Cassie Steele – OCP News Service – 16/5/18
The total estimated number of people living with anxiety in the world is 264 million. The mental condition comprises different disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. For those battling anxiety, it can feel like their world is caving in on them. During this time, support is more necessary than ever and for many, one of the most powerful antidotes to stress, is the forming part of the Orthodox Church community. As noted by Dr. Harold G. Koenig, author of the book book, Spirituality & Health Research: Methods, Measurement, Statistics, and Resources, 79% of quantitative, peer-reviewed studies have found positive associations between religion/spirituality and greater well-being or happiness.
How Can the Greek Orthodox Church Help?
A 2015 study by researchers at the London School of Economics found that the only social activity linked to sustained happiness was participating in a religious organization. Interestingly, even altruistic activities such as fundraising, or working for the community, did not have the same positive mental benefits. Researchers note that the sense of community that churchgoing can have, is a powerful buffer to the vicissitudes of life. Those who form part of the tightly knit Orthodox Church find friends and a sense of family that can be very hard to achieve at work or other settings. The Church also provides one with a greater sense of purpose. It invites us to give and to take; to be responsible to others but also accept the kindness of those in our community.
Standing in God’s Presence
In a fascinating article in the blog Orthodox Way of Life, the author discusses a recent study showing the importance of mindfulness in preventing stress. That is, although there are specific people, situations and events that can cause anxiety, when we are mindful of the way anxiety affects our body and mind (by causing our heart and breathing rate to rise, or by making our muscles contract), we can control these triggers before they get the better of us by keeping our mind ‘in the present moment’. The author notes that Orthodox Christians have been using mindfulness for thousands of years, through the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” This prayer enables us to “stand in God’s presence” with humility, as we recognize the power of Christ to lead us through even the most stressful of times.
The Power of Prayer
Research carried out by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that those who pray during hard times do so to manage a range of difficult emotions, including trauma, stress, sadness, and anger. Prayer is a deeply mindful activity; one in which we can allow ourselves to acknowledge difficult emotions yet utilize our faith to stop negativity from leading us into an anxious state. Prayer strengthens our faith and extirpates us from the helplessness and fear that an anxious state provokes.
If you are battling anxiety, know that your church will support you, both on a theological and personal level. Having faith in the power of God to heal can strengthen your belief that anxiety, no matter how powerful it seems, is helpless against such a great force. Worship in the company of others, meanwhile, will remind you that you are never alone. Rather, you are part of a strong community that supports each other through the toughest of times, including physical and mental health challenges.