What Can I Do About Anxiety
- Part 3 -
An Essay by Sara Goetz, Cornerstone Community Team
Missed Part 2 of this essay? Read it HERE.
Here’s the million-dollar question: While in the middle of a pandemic, the kind of situation our amygdala was made for (you can read more about the amygdala here in Part 1), how can we deal with feelings of panic or anxiety?
Well, experts will tell you to breathe. It’s a simple place to start - and while it seems to be very basic and maybe even humanistic, let me remind you that in Genesis 2:7 our very existence starts with and is defined by the breath of God. We are the only living, breathing part of His creation that the Bible says God shared breath with. And if that breath was the beginning of humankind, I believe that the same breath of God is what will sustain it.
So take a minute to breathe. The biology of breathing is fascinating in and of itself. Breathing acts as a mental self-cooling system to help a triggered nervous system relax. But spiritually, breathing in God’s very breath — His compassion, His peace, His love, His care, His affection for us — and to have that circulating through our bodies and minds, if that isn’t full of promise and healing I don’t know what is. So inhale God’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” (Children’s Story Book Bible). And know that His love is for you.
Focus on what you know to be true. In therapy, I learned the mantra, “Don’t believe everything you think.” And as I mentioned before in part 1 (2 Corinthians 10:5) challenging our thoughts and what we hear from the world around us is, surprisingly, an incredibly spiritual practice. I Peter 2:1-2 implores us to “…rid (our)selves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Verses like Isaiah 48:28, 2 Peter 1:11, Psalm 90:2 and many others help me refocus my thoughts on what is eternal and true about the character of God. When I’m anxious, I often write down the things that I am struggling with. Seeing my worries in black and white gives me a perspective and an opportunity to reword my concerns in light of the truth of God. It allows me to see where my thoughts are working against me and gives me space to surrender those thoughts to God. So take out a journal or a piece of paper. This small effort is a great way to respond to 1 Peter’s command to consume those truths that will allow us to grow in our salvation.
Reach out for help and support. Reaching out to a close friend with a text that reads, “I’m having a tough moment. Just wanted to reach out.” will likely result in a flood of love, concern, care, and support. I send this text a lot, and the wording is very intentional. First, it acknowledges that this (whatever it is!) is hard. I remind myself that this is a “moment” and moments come and go. I recognize that there isn’t much anyone can do, except to remind me that I am connected and people care about me. And oftentimes, that’s enough. If you find that you need more support, our care team at Cornerstone is ready and willing to help you. You can reach out without shame or fear that you will be seen as weak. On the contrary, you will find other people who understand the strength it took to reach out and will envelop you with compassion and love.
In the first essay of this series, I told you the story of waking up at 3:30 with my son running a 100.9-degree fever in the middle of a global pandemic. At 4:30 in the morning, I was still awake, breathing and trying to do all the things I just advised you to do. I can’t say I did it all perfectly, or immediately was able to get grounded in the truth of Jesus. But I can say that Jesus met me in my anxiety and uncertainty and showed me the limitlessness of His grace. And it was another opportunity to forge a new neural pathway or a more tempered response. He was there for that, cheering me on and giving me strength.
Luke is fine. He always was despite my amygdala's insistence that the worst was about to unfold. I’m relieved to say that and simultaneously aware that my happy ending is not universally experienced. However, you may find yourself having many moments of panic and anxiety in the coming weeks. In all of those moments, this universal truth remains:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9 NIV).
You were chosen by God in spite of anxiety. You were chosen by God in spite of panic. You were chosen because God holds you as His special possession and has promised you His wonderful light. That is a truth that transcends our chemistry and biology and amygdalas and neuroscience. It is a truth that meets us in the middle of our “flight or fight,” and assures us that we are loved. This pandemic we are working through - there’s no way to do it ‘right.” There is only the grace of Jesus and the steadfastness of the Father sustaining and caring for us. Your anxiety doesn’t worry God, He’s with you in the middle of it and promised to see you through.