How are you today?
No, how are you really?
Don’t just smile and say, “I’m fine.” I mean, it’s great if you are, but, honestly, I think many of us are struggling in different ways right now.
Of course we’ve tried to make the best of it. We’ve tried to stay positive. We’ve tried to trust in God… Sometimes we’ve even managed.
We’ve kept on working, or we’ve adapted to being on furlough. We’ve taken on homeschooling or we’ve adjusted to isolation. We’ve gone without seeing friends and family and we’ve gathered for church on Zoom.
Over the last few weeks we’ve begun to take tentative steps towards this strange parallel existence referred to as the “new normal” and we’ve tried to find ways to make it work… but there’s nothing very normal about a world of social distancing and masks and obsessive hand sanitising.
Our normal lives have been put on hold with no real certainty about when many of the things we long for will be able to restart.
And in our attempts to put a brave face on it, to keep going, to keep smiling, I wonder how many of us have simply pushed our emotions down and buried them deep inside.
Sometimes you only realise when you stop.
As part of a writing seminar I particpated in a few weeks ago, we were invited to reflect on our experience of the pandemic and of lockdown over the last few months – how it had affected our writing and how it had impacted us.
I knew all too well the effect it had had on my writing, but as I stopped to reflect on the wider impact, I was surprised.
Until then I would have believed it when I told you I was fine. Obviously there have been challenges over the last few months, and this is not how I wanted this year to turn out, but I’ve been coping. No-one close to me has been seriously ill with the virus and my work situation is relatively secure. I knew there were many people far, far worse off than me.
What I hadn’t recognised until I stopped to think was the level of anxiety bubbling away beneath the surface. I realised that I wasn’t fine with the uncertainty, that I was struggling with the lack of control, that the anxiety that has become “normal” to me isn’t really normal at all.
Why am I sharing this?
Because I have a feeling that it’s not just me.
I think many of us respond in the same way – to the pandemic or to other challenges we face.
We grin and bear it. We grit our teeth and persevere. We push through the pain and keep on going, pushing our feelings down or failing to acknowledge them at all.
And it’s not healthy.
Yes, there are probably others who have it worse, and yes, we all face challenges in life and we are called to persevere, but we are not called to deny what we feel.
And actually pausing to recognise it is the first step to dealing with it.
Since I discovered how anxious I’ve been, I’ve been able to find things that help:
- Praying about it (not rocket science, I know, but actually recognising it and naming it before God is important)
- Talking about it with others (it’s not something we need to carry alone)
- Taking practical steps to guard against the things that are causing us anxiety (like limiting the amount of time we spend watching or reading news reports)
- Turning our focus to something more helpful (like reading the Bible or praying or listing the blessings we have instead of getting caught up in our worries)
- Being proactive about doing things that help us relax (listening to music, going for a walk, taking a bath, watching a comedy programme… whatever works for you)
A book I’ve found helpful over the last few weeks is “Anxious For Nothing” by Max Lucado.
In it, he focusses on Paul’s words in Philippians 4:4-8, and he identifies four steps to lead to CALM:
C- celebrate God’s goodness
A- ask God for help
L – leave your concerns with him
M – meditate on good things
There are two or three chapters based on each of these steps digging deeper into what it looks like in practical terms and I found several helpful insights.
I’ll share a few of my favourite quotes:
- “Anxiety is not a sin; it is an emotion. (So don’t be anxious about feeling anxious.)”
- “The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional.”
- “Isolation creates a downward cycle of fret. Choose instead to be the person who clutches the presence of God with both hands.”
- “The path to peace is paved with prayer. Less consternation, more supplication. Fewer anxious thoughts, more prayer-filled thoughts.”
What about you? How have you been over the last few months? And what helps you when you feel anxious?