Five to Thrive When You Feel Trapped and Anxious
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” The origins of this quote are uncertain, but the idea is applicable to the circumstances we’ve lived through: self-quarantine, long days sometimes with little to do but check social media and the endless feed of media opinions with a little information mixed in. We can’t go back and better prepare ourselves mentally for the long stretch of weeks that have turned into months, but we can change our mindsets for the remaining time left with the hope of a stronger faith for the next trial thrown our way.
During times of stress, we often feel alone and vulnerable. Right now it may be the concern over loss of income, fear of falling ill, worry over food and household supplies, or being able to see others outside of a screen. The good news that is easy to forget is God does care for us. Maybe take a second to repeat that to yourself: God does care for me. He knew we would be prone to fear long before the virus was discovered. Luke 12:20-34 records him telling us not to worry about our bodies or possessions because life is more than what we’ll eat or wear or possess. It’s more than what we can see in front of us. Life is about pursuing his kingdom, and it’s our king’s pleasure to not only give us part of it but to take care of the daily and future concerns of life as well if we’re willing to chase after it.
More Than Theory
We want to take biblical truth about God and ourselves and find practical application. Luke 12 gives us the foundation that supports a life that is focused on what God is concerned about instead of a life concerned about the future needs. And just like any skill that we want to become adept at, we have to plan and practice small steps that help us stay focused on our goal. Here are 5 suggestions to get you started:
1. Look Up. Start the day acknowledging that God was here before you, preparing you for this day, and the he will continue to provide what you need to live it out to his glory because he’s pleased to do so (2 Cor 9:8-10). He rejoices over you with singing and takes great delight in you (Zephaniah 3:17).
2. Look in. Pay attention to your thoughts. They’re pesky and will buzz you all day if you don’t swat them down swiftly. They like to pretend they are elusive, but let them know you see them and replace them with an alternative thought. (i.e. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through today.” Acknowledgement: “This thought is making me feel anxious.” New thought: “I felt this looming fear yesterday, and God brought me through it. He is faithful and good despite how I feel.”) Modern cognitive therapy and neuroscience echo what God has already instructed us to do (2 Cor 10:3-5 , Phil 4:8-9). As you are paying attention to your thoughts, also take notice what helps fuel those thoughts. Do you need more encouragement and maybe less media? It may be helpful to set limits on daily news and social media intake.
3. Breathe out. As basic as it sounds, our bodies respond to our attitude and thoughts and vice versa. If I’m breathing in and out rapidly, my body is gearing up to get moving. When we are struggling with anxious thoughts, often our bodies try to tell us we have to act, danger is imminent, something has to be done. If you begin to feel plagued by stress, pay attention to your breathing, slowing it down while focusing on a particular truth from the Word. As you do, your body will also slowly relax.
4. Step out. Just as our we can help manage our stress and anxiety through our breath, we can also begin to mitigate the affects of stress through purposeful movement. Light exercise such as walking or short jogs have proven to temporarily alleviate feelings of stress.
5. Reach out. We are designed for relationships with God and others. By sharing your concerns with those who care, you allow them to fulfill the law of Christ while also experiencing a momentary reprieve from the burden of worry (Galatians 6:2). Reaching out also gives you an opportunity to bear someone else’s burdens. As you share your heart, the listener may feel compelled to also open up. This can prove to be an effective way to put our own troubles into perspective. A part of the anxiety many feel during this time is isolation and loneliness. While phone apps and video conferencing are no match for face-to-face conversation, they can aid in drawing people together and holding loneliness at bay.
As this season ends and we enjoy lifted restrictions, employment, warm embraces, and corporate worship, let’s not forget the One who sees us, knows us, and gives good gifts as a loving father should, be it during a pandemic or smaller scale personal crisis. He is with us through whatever we may face; we can be brave (Joshua 1:9).