Currently, our world is facing two pandemics. The first is a health pandemic. COVID-19 is sweeping across countries and leaving a tragic trail of sickness and fatalities. Even for those who don’t know anyone who has caught the virus, this pandemic is greatly impacting their lives. This virus has changed everything about our day-to-day as we all do our part to stop the spread of the virus. These drastic, but necessary, measures are helping slow the health pandemic, but unfortunately are also causing a second one.
The COVID-19 outbreak is not just impacting people’s physical health, but their emotional health also. It not only causes fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, but it can trigger anxiety, fear, helplessness, and deep sadness. Where many are directly impacted by the health pandemic, everyone is impacted by this emotional pandemic.
The constant communication about COVID-19’s impact on the news and our social media is causing anxiety and fear. Social distancing and shelter-at-home laws are causing loneliness. And the indefinite timestamp on this new normal is leaving many feeling overwhelmed and depressed. From parents who are balancing working from home and homeschooling their kids to employees who have been let go, everyone is feeling this emotional pressure.
Unlike the virus, the existence of emotions isn’t bad. The problem is not that we have moments of anxiety and fear. The problem is when we don’t respond well and the emotions become uncomfortable. It’s when we no longer are in control of our emotions, but they are in control of us.
Much like the virus has the potential to overwhelm our hospital’s capacity if we don’t take steps to flatten the curve, our emotions can overwhelm us if we don’t flatten the emotional curve caused by irrational beliefs. Taking a similar approach to the health pandemic, we must take proactive healthy steps and we must catch the problem early.
Proactive Healthy Steps
Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. Keep six feet separation from people. Don’t touch your face. The CDC has given tips to help limit the spread of the virus and keep people safe. This is a preventative measure that calls people to be proactive. The same is needed with our emotional wellbeing.
Often, the best defense is a great offense. One of the ways that we can flatten the curve of this emotional pandemic is to create healthy habits and routines. Here are three questions to ask yourself regularly:
- Which voice is loudest? In Romans 12:1-2, Paul says, “Do not conform to the ways of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” This text shows us that there is always a voice that is shaping our perspective, the question is if it is God or the world? If you were to look at your screen time, would the Bible app have as much time as your news app? Assess the inputs that you receive daily and make sure that the Godly inputs outnumber worldly inputs.
- How can I regularly do things that bring me joy? Throughout your day, include things that you enjoy. This may be hobbies, people, exercise, solitude, etc. In this last month, I have tried daily to take a walk with Sophie, connect with a friend, laugh with my son, and read. These proactive steps help keep my emotions in a rational state.
- How can I limit the things that cause me anxiety, fear, and/or sadness? When your emotions are disproportional to the situation, assess them and identify what is causing the heightened emotion. When you can identify triggers that cause you to irrationally respond, you can then limit those inputs to an appropriate level. Personally, I have limited my coronavirus reading to one article a day and have stopped reading any social media posts about the topic.
Catch The Problem Early
What do you do when your vehicle’s check engine light turns on? If you are like most people, you dismiss it and say, “It’s not a big deal.” Because the vehicle is still operating, we ignore the warning and continue on with business as usual. Later, when we find our vehicle broken down on the side of the road, we wish we had taken it to the mechanic and addressed the issue in its infancy as opposed to letting it get out of hand.
Unfortunately, this scenario is how most people handle their emotions. Much like a check engine light on a vehicle, there are warning signs that something is not right. When we feel that we can’t control our emotions, but they are beginning to control us, that’s an emotional check-engine light. When our emotional response isn’t proportional to the situation, that’s an emotional check-engine light.
Much like the CDC recommends people to quarantine as soon as one experiences any symptoms, we must identify the early symptoms that our emotions are becoming unhealthy and respond quickly. When we see these warning signs, we need to assess the problem in its infancy before it becomes bigger. Here are two ways to do this well.
- Assess your emotions: Identify what you are feeling and what is contributing to those emotions. For many, including myself, assessing our emotions is something that we see as valuable, but we haven’t built up the introspective muscles to do it well. I have used exercises like this one to help me improve in this area. Once you have done this, journaling can be a great way to begin to further articulate your emotions and new insights.
- Express your emotions: Once you have assessed your emotions, express them to God and others. Prayer and journaling is a great way to surrender to God the irrational beliefs that are leading to your uncomfortable emotions. This allows the Holy Spirit to replace your fear with faith, your anxiety with peace, and your sadness with joy. Secondly, one of the greatest places to experience God’s love is through his people. It’s important that you express what you are feeling with those you trust and allow them to practice the “one anothers” of the faith: pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, etc. Lastly, consider sharing these emotions with a therapist. Our family regularly takes visits to discuss how we are doing individually and collectively. Initiating these meeting while the problems are small has been crucial for us.