COVID-19 is exhausting.
I’m not physically affected (as yet) but like so many others, I’m feeling the strain.
The strain, stress and paralysis from the constant stream of media updates and broadcasts; the discussions and chats with colleagues, friends or strangers; emails from ‘random’ companies and organisations that want to reassure me that they’re doing everything they can; my tiring attempts at getting a single box of tissues (finally, after four stores); the paranoia when someone simply coughs because they have something stuck in their throat; the increasing news of small businesses collapsing and people losing their jobs; my temperature being taken at the local doctors’ clinic because I need some totally unrelated blood tests; or the conspiracies and debates on whether COVID-19 is serious or even exists …
This underlying pressure and buzzing is making my head spin.
I try not to let it get to me but COVID-19 is hard to avoid.
I am also acutely aware that I’m extremely fortunate.
I neither need to worry about my job nor about falling into a deep financial hole within the next month or two. I don’t have to feed five kids or stand in line at Centrelink, hoping to register for financial support. I don’t have sleepless nights because my business is about to collapse or because I worry about how to pay the mortgage.
My fears are for my family.
And a handful of friends who suffer from auto-immune diseases and weakened immune systems.
In Australia, the number of cases is on a steep upwards trajectory, and our borders have effectively been closed to the outside world (and as of tomorrow, Queensland has also sealed itself off from the other states).
If I ponder the external border closure too much, I start to freak out as the one real worry I have is for my family who are far away in Europe. And with international flights to and from Australia coming to a halt in a few days, I’ll effectively be cut off from them.
It’s been my choice to live in Australia but I’ve never found myself confronted with my decision in such stark terms.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO PAUSE
It’s a strange situation we’re finding ourselves in right now, especially for those of us in Western societies where we’re used to having choices, being on the go, and being able to do whatever we want.
Now, much of life as we’ve known it has come to a halt. We’re being told what we can and can’t do. It’s not something I thought was even vaguely possible – just like that.
And so, perhaps because life with all its certainties seems to have evaporated for now and life is no longer simply continuing as it was, I find myself presented with the rare opportunity to pause, to reflect, to take a step back.
COVID-19 and the ensuing restrictions in most Western countries are a dramatic shock to our systems, our ideals and perceived rights of individualism and the notion that we control our lives. I’m sure most of us would not have seriously contemplated such a threat could happen in our lifetime.
The uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought has opened up an abyss where fear can freely reign.
I’m also tempted to give into my fears and worries over this crisis but I’m even more determined that giving myself space (physically, emotionally, mentally), leaning into my faith, and using this crazy forced time for stillness is ultimately the better course.
I’ve had two years of dealing with intense anxiety and panic so in some ways I feel a little more prepared for how to keep (or at least limit) my mind from entering into catastrophe thinking and buying crazy amounts of toilet paper (which everyone I know seems to think is insane, so who exactly has been buying all this toilet paper?!).
I’m also fairly far on the introvert spectrum so the thought of staying isolated at home doesn’t freak me out nearly as much as it does perhaps others.
LEANING INTO MY FAITH IN CHRIST
That being said, without my faith in Christ, I would have a much harder time staying calm. I probably would have stuck my head in the sand weeks ago, and pretended none of this was really happening.
Or I would be having sleepless nights from all the stress and dire media reports.
In fact, I read a newspaper article the other day that likened COVID-19 to nature paying us back as punishment for all our misdeeds, and I found that an incredibly depressing thought.
I can actually relate to that, albeit depressing, thought, but it’s not a thought I want to entertain. I clearly remember the days when I had no concept of God, and the meaning of life seemed sort of vacuous. What else is there but nature if God doesn’t exist?
Following Jesus has been a journey, and I’m far from “getting it right” but what I do get is comfort, encouragement and hope from God’s Word, especially in times such as these. I find reminders in the Scriptures not to be afraid but to stand strong.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5
Especially the second verse speaks to me because, yep, I’m particularly prone to leaning on my own knowledge, my understanding (= thoughts), my ‘wisdom’, and working things out for myself. That’s almost a given when you grow up in Western society.
But the problem is that my own thoughts, if not kept in check, lead me to anxiety more than anything else.
God’s promises, on the other hand, lead me to reassurance, to peace, to trust in Him, and that good will come out of this situation no matter how strange and unlikely that might seem.
The promises and reminders don’t always sink in as quickly as I want though. But what I’ve learned over the years is that if I return to the Word of God again and again, the truth will eventually seep into my brain and shape my thoughts.
Taking my thoughts captive and not letting them run wild takes a lot of practice. And that’s exactly why taking time out to pray, to sit quietly and think upon God’s Word is vital, helps ground me, restore me, and brings me peace.
I’m not in control but I have placed my faith in the one who ultimately is.
LIMITING THE NEWS
Taking breaks from the whirring news cycle is like taking a breath of fresh air.
I’m “a bit” of a news junkie, which is weird because I also tune out of a lot of news because I can’t bear hearing horrid stories. When I watch the news, it’s basically a game of mute-unmute…
With COVID-19, I haven’t just been following one or two news outlets in the last few weeks but four or five, sometimes even more. And not just a little bit every day but constantly. And in turn, making myself go a little more insane each day.
So, now I’m actively trying to limit myself from consuming news content all day or getting sucked into endlessly scrolling through social media feeds.
It’s really hard for me but I’m trying hard to resist the temptation and only tune in for short chunks at a time, and definitely not before bed.
I need happy stories and uplifting thoughts to sleep, not panic and looming disaster.
At this stage, we’re not in total lockdown in Australia.
Our movements have been restricted, external and internal borders have closed or are about to close, a number of businesses have had to shut their doors, and many people are now working from home.
My gym has closed and any thoughts of doing an overnight hike over Easter have had to be abandoned.
So instead I sit at home even more than usual. Which is just about the worst thing for me given my long-term muscular pain, overactive nervous system, and the still lingering effects from last year’s Ross River Fever infection.
For the moment, I’ve decided that it’s important for me to continue going outside. Just for my mental health and to keep myself somewhat mobile.
Being outside helps me to breathe, to let the wind blow my anxious thoughts and stress away (especially after a busy day in the classroom), and just to realise that life has a bigger purpose than what my mind sees.
I have the luxury of living in a beautiful place with the beach and parks close by, all of which are usually packed. Now, the parks seem relatively empty and the playgrounds quiet. In an odd way, I find that quite soothing, and maybe that’s just because the world has finally quietened down a bit.
And while there’s been an outcry on social media and the news that people aren’t following the Government’s guidelines on social distancing, there’s been a lot of ‘wide berthing’ every time I’ve gone out for a walk over the last few days.
So if you can, keep going outside for a short walk, even if it’s just a walk around the block. Your mind and body will thank you, I’m sure. (Just keep your distance and practise smiling at people from afar… 🙂 )