Why You Might be Feeling Panicky or Anxious Right Now
- Part 1 -
An Essay by Sara Goetz, Cornerstone Community Team
At 3:30 in the morning I heard my 13-year-old son call out, in an agonized voice, “Mom, I don’t feel good.” Even under the best of circumstances, my body and brains’ ability to launch into panic mode is unmatched, and given COVID-19, panic mode seems to be my emotional default. Scurrying into his room with a thermometer in hand I popped it into his mouth. Within 5 seconds I heard it beep and saw the digital screen begin flashing to red. 100.9 degrees. A legitimate fever.
Immediately and without my permission, my brain began to swim in a whirlpool of worry, my limbs began to feel weak and my breaths grew shallow. I felt as if I wasn’t in the room anymore, but had no idea where I was, exactly. I instantly lived through 1,000 different scenarios and felt certain that the worst possible one was about to play out. In 3 seconds flat, I began to feel nauseous and weak and convinced that things were about to get bad. I heard myself say, “Get it together, Sara. Don’t freak out.” which, in the history of freaking out has never made my freak-out cease. I demanded of myself to take a deep breath and chart out the things I could DO in that moment. Which was basically get some Tylenol and a glass of water. And say a prayer.
Psychologists would call this the “flight or fight” response. It’s when the part of your brain whose job it is to identify danger overrides the part of your brain that allows for measured, weighted responses and successfully convinces your body that you are in immediate danger. This part of our brain is called the amygdala and it’s VERY good at its job. It’s passionate about its job, actually. All it wants to do is keep you safe. And it does that! The problem is that the flight or flight response isn’t always needed, and in today's modern world, it often isn’t always rational. Nevertheless, for some of us, our amygdala works overtime.
There are many reasons why our amygdala works harder than it needs to. Some of us have been in legitimate emotional and/or physical danger so often that the amygdala HAD to become super responsive. Some of us have experienced trauma, maybe only one event, but that experience put the amygdala in the driver's seat of our brain and being the control freak that it is, it won’t relinquish control of the car. Some of us have brains that chemically give the amygdala permission to act more often than is required. And some of us have learned from others how to be anxious. It actually doesn’t matter why the amygdala may be over functioning. The point is, in this global pandemic, it would be natural for your amygdala to be working overtime and for you to be experiencing some level of the flight or fight response.
It’s okay if you are. The flight or fight response is not going to hurt you. It’s definitely uncomfortable, annoying and it can be upsetting. Unpleasant as it might be, it’s not the end all be all of who you are. Moments of panic come and go and while they may wreak havoc with your nervous system, you will emerge okay.
God understands our bodies, and just as he doesn’t get upset with us when we catch a cold, He isn’t upset with us if our mind catches a bit of anxiety. But just like when we get a cold He doesn’t want us to stay sick, He doesn’t want us to live in anxiety as well. It’s not good for us or our bodies. God’s intent is to gently and compassionately lead our minds into healing. Isaiah 49:13 reminds us “For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” If you are interested in learning more about the intersection of faith and anxiety, you can read more here. Until then rest assured that God is not mad at your nor is he disappointed. Give yourself permission to crawl into his lap, let him wrap his arms around you, and fill you with His peace and compassion.