Anxiety and COVID-19
Being anxious doesn’t mean that you’re weak or unspiritual. It suggests that you are human. In fact, if you haven’t experienced some anxiety in the past several weeks that probably isn’t as much a sign of emotional and spiritual health as it is a sign of denial.
The problem is not as much whether or not we experience anxiety, but what we do with it.
When we react to our anxiety and allow it to control us, the survival part of our brain (primarily the amygdala) takes over and it can significantly compromise our ability to be present, to be aware of God’s presence, to think clearly and make healthy decisions.
Anxiety often begins with a healthy concern about a future event. But in the midst of an unprecedented international crisis that has turned our world upside down, it’s especially easy to focus and dwell on all of the terrible, awful, horrible things that MIGHT happen. Then what was a legitimate concern becomes worry and can turn into an all-consuming anxiety.
The good news is that there are several simple and practical things you can do to help yourself and those you love.
- Take a look at the ways you have experienced and expressed your anxiety in the past few months. What have you modeled for family members and others? Have you reacted or responded? Identify your own anxiety triggers that might have been activated by this crisis. Have you managed them or have you let them manage you?
- Now, hand-write a list of what you’ve been anxious about. Anxiety that isn’t identified and managed can rapidly turn into fear, panic and cause folks to implode or explode. If you don’t choose to manage your own anxiety you won’t be able to help those you love manage theirs.
- As you look at your list, what are some of your negative “What-If’s?” About 99% of those bad boys involve distortions, exaggerations or flat-out lies—so what are some of yours?
- Now, hand-write a new list of “What If’s” such as . . .
What if God really loves you?
What if He will never leave you nor forsake you?
What if He is present with you?
What if He will supply all of your needs?
What if He is a God who is a promise-keeper and not just a promise-maker?
- Get out your Bible and read aloud passages such as Proverbs 12:25; 15:15b; 17:22; Ephesians 3:20-21 and Philippians 1:6; 4:4-7. How might focusing on these promises help you respond rather than react to your current anxieties?
- Now, set aside some time to pray. Call some friends and ask them to pray with you and for you. Respecting the need for physical distancing does not mean we have to practice social/relational distancing. We can still connect before the throne by phone, Zoom or across the backyard fence.
- Many years ago I co-authored a children’s book on anxiety entitled Bruce Moose and the What-If’s. It’s an engaging story that is especially relevant in times like this. A video rendition of Bruce Moose can be viewed or downloaded at www.liferelationships.com. Over the years I’ve been surprised at how many adults have found this to be helpful.
The Bible has a LOT to say about worry and anxiety. In some ways the COVID-19 crisis provides us with an unparalleled opportunity and invitation let God show us just how powerful and practical His promises really are.
Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor of Psychology & Practical Theology and Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR.