The cure for anxiety in the COVID-19 crisis

How do you manage your anxiety?

One day, John Wesley was walking with a man who was very anxious about all the problems he was experiencing and expressed his doubts about the goodness of God. He said, “I don’t know what I am going to do with all these worries that cause me so much anxiety.”

While walking, Wesley saw a cow peering over a stone wall. “Do you know why that cow is looking over the wall?” Wesley asked.

“No,” said the man who was concerned.

Wesley said: “The cow is looking over the wall because she cannot see through it. That is what you should do with your wall of problems that fills you with anxiety: look over the wall and avoid it.”

The cure for anxiety

Faith allows us to look beyond our circumstances and focus on Christ. In this post, I want to continue developing on the topic of anxiety amid the pandemic. The question I intend to answer today is this: is there a cure for anxiety?

Many times, when I see patients who have anxiety disorders, I ask them: what is your goal when coming to therapy? They answer: “I want to eliminate my anxiety, I cannot bear it.” My answer is: “We cannot do that.” Seeing the look of disbelief they give me when I give them that answer is interesting.

Then, I try to explain to them that we cannot eliminate anxiety because it is a natural reaction to the stress we are facing in life. Anxiety is a part of our internal defense system. It protects us from danger. God created us with the ability to experience anxiety and the rest of the positive and negative emotions so that we can navigate this world.

Fear promotes a cascade of nervous and hormonal mechanisms that prepare the body to escape or fight. Those anxiety symptoms you experience result from the activation of your automatic nervous system, which is included in a part of the brain that is in charge of secreting adrenaline when you experience any kind of threat. Adrenaline allows your body to be ready to respond when facing danger, in case you need to act before the threat.

COVID-19 pandemic and anxiety

As a result of this adrenaline secretion, you experience increased heart rate and breathing, as well as muscle tension, making your body ready to answer before the danger. When there is no apparent threat, these changes are often experienced as agitation or anxiety. That is why, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is normal for our automatic nervous system to be activated. And this causes adrenaline secretion because you feel threatened.

Your brain normally tries to make sense of what you are experiencing in your daily life. However, if you do not take control of this process, and instead of acting, you let your brain reach its own conclusions, you can develop irrational fears before any kind of crisis.

I will try to illustrate this idea this way: If a baby is startled, let’s say by a loud noise while playing with his favorite toy, what do you think his natural reaction is going to be? Crying. However, crying, itself, can be stressful for the baby, reinforcing the fear he/she is experiencing. Not understanding that fear is just a reaction to the loud noise the toy makes, the baby gets to relate the fear he/she feels to the toy and ends up developing a fear of the toy that produces the noise.

What happens inside you?

The same goes for your anxiety amid the COVID-19 crisis. You are startled by the fear of contracting the coronavirus. Your natural reaction is to experience fear, to be afraid, and to feel anxious in the face of danger. But this anxiety and despair you experience, at the same time, reinforces your fear of COVID-19. You end up associating your fear with the pandemic without looking at the triggers that lead you to experience anxiety.

In the previous post, we started to see anxiety as a messenger that should not be eliminated. Emotions exist to give us information about our experiences and about what matters in our lives. Sadly, many people with anxiety try to ignore their emotions because some of them are unpleasant and even painful. However, the Bible gives us a more effective strategy and tells us in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.”

What Paul is telling you is not to try to fight the messenger, your anxiety. Accept it and tolerate it because the message it wants to give you is more important than the temporary discontent you might experience. Instead of grieving over your anxiety, focus on trusting God and placing your concern in prayer before Him.

Even when you do not know the emotional triggers that lead you to experience anxiety, just trying to tolerate and manage anxiety symptoms will help you process the experience you are dealing with more effectively. Paul ends by saying in Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (DHH)

Three strategies to manage your anxiety

We can compare anxiety with trying to tolerate chronic pain. The more you demand that you get rid of chronic pain, the more it will frustrate, irritate you, and intensify. However, when you accept pain as irritating, but not as something to get rid of, its control tends to decrease and even the intensity of the pain itself may decrease or become less noticeable.

The same goes for anxiety. Demanding that anxiety be removed only makes it less tolerable. It becomes a bigger presence in your life and all your focus is poured into your anxiety. The more you focus on it, the more power it has in your life. So, the advice is “do not worry about anything.”

Stop avoiding it

A conscious approach to managing anxiety is learning to “let it be.” You do not have to get rid of it. When anxiety demands your attention, you can refocus, very gently, on your current activity and place your concerns in God’s hands. The apostle Peter presents it this way: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you in due time, 7 cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. (1 Pe. 5:6-7)

Schedule your concerns

If the first strategy does not work, maybe you could try this second strategy to manage your anxiety. When your mind is racing and anxious, you feel overwhelmed. And you cannot seem to focus, find a time to be in silence. Set an alarm that goes off in 15 minutes, and then write everything that troubles you in your emotional journal.

Specifically, during this COVID-19 crisis, try to set aside a specific amount of time each day to record your concerns in an emotional journal. Simply having this time each day can help you control your concerns. You know that you will have time to pay attention to your concerns without turning them into an intolerable burden.

Create your anxiety box

Find a shoebox and cut a hole in the top. Decorate it as you want and keep it in a practical place. Then, when Satan starts pushing you to worry, write down your concern. Glorify God and pray, saying:

“Lord, this is what worries me. But you told me not to worry. So, I am going to put this concern inside my box, admitting that I cannot handle it. This means that it is for You to handle, and I trust You to take care of it.”

With this exercise, I am not telling you that all your problems will disappear if you put them in an anxiety box. But when you learn to replace concern with prayer and faith instead, things will be better. God will open an umbrella covering you in the middle of the storm to prevent you from getting wet. And He will give you peace that is beyond all understanding.

Faith allows us to look beyond our circumstances and focus on Christ. Today is your day to start walking like a giant in Christ, Jesus. You have problems and difficulties. We all have them. We know what you are going through in the middle of this pandemic. But together we can learn how to manage our anxiety and have the Peace that Jesus promises. A peace that passes all understanding. I would like you to write to me and tell me how God is helping you to manage your anxiety. And if you are using a different exercise than the ones I present here, let me know

How to manage your anxiety in the pandemic (part2)

Let’s continue developing the topic of how to manage anxiety during the pandemic. If you haven’t read our previous post, please take a moment to read it. This post is a continuation of it. The line that divides the destructive and constructive levels of anxiety is very fine and often, it is hard to identify it, and this is when you have problems. Let me show you some examples:

Destructive anxiety paralyzes, the constructive anxiety motivates. The destructive one reduces your creativity, the constructive one increases it. The destructive one produces an anxious restlessness, the constructive one produces a calm approach. One tries to control the future and the other one tries to improve it. One fears the worst, and the other one hopes for the best. One distracts the mind from what is important, and the other one directs the mind to what is important.

It is not difficult to understand that, in the case of the disciples with Jesus before the storm on the lake, they manifested destructive anxiety by experiencing anxious restlessness, thinking that they would perish. On the other hand, Jesus manifested constructive anxiety.

It would be good to ask ourselves, what message did the disciples’ anxiety try to give them in the middle of the storm? Maybe they needed to understand their need to depend more on Jesus and less on their strength. Their anxieties showed that even though they were close to Jesus, they did not trust Him to solve their crisis.

We must manage anxiety to be healthy

So, we can conclude by saying that anxiety itself is not a sin because it is a natural reaction to stress. Being anxious becomes a sin when it stops being constructive and becomes destructive, and you start to get desperate, using your human skills to deal with your stress.

That is why Jesus, in Matthew 6:25, said to His disciples: “be anxious for nothing.” As Christians, we are called not to live in a state of anxiety and simply to see anxiety as a messenger who wants to help us see what is important in our lives.

I must also clarify that many people suffer from anxiety disorders as a product of traumatic experiences that they have had in their lives, and for them, anxiety is a pathological problem. In these cases, saying that this person is sinning because they are living in a state of general anxiety is not correct.

Five tips to manage anxiety during a pandemic

For these people, trying to manage the cognitive part of their mind is not an easy thing to do, and they need therapy and often even medication. I want to leave you with five tips to manage anxiety in the pandemic.

See your anxiety as a messenger, not as your enemy

Your anxiety is your natural reaction to stress. Do not kill the messenger. When facing stress in life, anxiety is that messenger that tells you what is important to you. Try to communicate your needs so that you can meet t them.

For example, perhaps in the pandemic, you feel anxious and the message your anxiety is giving you is that you should trust God more and depend less on your strength. Or, perhaps the source of that anxiety is an emotional trauma that you have not yet resolved in your life, and you need to pay attention to it.

Develop a relationship with God and practice Christian meditation

God has a promise for every stressful situation you may be experiencing in your life. He also tells you that no stress has overtaken you that you could not bear. Connect with God and take time to meditate upon His promises.

Eliminate negative inner voices

What you say to yourself determines your reality and how you will live in that reality. Save your mind from toxic thoughts, so you can manage your anxiety more effectively. Thoughts are like seeds that we sow in the garden of the mind. Set your mind on everything that glorifies God.

Practice relaxation exercises to reduce your anxiety

One of those exercises is diaphragmatic breathing. You can do between 5 and 10 breaths and abdominal exhalations, slowly and deeply from the diaphragm. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, and focus on completely emptying your lungs before taking another breath. Another exercise you can do to manage your anxiety is to walk at least 30-45 minutes every day.

Get enough sleep

Set a stable schedule to go to bed and wake up. If for some exceptional reason (for example, on the weekend) you stay up longer than expected, do not get up too late the next day. This way, even if you are sleepy during that day, you will not alter the sleep cycle to which your body is used, and you will be able to function normally for the rest of the week.

Today, I invite you to trust in a powerful God who takes care of you and if He is allowing you to go through this pandemic, He has everything under control and this crisis will come to an end someday in the not-too-distant future. It is time for you to ask yourself what your anxiety is revealing about what is important in your life.

Living in times of the deadly coronavirus pandemic

Night has come into our lives with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. Our whole world has changed. Empty streets, supermarkets without essential products. Graduations canceled were, and schools closed. Churches have closed their doors and moved to a digital service. A call for isolation has been made by government authority.

There are rumors in many states of activating the National Guard. In my 50 years of life, I have never experienced a crisis like the one we are experiencing today. What does tomorrow have in store for us? Will the dawn return before the darkness continues to overwhelm our being?

In the face of so much gloom, our natural reaction is to activate our brain’s defense system against fear and the prevailing insecurity. Anxiety (a feeling of concern or uneasiness), fear, uncertainty, anger, and sadness are common feelings that we sometimes experience when facing a crisis. They are normal responses to the crisis and stresses we are experiencing.

Questions we must ask ourselves are, how does the Christian live in a crisis that threatens our existence? How do we survive this threat of annihilation by such a devastating virus? How will the human story end? In this article, we are going to discover by the grace of God how to live in the coronavirus pandemic.

God is in control in the coronavirus pandemic

The secret to surviving the threat of the coronavirus is to recognize that God is in control. How can I recognize that God is in control when pain and suffering overwhelm my being? If God is in control, why doesn’t He do something to quell the fury of the coronavirus pandemic? It just seems that God has turned His back on this problem. These could be some of the questions that you may have in your hearts.

There are two attitudes you can take when you have problems: The first is to recognize that God is in control and praise God saying: “God, I do not understand what is happening, I have lost everything, I see everything dark in my life, but despite these adverse circumstances that the coronavirus has brought, I know that you know what to do, and you are in control.”

Avoid a bad attitude in front of the coronavirus pandemic

The second attitude you can take is to pull your hair out by developing a toxic spirit. When you opt for this negative attitude, you are simply saying to God: “You don’t know how to manage my life” and you begin to walk down a path that cements a destiny of failures and mental illness. The Bible states: “For God is the king of all the earth …” Ps. 47: 7. Thus, we see that God is the Sovereign King of the entire earth, everything that happens is allowed by the King. He is still the God of the Universe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

God is not the originator of the coronavirus pandemic, God is not the originator of death, or o the pain, you may be experiencing right now. You must understand the context of the world in which you live. You live in a world of sinfulness.

The origin of the evil

Our first parents had the opportunity to live happily ever after, but they decided to throw away all the good that God had given them for their well-being by simply eating the forbidden fruit. We know the rest of the story, Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered this world and therefore eternal death. Today we are reaping the neglect of our first parents.

Many people have argued the following, why didn’t God intervene when Eve was going to take the forbidden fruit? God had the power to intervene, but He has given us free will. He does not want us to serve him out of fear, but out of love, that is why He gives us the freedom to choose what we want for our life. Today we experience pain, death, and anguish because that was the choice of our first parents. It was not God’s choice.

The plan B

The good news in all this tragedy is that even though human beings disobeyed. God had a plan B, the plan of salvation, already drawn up before man came into existence.  God was in control as the King of the Universe, and the last word is God. There is sin, death, pain, and the coronavirus in our world, but God plans to put an end to all this odyssey and take us back to the heavenly home.

The problems that overwhelm us today come from three sources. The first is the sin of a world that is mortally wounded. The second is the sinful actions of people who are by our side. Third, the sin that lives in us leads us to make mistakes and commit sinful acts.

God is in control and has the last word against sin in this world. He tells us: there is pain, death, and misery, but I will give you eternal life. Are there people who have committed sinful actions against you? Have your rights been violated? Have you been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused? Or, have you been abused, slandered, or hurt? God can take all those destructive actions and change them into an eternal blessing for your life.

The case of Joseph and his brothers

They took Joseph, threw him in a cistern, sold him as a slave, falsely accused him, and he ended up in prison. From all that crisis, God took him out to become the second-largest empire in the world at that time. God used everything negative that had happened in his life for his growth and emotional well-being, training him to be used powerfully in His cause and leading him to transcend his limits. God can also take everything negative that has happened to you and use it powerfully to transform your life into a stepping stone for His kingdom.

The case of Job

Many believe that Satan is the one who is in charge of this world, especially now that we are threatened by the coronavirus. Satan is not in charge. God is above Satan, and he has to ask God for permission to touch your life with the coronavirus. You remember the story of Job. God said to Satan, “You have seen my servant Job, fearful and set apart from evil.” And Satan said to him, “Yes, he serves you because you have a protective fence around him.

Let me touch it, and you will see how it curses you.” God allowed it. Satan destroyed everything that Job had, destroyed his health, his reputation. But Job loved God so much that he never stopped recognizing that God was in control and his pain said: “Naked I came, naked I will return to my mother’s womb, may the name of Jehovah be blessed” Job 1:21.

God has a protective fence around his children. The coronavirus will not be able to touch your home unless God allows it, as it did in the case of Job. Therefore, instead of fainting in the face of the disorders that the coronavirus is causing, get up and trust God, who is in control of your life.

The coronavirus pandemic

Romans 8:28 says the following:”And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, that is, those who are called according to his purpose”.

God has a perfect plan for your life. Perhaps we look at the circumstances that surround us in the face of the coronavirus, and we think that we will remain immobile forever in a place of darkness and pain. The more we ask and cry out to God for help, then the more the depressing circumstances of this crisis seem to be piling up. 

However, there is good news for your soul. Nothing can harm a Christian unless our Lord allows it. And everything that is allowed helps those who love God. If God allows sufferings and perplexities to overtake us, it is not to destroy us, but to refine and sanctify us.

The difficulties and disappointments of this life make us lose our attachment to this world and compel us to look at heaven as our home. They teach us the truth about our fragile and perishable condition and make us depend on God for support and salvation. They also develop a more humble and submissive spirit in us, a more patient and tender disposition.

It has been experienced by the children of God throughout history. And at the end of their lives, they have been able to say that they were afflicted for their good. This truth is reflected in the life of Joseph. Before he died, Joseph said to his brothers: “You thought evil against me, but God directed it to good” (Gen. 50:20). The coronavirus may bring calamity and death to your life, but God will one day take care of transforming pain into eternal blessing.

Trust God during coronavirus pandemic

I challenge you that instead of pulling your hair out of fear of the coronavirus pandemic, you begin to trust God. A God who is in control of your life. A God who will not allow even a hair on your head to fall without His consent. I cannot explain how God works his miracles. If I could understand and explain my God, He would not be my God. What I can explain is that no matter what damage the coronavirus may bring, the last word will not be with this evil virus.

The last word will be heard from the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He who has the keys of Hades and says to you:

“To the one who overcomes, I will give him/her to sit with me on my throne”. Your destiny is with the God of the Universe. Get up from your ashes of fear and anxiety because your final victory has already been won on the Cross of Calvary.