Don’t be afraid. Easier said than done.
Classified as a mass threat, this pandemic has given us plenty to worry about. And now that communities are reopening, a second wave of uncertainty builds as we brace ourselves for whatever comes next.
When I sat down to write this post I didn’t think it would take me an entire week. What started out as a quick tutorial turned into a personal wrestling match that forced me to examine the source of my own fears.
Fear is often pitted against faith as if they were bitter rivals. Christians who struggle with fear and anxiety during this time can easily feel judged, shamed, dismissed or misunderstood by other believers.
But there is nothing wrong with feeling afraid.
Reprimanding someone for being afraid is like telling them it’s not okay to be human. In the face of danger, fear is a normal human response to a perceived threat.
Like pain and anger, fear is critical to your survival. When you feel threatened, fear activates a physiological response that ramps up strength and energy. It is a “motivational state” prompting you to take action in order to mitigate risk and move you out of harm’s way (NIH: Disaster Health).
Though easily interchanged, fear and anxiety are not the same thing.
Fear is our response to a known and external danger. The specific threat is easy to pinpoint and once action is taken the feeling of fear can be alleviated. A global pandemic arouses fear which then motivates you to stay safe at home.
Anxiety is the response to an unknown threat or internal conflict. It’s rooted in uncertainty. When feelings of danger have no identifiable source, the threat is difficult to attack or eliminate. The uncertainty and unpredictability circling this pandemic, rather than the virus itself, is what “highlights a lack of control that contributes to feelings of anxiety and makes coping more difficult” (NIH: Dialogues of Clinical Neuroscience).
When you experience trauma or tragedy firsthand, fear can still linger long after the threat has passed. After experiencing multiple terrifying events, even a perceived or imagined threat can still trigger the same physiological response.
If you live in a chronic state of fear, you will not find any judgment here. My present often triggers my past. I live in a heightened state of alert with elevated stress levels. Anticipating pain, always on the defense. Suspicious and guarded, I’m constantly evaluating my environment for any hint of threat.
The continuous apprehension of danger affects your emotional experience and triggers a series of fear-related behaviors that can either keep you safe or put you more at risk. What you do when you’re afraid has long term effects on your physical and emotional well-being.
How to Cope
If fear is our natural response to danger and threat, then the antidote to fear is safety.
What we really want when we feel scared is the reassurance that all is well; that the threat is gone, we are now safe, and our future is secure. When we feel safe, fear is unnecessary because we are no longer in need of it.
Perhaps this is why fear is directly mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible. God’s people often faced real, life-threatening situations in a world broken by sin and filled with evil. God knows that in this world we will experience pain and trouble; fear is the natural result of our separation from Him (Gen 3). But God goes to great lengths to tell us that in Him we can find peace and that His powerful, attuning presence is what truly makes us safe (John 16:33).
God does not mock or scold people for their fear. The familiar “fear not” verses in the Bible are not God’s reprimand but His reassurance. God always comforts fearful people with Himself. Our fear is no longer needed when we are in the sovereign, safe presence of God who is actively caring for us (Isa 41:10, 1 Pet 5:7, Matt 6:26, 31-32).
God understands that fear and anxiety will be most difficult for those who have been through trauma. He is gentle, patient and active in the healing process (Ps 147:3, Matt 11:28-29). He calms anxiety with His predictable, consistent nature (Heb 13:8). He calms fear with behavior that proves He is powerful, faithful, loving and good. You will never be alone, never forgotten, and never outside of His grasp. All your life God promises to care for and carry you (Is 46:4-5).
You can choose to see fear, not as an enemy, but as an opportunity for faith. Fear provides me with the chance to trust God more. The more I get to know God, the more I trust Him. The more I trust and experience how God cares for me, the greater peace and security I will feel.
When you feel scared and uncertain, here are some steps you can take:
- Recognize that fear is a healthy, survival instinct. It is okay to feel afraid.
- Understand the source of your fear and whether it’s rooted in the past, present or future.
- Observe the way you cope with uncertainty. What situations trigger anxiety for you?
- List any fear-related behaviors you may have. Do they alleviate or reinforce your fear?
- Work with a therapist to decrease any heightened state of alert or posttraumatic stress.
- Try stress-relieving and self-care activities to help decrease your level of fear.
- See fear as an opportunity for faith. Cast your cares on God because He cares for you.
- If you struggle trusting God, ask yourself why? Figure out what is blocking you from depending on Him.
- Explore the Bible to better understand how God cares for you.
Take the time to understand how your own fears and related behaviors are affecting you. When life feels scary or uncertain, learn to trust the One who consistently cares and can keep you safe. God heals our past, is with us in the present and promises us a future filled with hope (Jer 29:11).
If you are currently in a life-threatening situation, please seek help by finding a therapist near you or by calling the crisis hotline toll-free at 800-799-7233 (SAFE).
This post is part of a 10-part series on how to successfully navigate your emotions during a crisis. Check out the other emotions in this series below: