Anxiety Attack

When COVID hit our family, anxiety hit me.

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.

“I WANT YOU TO KNOW my throat is a little sore,” announced my husband.

We were heading home from another busy Wednesday morning of volunteering at our church’s local Community Services food distribution program.

“Kindly keep that sore throat to yourself,” I joked in reply.

However, it was the beginning of our experience hosting the dreaded COVID-19 illness. Together we weathered headaches, congestion, coughing, lack of energy, extreme tiredness, loss of smell, compromised taste, minimal appetite, fevers, and in general feeling miserable. During our time of isolation and quarantine, we also developed a new appreciation for what must have been the experience of lepers in Bible times—that of being regarded as “unclean and contagious.”

Blessings along the journey of this illness included the appearance of soup, fruit, and juices on our front doorstep and electronic inquiries from friends and family with encouraging messages and assurance of prayers for our recovery.

On Sabbath during the first week of our COVID illness, a crisis arose. I was becoming more and more aware that my husband wasn’t doing well. His respirations were rapid, and he was coughing hard and frequently. His temperature was up and his oxygen saturation levels down. He had no appetite and refused even water. He was pale, lethargic, and stoically convinced there was no problem. My concern and anxiety level intensified as I felt increasingly helpless and afraid.

Anxiety is a normal mental health reaction to a real or imaginary threat. Emotions of worry, uncertainty, and fear of the future are common. The body’s stress-response system is triggered, releasing the hormones cortisol and adrenaline to drive the fight-or-flight response. Blood pressure elevates, heart rate increases, and respirations become rapid and shallow. As time goes on, sleep and appetite disturbances can occur, as well as physical aches and pains. Immune system function decreases. Food can become unappealing. Normal thought processing ability can be compromised, and a decreased interest in the performance of routine daily activities is not uncommon.

Anxiety can in some instances serve us well, such as in studying for a test or preparing a special music piece to present in church. However, prolonged anxiety can lead to chronic conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, etc. Contributors to frequent episodes—or ongoing anxiety disorders in some circumstances—can include genetics (family history), thyroid malfunction, and traumatic life experiences. Even a change in season for some—as in the transition of summer into autumn or autumn
into winter, with the corresponding decrease in daylight hours—can trigger increased levels of cortisol, which drive the related effect of anxiousness and even depression.

Everyone is periodically touched by anxiety to some extent. But in today’s world, levels of anxiousness are elevated and more intense than ever due to unusual and extreme factors. These include:

1. The ongoing invisible presence of a disruptive and dangerous pandemic disease

2. Confusion and stress over changing social mandates for protection against COVID illness

3. Concern and fear for those severely affected by the virus

4. Economic and healthcare uncertainties and challenges

5. Weather and environmental crises and devastation

6. Social unrest and escalating situations of upheaval and violence

7. Challenges to churches, schools, and families attempting to function “normally” during these abnormal times

8. Global disease, disasters, famines, wars, and atrocities

Helpful treatment procedures for chronic anxiety disorders often include counseling, medication therapy, and lifestyle adjustment programs. Most short-term periods of anxiousness are resolved when the stressor is cared for and no longer exists. But how can we keep calm, in control, and “anxious for nothing” when stress and fear threaten to overtake us?

The first step toward maintaining control is to realize that anxiety and stress are normal reactions to challenging situations here on earth. As we take a close look at Philippians 4:6, we find helpful instructions: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (NIV, emphasis added).

Prayer: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22, NIV). We are invited to come to our compassionate heavenly Father in prayer during times of anxiety and fear. He has promised to hear us and give us endurance, strength, and help. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Petition (request): “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). During episodes of anxiety, emotions can run high, and often after we have anxiously asked God for help, we continue to stress over our burdens and worries. “We must earnestly cry to God in faith, feeling or no feeling, and then live our prayers. Our assurance and evidence is God’s Word, and after we have asked we must believe without doubting.”1 “If we would give more expression to our faith . . . we should have more faith and greater joy.”2

Thanksgiving: We are reminded to include expressions of thankfulness in our prayers. God knows that an attitude of gratitude helps cultivate positive feelings, which benefit physical and mental health. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Additional aids in coping with life’s up-and-down experiences can include limiting our exposure to disturbing news reports; faithfully maintaining healthful lifestyle habits of regular sleep, nutritious and timely meals, adequate use of water, and regular exercise (outside in nature, sunshine, and fresh air); keeping connections with family and friends; and spending daily time with the Lord in study and worship.

That Sabbath I turned to God in urgent prayer for wisdom and direction in my anxiousness and fear over my husband’s condition. As I made my requests, I also expressed my faith in God and asked for His help in my determination to “live my prayer.” Expressing thanks, I left all in God’s hands and enjoyed the calmness that settled over me.

A little later our daughter dropped by for a quick check on us. She didn’t say much as I reported her dad’s disturbing symptoms, but after a few minutes she hurried off. About 20 minutes later our son and his wife, both physicians, entered our house with an air of authority, armed with IV fluid supplies and medications. My husband was cared for lovingly and efficiently. The fluids perked him up, and the medications made a wonderful contribution to his ultimate and complete restoration.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23, NIV).

Rebecca Philips, “Quieting Anxiety,” Reader’s Digest, July/August 2021, pp. 91-95.
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, “The Autumn Blues,” Reader’s Digest, September 2021, pp. 52, 54.
Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing, pp. 249-255.

1 Ellen White, Selected Messages, book 2, p. 243, emphasis added.
2 Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 251.

Rae Lee Cooper is a registered nurse. She and her husband, Lowell, have two adult married children and three adorable grandchildren. She spent most of her childhood in the Far East and then worked as a missionary with her husband in India for 16 years. She enjoys music, creative arts, cooking, and reading.