We’ve seen a lot of panicking the past few weeks, and for those of us who already struggle with anxiety, it takes extra effort to stay calm during widespread uncertainty. An even bigger bummer is that some symptoms of anxiety are also symptoms of coronavirus… which then can cause more anxiety… It’s like the merry-go-round no one wants to be on.
If you haven’t already guessed it from some of my posts, anxiety is something I have dealt with for years. I also had asthma growing up and spent my share of nights struggling to breathe… Which is not exactly a memory I want to relive. Combine that with a highly contagious respiratory virus that many people weren’t taking seriously, and anxiety’s sitting there saying, “oh goodie, which part should we focus on first?”
The funny part? I actually didn’t know I was anxious until I couldn’t breathe (that stress indicator gets your attention). I’d wake up gasping for air throughout the night and began to notice my chest feeling tight even during the day. Why am I telling you this? For two reasons:
First, if you’re feeling anxious right now, you’re not alone. Anxiety tells you that you are the only one feeling like this. It’ll tell you that you’re overreacting and it’ll beat you up for not being “like everyone else.” This post sat in my drafts folder for over a week because I didn’t want to admit I felt anxious. The truth? There are actually a lot of people feeling anxious right now, and it’s ok to admit you’re feeling it too.
Second, stress affects our bodies even when we think we’re handling it well. Maybe you’re busy and haven’t had time to inventory the thoughts running through your head. Or maybe you know exactly what’s flying through your head, but you’re trying really hard to ignore it in hopes that it’ll go away.
I am by no means an expert in overcoming anxiety, but the following steps helped me manage through it the past couple weeks:
***If your anxiety is causing serious physical issues, speak with your doctor. These are only suggestions from personal experience and are not intended to replace instruction given by professionals.
1. Breathing exercises. I had never tried these before because my breathing usually stays normal under stress… but I was pleasantly surprised by how much this helped. The main one I found on a few different sites was: breathe in through your nose, hold that breath for 3 seconds, then exhale through pursed lips. Sounds silly, but it helps! (Again though, don’t push yourself if you can’t do the breathing exercise. Talk to a doctor if you need to.)
2. Pray honestly. This one is one of the most important steps you can take, but it’s second on the list because I know it doesn’t always result in immediate relief of physical symptoms. And when you’re praying and realize it’s not immediately getting better, that can cause more anxiety. Anxiety isn’t logical, and it doesn’t play fair. If you are breathing too quickly, try praying while you’re focusing on calming your breathing.
Prayer is actually how I realized that I was more stressed than I thought I was. My chest was tight to the point it hurt to breathe in deeply, so I sat on the floor somewhere quiet and started talking to God. As I started honestly talking about what was on my mind, things I was anxious about started to come out. A few verses came to mind during that:
“You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” – Isaiah 26:3 (NKJV)
“Whose mind is stayed on you…” That part stuck with me. Then, my thoughts wandered to how amazing God is. How many times has God been there for those who trusted Him? There are so many examples recorded throughout Scripture. So many encouraging moments to bring to mind.
But do you also remember what happened to Peter as he walked on water? He became fearful, took his eyes off of Jesus, and began to sink. Even still, Jesus was there to immediately reach out and help Peter when he called (Matthew 14:27-33).
The next one was 2 Chronicles 20:12:
“For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” – II Chronicles 20:12b (NKJV)
I love that last part. It goes right along with being focused on God too: “I don’t know what to do, but I’m looking to You.”
Another that came to mind was 1 John 1:9:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – I John 1:9 (NKJV)
I don’t want you to read this and feel horrible for worrying. I’m including this because 1) it came to mind and helped me as I was praying and 2) we know that while worry isn’t usually something we seek out, it does separate us from God’s peace and we are told not to worry. My prayer sounded more like, “I am worried about these things right now, but I don’t know what to do about them. But I’m telling You because I know You do know what to do with them because You always know what to do.”
Next was Philippians 4:7:
“Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)
Really, it was just verse 7 that came to mind, but verse 6 is an important part of it. As verse 7 came to mind, though, I was reminded that God is strong enough to guard us when we can’t guard ourselves. Sometimes we need someone stronger than us to protect our hearts and minds and gently remind us of the truth, and that’s ok.
You don’t have to fight it alone either. Open up to people you trust and experience the joy that comes from working toward victories together.
3. Keep returning your focus to God. Philippians 4:8-9 says:
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)
Focus on who God is. Remember, He sees everything. He sees where our current situation starts to calm down again.
Think of times He has comforted you in the past. Think of the times He has protected you or guided you through something. Look up at the stars and remember that God is so much bigger than our fears and anxieties. He has always been faithful; we can trust Him.
Try to set aside some quiet time to read the truth of His Word too. That along with some worship music is a great way to pause and focus on God, regardless of what is going on around us. I’ve put the links to some of the songs I’ve been listening to below.
4. Celebrate victories. When you have moments of feeling relief from anxiety, celebrate! It took a couple days, but the moment I could finally take a real deep breath I thought to myself, “oh sweet freedom!”
Recognizing a break in the anxiety will also give you the encouragement that what you’re feeling truly is anxiety-related and can be managed. Then, keep taking the necessary steps to calm the anxiety and celebrate as progress is made.
5. Look at the bright side. Lastly, try to see the bright side of struggling with anxiety. It can be discouraging and exhausting, but I’ve found it’s also helped me lead better too. You can lead more compassionately when you know what it’s like to be constantly held back by something, and it also helps you identify and have a better understanding for other people who are usually left behind.
That’s the goal anyway, isn’t it? Life’s not about looking like we have it all together; it’s about glorifying God. It’s about helping people. It’s about pointing people to God and celebrating as He shows us all how to grow in the freedom He so generously gives.
Surrender even this weakness to God and watch Him use it to equip you to help other people. You aren’t the odd one out. You are exactly who you are supposed to be, and God’s going to keep teaching you how to grow in freedom if you keep trusting Him.
Here’s to our (all of us together, not isolated) journey!
Music for the journey:
Run to the Father by Cody Carnes
Throne Room by Kim Walker-Smith
Living Hope by Phil Wickham
Only Jesus by Casting Crowns
Lover of My Soul by Kari Jobe
Find You on My Knees by Kari Jobe
So Will I (100 Billion X) by Hillsong Worship or Hillsong UNITED
Seasons by Hillsong Worship
King of Kings by Hillsong Worship
BONUS upbeat but on-topic song: Love by We Are Messengers