Over the years, I have occasionally struggled with low-grade anxiety. It’s my body’s initial response when I get stressed, exhausted or insecure, or when there is a lot of busyness or change. Although I’ve learned many tools to help me enter into a place of emotional peace, somehow anxiety always comes back to haunt me.
The root of my anxiety is often a critical spirit that sees negative circumstances around every corner. Then my fears kick in, and I start feeling indecisive about important decisions, which leads to procrastination. And then before you know it, each drop of negativity, procrastination and frustration accumulates into a rushing river of anxious despair. But recently, God did something unexpected when I started drowning in anxiety, and I’m still in awe.
A few days ago, I was at an ultimate low after experiencing two weeks of continuous anxiety in a way I had not suffered in years. I repeatedly asked God to deliver me, and as I talked about it with him, then I thought of something I have mentioned many times before: gratitude.
If you would’ve asked me if I was a grateful person, I would’ve said yes, and I could’ve easily named numerous things for which I was grateful. Nonetheless, I still carried anxiety and negativity about the things I struggled with, and I did not bear the fruit of peace or confidence.
My own voice in my head said, “I think Satan is trying to get you to focus on the few things you don’t have so that you won’t see all the gifts God has given you — just like he did with Eve in the garden.” Then I thought I would name things I am grateful for that about things I don’t like, such as; naming 15 things I am grateful for about driving to my meetings.” I realize that challenge may not sound like a big deal, but at the time, I was spending at least two hours in traffic one way going to this meeting — it stressed me out a lot, and I hated it.
I thought 15 was an exorbitant number, but I tried it. And although it was hard to get to 15, I did it. I then decided to list things I was thankful for in other areas I had been complaining about. And by the end of the exercise, I was laughing and felt much lighter in my mind, body and spirit.
The next day, I thought, “I feel like something happened in my brain last night when I did that exercise.” I felt physically, mentally and emotionally different. The nightmarish anxiety I was feeling had lifted and was gone.
I’ve not only felt like myself again since that night, but I’ve felt more light-hearted and peaceful. And almost every day, I’ve been listing multiple things for which I’m thankful. I’ve also read various articles that reference brain research on gratitude. For example, in the book, The Upward Spiral neuroscience researcher Alex Korb lists gratitude as one of the most important things you can do to produce the upward spiral of happiness in your life. According to Korb, gratitude boosts dopamine and serotonin in the way Prozac and antidepressants do.
The Bible tells us to give thanks again and again, so we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that gratitude is good for us. Let’s look at the Word and consider the power of thanksgiving:
- Thanksgiving is a way to enter into the very presence of God.Psalm 95:2 (ESV) says, “Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving.”
- Thanksgiving can turn scarcity into abundance. In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus gave thanks for the meager five loaves of bread and the two fish that were somehow supposed to feed 5,000 hungry people. After He thanked His Father for the food, it multiplied and fed everyone, with baskets of food left over.
- Thanksgiving protects your heart and mind. Practicing gratitude has brought healing to my life. And no wonder — Philippians 4:6tells us, “[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”
Gratitude is a way to that. It’s like a march alongside God that helps us walk in faith and see what God is doing all around us. So let’s approach our lives in a posture of gratitude and watch in wonder as those overwhelming rivers of anxiety finally start to run dry.