Advice During Anxiety

I recently had the chance to participate in a webinar hosted by compassionate people with great minds. The follow are a summary of my notes from their advice and also my own words of advice and encouragement.

Life for a majority of working parents has been thrown into an absolutely uproar. Even if you are not necessarily concerned about your child’s school schedule, you may find yourself anxious about what may happen to your children during a global pandemic.

Our children will be more exposed to truth about circumstances than we might want to admit or wish. Even if they don’t understand what they hear, they hear tones of voice, see body language, and can interpret environment. Do everything possible to guard small ears from hearing buzz words which might create questions they cannot answer because they are too afraid to ask. If your child does ask questions, engage every question with authenticity. Willingness to give attention to even the smallest (silliest) question gives your child confidence to ask questions expressing their fear and/or deep emotions.

It’s imperative we do the necessary self-care in order to be able to care for our children. Two principles of self-care: 1) There is no heroism in burning yourself out. This means you should be proactive to take necessary vitamins, get good sleep, and eat healthy foods. Sugary foods, alcohol, or caffeine may feel like a temporary pleasure to “get you through,” but you will end up burning ‘hot and fast’ rather than ‘long and steady.’ 2) There is no heroism in putting-off what is necessary. If possible, do whatever you need in order to improve your condition. This could mean using over the counter medicine which you previously thought you didn’t need or taking a nap when previously you thought naps were a luxury. Consider the Wall Street saying, “You have to spend money to make money.” Do what you need to do in order to care for yourself so you can care for your children during a season of intense anxiety.

I’m currently finishing a brief (informal) commentary on Psalm 91. It has been an incredibly rich passage of personal encouragement. I fully plan to share soon. In addition, the following are some spiritual concepts to consider during a season of panic, fear, or anxiety.

Don’t toss out the gospel. We don’t get a pass on living by the Fruit of the Spirit just because these are unprecedented times. One of our Teaching Pastors at Fellowship Bible Church, Brandon Barnard taught us on Sunday, “Panic is not a Fruit of the Spirit – we as Christians live in a God-with us world.” Especially if you are in a form of self-quarantine, now is a good time to form and exercise spiritual disciplines that may have otherwise been weak.

For a number of reasons, panic, fear, and anxiety causes us to become selfish. Then whenever you find yourself in close proximity with friends or loved ones, all this selfishness crashes into each other. Now is the time for an abundance of grace and patience. Person-to-person grace begins by assuming the best of each other. Then, whenever we fall short of Christ-likeness, show the same grace and mercy to one another which God has shown us. Be quick to apologize. Let go of grudges. During this time of unprecedented experience, active generosity is universally encouraged. May we as Christians be found as generous with our grace as we are with our service and physical resources.

The body has a natural response to stimulus; we know it as “fight or flight.” We should be grateful for this release of cortisol hormone as it serves to protect us. However, when this experience manifests itself as panic, fear, and anxiety it is in opposition to the Spirit of God. Consider the following reasons why you might be feeling panic, fear, and anxiety in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Control
    • This response can be a form of arrogance. Panic, fear, and anxiety are responses to the reality you do not have control over your world in a way you thought you did or think you should.
  • Inconvenience
    • This response is also motivated by a kind of arrogance. The circumstances in the world around you are affecting your life’s trajectory.
  • Misrepresentation of Justice
    • This response has hints of a works-based faith. I am a good person, therefore, bad things should not happen to me.
  • Fear
    • This response lacks emotional, mental, and spiritual movement towards God, but instead, away from Him. Fear overshadows His presence, power, and promises. In the end, you lose spiritual fortitude because of a sudden unwillingness to trust.

Perhaps an overlooked benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the invitation to remember how interdependent we are. Our world prioritizes independence and living an autonomous lifestyle. Some may say, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world; survival of the fittest.” For Christians, this global crisis is a chance to prioritize biblical principles like forgiving debts, being financial generous, and finding intentional ways to prioritize others over ourselves. It’s possible once this crisis is over, that we will have begun new, healthy rhythms which give God glory and declare God’s power, and display our faith in action.

Now is not the time for know-it-alls. But this is a great time for everyone to come together and contribute to the pool of knowledge. The more we share about the ways we are handling panic, fear, and anxiety, the more likely we are to help one another. And in the event you are participating in a kind of self-quarantine, the following could be encouraging practices and disciplines.

Control Screen Time

  • This is important for adults as well as children. Just because the circumstances are extenuating does not mean everyone should toss healthy practices out the window. Commit as a family or as roommates to reasonable amounts of screen time – then hold each other accountable.
  • Blue light before bed is one of the greatest enemies of our greatest ally. In order to stay physically healthy and mentally strong, you need good sleep. Unending scrolls at bedtime can impede your natural circadian rhythms.

Consume News in Moderation

  • This is a very difficult discipline for me. I consider “being informed” a sign of preparedness and a way of leading the family. However, it can be overwhelming. All-consuming. So, consider creating specific windows of time to check in rather than being obsessed.
  • Set up apps and emails to digest small amounts. Trust notifications and breaking news to tell you what you need to know, when you need to know it. Over-exposure is unhealthy and will begin to affect you physically.

Change the Atmosphere

  • Family Prayer
    • A mother has suggested, Imaginative Prayer by Jared Boyd. Depending on your theological commitments, you may not follow every word. However, point is prioritizing intentional spiritual time for your children does not have to be boring. You can be creative.
    • The same mother described their family prayer time as: We light a candle, everyone piles in on pillows and blankets, we read a devotional story from Bible, encourage reflection, then we take turns praying out loud.
      • Kids may not all settle down (kick each other, go to the bathroom, etc.) but still making a difference.
  • Worship Music
    • The battle against panic, fear, and anxiety is as much spiritual as it is mental and physical. Therefore, it will take spiritual weapons. Worship music is an incredible spiritual weapon to beat back the enemy who prowls around like a lion. Streaming music in the background, singing songs as a family, etc. are all great ways to glorify and honor God throughout your home.
  • Breathing exercises
    • The secular psychological practice of Cognitive Behavior Therapy is often pitted in rival against Christian faith. This isn’t the time or place for that debate. However, there is wisdom in taking thoughts captive and exercising self-control. A great example of this practice is “breath prayer” – inhale: Lord have mercy, exhale: Lord give me strength. An additional option could be to use “breath prayers” to remind you of God’s character or to whisper to yourself the names of God.
    • For some, anxiety can come on during a specific time of the day. A common time to experience panic, fear, or anxiety is while lying in bed, trying to fall asleep. A practical suggestion is the metronome app. It is an app which plays a simple metronome rhythm which can help you regulate your breathing, in and out. Oxygen is a very valuable, natural, anti-anxiety “medicine.” This rhythmic exercise can help distract and help calm, when you need it the most.
  • Be Physical
    • Get Outside. During an extended experience of panic, fear, or anxiety, sunlight and fresh air are a powerful medication. Even if it means bundling up or throwing on the rain boots.
      • Take long walks through your neighborhood.
      • Order seeds on Amazon, dig in the dirt, create a flowerbed or garden.
    • Exercise
      • Thanks to modern technology, there are an endless number of indoor exercises you can do online. You could also use one of the dozens of apps on your smartphone to act as your own personal fitness instructor.
      • Exercise in your backyard, garage, or balcony patio. You don’t have to be a member of an elite gym to “go somewhere” to workout.
    • Throw Out the Rules. It seems every day a new state is closing schools statewide, leaving parents with the opportunity to be with their children at home. For just a season, throw out some of the house rules. Play freeze tag, create a “wrestle room,” or get creative with games of hide and seek. Of course, be wise to keep safety first – no one wants an extra ER visit in these weeks.

While it is important to be wise about social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19, it is equally important to continue to care for others. This may look like reaching out to neighbors or checking on the senior adults in your community. Renegade “Mother Teresa’s” are likely not be the best way to help. Consider asking what is needed rather than assuming you know the best way to care. It’s possible inviting yourself into the living room of a senior adult may cause them concern and be counterproductive to care.

  • This is a great quote from Pastor Scott Sauls, “Wash your hands, then wash their feet.”
  • Yet another encouraging quote, this time from Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.”

Still there are more creative ways to help those around us. Shop small. If it’s possible for you to spend a little extra money, buy books, music albums, etc. The CDC’s recommendation to discontinue gatherings has a direct impact on those who have had to cancel tours and book signings.

Buy things from small business in your hometown which will keep their business afloat. For most of us, if the company is in our hometown, we shop in-store. However, you might be able to help keep small businesses going strong if you order their goods online.

Be generous with your currency of words. Proverbs 17:22 teaches us we can be a kind of much-needed medicine. I recently chose to cancel an upcoming trip this spring with my wife. We had it planned since the new year. It was really tough to talk on the phone with a real person who represents a big corporation. She needs customers like us to sustain her job. No doubt, she could be feeling anxious. It was my chance to be encouraging and use my words to express my remorse, care, and hope.

  • While you may not be able to meet every financial need of those around you, be generous with your words of kindness. Be radically generous with your spirit of gratitude, compassion, hope, and optimism.

Be generous with your financial opportunities. Consider differing debts of anyone who owes you money. This could be incredibly difficult for landlords, business owners, etc. but will be a powerful way to worship God and give Him glory. You can be a witness to debtor. As our debt has been forgiven, so too, we can forgive those debts against us. This could be your chance to show your trust in God’s provision.

Comedy as Medicine

It is scientifically proven laughter really is great medicine. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the doom and gloom associated with breaking news and stories. Combat pessimism and melancholy by streaming your favorite sitcoms (i.e. Friends, Everybody Love Raymond, Home Improvement, etc.) – classics which are (relatively) clean but make you laugh. Do a DVD swap in your neighborhood (with Lysol spray, of course!) Find clean comedians on satellite radio or Netflix (Brian Regan, Nate Bargatze, Jim Gaffigan, etc.) Watch funny movies which make you laugh and pull you away from pessimism. Read funny stories as a family – assign parts and act out the scenes in the living room. Ask your children to create a play that you as parents must act out.

I am not a medical professional, nor am I the an authority on the subject of COVID-19. However, I’m hopeful what I’ve shared will be helpful and encouraging.