: anger, isolation, and irritability.

Wondering why you get headaches all the time? It may be anxiety. Notice you’re lashing out with some built up anger at someone you love? It may be anxiety.

You may have heard the reason you have anxiety is because you’re living in some secret sin, or maybe you’ve even been told the anxiousness in and of itself is sin. The first may be true, and if it is, you know it.

But if you’re certain you’re right with God and others, your anxiety is not sin.

I’m not a doctor or a counselor, in any official sense anyway. However, I’d like to share a few things that have helped me manage my anxiety.

  • Routines: Morning and evening routines help start my day off right and help put me in the right place to sleep soundly.
  • Bible study and prayer: A constant one-sentence prayer I pray in moments of panic is “He keeps in perfect peace whose mind stays on Him.”
  • Talking about it: I have my husband and a group of friends I know I can reach out to in my “craziness” and I know they don’t see me as crazy. They pray for me and offer truth and help me refocus my thoughts.
  • Counseling: It’s expensive, but I’d rather have it than cable, a smart phone, or food at times.
  • Healthy Stuff: Eating right and exercising work wonders for anxiety. They really do.
  • Medication: Yes, I believe we are over-medicated but I also believe if you need it, you need it. It took me probably six or seven tries to get the right medication and even now, I have to adjust the dose depending on the season of life and stress I’m in. Some people need SSRIs or SNRIs and some need benzodiazepines (which is what works best for me). There are always risks, but work with a doctor and find the best balance for you.

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Anxiety sucks. There’s really no other way to say it. In the church world, let’s speak freely about it and help others in their journeys by owning up to our own. And if someone says your anxiety is sin, shake your head and walk away confidently, knowing God made you in His image and that you can let your greatest weaknesses show His strength.

Recommended Reading: The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?

Comments

  1. Kirsten says

    Thank you for sharing. I definetly needed this in my life right now. I have struggled with anxiety and depression off and on in my life since university, so over 12 years now. I have tried medication and counseling with limited success.
    Sadly, the church community I have been part of with my husband is not very understanding or informed about anything related to mental illness. I had someone comment that they couldn’t understand why someone would be depressed and this person works in the medical field!
    My faith has taken a huge beating and I’m trying to find it again. Being a mom to 4 kids under the age 8 leaves me little time to myself, so that really hasn’t helped.
    I’m trying really hard to let go and rely more on God and less on myself. Thank you again for sharing.

    • says

      I’m so sorry for the things you’ve gone through, Kirsten. Hang in there (I know it’s cliche). The meds game can be SUCH a game. But once you find the right things, WOW. It truly takes you from surviving to thriving (another cliche, I know…) I can’t imagine doing this with kids, so I’m saying an extra prayer for you right now.

      • Kirsten says

        Thank you! Even though we are strangers, knowing that you take the time to pray for me means a lot. And thank you for the encouragment.
        It is tough struggling with anxiety and being a mom. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband who walks along side me and supports me.

  2. says

    I’m always thankful for people like you who tackle issues of the soul and present them in a balanced, human way. You’re right. Worry can be sin, but anxiety – the clinical, my brain just thinks weird thoughts with little explanation kind – is not a sin. And hey, being accused of being a false teacher by a blog commenter comes with the territory of having a voice in a world gone mad. Keep writing. The world needs it.

    • says

      Thanks, Brandon. It bothered me for a few days (he said some awful things!) but I know it was an attack from the enemy. Thanks for being a voice for good! :) And I’m sorry for your struggles, too.

  3. says

    I seriously almost commented the other day asking what you thought of all the Christian Twitter wisdom saying stuff like “Anxiety is the idolatry of fear” and “If you have true/real faith you wouldn’t have anxiety” and “Anxiety is what happens when you don’t trust God.” I know they are probably not talking about anxiety as we think of it, but still…

  4. says

    Good for you Anne! And (theologically speaking) Amen. Your anxiety, my wife’s anxiety is not a sin, it may a result of the fall, part of our “estate of sin and misery” as the WSC puts it, but it is not a sin. It’s a shame you even have to defend the idea. I will share this post with my audience. Thanks again, Lon

  5. Brenda says

    “Counseling: It’s expensive, but I’d rather have it than cable, a smart phone, or food at times.”
    All I can say to that is a hearty AMEN. I went through two summers unemployed, not quite making ends meet, but I paid for counseling because I don’t think I could have made it otherwise.

  6. says

    Thank you!! More people need to know this truth. I cannot tell you how many anxiety attacks I have walked out of church/Bible studies with because of the “worry/anxiety is a sin” topic.

    I found great comfort in a verse from Psalms. I need to find it, but the word for anxiety used is defined as the kind I wrestle with.

  7. Suzanne says

    Oh, how I love this and believe this! I have never in my life felt so close to God as I do now, and part of the reason for that is that He has taught me so much through my anxiety and depression. I praise Him for it (never thought I’d say that up until a few years ago)! I’m so thankful that a friend shared one of your posts and I started reading them!!! God bless you!!! :)

  8. says

    Thanks Anne for an honest post. I am not one who suffers from anxiety. As a pastor I know those who do. it isn’t like they line up and say, “Hey, give me a dose of anxiety! Hey right here! You missed me!” I tire of those who are judgmental and condemning (as your commenter was). But then again, maybe they are anxious about someone finding out about their hangup. :) Thanks again Anne. Do what God leads you to do and say.

  9. says

    Thanks for this post. A handful of years ago I emerged from a major depression to be met by constant anxiety, which, it turns out, is depression’s wing man. Therapy, SSRI’s, and Crossfit was helpful. This pastor get incensed when people attribute my emotional challenges to sin. Sure, all broken things are an effect of the Curse. But to equate it with sinful choices is just bad theology.

  10. Lisa says

    I completely agree. I came to this conclusion awhile ago, after a friend told me that anxiety is a sin. Obviously, she didn’t understand one whit about what clinical anxiety is like. (It’s not just serious worry.) If something is uncontrollable, how could it be sinful?

    Anyway, I tried for YEARS to control my anxiety and symptoms on my own and it just got worse. Medicine has actually made me feel more myself than anything else. For that reason, I love it! :-) Thanks for this post.

  11. says

    Wow, I don’t know why it still shocks me when I hear people being so mean, but it still shocks me. I attended a seminar at my church about anxiety and how to deal with it, was lead by a couple of our Pastors and its amazingly healing to know that others struggle and others have conquered or learned to cope. We live in broken bodies and a broken world that injures us. Yes God offers healing, but mostly He offers Himself to walk with us through the brokenness. I had a morning when I woke up with intense anxiety and felt God’s presence with me as I cried. I felt His hand on my face and it did eventually break me out of it. But I still struggled for a while. There is such a misconception about anxiety, but God is still there in the midst of it. Besides, even if it was sin this guy had no right to say it is. In the new covenant we are to call out the greatness in one another, to speak about who God has made us to be. Basically we aren’t allowed to “see” the bad and point it out. Only draw out the good God has placed in everyone. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to point out our need for growth areas. So if and when people speak to your perceived sin know that they are not messengers from God, He’s not given us the right to judge others’ journeys. Thank you for sharing.

  12. says

    My struggle for 3 years running now. Managed, but always an arms-length away. It helps that I now getting to be mother to three small children who only knew trauma and anxiety before coming to our house. We understand each other, and work through it together. As if God knew I needed first hand experience to empathize with theirs …

  13. says

    Thanks for being so honest about your struggle. Mine isn’t anxiety but it can be worry.

    Although strangely in the midst of an incredibly stressful time I had an anxiety attack while driving to work in the morning. Scared the heck out of me. So I have a much better appreciation for those who struggle with it.

    All that to say thank you for telling others it isn’t a sin. Frankly, all of us have a whole lot of stuff in our lives, including being judgmental, that is sin so there is no reason to add to the list.

    Plus worrying if it’s a sin only increases your anxiety.

    Blessings in the journey.

  14. Alinne says

    I really liked reading this! I would really appreciate if we could further communicate (through email perhaps).. I have to questions I would like answered from your point of view.

  15. says

    Some may find this over-the-top, but…
    I don’t believe that the thoughts that simply pop into our mind are sinful. I think they are from Satan. Now, if you are deliberately entertaining thoughts that scare you and thus bring on anxiety, well, as the Bible says “as a man thinketh…” But thoughts that simply pop into your head … or feelings that come out of nowhere… no. Without getting overly hocus-pocus for those who don’t believe in what I am about to write, I firmly believe that Satan sends his own (thoughts, spirits, demons) to torment us, Christian or not. Just because we have accepted Jesus’ saving grace does not mean Satan will not try to attack us, in fact, I’ve found he usually steps up the attacks. We can’t act as Jesus’ light if we’re in a dark hole. I would recommend “Christian – Set yourself Free” by Graham Powell (and despite the title you rely on God, not yourself, for victory). But it’s not for everyone – you have to decide if you take God’s word literally and believe that demons still exist and are not just in the Bible times. God bless all! Something else I have found useful is spending time with God at ALL times. Yes, this can be a bit disconcerting, even hard, but just talking to Him continually helps me to keep my focus where it’s meant to be, on Him.

  16. says

    I know that there are so many others saying this, but I also find this post a relief. I read it a few days ago and just had to come back and say this: I grew up with two anxiety disorders plus panic attacks starting from the age of seven. And growing up in the church, I never heard of anxiety talked about in any other context than “if you’re not trusting God with your worries, it’s a sin”. To a sensitive kid, that is a very traumatizing way to grow up. I have since been diagnosed with OCD and GAD and have gone through a lot of therapy and been put on some meds indefinitely and am in a place that is completely different. I’m just sad that it took thirteen-ish years for me to realize that something was wrong, and it wasn’t all my fault.

  17. suzie says

    Thank you. I’m literally in years right now. I have clinical anxiety which then results in depression from time to time and currently I’m battling my anxiety by becoming an insomniac. Whatever helps! Anyways, I constantly pray about this and am met at every turn by helpful friends and family who keep telling me that it’s a choice. That I need to trust God and still Satan’s voice. I’m tired of it. So thank you.

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