Episode 32: Stress and Anxiety – Learning from Jesus
There’s no denying that most of us are affected by stress and anxiety at some point. In this episode Dan chats with Professor Anna Whittaker who studies the interaction between psychological factors, stress, and physical health in her research. They talk about the times Jesus touched on anxiety in his teaching and how he invites everyone to come to him to find rest and peace of mind. He knows from experience of course, because, as Anna and Dan explore, he endured acute times of stress himself. Listen in to find out more.
Before the episode begins we point out that we’ve linked to some helpful resources and support lines at the end of the show notes. If you’re feeling really anxious or broken, you should ask for help as soon as possible so please take a moment to follow the links below.
Anna begins the interview by explaining the type of work and research she is involved in and how it relates to understanding stress and anxiety. Dan hopes that this will help him bring the biblical text into sharp focus to make it possible to apply it today in day-to-day life.
Jesus, stress and materialism
They start in Matthew 6, part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus encourages his disciples to steer clear of an anxious mindset. The immediate context about not laying up treasure on earth is relevant so Anna and Dan look at Matthew 6:19-21. The more material things someone amasses, the more anxious they are likely to be about maintaining and protecting their wealth. Fixing priorities on the things God has promised, rather than material wealth, is much more likely to help avoid anxiety.
Anna describes how lots of eastern philosophy and modern practices like mindfulness encourage people to focus on the moment so as to not be anxious about tomorrow. She notices how similar this is to the way Jesus tells his followers to not worry what the following day will bring.
Stress triggers – and how Jesus dealt with them
They move on to talk about common root causes of stress and anxiety. Anna explains that significant stress can be triggered by large life events such as a bereavement, but also the build up of lots of little things can also be significant.
They talk about how Jesus experienced major traumatic events in his life; e.g. losing John the Baptist, the death of his friend Lazarus, being betrayed by one of his close friends. We know he felt grief and pain in these circumstances, (John 11:35), so Jesus becomes an example to us of how to deal with stress and anxiety in our lives.
Anna and Dan think about how Jesus formed a close network of friends, (his 12 disciples), who were there for him, even when they didn’t fully understand. Having someone to be with you when you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious is an extremely effective coping mechanism.
They consider the physical symptoms of being overly stressed. It’s a bit harder to imagine Jesus dealing with these sorts of things, but knowing he was going through acute stress means he would, of course, have been dealing with its physical effects, (Matthew 26:36-38, Luke 22:44).
An invitation from Jesus and the peace of God
Anna and Dan then turn to a key moment in Matthew 11:28-29 when Jesus calls out to “all who labour and are heavy laden”, offering them rest and sharing the load. They talk about how knowing Jesus can help to relieve some of the day-to-day struggles of stress and anxiety. Jesus went out of his way to help the marginalised and outcasts in society – knowing this should help those of us who struggle to fit into modern society.
They turn to the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians who was a model example of someone who had learnt from Jesus to be content in any situation, (Philippians 4:7-13). It’s worthwhile to notice the value of the community that Paul was a part of – the believers in Philippi were part of the solution when Paul was in need since they had sent him some funds out of their own generosity. Anna and Dan talk about how much a community of believers and support network can help you overcome life’s challenges, using this example.
When to get help
They start to wrap up acknowledging that severe anxiety and mental health issues require professional help. It’s so important to get assistance if you’re deeply struggling and they encourage anyone feeling that way to do so. (See the links below for ways you can get help).
Finally, they end up in Romans 8:35-39, with a picture of those who have come to know Jesus and follow him being told that whatever life throws at them, it cannot separate them from the love of God! It’s a wonderful passage that can help to keep the mind focused on the right priorities. Truly there is rest in Jesus.
If you’re having a difficult time and need urgent help, we encourage you to get in touch with the Samaritans or find mental health support based on your location using the Hub of Hope. These are UK based resources.
If you’re in another part of the world, then contact your local or national support line. You can use the information found on the United for Global Mental Health website to find the relevant service.
To learn more about Jesus, try our six-part series of episodes about discovering Jesus in Matthew’s gospel.