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Living with Anxiety and Embracing Philippians 4:6

Caitlin Bean

Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. More than 19% of adults (ages 18+) and more than 31% of adolescents (ages 13–18) live with an anxiety disorder.[1] This means, dear sister, the odds that you have first-hand experience with this mental illness—either because you struggle with anxiety or because someone you love does—are extremely high.

And I just want you to know, I see you. 

I was diagnosed with anxiety at the age of 18, just shy of my 19th birthday. But it’s safe to say I’d been dealing with this disorder for a few years before that. At its worst, anxiety made me paranoid; it robbed me of peace. I was someone who was easily distracted and forgetful, sharp with people I loved, overwhelmed, and consequently paralyzed by the simplest of tasks. 

My journey of managing my anxiety was not smooth. It was a rollercoaster, and it consisted of a beautiful patchwork of support: my faith, my family, therapy, exercise, and, yes, even medication. 

Why do I tell you this? 

Because managing mental health is a multifaceted issue, it cannot be reduced to a single solution, however wonderful that would be. And because verses like Philippians 4:6—“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God”—can be confusing when you're living with or supporting someone with anxiety.

I used to read this verse and question God and my prayer life. Maybe I wasn’t praying hard enough; maybe God didn’t see me. 

But God always sees us. Always. Even when it does not feel that way. 

And that is key because our feelings cannot be indicators of God’s character or truth. 

Ultimately, I believe that St. Paul was talking about spiritual anxiety, an anxiety that calls into question truths we know about God. We are called to have childlike faith, to totally abandon ourselves to the will of God and trust that He will provide for all of our needs.[2]

Repeatedly, Jesus tells us not to be anxious in Matthew 6:25–34, pointing out the many ways God the Father cares for us and how deeply He values our wellbeing: Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? (Matthew 6:26–27).

When we are caught up in stormy seas, fearing that we might perish, and it appears that Jesus is sleeping, do we have faith that at any moment, He can stretch out His hand and still the wind (Mark 4:39)? Does the voice of God reign over our anxiety so that even in anxious moments, we return to the truth that God holds us in the palm of His hand (Isaiah 49:16) and that we can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13) and that His grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9)?

[1] “Anxiety Disorders – Facts & Statistics,” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, (October 28, 2022): https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics.
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition (Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012), #305.

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