Anxiety and its Biological & Spiritual Causes (Anxiety Series Part I)

Anxiety is a normal and often healthy emotion in life. However, when a person regularly feels a disproportionate amount of anxiety that causes them excessive worry, trouble sleeping or concentrating, and a vague sense of unease without being able to pinpoint the cause –  it may become a medical disorder.

As mentioned before, not all anxiety is bad and is perfectly normal in modern life in fact it can be helpful especially when you know exactly what is causing that anxiety. For example, sometimes we need a little bit of anxiety and stress at work so that we can try to impress our boss and do a good job. Or if you are in college and you feel a little bit of anxiety before studying for an exam because you are motivated to get a good grade. This kind of anxiety is normal and healthy.

However, anxiety can turn unhealthy when it becomes generalized and you feel anxious all the time, you cannot pinpoint exactly where your anxiety is coming from, and you have difficulty shaking it off. Our patients who suffer from severe anxiety are typically unable to say or pinpoint what exactly is causing them this unshakeable anxiety and worry, which makes it all the more painful.

There are many types of anxiety including but not limited to:

  • General anxiety disorder: a condition where someone experiences excessive or unrealistic anxiety about various aspects of life, accompanied by physical symptoms such as muscle tension, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, etc.
  • Social anxiety disorder: a condition where someone experiences social phobia, or fear of contact with others because they fear being judged or perceived negatively by others.
  • Agoraphobia: a condition where someone experiences extreme and irrational fear of entering into open or crowded places, leaving one’s home, or in situations where they may feel ‘trapped’ such as public transportation.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: a condition where someone experiences excessive or extreme concern and fear of being separated from the ‘attachment figure.’

What causes Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders have a complicated network of causes such as:

  • Environmental factors such as loud places
  • Stress from personal relationships or work
  • Stress from global events such as the pandemic, inflation, etc.
  • Traumatic events such as sexual assault
  • Illicit substances
  • Financial difficulties
  • Major changes or loss of a loved one
  • Medical factors
  • Brain chemistry (chemical imbalance in your brain)
  • Genetic factors

The biological cause of anxiety:
Typically, when we are confronted with a dangerous situation, we have 2 parts of the brain that become activated: the cerebral cortex which is the outer layer of the brain and deals with higher brain functions such as learning, reasoning, memory; and the second, the amygdala nestled in the middle of the brain which deals with emotional processing.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that acts as a protector when you are faced with a dangerous or stressful situation: it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which then triggers your adrenal glands to pump hormones into your bloodstream. This typically leads to an increased heart rate, constricted muscles, sweating, and dilated pupils. As the “protector”, the amygdala will activate the “fight or flight” response when faced with a dangerous or stressful situation.

The amygdala will also store emotional memories – such as frightening events in the past. Thus when someone suffers from anxiety disorder or a post-traumatic stress disorder, this means on a biological level, the amygdala will overreact to situations or triggers in the environment that are associated with negative experience(s) in the past. The amygdala is thus overreacting to situations that are not actually threatening and harmful to you but still causes you to suffer from a truly unpleasant experience.

The spiritual cause of anxiety:

The Bible explains where our anxieties come from. Our anxieties come from something deeper. I love the analogy of a tree to describe this – if a tree has bad, rotten roots then the tree will have bad fruit.

Just as therapy can help you figure out the emotional and subconscious root causes of anxiety, there are spiritual root causes that lead to anxiety-provoking problems and we need to examine this further.

God created all things with a purpose:
What was the original state of man when it all began? God created all things with a purpose – He created the trees to be rooted in the ground, the flowers to flourish in the soil, the birds to command the air, the fish to live in the water, the animals to multiple on the earth. His most precious creation was Adam and Eve.

God created Man in his image and breathed his life into Man’s spirit who then became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

He made man to be with God, to have a relationship with him, to know Him and to be known by Him, to realize that all his needs are met in God. Only man had this relationship with God because God’s light was in man’s spirit. Like a newborn with its mother, man is truly happy being at peace with God.

Now God created man to have a mind and a free will. Genesis 2:16-17 records a tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. God forewarned Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit from the tree in the Garden of Eden. Man had the free will to trust and believe God fully and completely. They had their free will to trust that only God has authority to judge between good and evil. God warned man that if they were to take it upon themselves to keep the perfect standard of good and evil, they would surely die.

Separation from God:
As soon as Adam and Eve ate the fruit, original sin entered man’s spirit and became separated from God.

Separation from God is spiritual death (from Romans 3:23 and 6:23). As fish separated from water would mean death, man separated from God means death.

Man is captivated and enslaved by the enemy Satan when separated from God. What were the curses that resulted from being separated from God?

All mankind suffers from the subsequent curses:

  1. Spiritual suffering is inescapable – deep, unquenched spiritual thirst or longing that leads to all kinds of idolatry.
  2. Mental suffering is unavoidable, manifested in various forms from depression to severe anxiety to panic disorders.
  3. Physical suffering, manifested in diseases such as cancer or any form of physical pain.
  4. Physical death and judgment thereafter.
  5. Generational suffering – our suffering gets passed down to our children and their children.

The bad news is that original sin occurred in the Garden of Eden, these curses plague humanity, and humans can try their hardest but cannot solve these problems. The good news is that God solved it and showed us the way. God sent His one and only son, Jesus who is the true and final prophet who is the bridge between us and the Holy God. Jesus was the sacrificial lamb that cleansed all our sins and freed us from eternal bondage to Satan. Jesus has paid our debts and paved the way for our salvation.

John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

How does the Gospel actually help all our problems that lead to my present-day anxieties?:
As renewed children of God, the Lord promises us that:

  • He will hear our prayers and answer them (John 14:14)
  • He gives me authority, the ability to fight Satan and his deceptions (Luke 10:19)
  • He also provides His angels to minister to me (Hebrews 1:14)
  • He guarantees for me a home in Heaven, in eternal paradise (Philippians 3:20)
  • He has an awesome purpose and plan for my life, to bless the world with this good news. All the problems I face will never be in vain. (Psalm 57:2)

We hope that believing in Jesus, and believing that He has helped solve the fundamental, spiritual root problem we experience in our lives will lead to those suffering from anxiety to walk away with some hope. We hope that you will begin to see that God’s love for you is larger than your current problems. We hope that His plan for you is great. And that His timing is perfect beyond imagination. So even though you are suffering from anxiety, you can trust in Him and stay close to Him. Otherwise, the enemy wants you to continue worrying and despairing in your life taking you further and further away from God.

We are licensed psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and psychotherapists that believe in integrating the Gospel message into mental health treatment and counseling, as well as reducing the stigma and prevalence of mental health disorders. Contact us now to learn more about treatments, or just to receive a brief consultation about the need for treatment.

Found this post useful? Please consider donating to Oak Health Foundation, which is a 501(3)c nonprofit dedicated to providing resources regarding holistic mental healthcare and subsidized treatment for those in need.

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