When my daughter was young, she had her own room. She loved it—except at bedtime. She was afraid of going to bed alone. So, I would read her a book, pray, and then lay down in bed with her for a few minutes until she went to sleep. This was really comforting to her. When I look back on those years, I’m so glad I had that time with her.
One of those night stands out in my memory. We read, prayed, and turned off the lights. It was dark and quiet. We had been laying there for about ten minutes when my daughter quietly asked, “Dad, are you still here?” I said yes, and she was soon off to sleep. I asked her about this a few nights later. She said, “Sometimes I’m still awake but I’m not sure if you are gone yet. I spend a couple of minutes wondering if I should ask if you are still there.” My heart just broke imagining her in those couple of minutes, wondering if she’s alone.
Anxiety is lonely. In our most anxious moments of panic, restless thinking, fear, and ruminating, it feels like no one can help us. Like my daughter in that dark and quiet moment, our anxious hearts ask, “Is anyone there? Does anyone understand what I am going through? Am I alone?”
You are not alone.
It might feel like you are alone. But you aren’t. Anxiety can be embarrassing. That’s a very normal feeling. We may feel like nobody understands our struggle, so we hide. We isolate. It feels safer. In our insecurity about the unknown, we move to a place of control. Since we can’t control the responses of others, we tend to shut them out and go it alone.
Our negative experiences may have also taught us to hide. The first time I talked about my anxiety at church, a well-intentioned woman told me she believed that I had a “spirit of fear” and asked if she could pray over me to “remove that evil spirit permanently.” This only made me go back in hiding again. I have to continue to remind myself that I don’t have to isolate.
Personality also plays into our anxiety. I’m an introvert. I’m a thinker and a dreamer. I spend a lot of time exploring ideas in my head. This allows me to be strategic, creative, and empathetic. I believe this is part of how God made me. It also has a shadow side. I ruminate on things, and left unchecked, my overthinking can drive me to greater anxiety. I have to be careful about ruminating alone.
Some of us have managed our anxiety through relationships in not-so-healthy ways. We may know someone with a problem they cannot solve. We feel like if we can’t help them, we have less value. We can become obsessed with helping. This can be rooted in something called anxious attachment. Anxious attachment happens when our early relationships did not provide the assurance and protection we needed. As we grow older, we may feel incomplete without a partner, be drawn to toxic relationships, or become compulsive in trying to help people. In these situations, our relationships may reinforce our anxiety rather than help us find freedom.
Healthy relationships are so important in long-lasting healing from anxiety. They are one way we care for ourselves. They can encourage us, comfort us, and challenge us. Relationships with God and others are where we can feel accepted and known. They also help us to keep moving forward.
Here are some characteristics of healthy relationships:
Vulnerability. Anxiety causes us to want to protect ourselves, so we need relationships where we can be honest with each other. But relationships are messy. They are fragile and involve risk. Rather than hiding what we’re thinking or feeling, we can tell people what’s going on inside of us. Instead of protecting ourselves from harm, we can tell people that we have felt harmed. We can let them know what triggers us and how they can help us in our anxious moments. We can also admit our anxious “push/pull” behaviors. We push people away (“You hurt me!”) and then pull them closer (“Do you care about me?”). As we work on getting healthier, we can confess how confusing this is to those who are closest to us.
Mutuality. Anxiety usually shows itself in imbalanced relationships. We are either the helpers or in constant need of others’ help. But we need relationships where we care for each other equally. If we are helpers in the relationship, we can try expressing our needs and wants to the other person and let them help us. It may feel selfish, but it’s not. We can also learn that listening is a form of helping. If we are continually seeking reassurance and comfort from the other person (or people), we can try letting unsolicited comfort and reassurance come naturally in the relationship. It’s okay to ask for reassurance, but having questions, doubts, and some anxiety is normal in close relationships.
Playfulness. Anxiety causes us to see the world as a serious place. We may feel that every conversation must be deep and every interaction “productive.” We need relationships where we can laugh together, have fun together, and enjoy each other’s company without having to solve a problem, analyze our feelings, or come to each other’s rescue. Joy and laughter release tension and stress. I try to keep them as a priority.
The most important relationship in life is our relationship with God. Whether we feel or believe it, God is with us all the time. That is God’s repeated promise throughout Scripture (Psalm 23:4, Isaiah 41:10, Matthew 28:20, Romans 8:38‑39). When we feel the most alone, misunderstood, and confused, the little child in us asks, “Is anyone there? Am I alone?”
God says, “I am with you.”
Appreciating God’s presence, rather than trying to make God proud, has been something I’ve been trying to grow more to understand. In the past, I would come to God will all my successes and accomplishments. I wanted a cosmic pat on the back. Other times, I’d come to God with a list of problems hoping for a supernatural fix that would take away my problems and my anxious feelings. But I’m learning that in my most anxious times, I can come to God and experience something much more helpful—God’s presence, acceptance, and love.
Adapted from The Anxiety Field Guide by Jason Cusick. Copyright (c) 2022 by Jason Cusick. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Jason Cusick is lead pastor at Journey of Faith in Southern California. He was previously the pastor of care ministries, overseeing grief, recovery, crisis, and counseling ministries, and has also worked as a board-certified hospital chaplain. He is the author of 'The Anxiety Field Guide: Healthy Habits for Long-Term Healing.'