Consider these statistics:
- In 2011, an estimated 117 million Americans were diagnosed with general anxiety disorder.
- Only 1/3 of those who suffer from anxiety seek help.
- Pharmaceutical companies reported some $661 million in sales of anxiety drugs in 2011.
- There are currently at least 26 new medications slated for the market targeting anxiety.
Clearly, this is a problem. But is it true that Americans are really more anxious now than 30 years ago? It’s easy to come up with some obvious reasons in support of the increasing numbers. With smart phones and the internet, we are instantly and constantly plugged in, connected to our work and the world’s concerns to the point of not being able to turn off fear-inducing scenarios.
According to Psych Central, health anxiety is a major culprit, in which one out of four people with a chronic medical condition suffers from extreme obsession and worry about their health or a particular diagnosis.
Drugs are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, and while they may calm or reduce symptoms for a time, they can’t claim to stop them permanently. We might ask ourselves the same question Dr. Marcelle Pick asks in her Huff Post article, Are Prescription Drugs Making Us any Healthier? Patients can easily develop a dependency on drugs, suffer from adverse side-effects, or find their prescription negatively impacts their ability to function in their jobs.
I recently heard of an example from a well-established doctor who specializes in anesthesiology. He was going through a very difficult period in his life and suddenly found himself susceptible to panic attacks and extreme worry. But he had another problem: if he took medication to calm his condition he would be unable to perform his job as an anesthesiologist. Since he had to work, he decided to do something that might seem on the radical side, especially for a medical practitioner. He prayed.
At its core, the issue is a mental one. The thoughts that produce the anxiety need to be eradicated in order for true progress to take place. The Prophet Isaiah promised, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee” (Isa. 26:3). And the Bible also promises: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1: 7).
The anesthesiologist said he literally spent time every day being very mindful of God and calming his thoughts through a habit of quiet listening and holding to this divine power that is all-encompassing and ultimately healing. It wasn’t long before he was working and living minus the anxiety he’d been feeling. The stressful event in his life also was resolved during this time. He attributed these results to the power of those daily prayers.
The statistics of people praying about their problems today are growing in number. A Duke University article examined the relationships between religion and depression, suicide, anxiety, psychotic disorders and substance abuse. “Out of 724 published studies, more than half found that religious beliefs had a statistically significant positive impact on mental health.”
What exactly is this impact? While it’s difficult to measure, some–like author and professor Candy Gunther Brown–are asking this question in deeper ways. Brown observes in her recently released book, Testing Prayer: Science and Healing:
“Research has brought to my attention many such cases in which an observable change in physical condition, often accompanied by a profound alteration of demeanor, took place during or shortly after prayer.”
She goes on to say that above and beyond the physical healing, these people experienced a “reorientation of worldview and a transformed sense of life purpose” (p. 161).
After years of experiencing healing as I’ve learned through my study of Christian Science, I can attest to the fact that physical healing is as much about mental transformation and renewal as it is about a positive change in one’s physical condition. That is a factor that makes prayer so appealing and remarkable. It makes one “every whit whole” (John 7: 23).
I hope you’ll share your thoughts on the topic as well.
Watch NBC’s Health Today explore the issue of anxiety in America today: