Simple ways to deal with coronavirus (COVID-19) anxiety

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues its global spread and the number of cases continues to increase, anxiety related to the outbreak is also on the rise. Although feeling anxiety in response to a threat is a normal human reaction, sustained high anxiety can worsen things.

Jesus said to his apostles, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21). God brings peace into our souls; we just have to let him.

Let’s forget about the coronavirus for a few minutes and try to lower the level of stress accumulated during these past few days. The following suggestions can help you deal with coronavirus anxiety and calm yourself.

Connect with your loved ones

Connect with friends and loved ones through video chats, phone calls, texting, and email. It really helps to feel the strength of your connections to your friends and loved ones, even though you may not be with them in person.

Limit social media and news exposure

Anxiety can build from media exposure. Avoid updates that could be feeding your coronavirus anxiety. Pick one or two trusted sources that you’re going to rely on, and check for updates only twice a day. Make sure you make those checks brief. A friend post on social media, which may not even be accurate, can increase your anxiety, and anxiety can essentially be contagious.

Stick with sources of credible medical information, so you can avoid misinformation about the virus and the illness it causes.

Don’t underestimate yourself

Many people fear how they will manage if the virus shows up at home, work or at school. They worry how they would cope with a quarantine, a daycare closure or a lost paycheck. Human minds are good at predicting the worst. However, research shows that people tend to overestimate how badly they’ll be affected by negative events and underestimate how well they’ll cope with and adjust to difficult situations.

Focus on controlling only what you can

Stop trying to control things that are not in your hands. We cannot control how widely the coronavirus outbreak will spread, if our child’s school will close or if an important event will get cancelled. Experts advise people to instead focus in the simple things we can control. These things include taking precautions like washing our hands, staying home when we are sick, and avoiding group gatherings, especially if we have health issues or our immune system is compromised.

Breathe

Engaging in a simple five-minute deep breathing session a few times a day can make a difference. You may have been told in the past to “take a few deep breaths” when you were feeling worried or upset about something. This can be helpful to just slow down and cool off. Breathing deeply can help us manage the anxiety response on a physical, physiological and mental level. It is recommended that people with anxiety practice deliberate breathing for about 3 to 5 minutes during each session at least three times a day. If you’re unsure how to proceed with this, google some techniques.

Exercise

Of course, exercise! If you feel anxious take time to go for a walk or run. The key is to find activities to calm your mind. Find a nice view of some trees or mountains and enjoy a run or even practice your breathing session there.

Pray and hope

Last but not least, remember that God is the one guiding history and we must place our care and anxiety in his hands. He wants to bring his peace into our hearts. And, as we know, prayer is not a simple act of relaxation, but an encounter with a person, with God himself. At the end of the day, he is the source of our joy and being in communion with him is our greatest good.

COMING UP: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.