Is Worry Making Us Sick?

Any quick search in Google or Amazon will confirm what we all already know; worry is harmful to our bodies. Here are a few physical symptoms associated with worry:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling and twitching

You can almost get exhausted and anxious reading that list. All of these can be experienced to varying degrees depending on how severe your worry is. Most of you can probably identify many of these as you reflect on an anxiety-producing experience in your life.

Unfortunately, this is not the only way we are impacted by worry. If not addressed, it can have a bigger impact on your overall health. People who worry consistently are more prone to the following physical consequences:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Digestive disorders
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Premature coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack

In light of this, it is not surprising when we discover the original meanings of the words we use today to talk about worry and anxiety. The English word “worry” comes from the Old English word meaning “strangle.” The word “anxiety” is of Indo-Germanic origin referring to suffering from narrowing, tightening feelings in the chest or throat.

Statistics reveal that nearly 20% of people living in the United States will experience life debilitating anxiety annually. That is nearly 65 million people! In 2008, American physicians wrote more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications and more than 150 million prescriptions for antidepressants, many of which were used for anxiety-related conditions. It is no over-statement to say that we have a problem of epidemic proportions.

What Would Your Doctor Say?

Physicians and counselors will tell you that diet, exercise, rest and some kind of meditation is a proven help when you are struggling with anxiety. Sometimes medication, when taken wisely, can be helpful. You can use your body to fight what is actually trying to undermine it. No one can deny that. But is there another part of dealing with worry that we need? While these things are important, we also need to know how to connect to God when our worries come. We need God’s grace even if we are going to pursue exercise and diet in a way that is most helpful.

Let’s consider the most fundamental aspect that must under-gird everything else we do when taking care of our bodies.

What Would Jesus Say?

Jesus lived at a time in human history that was very unpredictable and less safe than ours. It was a world in which worry was epidemic, too. In every instance where he encouraged people not to worry, he did so with compassion because he knew first-hand what it felt like to be a human being. In Luke 12:32, he spoke these encouraging words to anxious people, Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Those simple words sum up all that Jesus said over and over again. He commands them not to worry, but his command is one of encouragement, not shame. Let’s consider these simple but profound phrases:

Do Not be Afraid

Jesus knows that worry is a serious problem. He knows it is bad for you physically, as well as spiritually, and he gets right to the point because he loves you. His commands are always for your good. Whenever you are struggling with worry, it is connected to your relationship with God. The word “worry” that Jesus uses means “a divided mind.” Within the broader context of his teaching, Jesus says that worry happens when you try to love God and something in creation at the same time. As soon as you do this, you have begun to put your hope and security in something other than God. Anything else besides God is unstable (money, a relationship, a job, education, your own moral record, obedient children, your health). Do you see why Jesus is so straightforward? He cares for you. He knows that you can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

Little Flock

At the same time that Jesus speaks strong but encouraging words, he does so with a tone that is tender in its toughness, and compassionate in its candor. Don’t let this little phrase that Jesus utters evade you. Don’t miss those two powerful words: little flock. While Jesus challenges you to not worry or fear, he speaks to you as one who belongs to him, whom he is shepherding and for whom he laid down his life. You are unimaginably dear to him and loved by him. You are one of his sheep. Be reassured—he cares for you and loves you even as you struggle with worry, even as you forget him and his care, and give in to your tendency to worry. You may be prone to wander, but you will always be part of his flock.

For Your Father Has Been Pleased to Give You the Kingdom

If the promise of Jesus’ tender care is not enough, he adds something more! Your Father is not only going to care for you now, he is in the process and will ultimately give you His kingdom. Your future is certain and you can begin to experience it even now because His kingdom has broken into your life by the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is a deposit guaranteeing that you will get it all one day. So, right now, in the ups and downs of life, the stresses and strains of the uncertain future, let the certainty of your eternal future be what you cling to.

With all of this in mind, allow the truth of God’s care for you to work its way into your daily life. We are to prioritize the kingdom by viewing everything through the lens of our faith. When you begin to live for God instead of the things of the world, you may find that your tendency to worry will lessen and your response to God and to the world, spiritually and physically, will change dramatically.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane


This is an adapted excerpt from Tim’s latest book, Living Without Worry, which can be purchased through The Good Book Company or on Amazon.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.