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Fight or Flight

How to cope in tough times like these.

I think it was when all the sports leagues shut down.

That’s the answer to the question I’ve been turning over in my mind the last day or so. When did coronavirus go from far-off curiosity to immediate concern for most Americans?

As close as I can tell, it happened this Thursday, when every major sport save UFC and NASCAR (and WWE, but that’s really more sports entertainment) abruptly canceled or suspended all play. That’s unprecedented, except maybe in wartime.

Then suddenly, when I went to the grocery store on Friday, nearly all the frozen meat was gone. Toilet paper and bottled water too. And bananas, for some reason. I strolled through the store buying my usual weekly purchases with a dumbfounded smile on my face. Several people shared my expression, shaking their heads. At some point you have to laugh.

This wasn’t thought-out, intentional consideration of what one might need should the worst happen. This was panicked herd behavior.

And I have to admit, my smile turned to worry. What if the worst happens? What if I have to self-quarantine? What if restaurants stop making food? What if grocery stores run out of food? What if someone I know gets infected? What if I get infected? What if [insert rampant speculation here]?

And here’s the way my mind works: I instantly began to believe that all of those things were probably going to happen. Murphy’s Law will run amok, the contagion of panic and sickness rampaging across our land, as we sit helpless to stop it. Time to retreat into aloneness, waiting in trepidation for the walls to close in.

Right?

If you’re reading this right now, maybe you’ve felt some twinge of that fear the last few days too, in some form or fashion. Maybe not that strong. Maybe worse. I know I have. It can be tempting to just sit and stew in stress.

But you don’t have to.


You know, humans are wondrous, fascinating beings. Made in the image of God. Fashioned meticulously and beautifully. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

That’s you. That’s me. That’s us.

We were made with an incredible instinct that kicks in whenever we’re confronted by something we recognize as dangerous. Scientists call it the “fight-or-flight response.” Your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, and your body floods with adrenaline. You’re ready to respond.

But sometimes, this system activates when danger isn’t exactly immediate, or can’t be physically avoided. That anxiety can be troublesome, even debilitating.

Can be. Doesn’t have to be.

Here’s how you can channel all those nerves you might be feeling. First off…

Fight.

Right now, the statistical likelihood that you’ll get COVID-19 is low. Very low. Based on our best numbers, under 3,000 people in a nation of almost 330 million have provably contracted this disease so far.

If you do get sick, no matter your age group, the odds are exceptionally good that you’ll be asymptomatic or have a mild case. Even if you have a severe case, given our nation’s exceptional medical care, you’re still unlikely to die. And let’s say that worst case scenario comes to pass. Well, not to be glib, but you were going to die sometime anyway. And if you’re a Christian, death’s not the end, it’s just the beginning.

And beyond the statistics, we serve a great Creator God who loves us. He holds this world together, even in times like these. He is firmly, unshakably, eternally in control.

So when God tells Joshua to “be strong and courageous,” it’s not some throwaway line. It’s the most powerful being in the Universe telling you that in times of trouble, he’s on your side.

Make up your mind, right now, that you will not let this virus beat you, mentally or physically. Believe that you can, and will, get through this tough time. Think positively. See the upside. God is with you.

There’s nothing like some good old-fashioned gumption to stiffen your spine and give you confidence. And with that confidence, act:

  • Get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after touching dirty surfaces or something someone else has touched.
  • Disinfect surfaces in your home, car, and workspace regularly.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, whether at home or outdoors.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • If you’re at low risk of severe illness, help those who are at high risk – people over 60 or with underlying health conditions.

Do what you must to stay safe, and don’t be afraid. Choose courage, and have faith. And once that’s done…

Flee.

I don’t really love the word “flee,” because it implies surrender and panic. But it does provide a good picture of another devastating strategy you should adopt against coronavirus.

You’ve heard the phrase “social distancing” a lot lately, I bet. And you’ve probably gotten a lot of conflicting, wide-ranging views on what that means. The Atlantic has probably the best explainer out there, but in short:

  • Avoid going where you know there will be a lot of people, especially in an enclosed area.
  • If you gather in a group with other people, stay a few feet away from them at all times, and try to avoid physical contact.
  • If you are around other people, don’t get within about eight feet (the distance a cough can travel) of someone who seems sick.
  • If you feel sick, go home and stay there, unless you need to go to the hospital.

We know for a fact that social distancing works to slow the spread of this virus. It’s especially done wonders in China and South Korea.

So when I say “flee,” I mean minimize the amount of people you physically encounter.

But hear me clearly: Social distancing does not mean social isolation.

We need each other, now more than ever. Find ways to stay in touch with people you care about. Calling, texting, emailing, even tweeting – all valid options. And certainly the safest options.

But at this point, I think it’s OK to be around small groups of other people. Just keep some consistent, sizable physical distance for a while while you’re with others, until this blows over. And it will.

But neither fighting nor fleeing are complete without a third facet of our response to danger, one that’s rarely talked about. That’s…

Rest.

You can’t control everything. Neither can I. Only God can.

Fighting and fleeing are excellent ways to engage with danger, to minimize its chances of landing a hit on you. But a danger like coronavirus can’t be fully eliminated, not right now.

Whatever danger’s left won’t be staved off by more worry or panic. It needs to be accepted.

For a while, this state of things is the new normal. The more people adopt the fight-or-flight strategies above, the better off we’ll be, and the sooner we can get coronavirus under control.

So watch something funny. Play with your dog. Love on your kids. Tidy up your house. Read that book you’re been trying to finish for years. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed.

Be smart. Trust God. Don’t fear. Fight, flee, and rest.

And feel free to follow me on Twitter. I’m sure I’ll be posting there a little more now.

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