You may or may not know this about me. Twelve years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical anxiety. My counselor encouraged me to pursue medical treatment but gave me the option to work through it with some cognitive techniques and a physical routine first. With God’s grace, I was able to get my anxiety under control within a few months. During those months of initial recovery, I learned some valuable things about myself and my anxious tendencies. In every season of my life, the Lord has been gracious to remind me of these things and to call me back to those thoughts and practices that administer the healing my soul needs when anxiety creeps back in.
For those, like me, who deal with anxiety in every season, this season of worldwide pandemia has been particularly trying. Here are four practices that have helped me keep anxiety under control through the COVID19 pandemic. I pray they will help you as well.
ONE: Establish a daily routine. Under the encouragement of a pastor friend / accountability partner, every morning before I do anything else I have committed to do something that will exercise (1) my mind, (2) my soul, and (3) my body. Through the pandemic I have read books every morning that sharpen my leadership skills. Then Vanessa and I sit down with a cup of coffee and complete our Bible reading and prayer time together. After our devotional and prayer time, I either lace up and run a couple of miles or do pushups, sit-ups, and other body-weight exercises. This daily routine is keeping me sharp and on guard against my anxious tendencies. It is stretching me to love God with all my heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5). And it is reminding my body that there is a rhythm to my life that will not stop even through the strangeness of this particular season.
TWO: Tell yourself the truth. It is in the nature of an anxious mind to live in the moment as if the worst-case scenario has already become reality. But very rarely is that actually true. I’ve had to remind myself almost every day lately that God is still on His throne, Jesus is still King, the church’s commission is still great, my message is still urgent, and my time is not yet up. I am regularly calling my mind back to the truth that God has been faithful to me and my family for decades, so I have every reason to believe He will be faithful to us in the future. And ultimately, if the worst-case scenario becomes reality, I still win because my identity, my value, and my significance are all completely wrapped up in my relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. An anxious mind will lie to a troubled soul. So renew it (Romans 12:1-2) by telling yourself the truth.
“An anxious mind will lie to a troubled soul.”Tweet
THREE: Work at friendship. We are created for community. Meaningful, Christ-centered community is that relational ecosystem where God has given us the ability to work out all kinds of soul-sicknesses that threaten our ability to thrive. But through the strangeness of social distancing, meaningful community has been challenged like never before. I am blessed with a wife and two amazing teenage sons. We actually like each other, so our increased togetherness has been a blessing through this season. But I would be fooling myself if I said I didn’t miss meaningful, in-person fellowship with Christian friends outside my own home. I’ve had to work at community through this. I’ve had to work at friendship. Texting, phone calls, ZOOM meetings, and socially-distanced parking lot meetups are not my preferred method of community. But they have, to some degree, scratched my social itches. My natural anxious tendency is to retreat within, but to be a good friend I have had to get uncomfortable in finding new ways to reach out. If you’re not careful, anxiety will turn into loneliness before you realize it. My heart longs for the day when physical togetherness is more normal than abnormal again. This season is testing my ability to be a good friend and to be a gracious receiver of good friendship. But I am working at it. Meaningful friendship is worth the effort. Be the friend, through this season, who “stays closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
4. Think about good things. If you’re looking for something about which to feel anxious, you will not have to look far—especially if you are already wired for it. Anxious people like me can often have the propensity to find the worst in just about anything (what a blessing). Unfocused anxiety can quickly blind the soul from seeing that even the worst of circumstances work out for good, “for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes,” (Rom 8:28). Even those things you feel are the most painful or the most meaningless in your day—God is in the business of redeeming them for His glory and your good. He is doing this right now, even as you read this blog. If you notice that your anxious mind is camping out in negative space, redirect your thoughts to those good things God is up to in you and around you. “Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… praiseworthy… dwell on these things… and the peace of God will be with you,” (Philippians 4:8-9). Write them down and read them out loud to yourself, if you need to. Peace comes to the anxious when they refocus their thoughts on God’s goodness during seasons of circumstantial distress.
“If you notice that your anxious mind is camping out in negative space, redirect your thoughts to those good things God is up to in you and around you.”Tweet
I’m not an expert at beating anxiety, but I am becoming experienced at it. And I’m finding new ways to lean into the tools and relationships that God has given me to bring the best me to His table every day. Ultimately, this season of crisis is just another opportunity for God to prove His love for me and for me to invest my life in His mission, that everyone everywhere might know the eternal hope that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Even for the anxious Christian, crisis always presents more of an opportunity than a danger.
Are you beating anxiety through COVID19?
Grace and Peace,