Struggling with anxious thoughts? You can pray about anxiety without shame or guilt for feeling faithless at times, and actually find peace when you try these outside-the-box approaches.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt anxious, tried to pray about your anxiety, and then actually felt more anxious afterward because it didn’t work and you think you probably did it wrong. Yeah, me too.
If you’re a Bible-reading person, you’ve probably heard quotes like this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
That sounds great and all…but if you’re a human being who worries about things, it can be a little maddening when the answer to all of your fears is to “just go and pray about it” like that’s some kind of magic fix. Pulling that verse out of context can sometimes do more harm than good.
It turns out that dealing with anxiety is not that simple. Like all human emotions, the thing we experience called “anxiety” is rooted in complex issues: memory, trauma, hormones, and even our genetics. Simple wishing it away doesn’t cut it…and it can even be harmful when it doesn’t work and we feel ashamed for our lack of faith.
What exactly are we supposed to say in prayer when it comes to dealing with our anxiety? And will it actually help us feel better? While there isn’t a simple answer to how to pray about anxiety, there are a few approaches that can help you find peace.
I struggle with high-functioning anxiety and have prayed about it in various ways. Different situations call for different ways to pray. I suggest you try something, and if that doesn’t work, try something else. Lean into the journey instead of rushing the destination, for that is where you find God. As the passage above continues, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
If you find this helpful, be sure to check out 7 days of prayer prompts from Jesus’ teachings.
Related post: Looking for Things to Pray For? Here Are 40 Ideas.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional and am speaking from my own experience and informal study. If you experience panic attacks or any other debilitating mental health symptoms, please seek help from a clinical professional.
5 Ways to Pray About Anxiety
While I don’t have an exhaustive list of how to pray about anxiety and successfully manage it every day, there are five techniques that I find very helpful:
- Embrace silent prayer.
- Meditate on the Scriptures, music, or poetry.
- Use breath prayers for anxiety.
- Write or talk it out.
- Release the anxiety in your body.
Here’s how to practice each technique:
1. Embrace Silent Prayer
For much of my Christian life, when I’ve prayed, I’ve thought about what I should say. But when it comes to praying about anxiety, sometimes a better approach is to say nothing.
When I’m feeling anxious, sometimes I have so many thoughts running through my head that I can hardly focus on any of them. Or I might not be able to put what I’m feeling into words at all. When I choose to be silent, it gives God an opportunity to “speak,” to move in my heart, and to calm my spirit.
The Apostle Paul refers to a mysterious way that the Holy Spirit intercedes when we’re troubled and don’t know what to say in Romans 8:26–27:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Admittedly, practicing silent prayer is difficult, as the mind can wander. Here are a few practical ways to make it work:
- Sit still and close your eyes to eliminate distractions.
- Inhale deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth, which will slow your heart rate and help you feel more relaxed.
- Try different prayer postures, like getting on your knees or holding your hands open.
- Set a timer so you won’t be distracted by the clock.
- Visualize something if it’s helpful; think of something calming like a flowing river or something comforting like Jesus giving you a hug (it sounds cheesy but it’s great).
- Don’t worry too much about your mind wandering; when you get distracted just try to focus on God.
This is different from Eastern forms of meditation because you’re not trying to find your center; you’re focusing on God and making him your center.
Related post: How to Pray When You Just Can’t Focus
2. Meditate on the Scriptures, Music, or Poetry
If silence isn’t really helping you pray about anxiety (it doesn’t always work for me), try meditating on something else that takes your mind off of your anxiety and puts it on what is good and true. Immediately after his encouragement to not be anxious, Paul offers this tip in Phillipians 4:8:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
It’s helpful to have a list of your favorite scriptures that you can turn to when your mind starts to go down an anxious path. Or you can read or recite the Psalms, which were written to guide God’s people through emotional expression.
Music or even poetry can have the same effect. It all helps us connect the emotional part of our brains with the rational part, which can help you feel more integrated and at peace.
I like to have a hymnal handy and sing some of my favorites when the moment calls for it. You might have a playlist with your favorite worship music or even a book of biblical poetry that helps you meditate on God. Experiment and find what works for you.
3. Use Breath Prayer for Anxiety
Sometimes it’s helpful to have a tool that you can use in the moment when anxiety strikes and you need to calm down quickly. Deep breathing is a well-known strategy, so it is all the more effective when you add prayer to it.
Pick a short scripture or phrase that helps you focus on what is good and true. Examples are, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16), “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). You can use all or parts of these phrases.
Breathe in as you think or say on part of the phrase, and breathe out when you think or say the next part. Do this for as long as you like. While it can feel repetitive at first, I encourage you to stick with it for a while. Observe how it makes you think and feel.
And of course you don’t have to do this in the height of negative feelings; you can use it as a way to start your day, end or day, or pause at any time!
4. Write or Talk It Out
Sometimes I’m anxious because I’m trying to work out a problem or worry in my mind and I just need the space to work it through. When this happens, using a prayer journal can be helpful. Some prompts to pray about anxiety include:
- What are you afraid of?
- Are those fears valid?
- Surrender what you can’t control to God and make your requests.
- Consider what action you can take on what you can control (ask for wisdom).
If you still can’t work it out through journaling, try talking about your anxious feelings out loud to God or with a trusted prayer partner. My husband happens to be an excellent sounding board, and I also have a few great listeners in my life who ask great questions.
5. Release the Anxiety in Your Body
It might not sound like prayer to focus attention on your body, but remember that you are a whole being whose parts are interconnected. When you feel anxious, there are physical processes going on that affect your whole body, including the synapses of your brain, the hormones in your bloodstream, the beating of your heart, the way you breathe, and the tightening of your muscles.
When you’re praying about anxiety using the methods suggested, whether through silence, meditating on truth, using breath prayer, or talking through your thoughts, you can also take a moment to observe what’s happening in your body. While breathing deeply, do a mental scan from your feet up through your legs, through your hips and torso, shoulders, arms and neck.
When you notice tension, take a breath and envision releasing that control to a loving God. This is a practical way you can act out 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
Related post: How I Manage Anxiety with 5 Calming Steps
Will Praying About Anxiety Really Lead to Peace?
Praying about anxiety using these methods will help you grow through whatever trials you are doing with, which will ultimately lead to peace. But you might not always feel or recognize it, and some days will certainly be harder than others.
If there’s anything I’ve learned through my Christian walk, it’s that the journey is just as important as the destination, if not more. Wrestling through prayer about anxiety or anything else brings me into an authentic relationship with God in a life full of ups and downs, hurts and triumphs.
Even if you don’t feel at peace at any given moment, that doesn’t change the fact that God is the source of all peace and he is with you at all times.
If you found this helpful, be sure to sign up for 7 days of free prayer prompts.
Leave a comment: Share about your experience with anxiety and how prayer has or hasn’t helped. I’d love to hear from you!