Anxiety Living Present

Corona Anxiety? 4 Tips to Avoid Spiraling Into Panic

Worst-Case Scenario Worries

The air is thick with anxiety and panic .

It’s hard to resist the “worst-case-scenario” worries conjured up by our minds as the number of those afflicted by the Corona virus continues to rise and certain cities (including SF) are on lockdown.

Friend, if you find yourself a bit fearful and tripped up by anxiety today, it doesn’t mean you lack faith. It doesn’t mean you’re weak.  

It means that you’re human

Fear is a completely normal reaction when we sense a threat is present (whether physical, emotional, or social). Our brains scream “WARNING!” to give our bodies the chance to assess the situation and respond to any danger that is present.

Ultimately, the goal of fear: to keep us safe and help us survive.

This fear-based response can actually be extremely helpful and for our own good.

For example, it can help us avoid walking too close to the edge of a cliff, walking down a sketchy alley at 2AM, or getting too close to that wild animal in the woods.

Healthy fear keeps us safe and help us avoid real, possible dangers.

However, sometimes our brains are a little wonky.

For example, sometimes our brains can trigger a fear-based response, even when no imminent danger exists.

For example, throughout eating disorder recovery, my brain would often SCREAM at me that food was dangerous. Clearly, that was not the case.

For example, sometimes our brains can trigger a fear-based response, even when no imminent danger exists.

Here’s a personal illustration. 

Throughout eating disorder recovery, my brain would often SCREAM at me that food was dangerous. Clearly, that was not the case.

The fear I experienced was a result of faulty wiring in my brain that needed correcting. 

Instead of reacting and responding to what I felt was true, I had to work THROUGH the fear and dismiss the faulty information. Only then could I retrain my brain that food was, indeed, not a threat.

Bottomline, sometimes our minds will trigger fear and inform our bodies that a “fight or flight” response is necessary, even when that’s not the case.

Not only do our brains misidentify non-threats as threats.

But, sometimes our brains take a healthy fear and spin out in an unhealthy direction.

Our minds lead us toward possible catastrophic outcomes and rehearse “what if” scenarios over, and over, and over, and over, causing us to spiral into anxiety over something that “may” happen.

In other words, we find ourselves stuck in unhealthy fear: anxiety and panic.

Healthy Fear vs. Unhealthy Fear

When we’re tripped up by anxiety and panic, it’s a good indication that there’s both healthy and unhealthy fears at play.

For example, let’s consider the Corona virus pandemic we’re faced with today.

Healthy Fear

Taking precautions to avoid contact with the Corona virus is a healthy response to fear. This is true for any kind of sickness (such as, taking precautions against the flu during flu season).

So, go ahead and lean into that “healthy fear” instinct when it comes to taking various actions to avoid illness.

For example:

  • Wash your hands often
  • Disinfect surfaces
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick
  • Follow the other guidelines prescribed by the CDC to prevent illness

I encourage us all to do our part to take the necessary precautions to avoid illness and keep ourselves (and our families) healthy. This is a healthy response to avoid a real, potential threat.

Unhealthy Fear

However, let’s take a moment to talk about unhealthy fear: the fear-based (and very unhelpful) responses of anxiety and panic.

Because there’s a whole heck of a lot of that going around right now.

I’m sure you know this, but let me remind you: worrying doesn’t offer one bit of help to change or avoid certain circumstances or outcomes.

If anything, worry simply makes matters worse: it leaves us swirling in anxious thoughts, pulls us out of the present moment, drives us toward “me first” hoarding behaviors, and sucks so much joy right out of our days.

Friend, I don’t want that for you. You deserve better than that.

But how can we stop ourselves from being anxious?

  • What can we do when we find ourselves in the grips of anxiety?
  • How can we move through stress-filled, worrisome moments instead of being consumed by our fears of the unknown and possible future outcomes?

The key to fighting off that anxiety is to slow down and get present with God. 

We need to welcome him into our (honest) thoughts and solicit his help to combat lies with truth and identify any needs that we need to have met.

But, what does that look like?

Below I’ve outlined 4 steps to illustrate how you can work out your anxious thoughts with God and find your way back to peace.

Step 1: Slow down

Yes, slooooooow the heck doooooown.  

We can’t think clearly when our minds are twirling around in fear and anxiety.

So, Step 1: slow down and ground yourself in the present moment so you can calm your racing thoughts and emotions.

Here are a few quick/easy practices you can use to help bring yourself back to the “here and now”:

  • Take a handful of deep, slow, breathes. Inhale through your nose as you count to four (deeply from your belly), exhale through your mouth as you count to six.  Now repeat this process until you feel less tense. (There is scientific evidence that supports how breathing exercises like the above are beneficial to your health. If you geek out on the science aspect, you may want to check out this article, which speaks about the science behind the benefits of slow, deep breathing, and why it helps defuse the charge of anxiety.)
  • Focus on your 5 senses. Naming and noticing the things around you helps pull your mind out of the toxic, crazy fear loop and brings it back into the present. What can you see? What can you taste? How about smell, hear, and feel?
  • Recite a calming affirmation to yourself. For example, when I feel anxious, I pull out this handy affirmation: “All is well, You are with me.” There’s something so calming about verbally reminding my anxious spirit: everything is going to be okay and I’m not alone (God is with me), no matter what I’m facing.

Step 2: Bring awareness to your thoughts

When we’re anxious, it’s often because we’ve allowed our thoughts to run wild.

Our fears inform our thoughts, which ultimately impact our emotions. So, when we feel anxious, it’s a pretty good indication that our thoughts need some attention.

An anxious mind loves to spins stories.

It throws out “what if” scenarios and runs through potential catastrophized outcomes, attempting to “keep us safe” by ensuring we’re well-prepared for potential worst case scenarios.

Step 2 involves listening to the story your anxious mind is telling you. Get a grasp on what you’re actually thinking so you can get to the bottom of why you’re feeling so anxious.

Here are some questions to help assess your thoughts and feelings:

  • What am I anxious about right now? Make a list of “all the things.” Be specific and name each fear.
  • What initially triggered my anxiety? (e.g., Something someone said? Something I saw in the media? An event or stressful life situation? A build-up of various smaller life events?)

As you do this exercise, remember: just because you have a thought, doesn’t make it true.

A thought is just a thought. It’s just information. So don’t judge the thoughts come up – just allow them to surface.

Step 3: Ask yourself, “What’s true?” 

The stories our minds tell us are not always grounded in truth. A worried mind is particularly susceptible to intertwining pieces of fact-based truth with conjured up fear-based assumptions.

An anxious mind ingests false stories as truth because we never stop to question “what’s actually true?”

Step 3 involves objectively analyzing your thoughts and working through them with God and His Word to expose any lies and realign your mind with truth.

Read through your list of concerns from Step 2 and analyze each thought:

  • Objectively assess each concern. Is it based in 100% truth? Is it informed by fear-based, “what-if” possible scenarios?
  • Call “BS” on unfounded worries and discredit unlikely possibilities. For example, maybe your hoarding instincts are kicking in as you worry about not having enough food. Remind yourself: grocery stores are still restocking shelves, so there is still a supply of food available. To ease your mind, you have the option to stock up on dense, non-perishable foods. But remember, even if grocery stores are forced into lockdown (which is unlikely): you are not alone. There are others in your community (e.g., friends, family members, neighbors) who will help you out even if the unlikely feared outcomes do come true.
  • Challenge each fear with Biblical truth. Tell your heart why it does not need to be consumed by worry. For example, remind yourself:
    • You are a Warrior with the Holy Spirit inside of you. You will not live in fear; instead, you will cast all fears onto the Lord and place your trust in His mighty hands. (2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 4:6-7)
    • The Lord is with you in every situation and will strengthen you and help you – you do not need to worry (Psalm 23:4, Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10, Joshua 1:9)
    • God already saw this challenge/circumstance coming, and He already has a plan to work it all out for good. He’s got this. (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 8:28)
    • You do not need to worry about tomorrow – God already knows the outcome and will give you the strength to handle whatever is up ahead (Mathew 6:25-34, 1 Peter 5:6-8)
    • His peace is always accessible, even when trouble surrounds you. And even though you may feel surrounded: you take heart in the fact that God’s protection surrounds you (John 14:27, Psalm 23, Psalm 55:22, Psalm 56:3, 2 Kings 6:16-17)

Step 4: Ask yourself, “What do I need?” 

Underneath our fears are needs that need to be met.

For example, fears around future outcomes may mean you feel a lack of security and safety.

Or feeling anxious and overwhelmed by all the things on your plate may reveal you lack rest, self-care, or much needed “me time.”

Take a moment to think through your needs:

  • What (if any) needs may be lacking in your life? (See this article on basic human needs to identify potential needs that aren’t being met.)
  • Are there any factors that are contributing to more anxiety and/or playing up your fears? (e.g., Watching the news, hanging around other anxious people, scrolling social media, etc.)
  • What can you do to avoid known triggers that increase anxiety? How can you protect yourself from such triggers? (e.g., Clean up your social media habits, spend more time in the Word, spend more time in prayer, etc.)
  • In addition to God, who else can you reach out to to talk through your fears? (Solicit the help of others to combat worries.)

Peace is Found with God in the Present

Our minds may think they’re doing us a favor by playing out our fears and thinking up worst-case-scenarios. 

But worry never does us a bit of good. 

Stressing out about “what is” doesn’t remove or change our unwanted circumstances. 

Future-tripping over “what may be” never prevents certain outcomes from playing out. 

The only thing worry does is locks our eyes on our problems and takes our eyes off of God. It causes us to lose sight of the fact that He is always with us, ever-faithful, and sovereign over ALL things. 

Even when things take a turn for the worse.

So, Friend, the next time you find yourself spinning out in fear and anxiety, take charge over your mind:

  1. Slow down (to ground yourself back in the present)
  2. Bring awareness to your thoughts (and welcome God into your fears)
  3. Ask yourself, “What’s actually true?”
  4. Ask yourself, “What do I need?”

Remember, Friend: God’s Peace-filled Presence is found in the present.

We don’t know what the future holds. And we can’t control what happens in the days to come.

But, we do have the power to direct our thoughts toward God and fixate on what is true, noble, right, and good (Philippians 4:8). 

So, guard your mind and stay grounded in the “here and now.”  

Pull close to God, surrender your fears, and allowing Him to shower you peace as He reminds your heart of truths, such as:

  • He is in control: He already saw these circumstances in advance and has a plan for good.
  • He is always with you: through everything and anything (yes, even this). 

With Him by your side you have nothing to fear: for nothing is too big for our God.

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