How to Cling to God in the Midst of Anxiety and Worrying

I’ve always been a worrier. When I was in elementary school, I’d be the kid who left sleepovers early, because I was terrified of being the last one to fall asleep. The sleepover thing, I grew out of—the worrying, not so much. Certain things have always seemed to be a lot harder for me than for everyone else.

Anxiety and Worrying Got Worse

Once I hit high school, the worrying got significantly worse. There were many days, especially as an upperclassman, that I would get home from school, shut myself in my bedroom, and cry. It didn’t matter how many obligations or assignments I had; I constantly felt overwhelmed. If a teacher so much as mentioned an upcoming test, I would begin to shut down.

It wasn’t until college that my worry was finally given a name. I scraped through my first semester well enough, but as soon as I returned for the second semester in January, I felt my mental strength quickly beginning to wane. On the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for on-campus counseling. One session later, the results of a screening test revealed that I was struggling with severe anxiety. I wasn’t just a high-stress, overly sensitive girl—this was something real.

While this affirmation of my struggle was helpful, it was only a starting point. Over the next few months, I continued counseling. I did the breathing exercises I was given. I journaled. I listened to bilateral stimulation music. These practices helped occasionally, but to me, they felt like sticking a Band-Aid on a wound that required something much more invasive.

Frustration with God

Throughout my counseling sessions, my Christian counselor frequently quoted a verse I’d heard many times: 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” In all honesty, at the time, this verse made me furious. What did that even mean? I’d spent so many years clinging onto my life with a death grip, and here I was, being asked to simply “let go”. And what did that look like—me, a struggling, flesh-and-bones person, giving up a battle I’d been fighting my whole life to someone I couldn’t even see?

To make matters worse, my health had decided to turn on me, too. Chronic stomach and digestive issues that I’d been dealing with for years slowly began to intensify. I’d wake up in the night, squirming in pain, praying that God would take it away. As far as I could tell, he didn’t seem all that interested in stooping down to help me. I felt entirely stuck, trapped in both a mind and a body that we're under constant stress. I was suffering.

It took another three months after the school year ended for me to even begin to move forward. All throughout the summer, I prayed each night that God would take away my anxiety and my physical pain, and each morning I woke up angrier. It felt like no matter how much I cried out to God; he wasn’t going to come up with an answer. Then, one evening, I grudgingly decided to open my Bible. If he wasn’t going to speak to me, at least I could see the answers he’d given to others.

The Answer in Scripture

I let the pages fall open, not sure where to look, but tired and desperate for some semblance of comfort. My eyes fell to a passage I’d already underlined: Deuteronomy 4:29: “But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.” At that moment, I finally understood why I was so stuck: I hadn’t even attempted to find him. I had just holed up inside myself, waiting for God to show himself in this big, obvious way. I wanted things done the way I thought was best. In my mind, he owed me something.

I wanted him to reach down into the waves and pull me out, but I wasn’t willing to reach my hand up toward him. That reaching out, I realized, is faith.

And right there, underlined in Deuteronomy, was the promise of what would come from my reaching—his hand would be there waiting for mine.

In a roundabout way, I had found myself back where I’d started, in 1 Peter. Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. The whole time, God was there, waiting patiently for me to realize just how much he loves me. Enough to wait, hand outstretched, for years. He would have waited for me until my dying breath.

This epiphany came just in time. My sophomore year was bearing down on me, and, as I’d learned the year before, my anxiety thrived under the conditions of college life.

That first semester of my sophomore year, I experienced an extended season of peace, a season unlike any I’d known before.
Now, anyone hearing my story might think That’s great for her, but how does this random girl’s spiritual epiphany help me?
I want to reach back into my story and outline the practical steps I took to begin to trust God and to fight back against my anxiety.

Reach Up

When my anxiety is at its worst, I feel like I’m in water up to my neck—it’s filling my ears, and my mouth. I can’t hear what anyone is saying or yell loud enough for anyone to hear me. It feels like all I can do is kick and pull and struggle against everything that’s overtaking me, gasping in shallow breaths when I can.

The moment I sense this feeling setting in, I’ve learned that the only way to shut it down is to stop fighting and to reach out my hand. This practice is entirely counterintuitive to me; as I shared before, my whole life until recently has been about maintaining control. And, as you might expect, that first moment of stillness while the water rises around you can be panic inducing. However, if you’re reaching toward God, it doesn’t take long to find his strong, solid hand.

What does this look like? Seek him in scripture.
Scripture is God’s gift to us. When I can’t see him in my immediate situation, looking to his word often opens my eyes to the reality of his presence beside me.

Be Aware

People with anxiety are often entirely aware of all that could go wrong at any given time. I know I am. That’s why it’s so crucial for us to be aware of the good things God is doing in our lives.

I used to pray every night that God would bless everything I had written in my planner for the next day. Then I’d wake up and stumble along, attempting to muscle my way through it all on my own. I’d crawl into bed exhausted. Any little detail I’d let slip away from me was God’s fault. Why hadn’t he just let me do well on that quiz? Did my rough draft really have to be that rough? I was completely overlooking every little moment that God had worked things out for my good. We must be aware.
What does this look like? Keep track of answered prayers.

Writing down your prayers daily, whether it be in a journal or in the Notes app on your phone, is a really helpful practice that allows you to look back and see the ways God has fought for you in your everyday life.

Finally, Let Go

If you are where I was at the beginning of this journey, this is going to be the hardest part. As I said before, I’d spent so much time and energy trying to grasp every detail of my life firmly in my hands. Odds are, most people can relate to this, regardless of whether they struggle with anxiety.

It’s more than just difficult to keep yourself from micromanaging. It’s painful. But what’s even more painful is suffering through your life in constant fear of losing control. I had to learn to surrender.

What does this look like? Pray continually.

For me, this means getting specific. Whenever a new task is placed in my hands, I turn and place it in his. To let go, we must trust that the outcome will be exactly what he wants it to be. He already knows how every situation will play out. He will take care of it all. Because he cares for you.

I want you to know that I have felt the peace of God. It’s jarring.  It does not lull us into a removed, sedated state of being. It awakens us to the truth of who we are in Christ and gives us a corrected view of reality—a reality that rests in the hands of God.

This peace is real, and it is sweet, and it is available to you. He cares for you.

Is school stress causing you to have panic attacks? Here are grounding techniques to help you with panic attacks.

About the Author...

Micah Vander Stouwe grew up in Sioux Falls, SD, and she is a sophomore at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul studying English-Writing and Design. She loves reading, writing, and making art. Her hope is that someday the things she creates will reach people in a way that only art can. Ultimately, Micah is setting out to do the work God has prepared for her hands to do.

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