In the last few weeks, the world has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic that has spread across the globe. People have been encouraged to isolate themselves from public life, schools have been closed and churches have suspended sermons all in an attempt to curb cross infection (or flatten the curve).
Although the coronavirus has been described as a really bad flu, it can be fatal to immune-compromised individuals such as young children and senior members of society.
In the meantime, there is a much more dangerous disease spreading much faster across the world, without much fuss. It spreads through your phone or even just by hearing about someone else who has it. If you’re not careful, you can infect yourself when you’re all alone. There is no laboratory test to confirm whether a patient is infected, and the symptoms are so diverse it is hard to diagnose. Treatment is usually not obtained at the pharmacy unless the situation is out of control. This disease is not fatal to the body, but it can be very dangerous to the mind and to the soul, and eventually destroy your faith.
This disease is called Fear.
Fear is a sneaky parasite. It starts with a thought about getting infected, or someone close to you succumbing to the coronavirus. Then it spreads a bit further when you are instructed to change your hygiene habits and avoid social contact. When your employer sends all the employees home to work remotely you start worrying about your job security and the effect of self-isolation on the economy. Then you fear that there will not be enough for everyone – enough food, enough health care for all the sick, enough toilet paper? Next, you go out and max out your credit card to get supplies just in case this is the end of the world. Inevitably you worry that you will not be able to pay that debt back, and before you know it, your fear has developed into anxiety. As you share your worst fears with those around you through social media, conversations or just through your behaviour, you spread anxiety further to strangers of all ages and backgrounds, all over the world.
The anatomy of fear and anxiety
Fear can be a helpful response to preserve our survival in a threatening situation. The threat stimulates the amygdala, the area of the brain that regulates emotions. The sympathetic nervous system is then stimulated to produce the hormones necessary for the famous fight-or-flight response. Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol cause an increase in heart and breathing rate; muscle tension; and blood circulation is diverted away from the abdominal organs to the brain to enable the brain to think of ways to get out of the threatening situation. In the short term, this reaction can save your life, but if this response develops into a chronic response to your everyday life, it can be dangerous to your health.
Long-term anxiety can increase the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and depression. Long-term exposure to stress hormones like cortisol can contribute to weight gain, while other hormones like adrenaline can cause heart palpitations, chest pain and high blood pressure which can result in heart disease.
Chronic anxiety can cause stomach aches, nausea, diarrhoea and other digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In the short term, the fight-or-flight response can boost your immune system but, if you repeatedly feel anxious, this flood of hormones can also weaken your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to viral infections. Other long-term effects of anxiety include headaches, muscle tension, insomnia and depression.
So, the fear that the coronavirus is causing can actually make you more susceptible to the disease!
Fear is much more effective at infecting unsuspecting hosts than any physical virus because it is not of this natural world, it is from the devil. Fear is the absence of faith. You cannot trust in the almighty power of God and still have fear in your heart. It’s either one or the other. If you allow fear to invade your heart, you are allowing Satan, and his evil powers, in your heart and your home. You are giving him permission to rule your thoughts and your actions. Your behaviour will eventually cause severe reactions in your physical body that can take a long time to heal.
The big difference between the pandemic of fear and that of COVID-19 is that you have the power to choose. You have the choice to heal your own heart before the disease gets too serious and you have the choice to stop the spread of the infection at your door – you can choose to protect everyone around you by changing your behaviour and you’re guarding your words.
Anxiety has been defined as imagining a future without Jesus. When I heard this for the first time, I realized how foolish this response really is. Jesus is very much alive, and he died for our sins and overcame death, so we don’t have to fear death. If you don’t fear death, what do you have to fear? This podcast brought this reality home for me this week.
The command “do not fear” is the instruction most repeated in the Bible. If we fear God above everything else, the response of fear will just become a physical signal for your body rather than trauma or a tyrant. All healing is the removal of fear.
Apostle Paul explains to the Corinthians that we are fighting a battle of spiritual warfare. We must recognize the thought of fear at its origin and “we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Weigh up the thought and remind yourself of the truth. “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). Allow your faith to extinguish the spark of anxiety. While all forms of media obsess about our uncertain future “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
This is no easy task because the devil “prowls like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) waiting for his prey. In the midst of all this hype and hysteria, our fear is causing us to freeze and stand vulnerable and exposed, waiting to be attacked.
When you start feeling the heart palpitations and struggle to breathe, become still and examine the storm mulling around in your head. Measure each thought to evaluate whether it is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8). If the thought doesn’t measure up, it needs to be taken captive and changed.
15 Bible verses to treat fear and anxiety
What is the truth? I have found it very helpful to write down verses from Scripture that calm me down in situations of fear and anxiety so I can refer to them whenever I need to. Over the years some of these verses have become a part of my being and are written in my heart so that I can recall them at any time.
I made printable cards for you to download so you can keep God’s word close to your heart to remind you of his Truth in times of fear.
- “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” ~ Isaiah 41:10
- “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” ~ Psalm 56:3
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7
- “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7
- Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:9
- “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~ Matthew 6:34
- “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” ~ Psalm 55:22
- “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” ~Psalm 34:7
- “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” ~ Psalm 34:4
- “Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” ~ Mark 5:36
- “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.” ~ Psalm 23:4
- “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 3:16
- “But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” ~ Proverbs 1:33
- “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” ~ Psalm 46:1
- “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.” ~ Isaiah 26:3
Furthermore, we should fix our eyes on Jesus and our eternal goal. Everything on this earth is temporary and we know it is short-lived. All our desires should be surrendered to God so he can strengthen our love for him and his eternal life in us.
This pandemic is an opportunity for us as followers of Jesus to guard our hearts with the truth to stop the attack of fear. This heart posture will be an example to our neighbours, as we read in Proverbs 12:25 “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.”
Instead of sharing all the scary statistics and worrying about the future, let’s build each other up and remind each other Who is in charge. Let’s make it impossible for the devil to penetrate our hearts and separate us from our Heavenly Father.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”Colossians 6:16
(You might be interested in this post – written a bit later in the pandemic.)
Disclaimer: I know that having an Anxiety Disorder can be a very serious condition that needs medical treatment. Sometimes the balance of chemicals in our brain can be disturbed due to trauma or other causes. I myself am on medication to recover after a very traumatic loss. It is not my wish to pass judgement on anyone suffering from this debilitating condition and write to you with love and understanding.
Music is my favourite medicine, so I have also created a playlist in Spotify that you can download to combat fear when it is threatening your well-being.
One of the songs on the playlist that I hope helps you during this time is “Peace Be Still” (feat. Lauren Daigle) from The Belonging Co’s.