Latter-day Saint Life

How to Let Go of Anxiety When Making Hard Decisions + 4 Steps to Replace Fear with Faith


After changing my major three times in college, I was sold on journalism as my career goal. However, while I was looking at the job salary for journalists, I realized that I would not be able to save much money in my newly chosen career. My anxiety rose and my mind started spinning. “Should I change my career goal? Is it too late to become a nurse or engineer?” While my brain was filled with fearful thoughts about the future, the advice I’d received from my therapist reminded me that I need to calm down and realize that it was my fear that was creating these doubts in my mind.

As psychologist Arne Öhman wrote in Handbook of Emotions, “Fear is an avoidance motive. If there were no restraints, internal or external, fear would support the action of flight. Anxiety can be defined as unresolved fear, or, alternatively, as a state of undirected arousal following the perception of threat.” Öhman also suggests that fear is usually involved with outside sources or unpleasant past experiences that cause such reaction; on the other hand, anxiety is described as an ineffable and unpleasant feeling of foreboding.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf in April 2017 general conference said, “It is true that fear can have a powerful influence over our actions and behavior. But that influence tends to be temporary and shallow. . . People who are fearful may say and do the right things, but they do not feel the right things. They often feel helpless and resentful, even angry. Over time these feelings lead to mistrust, defiance, even rebellion.”

Fear and anxiety are powerful influences that can move us in a specific direction, but they cannot take us very far. However, often we let fear and anxiety stop us from pursuing the hard but correct path, choosing instead something comfortable. Understanding your fear can help you start the healing process and make decisions for the right reason.

1. Recognizing It Is Fear, Not You

Doctor Cindy Meyer, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology, says, “The first challenge to mastering fear is identifying its existence and true source. Sometimes we conceal our fears or are reluctant to admit to them because we are ashamed. Unfortunately, this is an instance when what we can't see will hurt us. Identifying our fears as irrational or disproportionate is the first step to overcoming them.”

Satan is the great deceiver. He can plant doubts in our minds, and he uses fear to hold us back from pursuing every needful, good thing, for he seeks for every man to be as miserable as he is.

Elder Russell H. Bishop said in a 1977 Ensign, “The Lord does not want us to fear; he desires that we have faith in him. The Adversary, on the other hand, will do whatever he can to exaggerate our feelings of personal inadequacy. Each time you feel hesitancy in yourself, each time you recognize fear, you have recognized the presence of evil.”

When many voices occupy your mind and it seems impossible to recognize the Spirit, remember this scripture: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). As I try to distinguish whether fear or faith are motivating me, I find the voice of the Spirit is usually soft and gentle, bringing light and peace; on the other hand, fear is harsh and threating, filling me with hopelessness or darkness. 

If at times it seems too hard to process your thoughts, writing them down in your journal can help you process your thoughts and recognize the root of your fear. 

2. Giving Our Fear to God

Fear is a form of pride that comes in a different package. President Ezra Taft Benson spoke in 1986 general conference saying, “Pride is characterized by ‘What do I want out of life?’ rather than by ‘What would God have me do with my life?’ It is self-will as opposed to God’s will. It is the fear of man over the fear of God.” The more I thought about fear and faith, the more I could see how these two point in a different direction. When I have fear, I work on the problem by myself, whereas when I have faith, I trust that the Lord will direct me in my path.

Saying a prayer can bring our will and Heavenly Father’s will in correspondence with each other. Elder Russell H. Bishop said in a 1977 Ensign, “In the instant that you recognize fear, turn from it by turning to the Lord in prayer. This doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring the fear; it means that you’re treating it exactly as fear should be treated—by turning it over to the Lord, who has the power to change our feelings and to give us his Holy Spirit.”

Another scripture for us to remember is, “Perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16).

The more we learn about the love that God has for us, the more we can trust Him and the less we fear. “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45). This scripture perfectly describes the love that God has for us. Even though sometimes we might be impatient with ourselves or feel discouraged, Christ is perfectly patient with us. He is waiting for us to reach out to Him and ask for His help. It is with this perfect love that we trust. We trust that as we give our fear to Him, He will give us faith to keep moving forward.

3. Having the Faith to Step into the Darkness

Ether 12:6 states, “Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”

When making a difficult decision, how often do we want to know the path we are taking is right before ever making the effort to find that out?  When the children of Israel were crossing the waters of Jordan, the scriptures say it wasn’t until the priests, who were bearing the Ark of the Covenant, dipped their feet in the water that “the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far . . . and the people passed over right against Jericho.” Just as the priests needed to dip their feet into the water before God could perform a miracle, sometimes acting in faith means we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and uncomfortable before God provides answers.

President Boyd K. Packer in a 1991 BYU Magazine shared, “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.”

Elder David A. Bednar said in a 2011 Ensign, “The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’” As we step into the darkness, the light will come gradually. Just like God promised Joshua, He promises each of us, “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee nor, forsake thee.”

4. “If Ye Are Prepared Ye Shall Not Fear” (D&C 38:30)

Elder Russell H. Bishop shared, “Preparation will dispel that hidden and insidious enemy who lurks within and limits our capacity, destroys our initiative and strangles our effectiveness. The enemy of whom I speak is fear.”

The more we understand the consequences and the nature of our decisions, the more prepared we are to make a correct choice. Forbes Coaches Council offered tips on how to overcome fear in decision making. Here are a few of their 14 tips:

1. "Ask yourself, 'What is the absolute worst thing that could happen if I did X?' Then ask yourself these following questions, 'What’s the likelihood that will occur?' 'What’s another positive possibility?' 'If I decide to X, what’s the one small step I can take today to move this forward?' Take one step at a time and trust it will lead to the next logical step." —Kris McCrea Scrutchfield, McCrea Coaching

2. "Nothing ever changes until we change it. However, when decision paralysis has taken over and 'what ifs' are holding you down, sometimes you need to step outside of yourself for a different perspective. This is where channeling a personality of someone you trust and respect can come in handy. Just ask yourself, 'What would X do?' and help it be your guide. Small steps build trust!" —Laura DeCarlo, Career Directors International

3. "When making a decision, look at it as a learning experience, no matter what it is. Every choice we make teaches us something. Don't be scared of the outcome. Look forward to it. Making that next decision might be the best thing you ever did." —Erin Kennedy, Professional Resume Services, Inc.

As we are facing hard decisions, may we remember to turn to the Lord and ask for His help. God is in the details of our lives, and He will assist us making a difficult decision. President James E. Faust said in a 2002 Ensign article, “Let us not take counsel from our fears. May we remember always to be of good cheer, put our faith in God, and live worthy for Him to direct us. We are each entitled to receive personal inspiration to guide us through our mortal probation. May we so live that our hearts are open at all time to the whisperings and comfort of the Spirit.”

Lead image from Pixabay

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