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On-Demand Webinar: Dealing With Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

Conducted by Sharon Hargrave, Executive Director of the Boone Center for the Family, and Dr. Kelly Haer, Director of the Relationship IQ Program at the Boone Center for the Family.

The fourth entry in our five-part "Coming to a Place of Peace" webinar series looked at anxiety — and the damaging effects it can have, particularly in the age of COVID-19.

You can access the full webinar on demand here.

After welcoming the online attendees, speaker Sharon Hargrave, Executive Director of the Boone Center for the Family at Pepperdine University, opened the discussion by examining the difference between anxiety and depression — two emotional states that can often appear quite similar.

"Sometimes it's difficult for people to know 'am I feeling depressed or am I feeling anxious?'" she said. "There are some characteristics; like restlessness or worry, being agitated easily, trouble concentrating, physical complaints — that fit both depression and anxiety."

"But other characteristics fall deeper into the realm of anxiety," she continued. "Things like trembling, increased breathing, high heart rate, sweating...or just a feeling of impending doom or powerlessness. These are really more characteristics of anxiety."

She went on to cite a study on anxiety and depression that the Boone Center for the Family had conducted over the past year in partnership with the Barna Group.

"In answer to the question 'how many of you have significant relationships that are impacted by anxiety or depression,' 40% of US adults said yes, and 34% of practicing Christians said yes." Hargrave said.

But those numbers don't tell the whole story.

"One thing I really want to clarify is when we have an anxious or a depressed person, it also affects the entire family as well," she explained. "So it hits more than just that one person."

To drive home the point, she referenced a quote by renowned Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, in which he says that "anxiety is the main pathology in our society to which our pastors must respond."

In order to underline the cost that anxiety can exact on Christians, she pointed to the promises of Scripture.

'"When we look at both the Old and New Testament, we're promised that we can live in a place of peace," she said. "Christ specifically mentions peace several times. 'Peace I give to you.' Peace is noted in the characteristics of the fruit of the spirit. So if we're living in an anxious state, we're not benefiting from one of the greatest benefits of being a Christian."

The next step Sharon Hargrave discussed was the importance of examining the root causes of anxiety.

"Anxiety typically comes out of a fear reaction," she said. "Fear is typically telling us something that we need to know. If I'm feeling a sense of fear, I need to understand what it is that's causing me to be afraid.

"When we're feeling that anxiousness, that nervousness, that feeling of doom, we need to ask ourselves a major question — what is it I'm afraid of? Because unless we identify what it is that we're afraid of, we can't change the fact that we're feeling anxious."

The exciting part, she says, comes from understanding the power we have to alter those feelings.

"We have power over what we think," she continued. "Curt Thompson, a well known psychiatrist and Christian author, says it this way; 'The mind has power over the brain.' Tim Keller, a New York Times bestselling author and pastor says, "We need to quit listening to ourselves and start talking to ourselves.'"

Bringing these thoughts back to Scripture, she points out, "Romans 12 says 'Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.'"

All of which takes practice, Hargrave noted.

"Now, I've never been a person who exercises," she illustrated the concept through a personal example. "So if I were to wake up tomorrow morning and go down to breakfast and look at my family and say, 'today I'm going to go run a 26 mile marathon,' my family would rightly say 'are you crazy?'"

"They would tell me I need to train, I need to practice, I need to eat right," she continued. "If I'm going to run that marathon, I need to do a lot of things differently. You can't go run a 26 mile marathon without practice and effort. And changing our brains is like running a marathon. We've got to understand that it takes effort and practice to change the way we think."

Bringing the topic back to current events, Hargrave then walked through several specific examples of anxiety, particularly as it relates to COVID-19. Through each, she discussed ways to examine the fear, and outlined ways that faith can help overcome it.

"I think what's really important for those of us that are Christian leaders and also for those of us that are dealing with anxiety or fear is that we accept the reality of what's going on — and that we don't try to dismiss it or say, 'oh, we're going to be okay...God's with us.'"

In pointing out that the New Testament never teaches that we won't have trial or suffering, Hargrave reminded: "But it teaches that Christ will be with us and can bring us peace."

"I think a possible anxious reaction would be to say, 'there's nothing I can do about this. I can't control the economy, I can't control COVID-19,' and just go into a state of just not doing anything," she said. "But there are things we can do that can be helpful. The first would be to embrace that we have the power to change our own responses. We can commit ourselves to not being helpless."

Hargrave also highlighted the importance of prayer, and remaining open to God's presence.

"As a Christian, I think we can pray and ask God for guidance and look for his hand in all situations," Hargrave explained. "I am often aware that when I'm praying for things, I'm more aware of what God is doing in my life. If I'm not praying, if I'm not reading scripture, if I'm not cueing in to God's guidance in my life, I may very well miss the exact thing that he's sending."

"So I think prayer can be a very powerful response as a Christian in this environment."

These points were only part of a much broader discussion of anxiety's nature and impact — which included questions from attendees regarding teens, trusting God, and more. To hear these, and more thoughts, we encourage you to watch the full webinar here.