Celebrating God’s presence this Christmas

5 tips for reducing anxiety 

From wars to climate disasters and slower-than-expected economic recovery post-pandemic, 2023 has been a challenging year. As we navigate through these world events and ponder their impact on our lives, Christmas approaches. How do we embrace the impending festivities – the dinners, the church plays, the festive decorations – when the world around us seems to be crumbling? How do we express gratitude for salvation when death and destruction constantly play out on our screens? 

“This year has brought a multitude of stressors,” notes Virgo Handojo, a psychology professor at California Baptist University and pastor of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia (JKI) Anugerah in California, United States. “Stressors can be perceived as threats, neutral events or opportunities for growth – a challenge. They become overwhelming when viewed as threats to our existence, causing us to lose perspective on what truly matters.” 

To alleviate the anxiety caused by stressors, Handojo shares five tips: 

1. Distinguish between what we can and cannot control, then formulate actionable items.

Prioritize and make changes to the things you can control, while adjusting expectations for factors beyond your control. Although halting climate disasters may be beyond our reach, making a positive impact on our microenvironment – our households, neighbourhoods or even contacting elected officials – is within our grasp. 

2. Establish a routine.

Uncertainty adds stress and can lead to anxiety. Developing regular patterns – such as consistent mealtimes, regular work or school schedules, daily exercise with the same group, family prayer times and weekly Bible study – helps regain a sense of control. 

3. Specify the stressors.  

Anxiety stems from irrational thoughts; an anticipation that lacks clarity, specificity and reality makes it overwhelming. By assigning a name to the stressor, such as identifying a concreate aspect of a macroeconomic condition (e.g., an increase in interest rates), we can begin to strategize and find solutions. 

4. Turn down the volume of the world.  

This may involve turning off the TV, taking a social media break, or setting boundaries with individuals who contribute to your worries – at least until you’ve developed better coping mechanisms. Be in touch with your inner thoughts, here and now.  

5. Seek help.  

Talking to a trusted individual can be immensely helpful. Simply being heard may reassure us that we are not alone. If sharing burdens among friends doesn’t provide relief, it’s an indication that professional help may be necessary to prevent anxiety from taking over our lives and joy.  

“Living in this world means experiencing both positive and negative emotions,” says Virgo Handojo. “We will not know happiness without having experienced sadness, or comfort without pain. What we must remember is that we can surrender our minds and thoughts to God’s hand, trusting that God is in control.”  

“We also have promises that God knows our needs, will take care of them and will be with us in both good and bad days. Matthew 6:25-34, which addresses worry and anxiety, emphasizes seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, with the assurance that all other things will be provided as well.” 

God’s presence and guidance, in both good and bad times, are the heavenly gifts for which we can be thankful for this Christmas.