A second health care worker in Texas is diagnosed with Ebola. ISIS allegedly has control of chemical weapons. Border security agents are struggling to maintain enough manpower to contain the influx of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Is it any wonder that worry is permeating our society as never before?
The harmful effects of anxiety are well known to the medical community. In the U.S. alone, 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders. When our bodies are under stress, our nervous system responds with a reaction known as “fight or flight.”
There are times when this physiological reaction is a healthy defense mechanism, such as when a person feels threatened by imminent danger. This reaction tells us when to move out of an unsafe part of town, or it incites us to run when spotting a poisonous snake on the ground. We were born with this important trigger to help protect us from threats.
However, the fight or flight response was never intended to be an ongoing reaction to our problems. Indeed, chronic worry and emotional stress breed terrible health problems. Continuous fight or flight responses cause our body’s nervous system to release stress hormones such as cortisol, which can boost blood sugar levels and triglycerides. These hormones cause harmful reactions such as dizziness, increased heartbeat, fatigue, insomnia and headaches. Needless to say, the long-term effects can be devastating, including suppression of the immune system, digestive disorders and heart disease. In other words, it’s not stress that’s making us ill. It’s our response to stress that is killing us.
I wish I could say that worry and anxiety stopped at the door of our sanctuaries. But we all know that’s not true. If anything, many people of faith are fretting more than ever. Entire websites are dedicated to disaster preparedness and to tracking events around the globe linked to end-times prophecy. As a Christian, I have studied these prophecies and believe them. But I don’t think this is a time for panic, worrying or fear.
Rather, I’m reminded that one of the most popular commands found in the Bible is “Fear not.” It’s found in almost every one of the books of both the Old and New Testament. Fear Not. I’ll never leave you. Fear Not. I believe these words. Through my hardest trials I’ve experienced them to be true. I know it won’t be different now.
There is no question that we should be concerned about our society. We cannot pretend that Ebola is not here, or live as if nothing bad will ever happen. We are not immune from terrible harm or unspeakable evil. We’ve seen it. We know it. We should certainly be vigilant, but we should not allow our spirits to be on constant fight or flight mode. Either we believe that God is in control … or we don’t.
I’m speaking with the authority of a recovering worrier. I’ve experienced firsthand the bitter effects of worry and anxiety. I don’t want to tread that ground again. What I’ve learned is that worry is a choice. Therefore I deliberately choose to turn off the fight or flight mode for things that I cannot control. I choose to turn to God instead, for direction, protection and peace. I choose to pray and trust. I choose to Fear Not.