Understanding and Counseling Anxiety


I. Introduction

II. The problem of Anxiety

III. The causes of Anxiety

IV. The effects of Anxiety

V. Biblical viewpoint of Anxiety


I. Introduction


Along with anger and guilt, anxiety and fear are major players in the lives of many teenagers. Anxiety can be defined as the experience of unrest, apprehension, dread or agitated worry. It has been described as a fear in the absence of real danger, or a fear of something that is not clearly understood.


Anxiety, fear and worry form a complex system of emotions that make clear differentiation between them quite difficult. They tend to overestimate the negative or threatening aspects of a situation while drawing attention away from the positive or reassuring aspects. The person is left feeling uneasy, concerned, restless, irritable and fidgety.  


II. The problem of Anxiety


The causes of anxiety are many. It can be a result of unconscious intrapsychic conflicts. It can be learned by example, such as identifying with parents who are anxious. It can come from childhood conflicts. It can come from present-day situational problems. It can come from being anxious about being anxious. It can come from fears of inferiority, poverty, or poor health.


III. The causes of Anxiety


Five broad causes of anxiety:


     1. Threats:


He describes anxiety-producing threats as those which come from perceived danger, a threat to one’s feeling of self-worth, separation and unconscious influences. For example, anxiety may be caused by rejection or harassment from a peer, the possibility of parent’s divorcing, the prospect of fluncking a course in school, or any number of real or perceived threats.


    2. Conflicts:


There are three kinds of conflicts that produce anxiety according to Dr. Collins:


  •         A conflict over the tendency to pursue two desirable but incompatible goals such as a choice between a great summer job or going on a long-awaited family vacation, either of which would be pleasant often making such a decision is difficult and sometimes it is anxiety arousing.


  •          A desire both to do something and not to do it. For example, a person may grapple with the ending a romantic relationship that seems to be going nowhere. Breaking up might also be a traumatic, hurtful experience for both parties. Making such decisions can involve considerable anxiety.


  •        Here there are two alternatives, both of which may be unpleasant: like having pain versus having an operation which might in time relieve the pain.


      3. Fear


Fear can come in response to a variety of situations. Different people are afraid of failure, the future, achieving success rejection, intimacy, conflict, and meaninglessness in life (sometime called existential anxiety), sickness, death, loneliness, and a host of other real or imagined possibilities. Sometimes theses fears can build up in one’s mind and create extreme anxiety often in the absence of any real danger.


     4. Unmet Needs


For many years psychologists and other writers have tried to identify the basics needs of human beings. The following list describes Six basics fundamental needs:


  • Survival (the need to have continued existence)

  • Security (economic and emotional)

  • Sex (as an expression of love; a sexual being)

  • Significance (to amount to something; to be worthwhile)

  • Self-fulfillment (to achieve fulfilling goals)

  • Selfhood (a sense of identify)

If we fail to meet these needs, we are anxious, up-in-the-air, afraid and often frustrated.


     5. Individual Differences


People react differently to anxiety-producing situations. Some people are almost never anxious some seem highly anxious most of the time; many are in between. Some people are made anxious y a variety of situations; others find that only one or two issues triggers anxiety. Such differences may be due to person’s psychology, personality, sociology, physiology or theology.


  •          Psychology: Most behavior is learned as a result of personal experience or teaching by parents and other significant persons. When we have failed and must try again, when we have been hurt in the past, when others have demanded more than we could give, when we have seen anxiety in other people (e.g., the child who learns to be anxious in the thunderstorms because his mother was always anxious) all of these are psychological reactions which arouse anxiety.


  •          Personality: It may be that some people are more fearful or high-strung than others. Some are more sensitive, self-centered, hostile, or insecure than others.


  •        Sociology: A past president of the American Psychological Association once suggested that the causes of anxiety rest in our society: political instability, mobility which disturbs our senses of rootedness, shifting values, changing moral standards and religious beliefs, and so on.


  •       Physiology: The presence of disease can stimulate anxiety, but so can dietary imbalance, neurological malfunctioning and chemical factors within the body.


  •       Theology: Beliefs have a great bearing on one’s anxiety level. If God is seen as all-powerful, leveling, good, and in ultimate control of the universe (which is the biblical teaching), then there can be trust and security even in the midst of turmoil. It should not be assumed, however, that nonbelievers necessarily are more anxious than believers. (Some Christians, for example, are so worried about pleasing God that their theology increase anxiety.) nor should it be concluded that anxiety are too complex for such a simplistic explanation. Nevertheless what we believe or do not believe does contribute to individual differences in the extent to which we experience anxiety.


  •         False beliefs : Not only may a person’s beliefs contribute to the experience of anxiety.  False beliefs are a major cause of anxiety among youth. Many adolescent believe one or more of the following false beliefs.


1.     It is essential that I am loved or approved by virtually everyone in my community

2.     I must be perfectly competent, adequate and achieving in order to consider myself worthwhile.

3.     It is terrible catastrophe when things are not as I want them to be.

4.     Unhappiness is caused by outside circumstances, and I have no control over it.

5.     Dangerous or fearsome things are causes for great concern, and I must continually dwell upon their possibility.

6.     It is easier to avoid certain difficulties and self-responsibilities than to face them.

7.     I should be dependent on others, and I must have someone stronger on whom I can rely.

8.     My past experiences and events are the determiners of my present behavior, I cannot eradicate or alter the influence of my past.

9.     I should be quite upset over other people’s problems and disturbances.

10.   There is always a right or perfect solution to every problem, and I must always find it or the results will be catastrophic.


Parents and youth leaders may recognize such false beliefs as often characteristics of adolescents. Such beliefs can, of course, give rise to considerable anxiety.


IV. The effects of Anxiety


Anxiety sometimes produces beneficial effects; it can motivate a person, for example. Too much anxiety, however, can produce severe, even crippling, effects.


Physical Effects:


It is widely known that a great stress and anxiety can produce ulcers, even in young person. Less well known are the other possible physical effects of anxiety:


  • Headaches

  • Rashes

  • Backaches

  • Upset stomach

  • Shortness of breath

  • Sleeping problems

  • Fatigue

  • Loss of appetite


In addition, the changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, and digestive and chemical changes caused by anxiety can, if they persist over time, cause severe harm.


Behavioral Effects


When anxiety builds up most people unconsciously rely on behaviors and thinking which dull the pain of anxiety and enable us to cope. Such reactions may include:


  • Seeking relief in sleep

  • Drugs or alcohol

  • Trying to deny the reality or depth of the anxiety


Some people may uncharacteristically disagreeable, blaming other for their problems or throwing childish temper tantrums at the tiniest provocation.


Spiritual Effects


Anxiety can motivate us to seek divine help where it might be ignored otherwise. But anxiety can also drive us away from God at a time when he is most needed. Fraught with worry and distracted by pressures, even religious people find that there is a lack of time for prayer, decreased ability to concentrate on Bible reading, reduced interest in church worship services, impatience and sometimes bitterness with heaven’s seeming silence.


Psychological Effects


It is with reason that anxiety is considered the most pervasive psychological phenomenon of our time. Anxiety can give rise to a dizzying plethora of disorders, such as:


        Separation Anxiety Disorder.  This psychological effect is demonstrated in excessive worry or fear of being from a parent or other important influence.


      Avoidant Disorder of Adolescence. This behavior as when then teenager desires warm, close and affectionate relationship with family members but strongly avoids making contact with strangers, even peers.


      Phobic Reactions. These reactions include fear of crowds and situations in which escape would be difficult (agoraphobia), fear of closed spaces (claustrophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia), and various social phobias.


       Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. The eating disorders are characterized by anxiety about one’s weight and appearance. 


V. Biblical viewpoint of Anxiety



The bible uses anxiety in two distinct ways: to signify uncessary worry and to indicate realistic concern.


The responses to the problems of Anxiety


Listen. Invite the young person to talk about his or her fears and anxieties at length, as much as he or she is capable of expressing such things. Take care, as much as possible, not to interrupt or dismiss the youth’s anxieties; a person suffering from acute anxiety will not be convicted by statement like, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about”. You may consider helping the youth to express himself or herself by asking such questions as the following:


  • What thing do you worry most about?

  • What thing are you most afraid of?

  • Which of your worries seem to be unnecessary worries?

  • Which seem to be realistic concerns?

  • Are you more anxious or nervous at particular times? In particular places? When you’re with certain people?

  • Are there times when your feeling go away?

  • Have you tried to cope with or counter your feeling? How?



Emphathize. On of the greatest challenges in trying to guide a person suffering from acute anxiety is the tendency to become anxious oneself. Anxious people tend to make other people anxious. However, being aware of your own anxiety (even it is caused by the young person you’re trying to help) may help you gain insight into what the teen or preteen is feeling. As a concerned adult, you may express empathy by”


  • Nodding your head

  • Making eye contact

  • Learning forward in your chair to indicate interest and concern

  • Speaking in soothing tones

  • Listening carefully to verbal and nonverbal communication



Affirm. The Bible says plainly “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). The enemy of fear is love; the way to put off fear, it to put on love. Fear and love vary inversely, the more fear, the less love; the more love, the less fear.

The youth leader, pastor, parent, or teacher who wishes to help a young person deal with anxiety may sometimes be able to make significant progress simply by carefully, consistently and sincerely affirming the young person as one who is valued and loved.


Direct. The youth leader or parent’s goal should not be to eliminate all anxiety from a young person’s life; that will not be possible. The goal should be to help the teen or preteen equip himself or herself to cope with anxiety.


This may be done by:


  • Helping the youth admit his or her anxiety, understand its cause, and determine (with the support of others) to learn how to cope with it.

  • Challenging the young person to commit his or her fears, to God security and peace in the knowledge that God cares for him or her. 1 Pet 5:1.

  • Urging the youth to divert his or her attention from self to others, as an individual gets his mind off his own problems by helping others.

  • Turning the youth to God in prayer, prayer provides real relief from anxiety and should our natural response the moment anxiety begins to build.

  • Guiding the young person to focus on eternal, not temporal, things.  



Enlist. Enlist the young man or woman’s participation, as much as possible, in devising a plan of action to handle stress and anxiety.


  • Listen to Christian music. 1 Sam 16:23

  • Get adequate exercise – ideally three times per week

  • Get adequate sleep. Most people need eight hours of sleep per night. Ps 127:2

  • Do what you can to deal with the fear or problem causing the anxiety. Examine different alternatives or possible solutions and try one.

  • Talk with a close friend. At least once a week about your frustrations.

  • Get adequate recreation – ideally two to three times per week.

  • Live one day at a time. Probably 98 percent of the things we are anxious about or worry about never happen. Learning to live one day at a time is an art that can be cultivated. Matt 6:34

  • Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen. Then consider why that wouldn’t be so bad after all.

  • Don’t put things off. Putting things off causes more anxiety.

  • Set a time limit on your worries.



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