Can Christians struggle with anxiety and depression? What do you think? What has been your experience?
Anxiety and depression have often been stigmatized within the Christian community. Some Christians think it’s “un-Christian” to feel anxiety and depression because it implies that the person who is struggling doesn’t have “enough faith.”
They may ask, “How can someone feel anxious when God gives peace and rest?” “How can someone feel hopeless when God gives hope?” “How can someone feel alone, scared, and continuously guilty when God covers all those feelings with His love, comfort, and grace?”
I used to ask those same questions myself.
I am a Christian, and I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life, and depression for parts of my life. Most people don’t know this about me. I hide it pretty well. Not for the sake of secrecy but for the sake of trying to stay positive and trying to keep my focus on God’s peace, strength, and hope. “Trying” is the key word, here. Some days I falter, struggle, and “get stuck,” and some days I’m able to keep moving forward.
This post will mostly focus on the topic of anxiety, but symptoms of anxiety are often reflected in people with depression too, and vice versa. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. It’s a vicious cycle.
For me, anxiety has usually been the precursor to depression. The depression starts to set in if my anxiety goes unchecked or gets out of hand.
Picture a bathtub. Anxiety is the continuous drips (or rush) of water coming out of the faucet. If the tub does not get properly and routinely drained, the water starts to fill the tub over time. Then it becomes so full that I feel like I start to drown, engulfed by dark, heavy, numbing waters; that’s when the depression takes over. The tub of water becomes a miry tar pit.
Anxiety and/or depression can be caused by a sudden onset of or a gradual build-up of stress, grief, physical or emotional traumas, medical conditions of the body, or mental health disorders (i.e. involving the brain) that fluctuate in levels of severity based on the individual person’s environment, physical and cognitive functioning, and coping skills.
For some people, anxiety can look like this:
- Difficulty sleeping at night
- The mind continually “races”
- Feeling panic, dizziness, and shortness of breath
- Feeling like a huge weight is on your chest and shoulders
- Headaches and other bodily aches and pains
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- “Brain fog” (difficulty concentrating and having memory difficulties)
- Becoming easily frustrated; becoming easily tearful
- Excessive worrying
- Feeling guilty and weighed down by shame
- Feeling claustrophobic, even if there’s only a few people in a room
- Feeling overwhelmed by loud noises
- Negatively internalizing other people’s comments and actions when their intention is not personal or negative
- Smiling on the outside but struggling on the inside
- Replaying past conversations (or texts and emails) in your head over and over, wishing you had said things differently
- Losing your appetite and not wanting to eat, and on other days, constantly snacking and over-indulging in unhealthy foods and drinks
- Having imaginary conversations with yourself
- Feeling insecure and inadequate; wanting to hide and escape
- Thinking you don’t matter and don’t belong
Personally, I have felt all the above feelings many times, throughout different seasons of life. The depression symptoms (for me) are worse. They’re deeper, darker, lonelier, and more debilitating.
Some people may ask me, “How can you have anxiety and depression? You are so blessed! You were raised by wonderful parents in a loving, Christian home.”
It’s true. I AM blessed! I was raised by wonderful parents in a loving, Christian home. I have an amazing, loving husband and precious boys. I’m actively involved in my church, and I have people in my life who I can count on for help and support. Yet, I still struggle with anxiety and depression.
I can’t explain it other than that I believe anxiety and depression are mental health disorders, just like a physical illness. I don’t know if it’s how my brain is uniquely wired, or if it’s Satan purposefully playing games in my mind (maybe it’s a bit of both), but anxiety and depression are real, and they affect people physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
But, take heart! I have HOPE in Jesus!
Jesus told His disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33), “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.” (John 14:27), and “Your grief will turn to joy […] and no one will take away your joy.” (John 16:20,22)
Jesus’s peace and joy doesn’t necessarily mean “happiness” and having “problem-free” lives. It means being filled with courage and hope to continue pressing on. To take that next step. To pray that next prayer. It means drawing strength and joy from His presence, knowing that His love for us far outweighs any hardship we experience on earth.
Even though I believe mental health conditions are real, I also believe that God is my Great Physician, and Jesus is my Redeemer— that’s the greatest reality I can believe in. And even though my anxiety can sometimes have a strong grip on me, God’s grip is stronger.
Earlier, I listed several symptoms of what anxiety has looked like for me. What I didn’t list, is how my faith transforms those symptoms. Because of my faith in God (and Jesus), my anxiety also looks like this:
I know God is stronger. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-11).
I know I am loved. “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
I know I am not alone. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
I know I am covered by God’s grace. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
I know I can hope in God’s faithfulness. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
I know I can have peace. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
I know it’s ok to struggle. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)
I know God wants me to use my anxiety to help others. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
I know God will end my anxiety, if not in this lifetime, then when I meet Him face to face. “Therefore we do not lose heart. […] For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
These are TRUTHS from God’s Word.
But even though my mind and my heart constantly tell me of these truths, sometimes it’s hard for my emotions to catch-up. It’s like the wires in my brain are not properly connecting to my body. My heart and soul believe in God’s truths, but my emotions and physical reactions sometimes dictate otherwise.
Some days I’m able to control my anxiety, and some days it controls me. It can sneak up on me without warning, like a stealthy lion preying on its next victim. Christians are not immune to mental health disorders. We are not immune to sickness or hardship. But our faith helps us to cope and persevere. Our faith gives us HOPE. It gives us peace in the chaos and light in the darkness.
Life is a journey with unexpected twists and turns along the way. We can choose to travel through life with God’s hope and strength or without them. I choose with.
I choose to keep taking one step at a time, reminding myself to follow God, my Healer and Comforter. There are tangible coping tools I try to practice as well (see The War Within: Overcoming Negative Thoughts and Emotions), but keeping my focus on God is the strongest deterrent and relief for my anxiety. Day by day, hour by hour, breath by breath.
I also choose to not let it define me. My anxiety is a part of me but not all of me. It’s a piece of the puzzle, a brush stroke on a painting, an ingredient in a multi-layered dish. I choose instead to let Christ define me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.
I choose to keep moving forward, not backward. To run the race set before me, trying hard to strengthen my armor against the enemy. I choose to focus on the needs of others and to encourage them with the love of Christ; as a byproduct, encouraging others uplifts my own spirits as well— that’s the beauty in God’s design of brotherly love.
What about you?
Everything I have shared with you is my personal experience. My story. And everyone’s story is unique and different.
What’s your story? Do you struggle with anxiety or depression? Do you know someone who does?
If you do, you are not alone. You are not a stigma. You are a precious child of God. There is help and hope available. I encourage you to not be afraid to reach out for help. Because Christians struggle with anxiety and depression too.