Anxiety Disorders — Frequently Asked Questions

By Don Graber
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
Focus on the Family

What causes anxiety disorders?
Our understanding of the roots of anxiety disorders is very incomplete. Anxiety disorders constitute a class of mental health issues, and the underlying causes for each one may vary. It is not clear, for example, why a specific phobia might afflict one person but not another. It’s likely that genetic and environmental factors combine to make some people more susceptible to certain anxiety disorders, and research is currently being done to increase our knowledge.

Why might someone not seek help for an anxiety disorder?
Some people with anxiety disorders never get the help that’s available. They may simply be unaware that something can be done about their anxiety, or they may avoid getting help because they fear that dealing with anxiety or reaching out for help will be perceived as weakness. Sometimes Christians don’t get help because they believe anxiety is a sign of spiritual failure, or they fear the stigma in their faith community that’s associated with an anxiety disorder (see below).

What can I do to help someone with an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders cause tremendous suffering to those who are afflicted, but they can also devastate a patient’s family and loved ones. Too often, the stress and pain of an anxiety disorder shatters families and destroys relationships. If you believe that a parishioner one is dealing with an anxiety disorder, encourage them to get help. Often, a person with anxiety will seek the help he or she needs if only someone will encourage them in that direction.

What help is available for people with anxiety disorders?
Left untreated, anxiety disorders can be disabling. The good news is that there are helpful treatments for these disorders, and most people who undergo treatment see real improvements.

Individuals who believe they may have an anxiety disorder should seek a thorough examination by a physician to examine the possibility that symptoms are the result of a separate medical condition. In fact, DSM-5 lists “Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition” as a distinct diagnosis. Medical conditions that may produce anxiety include hyperthyroidism, hypoglycemia, cardiac arrhythmia and vitamin B12 deficiency, among others. A physician can help identify and treat medical conditions that may produce anxiety. He or she may also be able to determine whether the anxiety being experienced is the result of medications or other substances (a condition known as Substance/Medication-induced Anxiety Disorder).

If it appears that anxiety is not the result of an underlying medical condition or any medication, another type of anxiety disorder may be diagnosed. A primary care doctor such as a family physician or an internal medicine specialist may prescribe medications to relieve anxiety, and may also recommend psychotherapy. A primary care professional might refer to a psychiatrist for cases that don’t respond to relatively simple medical care. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is specially trained to treat mental disorders.

Medications cannot cure anxiety disorders, but they may relieve a person’s symptoms enough to allow them to function and respond to psychotherapy. A drug that is effective in treating an anxiety disorder in one patient may not be effective in someone else. Some drugs take several weeks to exert their full effects, and patients may not experience improvements for some time. It may take a patient and his or her doctor weeks or even months to find the right medication at the dosage that works best.

Sometimes people will begin to feel better after being on medication for a while, and they may stop taking medication because they feel they no longer need it. Unfortunately, symptoms can return after a person stops taking their prescription. Abruptly quitting certain medications can result in negative side effects. Individuals who wish to discontinue their medication should do so in consultation with, and under the supervision of, a physician.

In addition to medication, psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy involves talking with a qualified professional who can help patients learn how to deal with their anxiety. One form of psychotherapy that is particularly helpful in treating anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, individuals examine how their thoughts and behaviors contribute to anxiety. They then learn new ways to think about their experiences and circumstances and how to recognize and alter dysfunctional thought or behavior patterns. CBT may be useful in the treatment of GAD, panic disorder, specific phobias and social anxiety disorder, as well as OCD and PTSD. Another form of therapy – desensitization – is mentioned above.

Many individuals experience best treatment results when medications are combined with psychotherapy.

Focus on the Family may be able to help you locate a licensed and qualified Christian psychologist, therapist, counselor or psychiatrist in your area. For more information call Focus’ counseling department at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) Monday through Friday between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time.

Why am I experiencing an anxiety disorder if I am a Christian?
Christians are not immune to anxiety disorders. One tragic notion that persists in some Christian circles is the idea that problems like anxiety are primarily, if not completely, spiritual in nature. Many Christians sincerely believe that a person should not experience anxiety disorders if he or she just has enough faith and trust in God. That is simply not true.

Well-meaning Christians may quote Scripture passages such as, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear … whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18, ESV). This verse reminds us that God is greater than anything we will face in this world, and it assures us of the confidence we can enjoy when we stand before God someday. But it was not written as a pronouncement on anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders can affect a person’s spiritual life, and spiritual issues may be interwoven with a person’s anxiety, but to say that the person with an anxiety disorder should simply trust God more is like telling the woman with a broken bone that she should just have greater faith, and she will be well. We wouldn’t scold or throw out-of-context Bible verses at a person with a broken bone. Why would we do that to a fellow believer who’s suffering the torments of an anxiety disorder?

In a similar vein, some Christians disparage the use of medications in treating anxiety disorders or other mental health problems. But we wouldn’t dismiss a diabetic who takes insulin as someone who obviously lacks trust in God. In the same way, we ought not to look at those who take medication for anxiety as somehow deficient in their faith.

If you know of someone who is dealing with an anxiety disorder, and they feel that the use of medications is somehow sinful or evidence of a lack of faith, urge them to reconsider. For some people, the use of medications is a lifeline, allowing them to function normally and helping them to reconnect with others and with God in ways that might not otherwise be possible.

Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Some people with anxiety disorders use alcohol or drugs to medicate themselves and relieve feelings of distress. Unfortunately, illicit drugs and alcohol are no more helpful for treating anxiety disorders than they would be for treating pneumonia.

Alcohol and drugs can mask the symptoms of anxiety disorders, making diagnosis and treatment more difficult. In some people, they can worsen or actually cause anxiety. Additionally, using drugs or alcohol to deal with anxiety increases risks for drug addiction or alcoholism. If someone uses drugs or alcohol to cope with an anxiety disorder, counsel them to speak to a qualified mental health professional. Substance abuse has only downsides, never an upside.

Help is available

Anxiety disorders are much more than simple jitters or nervousness; the feelings of fear and anxiety that accompany them can be debilitating. The good news is that help is available and these conditions can be managed with the proper combination of medical and psychological care and spiritual support. While not discussed in detail above, this last element is extremely important, as anxiety disorders can challenge the notion that God is a loving Father who is trustworthy and cares for us and is in control of all things. If you know of someone who is dealing with an anxiety disorder, encourage them to consider the benefits of Christian counseling, pastoral care and the support of a strong faith community. Combined with other forms of care, these can help people struggling with anxiety to live a vibrant and effective life for Christ.

Copyright © 2014 Dr. Donald Graber. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

Don Graber

Dr. Don Graber retired in 2013 following a professional career that spanned more than 35 years. He worked as a psychiatrist in private practice, as a staff psychiatrist and as the medical director of a psychiatric hospital. Dr. Graber continues to serve in his field as a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council.

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.

If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.