A few years ago, I competed in a triathlon, which is quite a feat for someone who doesn’t like getting her face wet. I knew if I could just stay afloat during the quarter-mile swim, I could do well with the biking and running segments. After all, I knew how to swim, just not the “right” way. Everything was going fine—until I realized that I was in way over my head. As I saw a couple of other competitors swimming toward rescue rafts, I began to question myself, too.
“Yikes. I’m in way over my head out here. Am I okay? Ugh! I don’t think I’m okay.” In an instant, I had gone from excited and confident to unsure and fearful. As fear threatened to overtake me completely, I heard a voice saying, “Don’t panic.”
It was my dad’s voice.
I flashed back to the many times when I was a small child, and he’d reassure me with those very words and explain, “If you’re ever in a scary situation, the worst thing you can do is panic. Take deep breaths and stay calm.”
His reassuring voice kept reverberating in my head as I calmed myself and continued to swim.
In the last few days, I’ve sensed that same panicky feeling threatening to sweep over me. At first, I was confident, thinking that the media was sensationalizing this pandemic; it would all be over soon. I was enjoying family time, not having to chauffeur kids in the evenings, and having time to try new recipes and enjoy our meals; but a little over a week into social distancing, I found myself fighting fear. How long was all this going to last? What would happen to the economy? Our income? My loved ones? Starting to feel in over my head, I began to question, “Am I okay? Is our country okay?”
The reassuring voice came back. “Don’t panic.”
Not panicking is a lot easier said than done, especially if you have a history of anxiety. But I’d like to offer a few strategies for staying spiritually grounded and mentally healthy throughout this time.
1. Stay in the moment. After I had my first baby, I remember sensing that panic was trying to pry its way into my mind. I’d freak out, thinking, “I’m a mom forever! What if I can’t do this?” But then I’d ask myself if I was okay in that moment. The answer was always yes. In that moment, I was fine.
We’re often tempted to borrow tomorrow’s trouble by letting our minds play out multiple worst-case scenarios as we ask ourselves, “What if?” but Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25–34 (NIV) not to worry about tomorrow. After telling us not to worry about what to eat, drink, or wear, he reminds us that our heavenly Father knows our needs, and he will take care of them. In verse 34, he reiterates, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Staying focused on each day as it comes will likely eliminate a vast majority of worries.
2. Reframe. One of the most powerful skills for coping with difficulties is reframing your situation. Part of what was panicking me was that I felt trapped at home. Now, if you would have told me six months ago that I was going to get three weeks to be home without any outside commitments, I’d have been ecstatic. I typically can’t get enough family time at home, but now that I have to be home, I don’t want to be. It’s funny how we always want what we can’t have.
Reframing the thought, “I have to stay home,” to “I get to stay home!” might sound like semantics, but the words we speak to ourselves are powerful. How we think determines how we feel.
I used to teach an early morning fitness class, and for the first six months, I spent all day Tuesday dreading the early Wednesday morning alarm. I’ve never been an early riser. However, six months in, I decided to think, “I get to wake up early! I get to see the sunrise. I get to sneak out before my family is even awake and enjoy some quiet.” Intentionally changing my thoughts completely changed my feelings about the situation.
How can you reframe your current situation into a positive one? Staying home: you don’t have to, you get to.
3. Proactively stay active. One of the best things we can do for our mental health is exercise and get fresh air. You might not feel as if you need it every day, but it’s important to be proactive with our mental health before we start to feel stressed.
I’ve always been a fair-weather runner, but my husband encouraged me to take my two oldest children out for a run yesterday. It was drizzling and just above freezing. I did not want to go, but the anxiety that I had wrestled with overnight began to dissipate as I ran.
4. Limit screen and social media. I’ve found myself glued to my phone more than ever in the last few days. I’m desperate for some connection, and that’s the most readily available form. However, when I’m on my phone too much, I start to feel as if I’ve eaten only junk food for a week. It just feels yucky. Do what you need to do to stay connected, but don’t spend hours in the scroll hole —er, I mean your news feed.
5. Make Progress. Replace the extra time you might be tempted to spend on screens making progress on something productive. We are wired to produce, and we feel better when we do so. Consider finding one small thing you can do to give yourself a sense of accomplishment each day. Maybe it’s cleaning out a closet, finishing (or starting) a baby book, or working toward a dream that’s been on hold for “someday.” Spending a little time each day making progress will give you a sense of empowerment, as well as keep your mind busy with something other than “what ifs.”
6. Think outside yourself. Proverbs 11:25 (NIV) says, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Consider how you can bless someone each day—perhaps sending a card, calling a shut-in, or finding a way to share a much-needed laugh.
7. Praise. Replace any spirit of fear with a praising heart, with gratitude not only for what God has done for you, but for who he is. Losing yourself in him is like being swept away into his presence where there is unexplainable peace. The lyrics of the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” by Helen Howarth Lemmel expresses this idea so beautifully:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.”
If you are starting to feel jittery about being in over your head, don’t panic! May the peace of God guard your hearts and minds as you stay in his presence. Above all, may what might seem like a setback turn into a tangible expression of God’s provision and faithfulness once again. Our God turns ashes into beauty, and mourning into gladness; he gives a garment of praise instead of despair—always.
A recovering perfectionist, Erica Horyza is learning to embrace God’s grace in the chaos of raising and homeschooling her four children. She loves sharing her journey with other women in the hope they will find grace, peace, and freedom in Jesus. She holds a B.A. in Church Music from North Central University, teaches piano lessons, and is a fitness instructor. Her heart is happiest around a table full of food with a house full of guests.