Praying with Anxiety and Depression

Have you ever been silently praying and all of a sudden you are consumed with fear, doubt, or stress?

Most people don’t like to be alone with their thoughts. If you struggle with anxiety and depression you may find it even harder than most to be alone with thoughts and feelings while praying.

Sitting with Our Thoughts

Those who struggle with anxiety and depression can find it hard to sit still in prayer and not have a barrage of negative, self-critical, or anxious thoughts run through their mind. In the midst of anxious, depressive, and even suicidal thoughts God is calling us to seek help from a professional and not be alone in our struggles. Don’t be afraid to seek out support about your anxiety and depression. Talk with your Youth Minister, priest, or trusted friends. Don’t be afraid to talk with a therapist and check in with frequently. Having a therapist can help you sort through negative thoughts and understand how anxiety and depression are affecting you. It takes true strength to seek out help and be vulnerable. Having someone to check in with and share your struggles with can make a world of a difference and can vastly improve your prayer life.

Have Hope

Praying with anxiety and depression is possible. Even when it seems difficult or scary to pray at times, prayer is a chance to find peace and be with our Heavenly Father. When we are struggling with worry, self-image, and sorrow God longs to be with us in the suffering. This healing begins with letting God into our anxiety and depression through prayer, which can be as simple as talking to a friend. So how do you spend time in prayer when you are afraid to be alone with your own thoughts and feelings? Here are some tools you can use to pray in the face of anxiety and depression.

Tools for Prayer

Have a gameplan for prayer time.
Sometimes going into adoration or silent prayer we might think we can just sit still for an hour and turn off our brains. The truth is silent prayer for a long period of time takes practice. We’re so used to living in a noisy world that when we try to turn off all the outside noise we might be surprised and nervous about what is underneath. For prayer time and silence we need a gameplan. This could involve something simple like praying the name of Jesus or Come Holy Spirit over and over again. It could also involve having a book to read for spiritual reading by a Saint or Scripture itself. Reminding ourselves that our brains don’t have to be completely blank during prayer can help us be at peace and better elevate our thoughts to God.

Focus on your breathing.
You’ve probably heard someone say “just take a deep breath”. When we take a second to breath we are actually giving ourselves permission to relax and actually giving more oxygen to our brains. Paying attention to our breathing also helps us be reminded that no matter the negative thoughts, we are alive and can be present in prayer. Breathing helps us pay attention to our health and the present moment with God as a true gift from God Himself. There are also great resources for breathing and a practice called Mindfulness from a Catholic perspective here.

Acknowledge negative thoughts.
Sometimes people ask me “can you really control your thoughts?”. We have countless thoughts each day that bounce in and out of our heads but we get to decide which ones take root. The more we are aware of our thoughts the more we can tell which ones we entertain and choose to focus on. Sometimes this involves giving negative, anxious, or depressives thought to God and asking Him to take them from us. Before we can fully do this we need to know what our thoughts are. Working with a therapist can help you better understand what is going through your head and what thoughts you are letting take root in your life. If we give our negative thoughts to God it doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily forget the thought exists, but we will be able to not to engage it and can turn our minds to better thoughts. It’s important to be patient with yourself and practice being aware of your thoughts.

Have counter-arguments ready.
It may sound silly but sometimes we need to have counter arguments ready in our head if we know we have reoccurring anxious or depressive thoughts. If we’re aware that our default thought is “I’m not lovable” or “I can’t even focus in prayer” we can and should make a mental (and physical) list with reasons why that thought is not true. When we catch ourselves having a negative thought or entertaining one we can argue against it. Often by simply stopping a negative thought and replacing it with a better one we can prevent ourselves from spiraling down into more negativity and anxiety.

Try journaling.
Some people have a love-hate relationship with journaling but ultimately it helps us put our prayers, needs, and struggles into words. Writing our prayers down helps us figure out exactly what is going on. It helps us better understand how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking. Journaling our prayers is a great tool to spend time with ourselves and lift ourselves up to God. It’s a time to find your thoughts, feelings, and experiences important. Write a love letter to God and tell him about your day!Make time to find your own thoughts and feelings important in prayer.

Pray the Rosary, focusing on the mysteries.
If prayer can lead us to negative or spiraling thoughts the rosary is an amazing tool to keep us focused on Christ. When we pray the rosary we are not just saying prayer after prayer for no reason. The rosary involves reciting prayers but involves meditating on the mysteries of the rosary. Mysteries are centered around the life of Christ and Mother Mary from Scripture that lift our minds and souls to God. The rosary can keep us focused on Christ and less distracted by our own negative thoughts and feelings.

Pray with others.
The great thing about prayer is that you don’t have to do it alone! We are made for community and to pray with and for one another. It’s easy to feel uncomfortable praying in front of others but the Holy Spirit gives us the courage and the words to pray. It doesn’t even have to be out loud or for very long! Praying with others or asking others to pray with or for you can be a way to not get lost in those negative and anxious thoughts. Praying in community can help us keep our thoughts focused on Christ in prayer.

Participate, don’t anticipate… in Mass.
Mass can be a time of supreme worship or supreme spacing out… For most Catholics, we can forget the epicness of the Mass and space out or even fall into those anxious thoughts and feelings during it. We can better participate in Mass by following along in the missal, reading the readings before Mass and following along in the book during Mass. We can also stay present in Mass by singing the Mass songs (even if we don’t like the music) as a prayer to God . Mass is a place to be present with God and to give of ourselves to the Father. Christ becomes truly present to us in Mass and receiving the Eucharist gives us strength for the journey and true healing.

Called to Act

It can be hard to sit in silence with our thoughts and feelings but prayer is a chance to be in communion with God. When we are struggling with worry, self-image, sorrow, and stress, God longs to be with us in the suffering. This healing begins with letting God into our anxiety and depression through prayer and picking up the tools He lays before us for true healing. Seeking out a professional to check in with and using these tools can not only better your prayer life but help you live out a happier, healthier, and holier life.