Embracing Anxiety amidst COVID-19

Embracing Anxiety amidst COVID-19

It is unbelievable how much the world has changed over the past few weeks. On February 11th, I had finalised arrangements for a July trip to New Zealand with my wife. On March 14th, we invited several friends over for fellowship and huddled up around the dining area for a lovely meal. On March 15th, I attended the same church which I have attended for the past 22 years, and had a wonderful time enjoying fellowship whilst learning about God’s word. I would have never predicted that by April, all of the above activities would cease, and I would be forced to isolate at home for most of the week. The plight of COVID-19 has initiated the world into unchartered waters, consequentially triggering a wave of uncertainty and anxiety amongst society.

Anxiety is a term that is generally affiliated with negative experiences and symptoms. Consider the adult who experiences excessive sweating and shaking before a job interview, or the student who struggles to breathe and concentrate before an exam, or might I add – the individual who develops a momentary fear of death upon entering a public arena during the COVID-19 outbreak. Whilst it is undoubtedly uncomfortable and distressing to experience such symptoms of anxiety, it might surprise you to know that anxiety comes with its positive effects when embraced. Anxiety is a natural cognitive and physiological response (Abnormal Psychology, 8th ed) which motivates us to respond to a concerning situation, which in turn allows us to take the appropriate course of action to prepare ourselves for the situation. Let us revert back to the above examples:

  • When a job interview has been scheduled, the anxiety allows you to conduct the appropriate research and preparation to ensure that you are ready for assessment on the relevant topics and questions.
  • When you are approaching an examination period, the anxiety reminds you to sufficiently study and prepare for the content which you are due to be examined on.
  • When you are about to enter a public arena amidst a pandemic, the anxiety motivates you to take the appropriate precautions to protect yourself and others against the risk of exposure to viruses and bacteria.

Therefore, whilst anxiety is generally affiliated with negative experiences, it also serves as a motivator and reminder to respond appropriately to whatever distressing situation is triggering that anxiety.

Which brings us back to where we started: COVID-19. As much as we should strive to embrace anxiety and respond appropriately to the current circumstances, it is important that we acknowledge the difficulties that come with anxiety and its symptoms. As society is forced to adapt to widespread changes arising from this pandemic, it is natural that different people will adjust to such changes with varying degrees of success. The sight of depleting supermarket shelves, the sudden development of flu symptoms, the daily headlines of new fatalities from the virus…these are only several of many examples of stimuli which may trigger anxiety in the current climate. Whilst there are people who have higher efficacies in embracing anxiety, there are others who will encounter more difficulty coping with its distressing symptoms. Therefore, it is crucial that we address the essential question: As Christians, how should we respond to the anxiety which has infiltrated society in light of COVID-19?

  1. Be more PROACTIVE in showing love and care towards others. The demonstration of love towards one another is a fundamental concept in the Christian faith (1 John 4:7-12), and that love ought to be extended not only to those in your inner circle but to everyone (Matthew 5:43-47). This expression of love becomes all the more needed in a climate where most people are required to adapt to a more reclusive lifestyle, with many struggling with the lack of social interaction and fellowship which under normal circumstances, would have provided a comforting and therapeutic source to our daily anxieties. Therefore, my encouragement is for you to be more proactive in your love towards others, and to extend this expression of love beyond your usual circle of family and friends. As to how this love can be practically demonstrated, I will draw inspiration from 4 of the 5 love languages listed by Gary Chapman, which include words of encouragement, acts of service, giving of gifts, and spending quality time (online for the time being) with one another.
  2. Be more PURPOSEFUL in your conversations with one another. I think it is important to firstly raise that different people have different comfort levels when it comes to sharing their anxieties, so you should be wise in how you initiate such sensitive conversations, and exercise wisdom in knowing when to refrain from further questioning. However, as someone who has experienced anxiety for most of my life, I have often found it easier to share about my emotional / mental state when someone is more intentional in their conversation. For example, there is a clear distinction between the conventional phrase of “How are you?” and the more intentional question of “How are you feeling?” or “How have you been coping with your anxiety?”. I have found it more encouraging when being asked a question which is more purposefully directed towards my emotional / mental state, and have shared in more detail about my emotional / mental state in response to the latter question. Therefore, I encourage you to be more purposeful in generating discussion regarding others’ wellbeing, whilst simultaneously exercising wisdom in knowing where the boundaries lie.
  3. Most importantly, be more PRAYERFUL for the world that we live in. We are blessed to have a God who we can present with all our prayer requests (Ephesians 6:18), and who listens to our prayers at all times (Psalm 145:18). Remember that there is always someone or something to pray for, whether it be our loved ones, the pastors leading their flock amidst a time of change within churches, the health practitioners whose lives are at risk on a daily basis, the leaders making influential decisions, or those who are struggling with their mental health in these challenging times. I have at times struggled to keep prayer at the forefront of my mind when encountering trials in life, and am grateful to have been reminded that we have a God who is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient to all my anxieties. Furthermore, we also need to be thankful in prayer for the blessings that we have. As challenging as life can be, there are many things to be thankful for when we actively turn our minds toward the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. My encouragement is that you will be more prayerful in your daily life; not only in relation to your prayer requests, but also in thankfulness for the many blessings that God has given to you.

by Enoch Hui