Handling Anxiety In The Midst Of A Pandemic
COVID-19 has reached our shores, rolling in across the oceans from Asia and Europe. Cities on the East and West Coast were hit first and still have the majority of cases. The virus has slowly
been working its way into the middle of the country. Our country is on lockdown. Uncertainty is all around. We don’t know what is happening to our world, much less what to do about it. There
is a lot of misinformation out there. Television and social media, where we go to get a lot of our news and information, are doing more to polarize us than to unite us. We see the boxes in
the corner with the newest statistics, number of cases and death rates for here and around the world. The news just keeps getting worse.
At one end of the spectrum, fear and panic reign. We are sequestered in our homes! We can’t hang out with our friends and family! We can’t find toilet paper or hand sanitizer! Grocery shelves
are bare! Restaurants are only offering curbside and delivery service! The movie theaters are closed! Non essential businesses are closed! March Madness was canceled! Sports fans are surviving
on history and talk of possibilities! There aren’t enough ventilators! There aren’t enough masks! Cases of the virus are increasing exponentially! The sky is falling! The world is in crisis!
On the other end, are dismissiveness and rebellion. This is overblown! Why do we need to stay home, when there are no cases in our town? We’re going to the beach! We will hang out with our friends
and family! There’s not enough toilet paper! We don’t need hand sanitizer! We’re angry that we can’t go to restaurants! We don’t go to movie theaters, anyway! We have plenty of ventilators, we
won’t have it as bad as Italy! The regular flu is just as bad! They are just trying to scare us! The government is trying to control us and crash the economy! They’re lying to us! This is an over
reaction and an abuse of power! The world is in crisis!
No matter where you come down on this spectrum, people are anxious. This is a unique event, and most of us have never seen anything like it. Very few people are alive and remember the Spanish
Flu of 1918, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Even the shutdown after 9/11 only lasted a short time.
The common ground is uncertainty. Most people are trying to feel some control over their lives and the situations this pandemic and the reactions to it are causing. Waves of anxiety keep rolling
in. The unknowns can be overwhelming. We don’t know how many are going to get sick with the virus, the numbers are still climbing. We don’t know how long our work and other day to day activities
will be suspended. We don’t know what is going to happen when this pandemic is over.
How do we stay calm in the midst of the storm? How do we keep from being overwhelmed? I have a few suggestions for riding the wave. I am dividing our lives into five areas and providing a few
suggestions for each. This list is not exhaustive. Be creative and come up with a few of your own!
Stay rested. Get 7-8 hours sleep each night.
Move your body.
Taking walks, in home workouts, gardening, and playing with your kids are good options.
Maintain good eating habits. Enough said!
Educate yourself. Find reliable sources of information.
Limit your intake of news and social media.
Read a good book.
Maintain good physical habits. (see above)
Work on hobbies
and projects around the house.
For those working at home, maintain structure and good boundaries around work and family time. Ideally a separate space for work is recommended.
Enjoy your extra time with your family. Maintain some structure. Parents play with your children.
Use social media to stay in touch with friends and extended family. Caution: scrolling is addictive!
Go old school, telephone or send cards and/or letters to friends and relatives.
Make use of the video options to have virtual activity with others.
Focus your thoughts on the positive things in your life. Count your blessings!
Learn and/or use coping tools for managing anxiety. Deep breathing, grounding exercises, mindfulness, and meditation are easily
learned and practiced. If you are unaware of or don’t know how to use these tools, the Internet has lots of information.
Memorize Philippians 4:8 which tells us to think on these things: whatever is true,
honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. This is a great verse to use in some of the activities listed above.
Maintain good habits in other areas of your life.
Remind yourself that God is in control, no matter how chaotic things look around us.
Pray and rehearse your faith.
Give to and serve others.
Keep in touch with your churches and
virtual activities offered.
We can’t know or manage the future, but we can have some control in the present. I encourage you to control what you can, realizing that that is limited. Stay present and focused on today. The Bible instructs us over
and over to not be anxious about tomorrow, but to take care of today. That keeps some of the uncertainty at bay, which allows us to better enjoy the moments of each day.
You can’t always choose what happens around us and to us, but try to remember that you can choose what you focus on and what actions you take. What you focus on grows. If you focus on the uncertainty, your anxiety
will grow. If you focus on what you can actually do something about, your feelings of control grow.
The waves of COVID-19 continues to roll in. Uncertainty is all around us. You can be overwhelmed and fearful, engulfed and beaten down, or ride the wave and feel empowered.
The apostle Paul wrote the following while he was under house arrest in Rome. (Some of you may feel like you can identify!) I have a hunch that this was his way of riding the wave.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)
Written by Salley Sutmiller, M.S., M.Ed.