When it comes to controlling anxiety, science supports what the Bible has consistently taught each generation, throughout history. My friend and coworker alerted me to a truth about our brains that I knew I wanted to blog about.
After reading several articles on the subject, I can honestly join the psalmist’s gratitude for God saying, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14).
I hope you will join me in that praise as you read this blog post!
Scientific evidence about our “fearful and wonderful” brains
There has been a lot of discussion and research about the increased anxiety that our culture, and especially our young people, are feeling right now. A 2022 Pew Research article states, “Experiences of high psychological distress are especially widespread among young adults. A 58% majority of those ages 18 to 29 have experienced high levels of psychological distress at least once across four Center surveys conducted between March 2020 and September 2022.”
All of us experienced stress during the 2020 Covid crisis, but for many people, and especially young people, it can be difficult to move forward without worrying about future concerns. Interestingly, brain science continues to support the truth of Scripture as more is discovered about the unique ways we have been created by our God.
A recent Mayo Clinic article reported, “Expressing gratitude is associated with a host of mental and physical benefits. Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood, and immunity. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease.”
The Mayo Clinic article explains that the best way to control anxiety is to make use of the opposite side of our brain. While anxious thoughts occur in one half of our brain, thoughts of gratitude occur in the other.
The article went on to say, “Remember that behavior changes biology. Positive gestures benefit you by releasing oxytocin, a hormone that helps connect people. Some people call it the love hormone.”
Is it any wonder that Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God and the second was like it? We are also called to “love one another.” God’s word has always taught us how to live our best lives, with both health and happiness.
It’s important to consider God’s word as scientifically accurate as well as spiritually sound. When we suffer anxiety, we need to quickly move those thoughts to the other side of our brain. Scripture teaches us how to do that.
Our God-given cure for anxiety
The apostle Paul provided us with God’s cure for anxiety in his letter to the Thessalonians. Consider the science of the Mayo Clinic article in light of the inspired wisdom Paul wrote: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–22).
God created our brains to function as they do and then gave us the wisdom of Scripture to help us know how to use our brains in the best possible way. Paul knew that the path to physical and spiritual health involved both gratitude and love. Remember that gratitude and anxiety occur on different sides of the brain.
So, when we are anxious, it is God’s will that we:
- Rejoice always.
The first thing to remember when our brains are consumed with worry or anxiety is that we are never without joy as well. Christians need never live a day of our lives without hope and a sense that our future is guaranteed. God must grieve those times we have allowed worry to control our thoughts rather than our faith. God created our brains to have a path from our worries. It is the road of rejoicing.
- Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.
Even the worst moments of our lives can draw us closer to the reality of God’s power and presence. It is God’s will that we learn to trust his perfection and lean on his love, even in those anxious times. Have you expressed gratitude to God for his loving care during those difficult days of COVID? We should consider all we learned during those pandemic days and be grateful for the ways the Lord has been working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Our normal routines stopped for a few months and gave us time to think about our priorities. Did we lose some of that perspective as our schedules restarted?
- Do not “quench the Spirit.”
One great thing about anxiety is that it can often send us straight to God in prayer. We can always know that the Holy Spirit stands ready to speak, teach, comfort, and guide. He already has the answers we need; we just need to not quench his voice by focusing on all the world’s ideas instead.
- Hold on to God’s word by testing all other ideas against its truth.
The prophecies of Scripture were written to a specific generation, but the truth of those prophecies is for every generation. We need to “hold fast” to the wisdom of Scripture because it is “good.” At the same time, we should avoid anything that contradicts God’s wisdom. God’s Spirit will guide, but the Evil One will also make suggestions in an effort to distract us from God’s truth.
We are commanded to overcome
God’s words to Isaiah remain his command today. He told the prophet, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:9–10).
The apostle Paul told the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
God didn’t encourage us not to worry but rather issued those words as his command. He loves us and wants us to understand how he has wired our brains to function. When we worry, it is bad for our health and our relationships. We shouldn’t choose to live with our worries rather than God’s solutions for our worries. When we follow the commands of Scripture, we are taking the road that points us away from our stress and toward our hope.
But God also created us with free will, the ability to choose. Are we choosing the path God has designed, the path that will move us away from our worries?
We have a choice to make
Victor Carrion is an MD and a professor of childhood psychology at Stanford University. He was writing on the subject of anxiety when he made this point: “Thinking positively is not something that happens automatically. In fact, automatically we think negatively. That, evolutionarily, is what produced results. Negative thoughts are automatic thoughts, and positive thoughts need to be practiced and learned.”
In so many ways we have been raised to worry, and experience has taught us to think negative thoughts. Most of our parents were careful to warn us of the dangers in this world. We can be grateful that our heavenly Father taught us how to overcome the worries of this world. But Carrion’s words above point to the truth of Scripture. The path away from our anxieties is a path we must choose each day. It won’t be our natural instinct; it is a Spirit-directed choice.
Before you close this article:
- Take a moment to pray and seek God with the gratitude he deserves.
- Then, consider those things you are anxious about.
- Then, choose to praise God for all you have, all you have learned, and all you can faithfully hope for in the future.
That will enable your thoughts to move away from your worries and toward God.
Aren’t you grateful that God wired your brain with the road of praise and provision?
We truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
His works are wonderful, and our souls can know that well.