Don’t Panic!

February 14 2022 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I’ve been really struggling with my anxiety lately. Stress has always seemed to get the better of me, but recently it’s increased to the extent that I often feel like my stress is another problem I have to deal with rather than just being a side effect to the challenges I face on a daily basis. How do I deal with my stress more effectively and get it to stop controlling me and disrupting my daily life?


It’s certainly common to feel stressed from time to time, but when our anxiety starts to impact us on a daily basis and overtake our daily activities, it’s important to take a step back so that we can better understand what is going on in our brains and in our bodies and ultimately regain control over these feelings and emotions.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do – that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways – if we learn to bring our emotions and feelings to God, and ask him to teach us how to use them. It helps to start with realizing that emotions and feelings are two different, but related things.

Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment. Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them, and that’s where things tend to get complicated. Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well, understanding what those impressions mean, and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others. When we bring our emotions, the stories they tell us, and the responses we want to make to them to God first, he can teach us how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing and help us work for the ultimate good of the people around us as well.

In order to do this, get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion – especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety. When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause – even for a second – and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to, and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.” Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain. This allows us to make better, and more complete responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place. On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings are not God. God is. And everything we do – including acting on our feelings – has to be motivated by a desire to serve him. If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body – the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Updated on February 14 2022