Anxiety is a toxic brew of negative emotions—anger, angst, apprehension, tension, worry, discouragement, fear, nervousness, panic, and fretfulness. Forty million Americans battle it regularly, and everyone faces periodic bouts of this devilish disease—me included. So you can imagine that these days of dealing with the coronavirus and all of the restrictions and changes in our daily lives have certainly added to that number and its intensity!
The parish staff and I have spent the last week calling all of our registered parishioners - more than 3000 families in all. It's a project that took many days to complete. While we have heard that many people are fine and hunkered down together as a family, we have also heard the stories of worry and anxiety.
In the midst of a pandemic, sometimes we can allow our mind to worry about everything - even and especially things beyond our control. The fact of the matter is that today we can only manage the things that we are immediately responsible for:
1. Our own health and safety;
2. Caring for your children;
3. Elderly parents;
4. Temporal matters, not the least of which is food, supplies and our financial stability.
Just thinking about these few points can make people very anxious!
None of us can change the rising number of people infected, but we can follow the good advice of washing our hands, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces, self-isolating and exercising social distancing to ensure that we are not adding to that number.
None of us can fix the stock market, but we can be aware of someone in our community who has a greater need than we do. Consider helping a small local grocery store or restaurant with an order or making a donation to a food pantry.
None of us can make any of this process go any faster, but we can use each minute to breathe, focus, rest, exercise and pray until the global situation changes - and we can encourage our family and friends to do the same.
Our God speaks to us in the Sacred Scriptures. Perhaps in times like this, with much less movement and much more quiet, we can better hear God's word. The Bible has many passages for overcoming anxiety. I offer here just one, from the book of Proverbs 12:25:
"Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up."
The writer of Proverbs knew from personal experience that anxiety feels like a weight. When we’re anxious, it’s like trying to run in a waterlogged wool coat. We trudge from step to step. There is no countermeasure better than a kind word—either from a friend or counselor, or from God's Word.
Instead of reciting our problems to people over and over and posting them on social media adding to our anxiety, give a trusted friend the short version and then offer a kind word or share a happy memory or an insight that has come out of all this.
These days will not pass by very quickly - so perhaps it's better not to try and obsess on the "end date." Instead, despite the anxiety and worry, let's use each minute to better know ourselves and those we are surrounded by - physically and virtually. Let's use these days to assess our needs and pray for one another - especially those who are sick, those caring for them, and those whose work and service we rely on these days.
Trade your list of worries for a list of hopeful insights. And if you can, please share them here with me, so that we can be an inspiration to one another and our community of faith.