Many of us know the common bedfellow of anxiety is depression. Where the one runs the other tends to tagalong. But anxiety actually has a number of companions. The Psalmist warns us that “fretting” “leads only to evil” (Ps. 37:8b). It’s important, then, that we wrestle with ways in which anxiety tempts us towards other sins.
It’s important, at the outset, to state that not all anxiety arises simply because of sin. There may be layers of complicating and contributing factors (including health). Regardless of causation, however, we can add to the complexity of our anxiety by how we respond to it. We may, and often do, respond to anxiety with sin. It is worthwhile, then, to recognize some of the common responses to anxiety, in order that we may rightly identify our responses and better understand our anxiety.
Anger –> If anxiety and depression seem like natural friends, it may surprise you to know that anger is also a close companion. Often angry people are deeply insecure, they have loads of fear and feel powerless to control their context and so anger becomes a way to feel empowered, or simply to respond with frustration. Anger and anxiety are not far from one another. This was certainly the case with Mary. She is angry with her sister for not helping around the house, and her anger leads her to almost rebuke Jesus: Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” When Jesus confronts her, however, he says to her “you are worried and upset about many things” (Luke 10:38-42). It is “worry” that drives her anger. Anxiety and anger are closer friends then it may appear.
Discontentment –> If anger is a response to anxiety, discontentment can be a cause. We can all experience season and moments of dissatisfaction and disappointment, but discontentment goes deeper. Discontentment is an overall orientation of our life, it comes with a focus on perceived loss or due. I become discontent when I believe that I deserve something that was either taken from me, or I deserve something that I am not getting. In this frame of mind I become envious and covetous of others, for they have what I deserve. I may even become angry at God because He is not giving me my due. Anxiety can arise as I scramble to get what I want, as I fear the loss or the absence of certain things, experiences, people, emotions, etc. I become anxious because I do not have presently what I think I need, and I fear I won’t get it or keep it.
Selfishness –> Another surprising companion to anxiety is selfishness. Anxiety shrinks your world. It causes you to lose sight of other people, of their needs, interests, hurts, and investments. We can’t see past our own feelings when we become anxious. Many people can become antisocial, forgetful, or simply unconcerned with others because of fears and worries. When my mind is consumed with my own perceived needs and concerns I have no bandwidth or really interest in others. The Scriptures call us, however, to “consider the interests of others as more significant than our own” (Phil. 2:4). This is an unintended selfishness, but it is a sinful symptom of intense anxiety.
Can’t –> Finally, we can associate anxiety with a host of “can’ts”. Anxiety raises levels of insecurity to maximum heights. As a result we become paralyzed with fear. We are unable to go out, unable to accomplish tasks, unable to take risks, unable to socialize, etc. The list could go on ad infinitum. Anxiety insists that we simply can’t do anything. This level of isolation, lifestyle depletion compound our experience of fear and worry.
These are terrible friends! Anxiety never runs alone, and it can be useful to evaluate a host of areas of my life as I seek to grow and change. Perhaps I recognize already some of these companions in my life (anger, selfishness, depression, discontent, etc.). It would be worthwhile for you to investigate the roots of those responses, perhaps anxiety is lying underneath them. Or, perhaps you readily recognize yourself as an anxious person. Look around the edges of your life and see if some of these other symptoms are manifesting. You will have better success confront your emotional responses when you can accurately identify them and connect the right dots. You may not see yourself as an angry person, but if you are anxious you might also have this corresponding response. You might never think that you were envious, but perhaps anxiety is hides that sin. You might not consider yourself a slave to a “can’t” mentality, or bound up in selfishness, but anxiety may direct you in those ways. Self-evaluation and estimation can hep you to accurately confront all that is going on and enable you to make effective changes.