We live in a society that has many overt and hidden stressors. When talking about treatment for anxiety, there is certainly no end of therapies and methods. Often, the method we use to deal with anxiety will depend upon its severity and root causes.
Finding the Right Treatment for Anxiety
Psychotropic and/or Naturopathic medication can be helpful when treating severe anxiety and panic attacks. Whether medication is used or not Christian Counseling should be an essential part of reducing anxiety.
Medication is an option for anxiety that primarily stems from a biochemical disturbance. Often, I find clients with anxiety stemming from biochemical issues will make very little progress in therapy. Likely, these clients have tried fervent prayer, Christian meditation, healing services, increasing faith in Christ, and taking in God’s word more fully without seeing significant results.
This does not mean God cannot work in a supernatural way or that he is not working in a supernatural way, but only that God may have given us the means of reducing the anxiety by something that is already there in nature and refined by human beings to create medications that reduce and manage anxiety symptoms.
I am reminded of the famous story below illustrating God’s current blessings already bestowed on us that He is waiting for us to utilize.
A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help. Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me,” so the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this, the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith,” so the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this, the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith,” so the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”
To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
Types of Anxiety Medications
The main categories of medications used to treat anxiety are Buspirone, Hydroxyzine, Beta-blockers, Benzodiazepines, and Antidepressants.
Buspirone, also known as Buspar, is used to treat generalized anxiety disorder. Buspar has a tranquilizing effect like benzodiazepines. Unlike, benzodiazepines, they do not carry a risk of addiction and abuse.
Hydroxyzine is part of a class of medications called antihistamines. It works by affecting certain natural substances (acetylcholine, serotonin) or by acting directly on certain parts of the brain. Hydroxyzine blocks histamine that is created by your body during an allergic reaction.
Clients suffering from phobias or panic disorder could be prescribed a heart medication known as a beta-blocker by a physician. These drugs are primarily prescribed for irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure but have been found to be helpful for treating the physical symptoms that come with high-pressure situations. Beta-blockers help issues such as rapid heart rate, shakes, and sweating.
This category of powerful drugs reduces anxiety by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid)in the brain and thereby helping the brain slow/calm things down. They work quickly, often working within one hour. The potential for addiction is high with benzodiazepines, so close consultation with a physician is important when using them.
Often, depression accompanies anxiety symptoms and anti-depressants can help manage anxiety over the longer term. Antidepressants used for treating anxiety disorders include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Commonly used SSRIs include Paxil, Lexapro, and Prozac. Frequently used SNRIs are Cymbalta and Effexor. Another class of antidepressants called tricyclics are less commonly used. Examples of drugs in this class are Elavil, Amitid, and Tofranil.
Christian Meditation to Overcome Anxiety
1) Contemplative Prayer
How to practice:
Choose a sacred word from the Christian tradition, such as Lord, Father, Jesus, Mary, Abba, Mercy, Love. The Aramaic word Maranatha (“Come, Lord!”) is often used.
For 10 to 30 minutes, repeat the sacred word. It shouldn’t be repeated only mechanically, but with focus and emotional content. Each repetition should be like a prayer. When unrelated thoughts or emotions arise, bring the mind back to the sacred word.
2) Hesychasm or Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer dates to the days of the desert church fathers in North Africa. This form of prayer is practiced in some denominations of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
This school of practice emphasizes the need for having times of isolation and sensory deprivation so that direct communion with the divine can be achieved and sustained.
How to practice:
Choose one of the suggested sentences. The favored ones are: “O God, make speed to save me. O Lord, make haste to help me.” and “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.
For 10 to 30 minutes, repeat the sacred word. It should be repeated not only mechanically, but with focus and emotional content. Each repetition should be like a prayer.
Synchronize the repetition with your breathing. For instance, when breathing in one says “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…” and when breathing out one completes the sentence, “have mercy on me, a sinner”.
While repeating those prayers you can also feel that you are breathing in and out of the heart. It helps you further connect to it. When thoughts or emotions arise, bring the mind back to the sacred word.
“Pray without ceasing” – try to maintain the repetition of the prayer even while doing other activities during your day
3) Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina literally means “divine word” or “divine reading”. It involves choosing a short passage from the scripture, memorizing it, and then repeating it silently for some minutes. During practice, all ideas, thoughts, and images related to the passage are allowed to arise spontaneously in the mind. It is somewhere between contemplative reading and contemplative prayer.
On top of the silent repetition, some people also visualize scenes from the life of Jesus, or other biblical tales, in order to create a more engaging experience. The “Spiritual Exercises” of Saint Ignatius of Loyola is basically a more elaborate form of this, which integrates other elements.
Practice Lectio Divina: Steps
- Select a passage from scripture that is rich in visual imagery.
- Recall what one is doing in engaging with the Word of God and what one desires from this encounter. God is present and because God is present one relies on God. Read the passage twice so that the story and the details become familiar.
- Close one’s eyes and reconstruct the scene in one’s imagination. The result is engagement and a more internalized knowledge of Jesus.
- As one finishes this time of prayer, one should take a moment to speak person to person with Christ saying what comes from the heart.
4) Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola
One more elaborate and advanced form of contemplative reading, that involves visualization exercises, is the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The entire experience takes about 30 days and often involves a daily interview with a spiritual director.
The process begins with a consideration of the purpose of one’s life and relationship with the rest of creation. It is followed by a week of meditation about sin and its consequences. Next comes a period of meditating on the events of the life of Jesus, and another for thinking about his suffering and death.
The final week is to experience the joy of the resurrection, and in conclusion to reflect on God’s love and the response of love for God. The exercises often involve imagery in which one enters a biblical scene. The goal of the exercises is to reflect upon your experiences and to understand how they might apply to one’s life.
5) Sitting in the Presence of God
Steps to Practice:
Start with a few minutes of contemplative prayer, or contemplative reading. This will calm and unify the mind. Another option would be to do a few minutes of mindfulness or controlled breathing.
After the prayer or reading is finished, focus on the greatness of God, on the presence of God, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. There should be a feeling of surrender, of “Here I am Lord!”. Rest deeply in this silent openness. If thoughts or emotions arise, bring them inside your meditation, and offer them to God also.
Alternatively, you can also focus on other themes of a Christian life, such as the passion of Christ, the feeling of gratitude, the feeling of awe due to the greatness of God, or simply the feeling of love. When you breathe out, silently say ‘I love you’ as the expression of your whole being as an act of love to God. And as you inhale listen to God silently saying, ‘I love you.’ So the essence of the moment becomes this “I love you—I love you”, resting in God’s presence.”
Try different methods and ways of resting and speaking to Christ. Enjoy the process.
For God alone, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. – Psalm 62:1
Church history affirms the foundational nature of practices of prayer and Christian contemplation and reflection that made it an active practice in the lives of early Christians and theologians. Below, quoted from Wikipedia, we see the development of prayer and meditation in the early Church:
“Prayer and the reading of Scripture were important elements of Early Christianity. In the early Church worship was inseparable from doctrine as reflected in the statement: lex orandi, lex credendi, i.e. the law of belief is the law of prayer. Early Christian liturgies highlight the importance of prayer.
The Lord’s Prayer was an essential element in the meetings held by the very early Christians, and it was spread by them as they preached Christianity in new lands. Over time, a variety of prayers were developed as the production of early Christian literature intensified.
By the 3rd century, Origen had advanced the view of “Scripture as a sacrament”. Origen’s methods of interpreting Scripture and praying on them were learned by Ambrose of Milan, who towards the end of the 4th century taught them to Saint Augustine, thereby introducing them into the monastic traditions of the Western Church thereafter.
Early models of Christian monastic life emerged in the 4th century, as the Desert Fathers began to seek God in the deserts of Palestine and Egypt. These early communities gave rise to the tradition of a Christian life of “constant prayer” in a monastic setting which eventually resulted in meditative practices in the Eastern Church during the Byzantine period”
Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. – Psalm 49:1-3
The evidence bears witness that in the Christian tradition there are forms of meditation that are contemplative. We also find forms of meditation practice, similar to those in Asian traditions, such as contemplative prayer (analogous to mantra meditation) and a “sitting with God” of contemplation gives one the ability to understand and hear the Lord.
Focus, recall, and meditation on God’s Word are similar in technique to ancient Indian techniques like yogic meditation. The key difference for us as Christians is that we know God’s word is Truth and only belief in Jesus Christ leads to a relationship with God. Therefore, it is my understanding that making use of Asian meditation practices, without adding special eastern belief, can help you be a better Christian, and feel closer to God.
My prayer right now is that you will find these early Christian practices adding key spiritual tools that reduce anxiety and help you develop a stronger relationship with Christ. Christian Counseling can help you practice these tools as a part of your daily walk and give you a large measure of support towards spiritual growth in Christ. If you are struggling with anxiety seek Christian Counseling/Coaching with a professional.
“Meds”, Courtesy of Pina Messina, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying Woman”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Devotions”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Supplication”, Courtesy of Milada Vigerova, Unsplash.com, CC0 License