Over the past few weeks, many, including myself, have experienced emotions that have been out of the normal. For example, maybe you have had days of restlessness where it was hard to concentrate, hard to focus. Or maybe days of feeling nervous about nothing in particular, just a nagging feeling of life being out of control. Maybe you were agitated, and you paced like a trapped animal. Maybe you felt on edge where the smallest things would irritate you. We may wonder what’s going on? Why am I feeling like this? Am I going crazy?
The truth of the matter is that many people are experiencing similar emotions these days. We just want things to go “back to normal.” And because it isn’t returning to normal, COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and events continue to be cancelled, we start to feel trapped by circumstances beyond our control. Such situations create anxiety. No, we are not going crazy! Circumstances of our life are crazy right now, but the way we feel about it, or the emotions we experience are actually normal reactions to abnormal situations.
We each have a stress breaking point in our lives that is typically a constant. What changes is how close we are living to that breaking point because of certain stressors in our lives. In my experience as a chaplain in past years, I have seen people struggle with sudden trauma, death, house fire, car accident, violent crime, etc. that pushes them to their breaking point.
The challenge with COVID-19 is that it raises our stress levels close to the breaking point and for months it remains close to that point. Then, when other traumas enter our lives, like illness, job loss, family problems, etc., it pushes us to that breaking point or over it. For many people, the distress of the whole COVID-19 situation is a stress or a trauma that has continued for months. And it eventually takes a toll on us. We feel helpless. What can we do to keep from going over the edge? Here are some suggestions:
• Make two columns on a piece of paper. In one column, list things that you cannot control in your life (the virus, job loss, etc.) Then make a second column of things that you can control (the on/off button on your TV, spending habits, etc.) Focus not on what you can’t do, but on what you can do. And do what you can do.
List all things that elevate stress in your life. Some you can’t change, but some you can. You can do that little job that has been a source of unresolved stress and you have put it off. Reduce some of the stresses in your life. Maybe it is an unresolved problem that you have avoided. It adds stress. Resolve it and reduce a little more stress in your life. Do those things that you can do and reduce the stressful little by little. You will feel better!
• Go for a walk. Exercise can reduce the stress and clear out some of the anxiety we build up.
• Take a few deep breaths to clear your lungs and oxygenate your blood. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold for a count of seven, then exhale through your mouth for a count of eight. Do this five to six times.
• Step away from screens for a time. Turn off the news. Avoid social media for awhile. So much of what we hear day after day increases anxiety and generates fear. Too much screen time on any screen wears on you. Take a break. Turn it off and listen to some uplifting music. Try some of your favorite worship songs.
• Spend time with people you love. If you are restricted because of social distancing, you can still call them or visit them from a safe distance. We still need those social interactions, especially family. We also need to be touched. We are all getting less of that than we used to get. When and where possible, with your family, share a hug.
• Finally, know that God is with you. It may seem he is far away, but he is near. If we call on him, he will answer. 2 Peter 5:6-7 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Call on Him in prayer and He will give you peace.
Philippians 4:6-8 shows us what we can do when we feel like there is so much we can’t do. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Hang in there! With God’s help, we can get through this!
• Dan Wiese is the pastor for Church of the Nazarene. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.