Fighting FEAR: something more infectious than COVID-19 ⇔
March 2020. wp.krigline.com ⇔
A previously unknown disease, COVID-19, has entered our daily vocabulary. Now we live our lives in its shadows. While COVID-19 has taken center stage, an ancient and more infectious disease is raising its ugly head. That disease is panic or irrational fear.
The English word panic has its roots in the Greek god Pan. The Greeks attributed unusual forest sounds to Pan. He was believed to be very mischievous and playful as the god of forests, animals, and nature in general. Noises in the woods produced frightful emotions that the Greeks called panic-fear.
COVID-19 is also making “noises in the woods”; we tend to fear what we can’t see or predict, and this mischievous virus is even spread by people who don’t know they have it. We fear catching it, dying from it, and spreading it to those we love. Pan would love our over-reaction.
Yes, we need to have a healthy fear of COVID-19 and to take prudent steps in preventing its spread. You can find many websites that deal with this. But panic-fear creates what it fears. The skier falls as soon as he begins to be afraid of falling. Fear of war can lead a nation to adopt measures that unleash war. The panic that is generated by COVID-19 can weaken us emotionally and physically, even weakening our immune system to make us more susceptible to this dreaded disease. So, how do we keep that from happening?
Face Our Fears
We must deal with COVID-19 and fear at the same time. The best way to deal with fear is to face it, understand what causes it and then deal with it rationally. The fact is that (according to www.cdc.gov, Mar2020) “for most people, the immediate risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low.” Of course, this depends on where you live, your age/race/overall health/etc. Elderly people with comorbidities* (such as high blood pressure and obesity) need to take extra precautions, and the death of even one loved-one is “one death too many.”
Unbiased facts about this politicized illness can be difficult to find, but the chance of catching COVID-19 is relatively small (1-5% of the US population, and much less in other countries); furthermore, up to 50% of those who catch it won’t even have symptoms, and some 98% of those who catch it survive. Does this mean we should take this virus lightly? No. Wear a mask (mainly to protect others, in case you are asymptomatic), maintain social distance, and protect those most vulnerable in our society. COVID-19 is real and it is having a real impact, but media hype and political accusations can push healthy caution into irrational panic-fear, and the impact of fear is like interest on a debt we do not owe! For most people, side-affects like depression, financial pressure, loneliness, and panic-fear in general will likely cause more harm than the disease itself.
Dealing with Fear
While COVID-19 is known to be transmitted through close personal contact, fear is transmitted through all forms of media, including gossip and email. Only an infected COVID-19 patient can transmit COVID-19 to others. But fear can be transmitted by anyone, sometimes even with the best of intentions. While the authorities have become good at disseminating information on COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread, and we rightfully criticize those who irresponsibly spread this virus, but little has been said about the irresponsibility of those who spread FEAR. As noted above, FEAR does hurt us. So, how do we deal with FEAR?
1) Admit our FEAR and keep moving forward by living our lives “as normally as possible” while taking necessary precautions. Yes, some customs must change (at least for a while), such as shaking hands. Yes, we need to avoid groups of people for a while (esp. so that we don’t unwittingly pass it on to a cancer patient, elderly person, etc.). But it is ridiculous to “stock up” on toilet paper, and hoarding face-masks keeps them from medical professionals who need them. At the same time, it is always a good practice is wash our hands frequently, and insist on this for our children—but this should be done whether or not COVID-19 exists.
2) Accept FEAR as a price of progress. COVID-19 will hit us or it won’t. Caution is one thing, but our fear will not positively change the outcome.
3) Focus on the things you can control, not on the things you cannot.
4) Feed your faith, not your fear. Faith is a rational trust in what’s trustworthy. Every minute of every day, we have a choice to exercise faith or to allow fear to rule our lives. We can feed our fear or we can starve it. The emotion that we continually act upon (i.e., the one we feed), will dominate our lives. Fear will ruin us, but faith will lift us above the crisis we are facing.
Put your trust in what is most trustworthy. As I looked for “facts” about COVID-19, expert after expert contradicted each other, and the most trustworthy sources said things like “we don’t have enough data to know.” Meanwhile, the God who created our universe has proven trustworthy for thousands of years, while the philosophies (and diseases) of humans have come and gone. God loves us so much that He even allows us the freedom to reject His comfort, but this is often the road to fear. You can also question the love and power of God because of an illness, but the Bible shows why this is irrational (for those who care to study it).
First, we have an unseen enemy who wants to kill and destroy—ignoring the devil does not make him ineffective. Our supernatural adversary first makes us feel secure in our pride and progress, that we might later be overwhelmed with fear and despair. Those who underestimate an enemy or pretend he does not exist, do so to their own peril.
Second, we are prone to wander from all that God says is Good, and God sometimes allows trouble to get our attention and/or to turn us around so that He might relieve our fears and comfort us. Like a good parent or coach, God knows that the way to maturity involves falls from which we choose to get up. And God knows that your faith is more precious than gold [1 Peter 1:6-8], or even than your temporary happiness.
When we trust God, our fears will go away. Speaking of the love of Jesus, the Bible tells us that “perfect love casts out fear” [1 John 4:18]. The Bible also promises those who know Jesus that they have not been given “a spirit of fear, but of power, love and discipline” [2 Timothy 1:7].
Finally, the only fear we need to maintain is the fear (or holy reverence) of God. The Bible tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” [Proverbs 9:10]. This is the wisdom that will guide us to live healthy lives, just as Proverbs 10:27 says: “The fear of the Lord prolongs life.”
Discussion and action points:
- Review what the article said about the Greek god Pan. What sorts of things were attributed to him? What do people attribute these things to now?
- What role does “the media” have during a pandemic like SARS or COVID-19? This includes news-media and social-media. What is the media doing well, and what are things the media could do better?
- The article says that to deal with fear you should A-A-F-F (Admit, Accept, Focus and Feed—review that section if needed). Do you agree or disagree? Explain. What would you add to that advice?
- List the reasons that people around you are afraid of COVID-19 (ask them why!). Do some research to find facts that combat these fears. Also find quotes (from the Bible or elsewhere) that help bring balance to these fears. Role-play conversations with friends that use the facts and quotes to reply to fears.
For a more in-depth article, click over to How to Overcome Fear.
*comorbidity: an additional medical condition occurring at the same time as a primary medical condition
 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/share-facts.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fshare-facts.html (March 2020)
 Also see https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/#covid-19-basics
 Also see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/share-facts.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fsymptoms-testing%2Fshare-facts.html
 For more information about Christianity, check out https://peacewithgod.net/
Scriptures quoted on this webpage are primarily from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois: Good News Publishers) 2001; also on line at www.biblegateway.com
©2003 Michael Krigline; revised 2020. For contact info, visit About Us. To make a contribution, see our Website Standards and Use Policy page (under “About Us”). [My titles that start with ↑ point to devotional articles that help us “look up”.]