Are you someone who experiences anxiety from time to time? Or perhaps you know someone who struggles with clinical anxiety? If so, you won’t want to miss this episode, where I talk with Mel Kistner, a counsellor who has helped people with anxiety for years. Join the conversation as we talk about managing anxiety.
A Spiritual and Emotional Guide to Managing Anxiety
In this episode:
- Mel shares her journey from art school to counselling and how she found her passion for helping people overcome their anxiety.
- We dive deep into the difference between normal anxiety and clinical anxiety, and the treatments available for each.
- We cover the importance of a holistic approach to managing anxiety that incorporates physical, emotional, and spiritual elements.
- We also explore the different methods of treatment for managing anxiety, from cognitive behavioural therapy to medication, and when they are most effective.
If you’re ready to learn more about managing anxiety, continue listening – you have found the right place.
You can watch the interview here, listen to the podcast above, or read the blog post below.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
So many times as Christians, we don’t know really how to talk about anxiety and we don’t know how to help people. So I love that that’s your mission and that’s what you’re doing. But I’d love to talk about it because I think this is what a lot of people don’t necessarily understand, is the difference between a normal level of anxiety and clinical anxiety.
Exploring the Difference between Normal Anxiety and Clinical Anxiety
The difference between them is a continuum.
How I view it is this: We have anything from concerns to then, you know, fears, worries, then anxiety that we might experience day-to-day or during, you know, stressful times in our lives, stress because we definitely live in a stressful culture.
And then getting into clinical anxiety, the major difference here is how it affects your functioning. So how it affects your functioning with your family, friends and with your work?
When it starts impacting things that you want to do but can’t do because you can’t control the anxiety or stop it and then gets more into clinical where we see the medical symptoms as well.
This means your anxiety is taking over and becoming more and more prevalent with you know issues, breathing issues, sleeping issues, really being able to kind of slow down thoughts and then looking to see if there is something in the brain chemistry that needs to be addressed.
We can ask: Are there medications, nutritional things, or vitamin imbalances?
So when we look at the clinical, we’re really looking at how much is this affecting your everyday life. And I think that then it becomes just an all-around approach where we can involve counsellors, maybe a medical practitioner whether natural or traditional and then also looking at the spiritual.
Clinical Anxiety and It’s Impact on Everyday Life
One of the things that I’ve noticed is when I first married my husband, we didn’t know he had a general anxiety disorder. And so anytime he would talk to me about his anxiety, I’d be like, oh, well, I feel anxious about that too, and I’m fine.
But it was the way in which it affected our daily lives that were different and how we processed anxiety.
I can process things and move on. And for my husband, it would affect his sleep and his thought process and, you know, like, ignite some fears.
And so I love that you just made that distinction that there are some normal levels of anxiety that we all have in that’s normal. But then there are things you can’t even process because of the anxiety and it affects different parts of our lives.
Holistic Approaches to Managing Anxiety
Maybe we can go into a little bit more specific with some of those tools and resources that can help with everyday anxiety or all the way up to clinical anxiety.
I talk about kind of flipping the focus, especially as a Christian. When I was in a Christian private practice, even I saw that the main part of the therapy and focus is on emotions and thoughts. And then there was a little bit of focus on our bodies, our nutrition and then a tiny bit on the spiritual even in Christian counselling.
I feel like we need to flip that around and make sure that we’re grounded in truth. So that when we are able to look at our thoughts and the lies that maybe we’re believing we have truth to go to and look at our identity in Christ and then our bodies.
We can look at sleep, nutrition, deep breathing, and muscle relaxation and then address any chemical imbalances that need to be and then.
Being able to learn traditional cognitive behavioural approaches on really retraining the thoughts and it, kind of praying through those things and deepening our walk with God as we step out and trust him despite our emotions.
Knowing that God promises to be with us and says do not fear, do not worry.
And so we can look at that.
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The Danger in Christian Circles
But I think there’s a danger. Especially in the Christian world just pray about it, just trust God.
God made our bodies in such an awesome way to fight off danger when needed. But when that system gets triggered all the time in our brain chemistry, then we can kind of get stuck there and need help physically coming down into that rest and homeostasis versus staying in fight or flight.
And that’s where those physical interventions are really helpful to get us to a place where then we can look at, you know, what our where’s our thinking? Maybe going off of the truth?
I love that you look at anxiety holistically. I think sometimes- whether it’s the Christian community or the medical community- we just look at the medical or just spiritual or just physical. And I love that you’ve incorporated just all the different ways that they all impact our anxiety and how we deal with it.
Fighting anxiety with the truth
I love that you said the first thing we can do is: when we’re facing a moment of anxiety, if it’s just normal anxiety, we can fight that with the truth. But when it’s clinical anxiety, it’s like we need either medication or practice to get back into like calm to then go to the remembering truth.
The power of deep breathing
When we are experiencing a typical level of anxiety, deep breathing practices are really helpful to get our bodies kind of calmed down because we all have physical responses to fear and anxiety.
So a lot of times it’s doing some of those simple things. But if you just tell someone with clinical anxiety to keep doing deep breathing, it’s not going to be effective. And they need help to get there.
The research is that cognitive behavioural therapy, traditional therapy, and medication are about the same in efficacy.
But sometimes people need medication to be able to get to be at a place where their thoughts can stop racing enough to be able to learn those new skills and how to retrain their minds and renew their minds.
I mean, God says it’s possible, the renewing of our minds. And that’s for sure.
Taking one step at a time
We have lots of anxiety in this house and that’s exactly what we’ve seen. My oldest daughter has some pretty severe anxiety and for her, she goes from trigger to panic with zero space in between. She goes from trigger to panic with no gap between the trigger and her response.
And so we tried kind of doing cognitive behaviour therapy and that to kind of make the gap larger. But it wasn’t helping. And so we did turn to medication, which then made that gap a lot bigger.
So then we were able to do some cognitive behaviour therapy with her. And so she was able to learn those skills because her body was at rest.
And so I love that you share that sometimes like you need to take care of your physical and, you know, mental state to just bring you to that rest so that you can learn these skills because yeah, we can’t learn new things. Then we’re in panic mode.
Sometimes we’ve seen this in our family and even with myself like sometimes it’s natural things like when you’re B12 gets really out of whack that can you know affect your mental processing. Your folate supports your mental processing as well. Your gut health also has a big impact.
The effect our gut has on anxiety
They’ve done a lot of research. Harvard has a huge study out there on gut health and anxiety and then. You know, female hormones and so all of those things getting in balance and figuring out, hey, do I have something out of balance?
Looking at all angles to figure out what may be causing you to experience more anxiety than typical.
It’s really hard when you’re in the middle of that panic to think rationally about those things because the prefrontal cortex is our logic and our reasoning. We’re not using that part of the brain when we’re in clinical anxiety or in panic. You’re using the amygdala and other areas of the brain.
Pro Tip: It is so helpful when we have friends or family members that can say: You know what, it seems like maybe your body’s off a little bit and can kind of direct us. I know that that’s helped me.
That was helpful for me and I’ve seen that in family and with clients that I worked with of being able to talk to someone else in their life and get some feedback too.
When you are having more panic than you are used to or you’re getting more upset than you are used to — when you’re in the moment you don’t really notice it.
The trigger seems really real and you are completely convinced that you know really negative outcome is going to happen.
And so sometimes it takes the support of people in our lives if we, if we have them, if not, you know, a counsellor or a mentor can be helpful to kind of like points in the right direction when our bodies need intervention.
There are certain things that help manage anxiety
There are certain things we can change in our habits that may help with anxiety. With anxiety and mental health, that’s going to look different for everybody.
And So what works for me and you might not work for your child or your husband or your friend or whatever that is.
What’s helped us is having some really good close family friends that are walking a similar journey. And so we get to talk about how are you handling this situation or like oh what medication help for you or like what was the first step that you took.
I’ve really trained my brain to see like yellow flags and orange flags and red flags and my kids and seeing when something isn’t leading us in a healthy way.
We notice triggers and try to learn how to reduce those triggers.Can we like can we change that trigger, can we make this a little bit less. That takes time and practice and just intention which is sometimes really hard to do.
Practice & time
Yeah, it does take practice. And I would tell that to clients all the time. You wouldn’t show up for a piano concert with no practice.
And so our bodies can create that muscle memory with deep breathing exercises with.
Muscle relaxation, which is guiding people through those muscle groups and slowly tightening and releasing, and visualization.
What happens over time is that then when you’re in a anxiety producing situation and you start your deep breathing, your body recalls it.
The power of Deep Breathing
They’ve done this study with heart patients. Their blood pressure was able to decrease when they practice muscle relaxation and deep breathing.
And so our bodies are really powerful that way.
When kids are triggered or they’re upset and you tell someone to take a deep breath, usually, the reaction is well, that’s not going to change this mom.
Deep breathing doesn’t change my circumstances but it does affect the brain centers that are in fight or flight . As soon as we are going into deep breathing it can activate those hormones which help our bodies calm and get back into a rest state.
So it does really work and help it doesn’t change the circumstances.
Mixing the Spiritual & the medical for healing
I think especially as believers, when we’re praying about something that’s maybe for years, like maybe we’re praying for a job or praying for a loved one or praying for healing, and we don’t see that.
When we can stand on the truth of the word of God and continue to praise God in the midst of it, He brings peace that passes all understanding right?
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6-7
All the physical and the medical and those things that we look at, we also have access to the God of the universe who split the seas, who can heal us instantly.
And so it’s kind of both together.
It’s looking at these things, learning practical skills but remembering that we can have peace. Even when our circumstances don’t change.
And that’s what I want people to hear, that the Holy Spirit can bring you peace and joy even when your prayers aren’t being answered.
And those things that you might be worried about don’t change. And it’s as we draw closer to him in praise and reading the word, that the Holy Spirit is ushered in with those gifts of the spirit.
The Lord brings us peace reguardless on the circumstance
I think that’s so important the know that the circumstance may not change, but God has a plan for it. In that circumstance, He can bring peace.
I know that for myself I’ve trained my brain to go straight to prayer. And so when I feel panicked, I’ve trained my thoughts to go, OK Lord, help me to calm down, you know, give me the courage to process this feeling right now.
I think what’s hard is there’s a connection between anxiety and mental health and your spiritual walk with the Lord.
What I’ve seen is that when my husband is in panic mode, he doesn’t necessarily feel the Lord or really see him in his life because they’re still connected.
So we may not see The Lord. You may still feel panic, but that feeling doesn’t change the fact that you know the Lord. He is with us. That’s the truth that we can remind ourselves even if we don’t feel like He is there.
Using Scripture through our anxiety
The practice of reading scripture out loud or and having it on a note card, having a verse that maybe God brings you or is really helpful with anxiety.
I have a free PDF download called 10 Bible verses for Christians with anxiety and how to use them and how to stop negative spirals.
I have a worksheet in there with some of these tips.
Spiritual Weapons agains Anxiety
Verses for Anxiety
How to take truth out of scripture and use that to train your automatic thoughts in a different direction.
Just saying scripture out loud, or praying outloud can help. Even if we don’t feel like it because in those moments,I don’t feel like praying. I don’t feel like writing scripture.
We nee to do the things that are going to get you towards healing, even if you don’t feel like it.
So go outside and walk for five minutes and then come back, even if you don’t feel like it.
When we read Scripture out loud, we usher that truth in and the word tells us that the battle isn’t against flesh and blood but of powers and principalities and forces of this world work.
We have these spiritual weapons as well to use and to notice if we have a spirit of depression, or a spirit of anxiety kind of hanging over me.
I can take authority over that in the spiritual realm even when my emotions aren’t catching up.
Using the Power of The Holy Spirit
I think as Christians, too, it’s acknowledging that we may need medication and we need, we may need counselling and we may need to change our diet, all those things.
Ultimately, we have the Holy Spirit and the God of the universe to help us, to train our brains and to show us which truths to focus on.
Accessing all those tools and knowledge that they all exist and that the balance is going to look different for everybody.
For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’Isaiah 41:13
This is the God of the universe saying-I’m going to hold your hand like a parent does to a little child when they’re scared. God is going to walk with you through your fear and anxiety and He is going to help you.
God doesn’t want us to run away from Him when we are scared. He wants us to run to Him. He wants to hold your hands and walk you through this.
God is a good Father
That image I often think of the Lord is seeing Him as a Father. ABBA father mens Daddy daddy.
It’s so just thinking about my kids and how they interact with my husband. That’s the type of relationship the Lord wants with us.
It’s a reminder that sometimes that anxiety and that depression, we do feel alone, but God is right there and He is happy to hold our hand through it and to be with us.
The devil’s favourite tool agains us
I always find is encouraging because I think that’s one of the most powerful lies the devil wants to tell us – that we are alone and the Lord is far away.
And that’s just not the truth.
That is one of the enemies’ favourite tools is to isolate. To keep us alone.
To help us fight agains those lies, we can write down our thoughts and get the truth out and not letting the enemy trip us up with all these lies.
We need to get those lies out and compare them with the truth. A more rational statement.
We can ask: what does God say about me? What do I really believe? And who do I really want to be?
And when we write those things down, we take the power away from the enemy of keeping us isolated with all of that.
Knowing what is happening to us
A lot of it comes from the knowledge of what is happening to us.
I know for myself I’ve got on this journey this year discovering I have ADHD and one of the symptoms is intrusive thoughts.
I think before knwoing this, I’d have a lot of intrusive thoughts and I would feel guilty about them and it starts that whole cycle.
But now that I know these thoughts are related to my brain chemistry. So I can label those and say that they are an intrusive thought. And then I can reshift my focus.
And so even just the power to know what’s happening in my brain, to know that those things don’t identify me.
I have the power to then shift has been really helpful for me. I can change those things.
It might take time and it might take support and all those things, but that change is possible.
Don’t depend on your understanding
Recognizing some of those things and realizing we’re not alone.
I work with people looking at cognitive distortions and recognizing black-and-white thinking or catastrophizing, or should statements.
I see that a lot with moms and like, I should do this and I should do that.
But when we can recognize that that’s what’s happening, we learn about them. Then when we recognize them, we can address them.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.Proverbs 3:5-6
When we’re leaning on our own understanding of things, it can get us to worry and fear because we don’t see how this circumstance can resolve.
But God works beyond what we can see. He works in ways we can’t even ask or imagine.
And so when we get into prayer, in the midst of those moments, we can shift our perspective and start viewing things from a Kingdom perspective.
Psychology in The Bible
When I read Scripture, I see so much of Psycology.
We like to tell people to stop worrying, but that doesn’t help anybody.
When you look at Scripture, it doesn’t just say stop worrying, it tells us what to do.
It says instead of worying- Pray. Instead of worrying, give thanks.
There have been studies that show how telling people to stop doesn’t work. You need to replace the “bad” action, and the “bad” thought with something else.
We’ve talked a lot about replacing the lies with truth, and labelling what is happening in your brain so you know which weapon to use.
We don’t give enough emphasis on those things, but those are just so powerful.
Our family has really benefited from acknowledging what our thoughts are coming from. Instead of it leading to more anxiety or fear or guilt- we can decide to stop thinking about it and to think about something else and it’s just so helpful.
It’s important to prepare our minds with the verses we will use, or the technique that will help us calm down.
Knowing what are the weapons that God’s given us and how we are going to use them to help us move out of anxiety.
The Power of giving thanks
The Bible tells us how important it is to give thanks.
We see that all over the Psalms of just crying out your emotions, but I will yet praise him.
They’ve done studies on prayer and worship and praise. These studies show how these activate different centers in the brain that actually release hormones that help our mood change and our anxiety decrease. They activate centers that want us to connect with other people.
God designed our brains. There’s a reason He’s telling us to praise and to pray.
In counseling they recommend meditation, mindfulness, gratitude. We know these are all forms of prayer.
But God knew this because it changes our brain chemistry, so it’s just awesome.
God did create our minds this way and He gives us those tools.
So when God tells us to be grateful, to pray, and to praise, it’s not belittling the situation. He is telling us that these are the tools He has given you to help shift our focus towards Him.
It’s not putting us down. It’s actually like lifting us up and giving us what we need to then live our lives the way the Lord wants us to.
The brain is so complex. Scientists are still trying to figure out all the connections between anxiety and our bodies. But God created us.
When we can focus on those things that He wants us to do, we need to choos to return to Him and to live how He’s calling us to do.
- acknowledging that there’s a normal level of anxiety that we all process and then there’s clinical anxiety and knowing kind of the difference there.
- The process to bring ourselves down into the calm space and practicing what’s going to help us calm down before we’re in a panic.