Religion and Anxiety

A caveat before I share this opinion about Religion and Anxiety. This is based on my own experience and is not intended to denigrate anybody’s religious beliefs. However, if you are triggered and offended by my personal sharing, then perhaps you need to reflect on your own religious experiences rather than lash out irrationally in anger. If you can take this opinion in that spirit, please read on – if not, then please stop right now and move on…

… religion in general, religious training, spirituality, faith, prayer, religious com- munity and worship were associated with reduced anxiety (stress). These effects were observed in both healthy individuals and in various patient populations. (Review of the Effect of Religion on Anxiety)

Well, my own personal experience conflicts with the above assessment. I can still vividly remember as a young boy being traumatised by the concept of hell in Sunday School at an Anglican church. I believed that I had to please God in order to avoid hell and this filled me with guilt and dread as I was not able to live the ‘holy’ life that this church had decreed. Then in my teenage years, this fear of hell morphed into the weight of saving others from hell – feeling responsible for not being able to evangelise and convert others into Christianity and therefore failing as a Christian. The result? More guilt and anxiety.

So while I was very active in this church for most of my young adulthood, by my thirties, I was worn out by all the pressure that was placed upon my shoulders in church – as a member, as a youth leader, as a worship leader etc etc etc. My natural talents in music and leadership were seen as obligations rather than gifts. Thus, there was little enjoyment in these areas as the responsibility was quite often paralysing. So I ‘back-slided’ in my thirties and in fact religion had exacerbated my anxiety disorder to such an extent that I was a deeply disturbed individual by the time. I would lose my temper and isolated myself in moments of deep funk and sulking.


However, in my forties, I moved on to a new church, a pentecostal church that seemed to grant me a new lease on religion. But that, of course, didn’t last too long as once more, the pressure placed by the church leadership on me for service took its toll on my anxiety as well. What’s more, as I developed in this pentecostal church, I realised that they were more interested in building their brand and expanding their membership than my well being. Which is why I was quite triggered when I watched the recent Hillsong documentary. Very very similar experiences.

The final straw came when I had work-life conflicts that had placed me in a tug-of-war between my employers and this pentecostal church. My employers – religiously pious Christians – had insisted that I prioritise work over ‘ministry’ as my working hours made it impossible to attend worship team practices. When I tried to explain my dilemma to the pastor of the worship team, he accused me of having the wrong priorities. Thus, religion – instead of reducing my stress and anxiety – actually compounded them. But the silver lining of this particular trauma was that I finally cut off ties with this pentecostal church once and for all. And when I had quit that horrible job as well, I was free from religion altogether and have never looked back.

Perhaps religion has helped many people with their life struggles but equally there have been many abused by churches as well – you know the horror stories. For me it was a thirty-five year nightmarish prison that thankfully I was able to liberate myself from. All I will say is that always keep your heart and mind open and never feel obliged to remain in a religion even when you feel uncomfortable with what is said or done. Ultimately, it’s your life choice and nobody else’s.

still there’s more