Three anxieties

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Is it a sin to be anxious  or is it simply a mental health condition that you don’t have control over? I’ve heard both extremes.  In the church we often emphasis the former whilst it is increasingly the norm to hear people saying “I have anxiety” and using that as a reason not to be put under pressure.

I think it is helpful to talk about three distinct ways in which we can be anxious.  First of all, there is a specific mental health condition called anxiety disorder. It’s likely to be associated with crippling panic attacks -a physical response and can be linked to depression. It can attack without warning and the anxiety is not necessarily directly related to the specific circumstances you face. Indeed, it can also be related to PTSD as you find yourself subconsciously reacting to past trauma, not to the situation you are in now.

Then, there is the worry, anxiety or nerves that we feel about a particular situation coming up. If you have exams coming up or are about to make a public speech then you may feel anxious about it. That’s perfectly normal, in fact it is part of the process, a kind of fight or flight bodily response that gets the adrenalin flowing and puts us on a state of alertness and vigilance (indeed with PTSD we talk about hyper-vigilance).

However, it is also possible to let our worries and anxieties dominate and overwhelm not because of a mental health condition beyond our control but because we allow them to become the focus of our lives. We spend all of our time attempting to control and micro manage situations, we tend towards pessimism, assuming the worst scenario.  We ruminate on things becoming risk averse. Indeed this type of anxiety may become self-centred and selfish as in order to become future proof we become overly materialistic not merely setting side provision for difficult days but hoarding and m amassing. Think of a country that not only builds up  a contingency supply of COVID vaccines but stockpiles millions of vaccines beyond the dosage need of its population at the expense of poorer nations and you get the feel.

It is the latter which Jesus speaks about when he says “Don’t worry”, “Don’t be anxious”. The result of anxiety in this context is that we fail to trust in God’s provision and care (Matthew 6:25-34).  Even then, whether or not it is technically a sin, Jesus’ words are much less a telling off for sin and much more an invitation. “You don’t need to be anxious because your heavenly Father has got things covered.”