23 Mar Anxiety and Fear Changes You
The COVID-19 virus has changed the world in just a few short weeks. When most of us heard about it for the first time it was something happening “over there”. But the reality of the virus is now upon us. Some people are still living in denial of the invisible dangers that lurk around us. Just last week I observed college students on spring break partying on the beach in large groups. But it is getting harder to stick your head in the sand and make believe this virus isn’t dangerous or won’t affect you.
In the past several days I have learned of two people that I know well have the virus. One of them is young and the other is old. Both are very sick and are battling the disease. Families are praying for them and soliciting their friends to intercede for their healing. The reality of the disease begins to sink in when you are personally affected.
Three ways that fear and anxiety increase in our souls happen when we feel like the world is no longer predictable, or when we feel like we are losing control, or when we no longer feel safe. The COVID-19 virus certainly ticks all three of those boxes. Nobody knows what is going to happen in the future because of this virus. Yes – there is speculation. Some spell out doom and gloom and others are optimistic that this will all end as quickly as it began. Most of you are probably like me today. You are being told to stay home and wash your hands frequently and not touch your face. There are things you can do to protect yourself. By doing these things you may feel safe and even have a sense of control about your future. But then you look at the news and see that your retirement savings has lost one third of its value and is sinking again. Or you suddenly realize that everything that you saved for your daughter to go to college is in danger of being wiped out. Fear and anxiety have a way of creeping back into our lives.
I am a male (4 times as likely to die from the virus), over 60, with a heart condition and with an immune system deficiency. I must be especially careful these days. Going anywhere is a risk – even picking up a delivered package at the door. Your situation may be different, or you may know others that you are concerned for at this dangerous time. You may have a family member that is a health care professional that is exposed everyday to an infected person. Or you may have a friend that is working as a police officer and is responding to calls for help from infected people. There is a myriad of stimulus that might invite us to stress out and increase our anxiety right now.
Anxiety and fear have an impact on our souls. Scientific study shows us that when we are under anxiety and fear, we actually change our primary motivations that result in a change of behavior (Relational Intelligence Theory, Dr. Elias Porter). When we begin to sense that danger is near for whatever reason, our personalities are changed and what is most important to us is no longer the same. When this happens, the people around us can get confused. Who is this person? Why are they acting this way? “That was totally out of character for them to act that way!”, we might say. Others have called this the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome. Someone who is usually gentle and quiet suddenly gets aggressive. Someone who is usually fun loving becomes quiet and withdrawn.
We are used to people being predictable in the way they respond to us. When they don’t respond that way, it may trigger something in us that may result in conflict. When someone’s personality suddenly changes, you can be reasonably sure that they are going into their conflict sequence. The first stage of conflict is when anxiety is built up because of some kind of fear of loss or not being able to control what is important to them.
It is important to recognize the change in personality is a signal that something is wrong. Rather than letting this change trigger a conflict between you and them, take a moment and realize what is happening. What is important to them? How can you interact with them to resolve the issue? Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) training can help you do this more effectively.
Learning how to respond to each other when we are under stress can help us to live in harmony with one another as we shelter in place or interact with people who are risking their own lives on our behalf because some services cannot be shutdown completely.
Anxiety and fear changes people in the way they relate to other people. However, the Gospel of Jesus Christ also changes people! The Gospel is the good news that Christ provided a way for everyone of us to become children of God. Christ’s work on the cross and his resurrection not only took care of our sin problem, but we have a Savior who is able to meet every need we have. The old pattern of life before the Gospel was to try to control life. But as children of God we know that God is in complete control and is all powerful. You can trust Him. Our anxiety and fear can be cast upon Him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
One question that is helpful as you work through your anxieties and fears is, “What part of the Gospel do I not yet believe?” Explore the fullness of the good news and the implications to what you are facing today. Grow in your knowledge of God’s grace and love because they are unlimited. I leave you with this prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.