Ask your average Christian if anxiety is a sin, and they can quote you a number of verses that point to an obvious yes. For the sake of brevity, let’s just focus on the words of Jesus in Luke 12:25-26 – “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”
From this verse and others like it, the message seems pretty clear: anxiety is the opposite of believing God is capable of providing for you, and as such as a sin. But let’s take the time to ask an important question: Is anxiety the same as worry?
Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. Even though these words are often used as synonyms, there is a large difference between them in the clinical sense.
Worry and Anxiety Defined
Worry is familiar to everyone. Worry is that thing we do when we start to think things might fall apart. Whether the focus of the worry is finances, or family, or the house, or the safety of our spouse, or the kids being bullied in school, or something entirely different, the end result in the same.
Worry causes us to think that potential negative futures are a certainty, and we focus our energies on preventing these calamities from befalling us. Except, there is nothing we can do, because the specific thing we are worried about cannot be changed. Such is the nature of worry.
Anxiety is something entirely different than worry. Anxiety manifests itself in one of several different ways, most commonly through generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or social anxiety. This is not a spiritual issue in any sense but is rather something felt in the body.
Many people actually find out about their anxiety disorder at a primary care physician appointment that is focused on something like shortness of breath or chest tightness, only to walk out with an anxiety diagnosis. So while worry happens in the mind, anxiety takes place in the body.
Another Way to Think About Anxiety Disorders
There is another way to differentiate between worry and anxiety, one that makes it easy to determine which is most likely being dealt with. Worries can be corralled through mindfulness techniques. Worries can be out-thought and attacked with logic. Worries can be overcome with the right training on how to approach them.
Also, worries can be tied to an obvious trigger. For example, if the worries are about finances, then the trigger could be anything from a surprise medical bill to a lost job. But the main point is that there is a trigger that can identified. This isn’t to minimize the strength or felt helplessness of worry, because it often comes like a wrecking ball at a building.
Rather, the point of this distinction is to show how anxiety disorders are different. Anxiety is not based on any particular event or moment. It comes just as suddenly as worry, but very often is not based on any particular event or trigger. Anxiety just appears, and is crippling.
Another distinctive of anxiety is that it’s not something that can be easily overcome or turned off. Logic doesn’t help a panic attack; it might make the attack worse actually. Anxiety isn’t deterred by mindfulness techniques and can’t often be outmaneuvered with proper training. Truthfully, the best option for an anxiety disorder is medication to address the physiological attacks that are coming.
How Does God View Worry and Anxiety?
At the outset of this turn toward God’s perspective on worry and anxiety, it’s vital to remember one thing. God is love, not judgment. He isn’t on the warpath, looking to destroy any who aren’t perfect. No, he is kindness everlasting, and this applies equally to those who battle worry and anxiety, despite how different they are.
Worry is a sin, but not one that can’t be overcome. Indeed, the reason there are so many admonitions to not worry is because everyone worries. Worry is part of the human condition. The best way to overcome worry is to fixate on the goodness of God. When you remember the tender lovingkindness of God, you will be better equipped to outsmart worry.
Even the verses that opened this article is a great guide to overcoming worry. The broader passage is Luke 12:22-32. In this longer discourse, Jesus reminds his listeners that each person is of indescribable value, and that God is deeply concerned for every single one of us. Remembering the great value that God places on you, and the great love He has for you – not to mention the great lengths he has already gone to demonstrate his love for you – can do much to quiet the worried soul.
The path forward for the person battling an anxiety disorder looks different in some ways, and remarkably similar in others. There is no sin involved, because having a physiological disorder is not a sin. The biggest challenge is frankly believing that the anxiety disorder is not a result of some sin or shortcoming, especially because of the many verses about worrying in the Bible.
This is best overcome by remembering that an anxiety disorder is a clinical, physical manifestation of illness, not a sin. Anxiety has more in common with diabetes than telling a lie or murder.
From there, the best approach is to lay your anxiety at God’s feet as an illness. After all, God is not only worried about our sins and making us perfect. He is a loving father whose heart is to see us free from the things that burden us, no matter what those things are.
I Peter 5:7 says, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares for you.” This is a good place to camp out in the Bible. Remember that you are seen. You are known. You are cared for. Even with all your bumps, bruises, and imperfections, you are loved.
Some Practical Steps
Once you’ve done this, a great next step is to talk to a doctor about your anxiety. Usually, your primary care physician is a great place to start. They will give you a quick quiz to help identify if you’re battling anxiety or not. If you are, which you probably are if you’re seeing a doctor about it, then he can prescribe a baseline medication for you to take that will help curb your anxiety. Depending on the medication, it will either be something you take when you feel anxiety come on or a daily pill to curb your anxious tendencies.
From there, it’s a matter of paying attention to the signals your body is sending you. Not everyone has luck with the first medication, for any number of reasons. If that’s you, it doesn’t mean you need to slink into the corner and beat yourself up. No, it means that you need to get back into your doctor and explain what’s happening. They will either prescribe a new medication or suggest you see a psychiatrist, who has more training in these types of prescriptions.
It might also make sense to consider a counselor or therapist. You may have some habits that exaggerate your anxiety that you need to unlearn. A good cognitive behavioral therapist can help you cope more effectively when you feel anxiety begin to arise. Sometimes. It could also be a dead end for you, and if so that’s okay too.
Through this whole process of trying to find a path forward, the most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. Don’t beat up on you because it’s not all fixed in one appointment. It probably won’t be that easy, but this is worth spending the time on. You’re worth spending the time on to get healthy. Never forget that.
I have generalized anxiety disorder and agree with your excellent article. I love the Bible references. I agree 100%.
Peggy, thanks for sharing your feedback here — it truly means a lot to me!