Every day my Facebook feed wall is littered with updates on the novel coronavirus. Friends share a fresh perspective, up-to-the-minute stats, helpful tidbits and humorous memes in the spirit of staying informed and lightening the mood. These are uncertain times and people need information to feel safe. They want to know the current impact across the globe and how they and their loved ones are going to be affected.
If a highly contagious virus spreading like wildfire isn’t enough to stress you out, grocery stores aren’t able to keep up with the demand for food and supplies, social distancing is wreaking havoc on small businesses, schools have moved to virtual classrooms causing parents everywhere to pull out their hair and now graduations are being postponed. Closings, layoffs and a volatile stock market have everyone on edge and some are asking, “Where is God in all of this?”
We’re alarmed and searching for meaningful answers and understanding; there’s a new norm and we’re trying to adjust. The proverbial rug-of-life as we knew it has been snatched out from beneath us and we wait with bated breath for that moment of exhale; but when will that moment come?
This pandemic is unprecedented and as I look at the sea of faces around me, I’m discerning shock, fear and anxiety. In the counseling room, my clients are telling me they are being criticized for their fear and anxiety by other Christians, “You just don’t have enough faith!” cried one parent to my client after she made the hard decision to shut down a project to protect vulnerable citizens. Responses like this are more indicative about what is going on inside the speaker than the hearer. This is the Church’s time to shine so here’s what you need to know about fear and anxiety.
It’s normal to fear the unknown and anxiety is the body’s alarm system; it is never tied to the amount of faith you have in God.
Anxiety is designed to notify you when there is immanent danger so you can get yourself to safety. The brain as the body’s command center begins to call in all bodily resources, “You don’t need that energy to digest that snack you just ate because I’m about to tell you if you need to run, fight or freeze!” Adaptive anxiety is very helpful when walking alone at night and you hear footsteps behind you, or when you’re in the ocean and someone screams “Shark!” Anxiety kicks in and gives you a protective surge of hormones. Suddenly, you can run faster, lift heavier, hit harder or freeze until danger passes.
Maladaptive anxiety occurs when the bells and whistles go off but there is no apparent danger. You experience all the symptoms: rapid heart rate, butterflies, rush of hormones, flight of thought but there’s no saber tooth tiger chasing you.
No organism in nature can live in a state of anxiety for long before the body begins to respond negatively. Take the word disease and break it down: dis-ease. When the body is in a constant state of dis-ease, we are susceptible to all sorts of health issues and this is certainly not a time we want our immune systems to be vulnerable. It’s imperative we return to baseline as soon as possible.
Here are five mindfulness techniques to assist you with that goal:
- Deep breathing: Sit down and get comfortable, slowly take in a deep breath while counting to 4, hold the breath for 4 seconds, then slowly exhale to the count of 4. Repeat this 4 times.
- Meditation: Use an app on your phone or go to youtube if you prefer a guided meditation. Meditation has too many health benefits to list here. Every time your attention wanders use the phrase “bring it back.”
- Grounding exercises: Place your focus on your five senses, using colors, smells, sounds, textures. Splash cold water on your face, take a hot shower, sip a hot or cool drink, tune in to your surroundings and notice the sounds in your space, stretch your body, touch objects around you, walk outside and experience nature.
- Breath prayers: The Breath Prayer is an ancient form of prayer and it is easily adaptable. Simply choose one or two lines to meditate on and inhale and then exhale through them. The most common form of breath prayer is known as The Jesus Prayer. So using this example, do this:
- Inhale filling your lungs with all your breath, then say: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God.
- Exhale slowly and fully, then say: Have mercy on me, a sinner.
- Repeat this practice for as long as you want.
- Start with ten good breaths in and out, then add the words.
Consider switching the word “sinner” for “your beloved child” and notice how your body and soul responds to the change.
- Body Scan: Allow yourself plenty of time to investigate this practice. You can do this sitting or lying down.
- Close your eyes to allow for better focus. Begin with a few deep breaths then begin your scan at the head.
- Notice any sensations (buzzing, tingling, pressure, pain, neutral), don’t do anything about what you notice, just notice it and move to the next part of your body.
- Just be curious and open to what you are noticing, then intentionally release the focus of attention and move to the next area to explore.
- When you are finished, open your eyes and move mindfully into the moment.
So, where is God in all of this? I asked God that question in one of my prayers and I was reminded of Joshua 1:9: “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”