Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance - James 1:2 - 3
Trials. We all experience them. Hard times which we would prefer not to have happened. Whether it is something in our personal or professional life; a loss of a family member or just something unexpected; unpleasant and difficult experiences are a part of life. And most of times, that is all they are - an unpleasant, difficult experience that we go through and come out the other end. They leave a mark, but it's comparable to a cut which eventually scabs over and heals; maybe leaving a faint scar.
But sometimes these events are more. For some, our current situation is like this. We have had the initial shock and panic caused by the recent outbreak and lockdown; and now we are just living with this scary, distressing situation. People have lost work and therefore income; been told family and friends are close contacts of COVID cases - or in some cases been diagnosed with COVID. Lives have been lost in the past 6 weeks and, frustratingly, although the numbers do not appear to be increasing exponentially, infections in the community remain high.
As we talked about last week, it is situations like this that our Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in. Our body starts producing adrenaline to help us cope with the stress and we start focusing on identifying and managing the threat. We become alert and blood starts pumping faster around our body (including into our brain) so we can more faster, react quickly and survive. And while our body is working automatically to protect us from the threat; our brain is also working quickly to process information and learn from the experiences.
The brain is one of the most powerful organs in our body. It is capable to doing multiple tasks concurrently, including ones that you aren't aware it is doing (e.g. digesting food, keeping your heart beating). It takes all the information your senses receive, analyses and synthesises them to help you understand and interpret the world. Our brain also has the amazing, unique, capacity to become aware and reflect on their own thought process- a concept known as "meta cognition" - creating an inner dialogue which can help or hinder our ability to cope with stressful situations.
Unfortunately, often in stressful situations our inner dialogue or "self talk", although attempting to help us, inadvertently makes things worse. Because we feel threatened or in danger, our brain focuses on, and sometimes magnifies, the risk to help prevent it from occurring. As we become more aware and focused on these risks, we often start feeling overwhelmed and have thoughts such as "I can't cope" or "Things are never going to change". Which then means we magnify the risk even more, leading us to feel even more overwhelmed, anxious and scared. Ultimately, this pattern creates a never ending, distressing, cycle. All of which is based on our thoughts and perceptions of the world.
However, in the sermon this week (see HERE if you haven't watched it), Richard referenced James 1:2 -4. Richard explained how James encourages us to have a different perspective (and therefore inner dialogue) towards these trials; focusing on the opportunity rather than the cost involved.
From a psychological perspective, this involves firstly taking a massive step back. You see, ultimately our inner dialogue has no influence on the real world. Your mind constantly has ideas that you chose not to act on; whether it is not having that second glass of wine, or deciding to go to work when you are tired - you chose whether to listen to it or not. Once you recognise that the inner dialogue is simply a thought, you can decide whether to listen to it or not. For example, when I start worrying about what could happen to my family if they get COVID; I can take a (metaphorical) step back, and then say to myself "Ashleigh, that is your anxiety talking. You do not need to listen to it". And then I focus on something else.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” - Isaiah 41:10
And the best thing is that God has given you something else to focus on. In times like this, when often our thoughts are unhelpful and focused on the situation, redirecting our thoughts to what God says and commands is a great way to help us feel better. If worrying about my family's safety makes me feel scared, thinking about the power and love of God makes me feel safe.
So, today I want to finish up with some verses. Verses that can remind us of God’s power, of how he is in control and that during this time we are not alone. And I encourage you, during the week when you start to notice that your self talk isn't helping you, take a step back, tell yourself it isn't a helpful thought and then remind yourself of one of these verses. And hopefully, that will help you calm down and feel safer.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” - Psalm 23:4
“Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” - John 14:27
“The Lord be with you all.” - 2 Thessalonians 3:16
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” - Psalm 55:22
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” - Matthew 11:29
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” - Proverbs 3:5
“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” - Exodus 14:14
As always, God bless and stay safe.
- Written by Ashleigh Crosilla.