By: Dr. Efrain Duany Jr.
One morning, Death was walking towards a city and a man asked:
“What are you going to do?”
“I am going to kill 100 people,” Death replied.
“That is horrible!” the man said.
“That’s the way it is,” said Death. “That is what I do.”
The man hurried to warn everyone he could about Death’s plan.
As evening fell, he met Death again.
“You told me you were going to take 100 people with you,” the man said. “Why did 1000 die?”
“I kept my word,” Death replied. “I only killed 100 people. Anxiety killed the other 900.”
The pandemic we face today has led some people to develop a state of anxiety, which can be very dangerous for their physical, spiritual and emotional health.
Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This is equivalent to 18% of the population of this country. But, the saddest part of this matter is that only a third of those who struggle with anxiety receive treatment. In these next episodes I want to talk to you about this topic, which is very important in the moments in which we live currently.
In our last blog we began to study Jesus’ experience with His disciples when He gave them the order to cross to the other shore and a great storm arose (Mark 4: 35-40). The disciples thought they were going to perish and called their Master, saying: Master, aren’t you worried that we are going to perish? On the other hand, we see Jesus who was sleeping in the middle of the storm while His disciples were anxious because they were afraid, they were going to perish by the dark waves of the storm. We see an anxious group because they were afraid of perishing and a Jesus who was calm because His Heavenly Father was in control of everything.
Is it a sin to have anxiety? Did Jesus’ disciples sin by being anxious in the midst of the storm? It is a very complex question. Let’s try to figure it out by asking ourselves what anxiety is.
Anxiety is part of the human body’s natural response system to any true or false threat we experience. When your mind perceives that it is in danger, it sends a series of signals to your body and as a result there is a response to that stress.
Stress is the response to an external threat when you experience a crisis; a task you must finish, or the threat of an uncertain future. On the other hand, anxiety is the reaction to that stress you are experiencing. It has an internal origin. Low levels of anxiety manifested by the body are normally found at one end of the spectrum and can present themselves as low levels of fear, apprehension, mild sensations of muscle pressure, sweating, shortness of breath, or even doubt about the ability to complete a task. These symptoms of normal anxiety levels do not interfere with your daily functioning.
On the contrary, these normal levels of anxiety help us to function more effectively since they produce greater motivation and attention to the stress we have in advance. Experts like Jennifer Fee draw their attention to seeing anxiety as a messenger. She says anxiety is the messenger that tells you what is important to you. Try to communicate your needs, so that you can meet them correctly. If you kill the messenger, you will not receive the message.
When you don’t see anxiety as a messenger, it can reach clinical levels. Clinical or destructive levels of anxiety are at the other end of the spectrum. When they increase high enough levels, they rapidly decrease your performance and cause a physical and emotional decline. Anxiety disorders are characterized by a severe and persistent worry that is excessive to the situation being experienced. These symptoms cause anguish, affect your daily functioning, and they often occur for a significant period.
There is a very fine line that divides the destructive and constructive levels of anxiety that is hard to identify, thus problems arise. Some examples include: Destructive anxiety paralyzes, the constructive one motivates; The destructive one reduces your creativity, the constructive one increases it; The destructive one produces an anxious restlessness, the constructive one produces a calm approach; One tries to control the future and the other one tries to improve it; One fears the worst, the other hopes for the best; One distracts the mind from what is important, and the other one directs the mind to what is important.
It is not difficult to understand, that in the case of the disciples during the storm, they manifested a destructive anxiety by having an anxious restlessness, thinking that they would perish. On the other hand, Jesus manifested constructive anxiety. It would be good to ask ourselves, what message did the disciples’ anxiety try to give them in the middle of the storm? Maybe they needed to understand their need to depend more on Jesus and less on their own strength. Their anxieties showed that even though they were close to Jesus, they did not trust Him to solve their crises.
So, we can conclude by saying that anxiety itself is not a sin because it is a natural reaction to stress. Being anxious becomes a sin when it stops being constructive and becomes destructive, and you start to get desperate using human skills to deal with your stress. That is why Jesus, in Matthew 6:25, said to His disciples: “be anxious for nothing.” As Christians, we are called not to live in a state of anxiety and simply to see anxiety as a messenger who wants to help us see what is important in our lives.
I must also clarify that many people suffer from anxiety disorders as a product of traumatic experiences, and for them, anxiety is a pathological problem. In these cases, saying that this person is sinning because they are living in a state of general anxiety is not correct. For these people, trying to manage the cognitive part of their mind is not a simple thing to do and they need therapy and often medication to overcome.
Five tips for managing anxiety in the midst of a pandemic.
I want to leave you with five tips to manage your anxiety in the midst of the pandemic.
See your anxiety as a messenger, not as your enemy: Your anxiety is your natural reaction to stress. Do not kill the messenger. When facing stress in life, anxiety is the messenger that tells you what is important to you. Try to communicate your needs so that they can be met. For example, perhaps in the midst of the pandemic, you feel anxious and the message your anxiety is giving you is that you should trust God more and less in your strength. Or, perhaps the source of that anxiety is an emotional trauma that you have not yet resolved in your life and you must pay attention to it.
Develop a relationship with God and practice Christian meditation. God has a promise for every stressful situation you may be experiencing in your life. He also tells you that no stress has overtaken you that you cannot bear. Connect with God and take time to meditate upon His promises.
Eliminate negative inner talking. What you say to yourself determines your reality and how you will live before that reality. Save your mind from toxic thoughts, so you can manage your anxiety more effectively. Thoughts are like seeds that we sow in the garden of the mind. Set your mind on everything that glorifies God.
Practice relaxation exercises to reduce your anxiety. One of those exercises is diaphragmatic breathing. You can do between 5 and 10 breaths and abdominal exhalations, slowly and deeply from the diaphragm. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth and focus on completely emptying your lungs before taking another breath. Another exercise you can do to manage your anxiety is to walk at least 30-45 minutes every day.
Get enough sleep. Set a stable schedule to go to bed and to wake up. If for some reason (for example, on the weekend) you stay up longer than expected, do not get up late the next day. This way, even if you are sleepy during that day, you will not alter the sleep cycle to which your body is used to, and you will be able to function normally the rest of the week.
Today, I invite you to trust in a powerful God who takes care of you. If He is allowing you to go through this pandemic, He has everything under control and this crisis will come to an end.