It’s funny how quickly four walls can become oppressive. How suddenly friends and family can become risks rather than sources of comfort. How our routines, our structure, can suddenly be forced to change for reasons out of our control. Our safe world (again) has turned into a dangerous place to be. And during these times, we often start searching for places or people to support and comfort us.
"The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" - Psalms 18:2
How many times have you read or heard someone tell you to seek God in times of stress. To read the bible, pray or worship him. While this is vital and I cannot stress hard enough the importance and truth of turning to God first and foremost in all aspects of your life; I firmly believe that seeking and turning to God is not this isolated, spiritual action. God does not just act in this miraculous, solve your problems, give you a spiritual hug way. God acts within this world, providing and using the resources that exist.
Have you ever heard the story about the Drowning Man (see HERE)? It describes a man who is drowning and is approached by three men to help him. Each time he rejects them, claiming God will save him. Unfortunately, the man ends up drowning and in heaven, approaches God asking why he did not save him. God replies "I sent you three men to save you, what else could I possibly do for you?" We read the bible and see stories of Burning Bushes (Exodus 3:1 -2), Pillars of Clouds and Fire (Exodus 13:21-22); Jesus healing the sick (Matthew 8:16) and raising the dead (John 11:1 -44) and while we want that to happen for us; unfortunately most of the time God works with the tools he has already placed in the world.
And right now, that's science. Science is what God is using to create a way for us to live safely in this world - whether it is physically, or mentally. Now I am not going to start discussing vaccines and whether we should or should not be taking them as I am not a medical professional. But what I can talk to you about is what science has told us about stressful situations and their impact on how body and mental health.
Physically, our bodies are this amazing thing. The way different the different parts of our bodies work, how powerful our brain is and how we are "wired" to protect ourselves is amazing. From birth, our body tells us when we are hungry, tired or need the bathroom; we breathe automatically and we can react to dangerous things without thought. And this reaction is due to the interaction between our senses (which obtain information about the world) and our brain (which interprets that information in a multitude of ways) through the Automatic Nervous System.
The Automatic Nervous System regulates involuntary responses including heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. And there are two pathways - one which activates or increases these responses (The Sympathetic Nervous System) which is what is triggered when we feel threatened or unsafe - our Fight or Flight Response; and one which deactivates or reduces these responses (The Parasympathetic Nervous System). Right now, my Sympathetic Nervous System is on high alert, flooding my body with adrenaline which increases my heart rate, gets my blood pumping and keeps me hypervigilant. And when you are getting chased by a lion, you really want that.
But, long term, this isn't helpful and ultimately can result in our body shutting down entirely (the Parasympathetic Nervous System kicking in to the extreme or Freeze Response). Instead, while we want to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System; we want to do that in a healthy way to bring our body down to a calmer, more regulated place. And that is where self care and social engagement become extremely important.
“For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,” - Ephesians 5:29
When we are in danger, taking self care and having a chat with someone is the last thing we want to do. Which is why in these times it is the most vital thing we can do - and in some ways, how turning to God actually effects us physically.
Self care is about meeting your physical and emotional needs. It communicates to the body you are safe and important. How?
Well firstly, we have physical bodies with physical needs. Just like a car, we need fuel (healthy food and drink), we need to be used (do some exercise) and we need rest (sleep). When you don't care for your car it ends up breaking and the same applies for us.
Secondly, we need to relax. When we are scared, we breathe shallowly to get lots of oxygen in, so deep, belly, breathing naturally calms the body down. There are plenty of online guides for breathing exercises (I recommend THIS one); or try some slow exercise such as yoga, Pilates or stretching.
Thirdly, connect with someone. Social connection activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System. Being around people (even online) communicates safety and companionship. So, arrange an online chat or call someone. Come to online church and say hi in the chat boxes. We have life groups running multiple times per week - so come say hi.
And finally, connect with God. God is real and talking to God or reading the bible is the same as talking to a friend or family member. Open up to him about how you are feeling and watch as being close to him calms you down.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” - Psalm 55:22
Know that you are not alone right now. Whatever you are experiencing - whether it is financial stress, social isolation, having to be out in this community; there are multiple physical and spiritual tools available to help. And if you need more - seek them. Talk to your doctor about additional supports; turn to your Life Group leader or have a chat to Rob or myself.
God bless and stay safe.
- Written by Ashleigh Crosilla.