Finding Peace in the midst of a National Anxiety

I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard one commentator refer to our current situation as a moment of “national anxiety.”

I really resonated with this as everyone I know, including myself, is dealing with an immense amount of stress and anxiety about our health, our jobs, our families, our future.

I am a person of routine. In any given day, I have to make a lot of decisions about a lot of different things, so I have found that establishing a high level of routine allows me to not think about those things – it frees my mental capacity for other decisions in my day. But now…all my routines are gone. Poof. Like a street magician who just made my watch disappear.

My kids are homeschooled, gym is closed, work from home, can’t get a haircut…on and on. And then, on top of that, I’m faced with situations that I’ve never been in before and that is causing my brain to freak out. This is what the brain does – the brain always seeks the known, because the known is safe. Our brain can relax if it knows something is safe. On the flip side, our brains are afraid of what our brains don’t know. So, when we face a new experience or a new situation – our brain’s first reaction is fear. This is not a bad thing, it’s a protective mechanism of survival. But we do need to understand what’s going on.

If we’ve never walked a certain trail before and don’t know what lies ahead – our brain wants to try to protect us by sending our bodies into “full alert mode”, which means sending stress hormones all throughout our bodies in case we need to react quickly to save our lives. But once a trail has become familiar to us, we are no longer afraid – our brains know what’s coming.

And wow…there are a lot of unknowns right now. My brain is freaking out. And thus, sending all those stress hormones to my body. Sorry brain, you are not helping right now…

Our lives have been thrown out of balance, we are faced with an uncertain future, we are worried about our health and the health of our family and friends, our routines have been upended, and we are facing a bunch of new situations we’ve never experienced before.

Anxiety, stress, fear…this is really hard.

For me, I’ve been trying to put in some daily steps to help ease my own anxiety and find a bit of peace in each day. Here’s are some steps that have been helpful for me:

  1. Remind myself that I’m new at this

I have found a lot of relief in just acknowledging to myself that this is an unprecedented time, I have every right to be stressed, I’m facing situations that I’ve never faced before and I’m genuinely trying to do my best. I realize that I won’t always make the best decisions every time, that no one possibly can – that I’m being asked to take on roles I was not prepared or trained for and that everyone around me is in my same situation. This is truly unprecedented, and we are all figuring it out on the fly. Nobody is asking me to be perfect in this moment, or even be great – it’s enough just to show up…and sometimes to take a break and retreat for a minute to regroup.

2. Remember that this is hard for those around me too

Everything I just felt about myself, I need to remember that my friends and family are feeling the same thing too and they are doing the best they can. Remember to give grace, to give space (both figuratively and literally), and offer encouragement instead of criticism. What would I want them to say to me right now? Well…that’s what I need to be saying to them. We are all in this together.

3. Every day I need to take 5 minutes and meditate

This looks different for everyone but for me – just taking 5 minutes to take some deep breaths as I visualize the love of God covering me in light and goodness, focusing on each breath…in…out…in…out…and saying a little prayer during that time. Maybe praying through a Psalm or just asking God to give me peace, to help me cope, to react out of love instead of fear and stress. This is so key for me. I also like to take a moment to pace as I pray. I often have so much emotional energy and I’m always moving so I like to pace back and forth as I take deep breaths and pray for a bit. This seems to re-center me and in some senses, resets my mind – allowing my mind to once again focus on the good instead of all the problems.

4. Pray for others

Because of all this, I have a tendency to begin to only focus on myself and my family’s immediate needs and I realize this is not healthy or what I’m called to be in this moment. So every day as I pray I ask God to bring to my mind a few people that I can be in prayer for – and as those people come to my mind, I pray for them. Simple prayers like, “God, would you give them comfort in these days, fill their minds and hearts with love, remind them that they are loved and are enough, ease their stress and give them joy…” But my prayer shouldn’t end there – I then try to reach out to them in the day to check in, give them some encouragement, and ask if they need anything. Maybe we can be the answer to our prayer. For me, getting outside of myself and reaching out puts things in perspective, fills my heart with love, and builds new though patterns that focus on love for others.

5. Develop new routines

Losing our routines is stressful. But I have found that I can begin to combat this stress with developing new routines. Since the unknown causes our brains to fear, let’s turn the unknown into a known. Here’s what I’ve been doing…

I write out the routines that I have lost and the situations that are causing me stress. Then, beside each one I write out a new routine to replace the old routine. I can’t go the gym anymore, so I downloaded a workout app and replace my gym time with a home workout time. No, it’s not the same – but that’s ok. I also have given myself the freedom to not have to figure everything out at once. There are some situations and routines, like homeschooling our children, that I haven’t figured out. So, beside that one I write, TBD – and I’ll give it a few days. Maybe in a few days I’ll be in a better place, have more information, and be able to figure it out…but for right now…I’m ok with not figuring it out. Run wild children!

Then, I remind myself once again that this is hard, that I’m not expected to figure everything out all at once, and I’m doing ok. But I also try to celebrate the small wins!

I don’t know if this will be helpful for you – but for me, it has helped to ease some of my anxiety and build in moments of peace in my day.

Either way – hear this: You are doing great. Nobody has ever faced a situation like this before. You are loved. You are enough. And we’ll get through this…together (just with a bit of distance between us).

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