This series has been kindly authorised for use by homegroups.org.uk by Imagine Christian Ministry and was written by Ian Cartwright. The full course is nine sessions or which we have four. Find out more information at https://imaginechristianministry.co.uk/
This week we are looking at a feeling that everyone has experienced – anxiety. We will be examining what anxiety is and ways that we can reduce our own anxiety, as well as how to support others. We’ll see what we can learn from the story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus. Finally, we will discuss what we believe about the use of medicine to treat mental health problems.
The companions on the road to Emmaus may well have been in despair.
They’d built their hopes on Jesus, but were now disappointed that He
didn’t appear to be all they’d dreamt of. Had they made the biggest
mistake of their lives? Did they feel as if they’d just watched their whole
world, their hopes and dreams, crumble away?
Jesus’ approach to these two men is fascinating. We see him literally walking alongside them, asking them questions, letting them speak, really listening to understand their pain.
At any point in the journey, He could have revealed His glory, dispelling all of their doubts. But instead He chooses to start by listening. Then Jesus gently meets them where they are at, taking the time to explain the scriptures to them, helping them see things from another perspective.
When we interact with people, do we take the time to walk alongside them?
To meet them where they are, with all their questions and heartbreaks?
The best treatment for most mental disorders is to use medication alongside talking therapies and pastoral and social support.
Anxiety is a vital emotion, warning us of possible risks or problems.
It keeps us from making bad decisions or judgements, but it’s also
the emotion most commonly linked with emotional and mental health
problems. We all experience anxiety, but some people are more prone to
it than others. Think of it as a bit like the body’s smoke alarm; it warns
us that something significant may be about to happen. But sometimes it becomes too sensitive and is triggered too often, and that’s when it becomes a problem. It stops being a helpful warning and starts to disrupt everyday life: an anxiety disorder.
Feelings may include:
Although these symptoms are unpleasant, they will not harm us. We won’t faint, collapse, have a heart attack or die. However, experiencing these feelings on a regular basis can be extremely disruptive to day-to-day life.
When we experience anxiety, our body is preparing to respond to a risk or an emergency:
This is fantastic news if we are in real physical danger that demands a real ‘fight or flight’ response. But in our modern lives, that is rarely the case, leaving our bodies prepared for a physical reaction which we have no real outlet for.
Anxiety disorders are best treated with a combination of approaches that address the different aspects of anxiety. Helping someone to better understand the causes and symptoms of anxiety is a good first step. Unhelpful thought patterns can respond very well to a talking therapy, for example cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This aims to help people change the way they think particularly reducing obsessional (round and round) thinking (rumination), which in turn helps them concentrate or function with greater resilience.
Christian Mindfulness meditation helps to develop greater sense of self-awareness and God awareness. Meditation of this nature is very powerful and enables a deeper relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Medication is very important and works well alongside other therapies, especially in the most severe forms of anxiety disorder, reducing the intensity of extreme anxiety.
There are simple things that anyone can do to reduce their anxiety levels:
Faith in Christ can be a big support for those struggling with anxiety, because it gives a bigger perspective and reminds us that God is in control. It encourages us to simplify our life and remember what really matters. Times of contemplative prayer can help calm nerves, focus the mind and limit panic or waves of anxiety.
Remember, however, that recovering from anxiety problems is not as simple as just being told ‘Do not fear.’ Those suffering will often require expert help as well as the support they get through their faith and their local church. There may be Bible passages that they find very hard.
Often-quoted ‘Do not worry’ scriptures, such as Matthew 6:25-27 or Philippians 4:6-7, can be helpful. They can however feel like an added condemnation to people who are trying not to fear, but who find no relief for their anxiety. In fact, randomly quoting scriptures at people can add to their downward spiral of shame, guilt and self-criticism.
People suffering with anxiety should be encouraged not to be too hard on themselves. It’s good to help people find ways in which their faith in Christ helps to calm their anxiety, while not adding to their worry with scriptures they find hard to process when feeling anxious.
Mental health medication can include:
To find out more about a particular drug, MIND have a very useful website:
Some Christians feel that we shouldn’t use chemicals which affect the brain and change our feelings. There can be downsides to taking medication: some drugs come with side effects, which can be significant; and it’s possible to develop an over-reliance on medication.
That said, why should we not view mental health medication in the same way as medication for physical health? We presumably wouldn’t criticise someone for a lack of faith if they take insulin for diabetes, or aspirin for a headache. Yet some people feel that ‘real’ Christians shouldn’t consider medication to manage mental health.
Take a few minutes of quiet to review what we’ve heard today and think about what to do with it, giving God the space to speak to us.
Encourage people to sit comfortably and close their eyes.
Lord Jesus Christ, who for love of our souls entered the deep darkness of the cross, we pray that your love may surround all who are in the darkness of great mental distress and who find it difficult to pray for themselves. May they know that darkness and light are both alike to you, and that you have promised never to fail them of forsake them. We ask it for your name’s sake.