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3 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Using Gospel Principles

I love a good nap. Though not always the most productive activity, it can be a nice rest from physical and mental stress. I remember almost weeping for joy when I read President Kimball’s counsel that naps could be an appropriate Sabbath day activity. Hard work deserves appropriate rest.

When our Savior was on the earth, He worked hard. He toiled alongside His disciples. One story from His life has always been interesting to me because of the way it teaches (1) that we should rest and (2) how we can rest well. Both Mark and Matthew give a similar account (see Mark 4:35–41 and Matthew 8:23–27).

After what was likely a long day of challenging work, the Savior and His disciples prepared to cross the Sea of Galilee in a boat. Two significant things happened after embarking on their journey. First, Jesus fell asleep. Second, a terrible storm arose. As the intensity of the tempest grew, so did the alarm and concern of Jesus’s apostles. They frantically toiled to keep the ship afloat among the driving rain and furious winds. Meanwhile, they saw their Master blissfully asleep. This raised their alarm even more. How could He sleep during such a storm? Further, how could He sleep knowing their lives were in danger? Didn’t He know that they were about to drown? Didn’t He care?

Ultimately, the disciples chose to wake their Master, speaking the shortsighted line, “Carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38). What a strange and thoughtless thing to say to the Man who would eventually bear all of their sins! Jesus awoke, reminded them to have faith, and then with a single word calmed the winds and seas. Those in the ship marveled at His ability to control the very elements of nature. Notwithstanding this great miracle, my attention has often been drawn to another important element of the story. What enabled the Savior to sleep when all around Him were filled with panic and fear? How was He able to filter out the external events and still achieve sufficient peace so He could sleep?

The disciples on the boat experienced fear and anxiety in that moment. Anxiety comes in many different forms. It ranges from common, passing fears to crippling, clinically significant anxiety disorders. The following principles can help us have peace during times when uncertainty creates doubt and anxiety. While they are not always easy to implement, they are true and can provide a measure of relief to all who have anxiety, whether in the short or long term.

1. Understand your divine purpose.

The Savior knew who He was and what He was about. Although He achieved knowledge line upon line as do the rest of us (see Luke 2:52), He ultimately came to know that He was the Son of God. He knew that His purpose was to redeem all humankind. When the storm intensified, the apostles were likely filled with great anxiety as they considered dread outcomes. “This could be the end. We’re going to die. What will become of our families? What will happen to the Church if our Leader is drowned?” Their anxiety fueled their desperate attempts to preserve their own lives. I imagine they frantically bailed water and adjusted course. Yet, the Savior slept. He had no anxiety even as the tempest increased and threatened death for all aboard. I believe this is because He knew He would not die in a dramatic drowning. As foretold, He would die on the cross. He knew He would finish His mission and would willingly embrace death when the time was right. Armed with this knowledge, He blissfully slept while all around Him fearfully labored.

Like the Savior, you have a purpose. It is not a generic, expendable purpose but a specific, intentional purpose. What is your purpose? I do not know, but your Father in Heaven knows. He will tell you as you prayerfully seek this information. Those who have received patriarchal blessings already have some insight into significant reasons for their existence. In my experience, our purpose in life rarely relates to what we can accomplish for ourselves but rather how our personal growth can bless the lives of others. Jesus Christ spent His whole life building character and spiritual strength so that He could sacrifice it all on our behalf.

Fear of the unknown is a significant factor that promotes anxiety. Gaining greater insight regarding your purpose will help decrease anxiety and increase a sense of intentional action. It is easy to sit on the sidelines when we feel our participation in the game does not matter. However, when we know our participation is crucial to the team’s success, duty and initiative overcome fear, and we do our part to compete. Let me assure you that your full participation is essential. Others need the strength and insight you can provide. You will achieve greater confidence and have less fear as you learn more about your Heavenly Father’s intentions for you.

2. Make sure you are “sailing” with the Savior.

The disciples on the ship were not new to sailing. They were experienced mariners with fine skills. This particular storm frightened them, which gives some insight into the overall intensity of the squall. There was likely real danger in this circumstance; fear would be a common and expected response. Again, how was the Savior able to sleep? Shouldn’t He have had the same fears? After all, He was in the same boat in the same storm. A commensurate response like that of His disciples would have been truly understandable. Yet, He had no fear of the powerful winds and waves because He had created them. “For the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth” (Ether 2:24). I believe part of the reason the Savior slept is that He knew He could stop the storm at His command. After awaking and seeing the terror in His disciples’ eyes, He stopped their external threat and internal fears.

We have no such power to stop the storms that come into our lives. Tempests occur regularly in all shapes and sizes. The wicked are punished for their sins, and the righteous are tested to increase their strength. These trials often bring great anxiety. We pray for relief or, at the very least, to know the end from the beginning. “Lord, just tell me how things are going to work out; then I’ll stop worrying.” Yet the great plan of happiness doesn’t work that way. Knowing specific outcomes will surely decrease anxiety, but it will also eliminate faith. Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel and is essential to our spiritual development. So, what can we do? We can make sure we invite the Savior into the boat with us. We can do the things that will entitle us to the companionship of the Holy Ghost. During rough seas, if we are traveling with the Savior, even uncertain outcomes can become filled with hope. Remember, “No waters can swallow the ship where lies the Master of ocean and earth and skies” (“Master, the Tempest Is Raging,” Hymns, 105). Don’t travel through life without the companionship of the Redeemer. Do all you can to ensure that you qualify for the presence of His calming and powerful influence.

3. Don’t worry about future storms.

We need to recognize that storms, tempests, and trials are a necessary part of life. Praying for smooth seas is not uncommon, but it is ill-advised. We are currently engaged in the greatest potential growth experience thus far in our existence. Mortality is a proving ground where we have the opportunity to learn to be obedient (see Abraham 3:22–25). It was the same for our beloved Savior. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). As another example, Joseph Smith experienced many dark times in his life. At one point, he was incarcerated in what could be aptly described as a dungeon. He had been there for months with no hope of potential release. His family and the rest of his beloved Saints languished without his leadership and company. As Joseph prayed for the deliverance of his people, he received the following heavenly counsel: “If the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).

Heaven help us if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation. Yet, perhaps we find ourselves in the emotional equivalent of dungeons on a regular basis. We cry out for help and rescue only to hear the reassuring and familiar voice of the Spirit whisper, “Don’t worry; all of this will eventually pass and will be for the best.” I can testify from personal experience that it is very, very hard not to worry in such situations. I can further testify that it is critical we learn to trust the Spirit’s counsel and calm our fears.

Learning to calm our fears will be a very long process, but there is a strategy that can help in the interim: Try not to worry about potential storms. Too many currently sit in relatively calm seas, yet they are panicked about the next possible tempest. While the waters are calm they desperately scour the horizon and check the weather forecasts, worried about what might come. This type of behavior guarantees anxiety in both calm and storm. Try not to spend your time on blissful waters worried about future waves and rain. Do your best to relax when you can, because the next storm is certain and unpredictable. Even then, when it happens, at least you will have had some peace in the meantime. The storms of life are difficult enough to manage when they occur. Let’s try not to worry about them before they happen. I know this can be particularly difficult for those who struggle with chronic anxiety, but I testify that with the help of the Savior, all can learn to worry less and have greater peace.

God bless you as you seek to overcome anxiety and find peace. I promise that your Father in Heaven is aware of your situation. Even your day-to-day experiences are within His view. He manages His creations and does all things for our good. Remember, He is our Father. Your trials are designed for your growth and experience. The day will come for all when we will have a full realization of how perfect His plan is. That day will be one of great gratitude and rejoicing. The Lord’s counsel to Joseph is applicable to us all: “Therefore, hold on thy way, . . . fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” (D&C 122:9; emphasis added).

Lead image from Shutterstock
David morgan

Dr. David T. Morgan

Dr. Morgan is the author of My God Hath Been My Support: Seven Keys to Understanding and Enduring Personal Trials. His writings contain insights and solutions to apply gospel principles to emotional challenges. You can see more content, connect with him on social media and ask questions on his website,www.ldspsychologist.com.

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