Editor’s Note: You may have seen Jasmine Timm on a Sunday morning. She serves with the kids’ and women’s ministries, helping teach and develop curriculum and Bible studies as well as contributing to this blog. She is currently studying counseling at Western Seminary, and thus, we have asked her to share with us today a bit about what God is teaching her during these times of isolation, along with a few practical things to aid in helping our mental and spiritual health flourish in times like these.
By Jasmine Timm
On a Monday afternoon, I logged onto Zoom for a conference call for my graduate program. The weekend before brought news of panic, and within the span of a few days, the majority of our class was now attending class from home instead of meeting in person. As we checked in with one another, I told my classmates that I was doing well and wasn’t feeling particularly anxious. Approximately nine hours later as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, my brain was ricocheting with anxious thoughts.
Our world is in a state of panic, and with the news changing every few minutes, it is certainly a challenge to not give in to the lure of anxiety. In many ways, the world’s anxious response is justified. There has been a great deal of change and disruption to daily life, and many are at risk of falling ill. We certainly do not want to minimize the painful realities that are resulting from this chaotic virus, but we also do not want to be subject to it. Anxiety is a natural response to a perceived threat, but it will prove to be a terrible master. Once submitted to, it will squash any possibility of hope, joy, and peace.
As Christians, we have ample reason to not fear the uncertain, but that does not necessarily mean that we won’t experience bouts of fear and anxiety. If you have felt fear in the last week, you are not a defective Christian. However, when we continue to exist in a state of anxiety, we start to deteriorate mentally, emotionally, and physically. Even in clinical counseling, therapists will warn of the harmful effects of continuing in a state of chronic anxiety with no checks and balances put in place. In these times, we are walking a fine line between acknowledging the painful and uncertain reality around us, while also refusing to be utterly consumed by the fear it threatens to impose on us.
On a practical level, we can do things to minimize the damaging effects of anxiety. Whenever we are in an anxious state, a lot of factors are typically at play over which we have no control over. We worry about becoming infected with the virus, we worry about losing jobs or personal funds, we worry about our loved ones’ safety, and we worry about how we are going to keep ourselves or our kids occupied while bound within the walls of our own homes. While these fears are not unjustified, we need to come to terms with the fact that we cannot manipulate the future. These are ultimately outside of our control, and fixating on them will likely do us no good in the present moment. Instead of dwelling on that which we cannot control, we would do well to focus on what we can control. This helps to keep a sense of sanity as we root ourselves in the present moment and ground ourselves.
Some examples of things we can control would be:
- Our time. We have the ability to choose what we do with the day that is right in front of us. We may not accomplish all that we hope to, but we can redeem the time by choosing to encourage and enjoy our loved ones. We can write letters to friends and family. We can read books we’ve been putting off. We can rest. We can take a nap. We can go on a walk. We can pray. We can keep ourselves grounded as we draw ourselves back to the present moment. Here is a post from last week that includes these and other ideas for our time at home.
- Our decisions. We make lots of small decisions every day, which can actually help us to feel more grounded in the moment. We can decide what we eat for dinner. We can decide how we respond to our spouse or children. We decide which book to read, which show to watch, which podcast to listen to. We can decide what clothes we put on. It sounds simplistic, but taking advantage of all the little decisions we make each day can bring us a great deal of sanity.
- Our thoughts. We really do have a say in what goes on in our heads. This does not mean you will cease to have thoughts that trouble you, as those will likely still pop up. However, something we often forget is that we have the choice of whether we respond to those thoughts. I do not have to latch on to every thought that comes my way. One helpful strategy to employ is visualizing your thought as a leaf, and imagining that leaf slowly falling through the air until it hits the ground. This provides a sense of healthy removal as we observe our thoughts with curiosity rather than respond to them with anxiety. We can also recite Scripture, sing hymns, and engage in prayer to combat these intrusive thoughts.
- Our breathing. This is one of the simplest and perhaps most helpful tricks in easing anxiety. Intentional breathing has self-regulatory effects on the brain and is one of the most effective strategies to calm the body. When you are beginning to feel anxious, try the following exercise: Clasp your hands behind your back, opening up your chest and shoulders. Next, take a few deep breaths, counting to 7 on the inhale, holding for 4 seconds at the top of the inhale, and then exhaling for 8 seconds. Focus on getting the air to rise and fall in your belly rather than your chest (having your hands behind your back helps this process). Belly breaths release more of the self-soothing chemicals in the brain.
- Our bodies. We have the ability to care for our bodies. As mentioned, this may include taking a nap, or going for a walk, or eating foods that will make you feel good. This could look like doing 10 jumping jacks. Here is another self-soothing exercise to try: Sit in a comfortable position with your feet uncrossed and planted on the ground. Place your hands on your thighs and begin to alternate tapping motions on either leg. This is called bilateral stimulation and it helps each side of your brain connect to the other, which in turn calms down the body and anchors it back to reality. Do this with intentional breathing.
These practical tools are gifts God has given to us to calm our anxieties and bring us back to the present moment, where we can trust Him — right here, right now. We may not be able to control a lot of the things around us right now, and a lot remains uncertain as we wait anxiously at home. On a spiritual and emotional level, however, we have a lot to be certain of and a lot to be hopeful for.
Here are some examples:
- In the last week of our Jude study, we were reminded of the fact that God is indeed faithful and true (Revelation 19:11). Who He is remains unchanging (Hebrews 13:8, Malachi 3:6), and what He has promised us will certainly come to pass (Numbers 23:19).
- He is the one who speaks with full authority and who holds all things within the palm of His hand, including His saints (Colossians 3:3, John 17:10-11). He is the one who speaks only what is true (Proverbs 30:5), and He is the one who uses His authority to help small, feeble people like ourselves (Philippians 2:5-8).
- He is all that is certain, and as Jackie Hill Perry reminded us, His saints can be certain that what He has said will happen.
- He will soon return in glory to restore this hurting world to its intended glory (Revelation 21-22). Jesus says to us, “Yes, I am coming soon.” May we respond to Him, with all the saints, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20-21).
- He will be with us as we wrestle through uncertain times (Deuteronomy 31:6) and as we wait for the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
- He will give us the wisdom and strength we need to navigate difficult conversations and circumstances (2 Timothy 3:15, Hebrews 13:21).
- His Spirit will comfort us and remind us of what is true (John 14:26) and will even help us to pray when we do not know what to say (Romans 8:26-27).
- He is certainly able to keep us from stumbling, and when He returns, He will ultimately present us blameless — without blemish, without sickness, without sin — “before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24).
We proclaim from June 24-25, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
Final tip for managing anxiety: Spend some time looking up the Scriptures that were referenced in this post. Choose one or two that stuck out to you and spend time memorizing them.