“You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)
This verse above showed up in a presentation my husband and I attended over the weekend, on the current state of mental health in the United States. The statistics are grim.
In a survey of college students, anxiety is on the rise—with 72 percent of females reporting moments of high anxiety within the past year, 51 percent for men. Depression episodes are up as well, 48 percent for women, 40 percent for males.
Even more startling is that thoughts of suicide have doubled in the past 10 years. One in eight students have considered it. Dependence on drugs hasn’t let up either. Last year, our nation saw more than 100,000 substance abuse overdoses/deaths, with increased numbers among blacks and Hispanics.
These issues are in addition to traditional mental illnesses, which are complex in nature and difficult to treat. For the general public, however, anxiety has become a frequent reaction to conflict, difficult situations, or disturbance. Two other responses are anger and escapism.
A key culprit to the amplified statistics, of course, is the COVID pandemic. Isolation, fears of hospitalization, long-term damage, and political clashes have all contributed to an elevated misery index. The effects linger, especially among our younger population in schools/colleges, even after masking and social restrictions have lifted.
We’re not immune to anxiety as Christians. It’s not enough to hand out platitudes about love, joy, and peace to others if we’re not able to surface above a swamp-like depression ourselves. Sometimes we need to consult with a professional counselor or physician, to talk through options and decide if therapy or medications are appropriate.
Are there other remedies when panic or anxiety sets in? I’m not a qualified counselor, and I sure don’t have the answers for complicated mental disabilities. But when alarm bells start ringing in my head and my heart starts racing, here are a few ideas that have helped me:
Evaluate your physiological condition. Is your body primed for a panic attack by caffeine, fatigue, lack of sleep, hormones, medications, or chemical imbalances? If you can tell the difference between normal stress and chemistry-induced decompensation, let those thoughts channel you toward a calmer response. Years ago, when my hormones temporarily shut down, I persevered through a panic attack simply by knowing that medication was the real root of the problem.
Look for alternatives to medication. For temporary depression, enjoy a hot bath, a slow walk, a power nap, calm music, scented candle, etc. If you’ve had too much caffeine, consume foods that will balance your blood sugar, like nuts or proteins. See your physician, however, if your depression is chronic, and seek counseling from a trained psychological advisor.
Determine if you are already anxious or if there has been a trigger event to set things off. Look at the reasons behind your fear, anger, despair, and other emotions. Is there is an underlying issue you can address? If your elevated apprehension is due to a specific stressor, take time out to examine it, looking for solutions to address it in a healthy way.
Limit social media and online news. Take a vacation from news sources as well as social media if they contribute to negative thoughts. You’ll avoid comparison traps (with the “perfect lives” and unrealistic avatars of others), negative criticism, adult bullying, and cancel culture. Read a good, uplifting book instead.
Count your blessings. Recall five blessings you have encountered in the past 24 hours, to calm anxious thoughts at sunrise and bedtime. These can be as simple as having a cup of tea, seeing a bird on the windowsill, or driving home without an accident. Dwell on each one for a few sentences of thankfulness to God. Then look for five more. Breathe deeply between each blessing.
Remember your calling as a Christian. Your mission is to trust in Christ and His power, even when you don’t feel like it. I love this verse from Jeremiah, describing people who find their peace and fruitfulness in God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:8)
Pray…and ask others to pray for you. Meet your pastor, friends, trusted family, or counselor for a snack and a chat. Share your needs with them and pray together. One of my good friends, Linda, prays frequently for loved ones by asking God to send a “ring of fire and hedge of thorns” around them. Pray through the promises of God in Scripture—highlight His life-giving words in green in your Bible. Join a prayer group rooted in God’s word.
Jesus has you firmly in His grasp. He will never let you go. He has hedged you in, as Psalm 139:5 asserts, surrounding you with His presence on all sides. Nothing can take you out of His loving hands.
What a blessed thought to get you out of bed in the morning and take you into peaceful slumber at night! Panic—just another crafty attack from Satan—flees at the name of Jesus. Ask our Lord for His power to pull you through.
Christ, our Strength and Shield, go before us and behind us to hedge us in—help us through difficult days. When dark storms gather and we have difficulty finding our way, be the Light that illuminates our path. Calm the waves that rise up around us, especially when our faith is weak. Remind us of Your faithful promise that You will never leave us or forsake us. With our thankfulness for the power of Your name, Amen.
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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.