When Prayer is Part of Anxiety
By writing about when prayer is part of anxiety I realize that I am completely contradicting what I shared in the last post about praying when you are overwhelmed. But, for anxious people who are prone to reassurance seeking or avoiding discomfort, prayer can be another method of avoidance. For individuals with OCD, prayer and matters of faith can become a target for the OCD. As a result, they can get tangled up in a person’s obsessions and compulsions.
As a Christian counselor am aware that reading this will spark anxiety for some people. It may make prayer a cause for concern instead of a channel of hope. But, I want you to know that your faith, spirituality, and religious traditions are important. They are not something to be feared. You don’t have to give them up just because they have managed to become anxiety reinforcers.
Examples of using prayer as avoidance or a compulsion:
1- Having to repeat a certain prayer out loud or to yourself. You believe that if you don’t something terrible will happen.
2- Overthinking or ruminating about whether you are praying correctly. Or, using the right words or phrases believing that you have to pray a certain way for it to be effective.
3- Being upset about something that does in fact warrant action on your part and instead praying about it in place of taking action.
4- Refusing to pray about your struggles or doubts because you believe you must be positive.
Some questions to consider:
1- How do I feel if I am not able to recite my prayer? If the resulting feeling is distress and a continuous urge to pray, this might be a compulsion that is reinforcing an irrational belief.
2- Can I let my prayers flow in a natural way or do I have to review them, restart them, or pray for a certain amount of time? If you find yourself often praying and engaging in reviewing or some of these other practices, this is an example of anxiety interference.
3- Is there an opportunity for me to take action on this thing that I am praying about? Am I choosing not to act out of fear of failure, rejection, or because of a victim mentality? Sometimes we continue to pray about something because we don’t want to own our part in resolving the issue. This is also something known as spiritual bypassing which you can learn more about from Alison Cook, Ph.D.
4- Can I be honest in prayer? Am I willing to let go of self-imposed expectations of positivity? This is another form of avoidance or even denial and an unwillingness to acknowledge pain or suffering.
As I’ve mentioned before, when struggling with anxiety, the one surefire way to maintain or strengthen anxiety is to actively avoid the feared object/situation or engage in compulsive behaviors with the goal of getting rid of anxiety. Both of these activities are guaranteed to make your anxiety worse.
When we find ourselves having anxious feelings and anxious thoughts, it is natural to want to do whatever we can to get rid of them. As an anxiety therapist, I share this information to help guide you away from activities that strengthen anxiety instead of soothing it.
Here are a few great resources for learning more about anxiety and matters of faith.
Begin Working With A Christian Counselor in Virginia
- Start managing your anxiety symptoms in a healthier way
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