Worry and Your Health
Our World of Worry
Dr. Timothy S. Lane
Any quick search in Google will confirm what we all already know; worry is killing us! Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry mouth
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle aches
- Muscle tension
- Rapid breathing
- Trembling and twitching
You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe your worry is. Most of you can probably identify many of these as you reflect on an anxiety producing experience in your life.
Unfortunately, this is not the only way we are impacted by worrying. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on your overall health. People who worry a lot are more prone to the following physical consequences:
- Suppression of the immune system
- Digestive disorders
- Short-term memory loss
- Premature coronary artery disease
- Heart attack
In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word “worry” comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word “anxiety” is of Indo-Germanic origin referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.
Statistics reveal that nearly 20% of people living in the United States will experience life debilitating anxiety at some point in their lives. That is nearly 6 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety related conditions. It is no over-statement to say that we have a problem of epidemic proportions.
What Would Your Doctor Say?
Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest and some kind of meditation is a proven help when you are struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that we need? While these things are important, we also need to know how to connect to God when our worries come. We even need God’s grace if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful. Let’s consider a critical, fundamental, foundational aspect that must be supporting everything else you do in taking care of your body.
What Would Jesus Say?
Jesus lived at a time in human history that was much more unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where he encouraged people not to worry, he did so with compassion because he knew first-hand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, he spoke these encouraging words to anxious people, Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but his command is one of encouragement not shame. Let’s consider these simple but profound phrases:
Do not be Afraid
Worry is a serious problem. Jesus gets right to the point because he loves you. His commands are always for your good. He knows that worry is not only bad for you physically, it is bad for you spiritually. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word “worry” that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of his teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
At the same time that Jesus speaks strong but encouraging words, he does so with a tone that is tender in its toughness and compassionate in its candor. Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words: “little flock.” While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, he speaks to you as one who belongs to him, whom he is shepherding and for whom he laid down his life. You are unimaginably dear to him and loved by him. You are one of his sheep. Be reassured—he cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget him and his care, and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of his flock.
For your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom
What would you do if you knew that you were going to inherit several billion dollars at some point in your life? How would that impact the way you lived? How would that change the way you thought about finances? It would be a game-changer! Not only would you not worry over paying the bills, you would be much more likely to be generous.
That is the same point Jesus is trying to make. His command is followed by a reminder of who is uttering the command with a promise to those who hear the command. Jesus says your “bank account” is secure. You have everything you need and then some. You don’t have to worry about this life. I will take care of you now and into the future. The kingdom is yours. You will enjoy the rich goods of life in God’s presence. Your future life is one that cannot be described because it is indescribable. C. S. Lewis puts it this way as he writes through the character, Aslan, who is the Christ figure in the Chronicles of Narnia,
And as He (Aslan) spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Your Father in heaven is pleased to give you things that are unspeakable and defy the imagination. With that in mind, “Don’t worry!”
Dr. Tim Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care. Its mission is to help churches care for those who attend their churches more compassionately and skillfully. He is also a counselor and author. His new book Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace has just been released. You may found out more about him at www.timlane.org and you may follow him on Twitter @timlane
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