This has been quite the year.
Devastating fires, flooding, plane crashes, geopolitical sabre-rattling, socio-political deadlocks, confirmation that we’re well behind where we need to be to prevent a climate disaster, and, now a truly global pandemic. And it’s only mid March! It’s no wonder people are feeling stressed. As I walk down the streets every day, it’s almost as though I can feel the anxiety rippling out from passers-by. And, since fear is among the most infectious of the social contagions, it’s hard not to let others’ anxieties compound our own.
It’s times like these that our sacred practices are made for. And so, I thought I’d remind you of a few that are particularly helpful for cultivating calm in anxious times.
- Get the feelings out: In my experience, articulating how I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it is extraordinarily helpful when I’m feeling anxious or afraid. Journaling is a great way to do this. Or, if you’re an oral processor, ask a trusted friend to listen for a set time.
- Put it in perspective: It’s often easier to jump to conclusions or to our worst nightmare scenarios than it is to see things as they are. Taking the opportunity to put things in perspective is a helpful way to turn down the volume on our fears. Some ways to do this are: “The Story I’m Telling Myself is…“, which is an exercise designed to get us our of our heads; and the Three Good Things and Three Hopeful Things practices, which remind us of the blessings in our life.
- Pray: Once we’ve identified our feelings and put our situation into proper perspective, we can offer our cares and concerns to God. If words fail, or as a complement to them, praying through Psalms can be helpful. A few that are particularly appropriate for anxious times are: Psalms 23, 27, 34, 40, 62, 116, and 121.
- Meditate: Meditation is a go-to practice for dealing with anxiety, but I find that unless I do some of the practices I’ve mentioned above first, it can be counter-productive and just ends up being me sitting in my worries and racing thoughts. But as part of a well-balanced diet of spirituality, there really is no substitute for the calming influences of meditation, including Mindfulness Meditation, praying The Jesus Prayer, or creating Mandalas.
- Rest: The pace of twenty-first century life is simply unsustainable. While public health interventions like self-isolation (for those who are ill or close contacts of those who are sick) and social-distancing (to help slow the spread of pandemic illnesses) are certainly challenging, they also offer us an opportunity to stop the go-go-go and rest for a while. It’s okay to give your body and mind a break. In fact, it’s often the best thing you can do.
When it comes to times when everything seems to be happening at once (and all of it troubling!), there are no ‘answers’ or magic spiritual bullets that will make it all go away. These are legitimately difficult and anxious times. But, part of the advantage of being in a spiritual tradition is that it gives us a long memory, a memory that includes the experiences of those who have been through similarly challenging and anxious times, and the tools they relied on to get them through them.
And so, my friends, I encourage you to do what you need to do to be good to yourselves. Get out your thoughts and feelings, put them into perspective, pray and meditate, and rest.