How are you holding up?
Is it just me, or is life pretty crazy right now?
And also kind of mind-numbing?
Maybe it’s just me, but I suspect not.
It’s been a few months since my last post. (I recommend you read it if you haven’t already. Those early-pandemic thoughts and tips still apply.)
We knew the pandemic would be a marathon and not a sprint. But let’s face it – 2020 is starting to feel like more like an ultramarathon than a marathon!
I thought I’d check in to see how you are doing, and let you know how I’m doing too. I’ll close with some practical tips you can try this month that will hopefully refresh you…if you’re feeling you need to make a change.
I’ll be honest, there have been a lot of ups and downs in my life lately.
Between the pandemic, the calls for racial justice, the upcoming elections, and so on… There are days I’m utterly mentally exhausted, and yet bored out of my mind simultaneously.
I’m lonely and I miss my friends, but I also get anxious when someone doesn’t give me enough personal space.
One day, I’m in the flow – learning something new or working on a project. I forget everything else. I’m used to wearing a mask, and honestly don’t even notice them anymore. I feel like I could live this way indefinitely.
The next day, I’m crying to my husband that I can’t live like this. I just want to throw caution to the wind and catch the virus so I can get it over with (as long as I don’t spread it to anyone else.) Surviving isn’t enough. I want to live.
Someone named this phenomenon of emotional ups and downs “the coronacoaster.” For real. It’s on Urban Dictionary!
So I guess I’m not alone. It has a name.
It’s easy to blame other people, politicians, and the media for stressing us out or making us feel a certain way. But what good does it do to point fingers? Playing the blame game is exhausting, and -in my opinion- a total waste of energy.
Many pandemics and countless other tragedies have happened throughout history. And yet for some reason we feel that we’re exempt. That we are owed a life without hardship. (Maybe this is an American mindset? Maybe it’s common in other modern cultures as well.) This is a bitter pill to swallow, but the Bible never says that believers are exempt from pain, hardship, suffering. Quite the opposite! But the Bible does tell us that in spite of suffering, God will ultimately grow us and sustain us through his spirit.
Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
1 Peter 5:6-7, 10
I don’t know about you, but this is a hard truth for me to accept. I don’t feel like I’m getting stronger. I wish things were back how they were last year, when life was “normal.” If only we had known how good we had it!
But as I mentioned earlier, blame, wishful thinking, and anger are exhausting and unfruitful.
Instead, we should be focusing on the traits mentioned in the verses above:
I’m not there yet. I’m writing this to myself too. Sometimes just getting through the day takes all the energy I have.
If you’re like me and looking for a refresh, here are some tips. Some Monthly Challenge ideas for this August…or really anytime!
It doesn’t have to be like the journal you kept in 6th grade about the boys you had crushes on… It can be random free writing. It can be bullet points of things you’re thankful for. It can be doodles if you’re a doodler (I’m not…) It can be prayers if you have a hard time staying focused while praying inside your head. It’s kind of clichè, but we are living through history right now. It’s possible you or your grandchildren might be interested to know what your thoughts were as all this is still happening. And it can be soothing to take a step back and think about what is happening in the grand scheme of things. Today might feel hard, but in the story of your life, it is just a blip. Keeping that long timeline in mind might just be the perspective you need on rough days.
Learn Something New
One of the big silver linings that lockdown gave me was learning how to scull. For those who don’t know, sculling is rowing in a narrow, single boat with two oars. I joined a rowing team over a year ago and it has become my favorite hobby. But I never planned on learning to scull. I thought the boats were too unstable and I didn’t trust myself to steer it safely. (In sweep rowing, the boats are larger and have a coxswain to steer.) However, it was impossible to social distance in the big boats. The only opportunity I had to get out on the water was to learn to scull. I was still nervous, but I thought “If I don’t try this now, I never will!” So I gave it a try, and sure enough…I fell in love. Yes, the racing boats are unstable, but the club had several beginner boats that were more sturdy. So I was able to slowly gain confidence in the beginner boat until I was ready to move on. (See the next point for more on that.) Now before we move on, I get it. I understand that if you’re feeling depressed, the thought of learning a new skill is mentally exhausting. I don’t expect everyone to be out there thriving and living their best life during this crazy time. However, I want to encourage you. You might be surprised at the energy and freshness that learning something will breathe into your life. Go easy on yourself. Be gentle and kind to yourself. If you don’t want to read all the books, learn to play an instrument, learn a new language – that’s totally okay. But if there’s something you’ve already wanted to do and you never found the time…go for it! At least try it once! You might end up falling in love like I did!
Do One Thing that Scares You
When you read that title did something pop into your head immediately? If so, that fear might be a good place to start. We all have to face our fears at some point. Right now, what’s something that is stressing you out? What’s an irrational fear that you either always had, or one that specifically applies to the year 2020? After lockdown, I was scared to go to any indoor public place – even masked. I was used to the comfort and safety of home. My husband did the grocery shopping. But eventually I had to overcome that fear – just by doing it. And it wasn’t that bad. You can start small and work your way up if you’d like. This doesn’t mean you should be irresponsible. But you can take precautions without living in fear. Putting on your seatbelt or bike helmet doesn’t mean you’re living in fear. You just do it and do it without giving it too much thought. My advice when something scares you is just to try it once and see what happens. If it’s truly an irrational fear, everything will be fine. That will give you more bravery to try it again. And then when that goes okay, you’ll be braver the next time. And so on, until you are no longer so fearful.
Take a Social Media Break
Ok, now it gets hard. But let me tell you, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and anxious right now, I cannot recommend this one enough. For some people this is the hardest thing on the list. I also believe it’s the thing that will make the biggest difference in your mental health. Get off social media. Get off Facebook. Get off Twitter. Get off Instagram. (Or whatever platform you find yourself scrolling the most.) Not only will this clear some of the mental clutter from your day, it will also help you live your day on your own terms. Does your second cousin once removed or your acquaintance from high school really deserve the privilege of being the first thing you see in the morning? The thing that sets your mood for the entire day? Personally, I don’t think so. While there is value to social media in connecting us to people in real life (groups, events, personal messages) overall, I think it’s easy for us to get sucked into the vortex of strong opinions, offensive memes, and general ick. Even if your newsfeed is just beautiful people doing beautiful things, it can be detrimental to your mental health due to fear of missing out. We can’t help but compare ourselves to the filtered highlight reels of others. We end up feeling more lonely as a result. So you don’t necessarily need to delete your account. Just take a break. Life hack I got from a friend: I have a “fasting” profile with no friends so I can still be in two groups – but there’s no newsfeed to scroll. This way I still see the event invites and don’t miss any chances for real life connection. I also still use the Messenger app so I can text my friends for free. Don’t underestimate the power of this one. Your mental health will thank you. I dare you to try it for just one week and report back to me.
When you fast from social media, you’ll find you have a lot of pockets of time in your day. Those new pockets of time are the perfect opportunity to check in with yourself. If you want to just sit on your floor and close your eyes you can. I’m personally more a fan of “moving meditation.” This could look like going for a run without music. This could look like a walk through a garden. This could look like chopping wood. This could look like 20 minutes on the elliptical. Anything that gets you in “the zone” where you’re in a rhythm and you can momentarily turn off the garbage and noise of the world. Anything where you’re focused on the task at hand and your anxiety melts away. If you don’t like the word “meditation,” just call it something else. “Being alone with your thoughts?” “Checking in.” “Listening to the quiet.” I feel like we all did this as children without even thinking about it. But between smartphones and the modern expectation of constant stimulation, many of us have forgotten how to “think.” How to “feel.” How to “be.” Take some time this month and practice.
One of the strangely beautiful things about this pandemic is how it has moved us to do more things outside. I’ve had more porch visits this year than ever before. I love going for walks and admiring my neighbors’ flowerbeds. I love seeing the fireflies in the evenings. I’ve seen more sunrises and sunsets this year. Life is about the small things. It’s about taking a few minutes to breathe in the fresh air and feel the sunshine on your shoulders. Under “normal” circumstances, it seems like we’re all too busy to do these things. Remind yourself that there is no such thing as bad weather. Even if you have zero energy, I would encourage you to at least get yourself outdoors. Chill on the patio instead of on your couch. It’s better, I promise.
Especially if you are depressed. Especially if you have suicidal thoughts. Don’t wait one more day. A lot of people feel like they are alone right now. But the ironic thing is, people all around the world are going through the same thing…feeling alone, feeling isolated, together. Does that make your pain less? No. But what’s worse than feeling pain is feeling alone in your pain. There are many free resources available. Take advantage of them.
Still with me? Great. That list got long, but I hope you’re inspired to cherry pick from it. Take a stab at one or two of those things and see what happens. I know we’re in survival mode. I know this is hard. But small habits can produce huge change. Please let me know how you’re doing and if you try any of these things! Much love to you all!
PC: Valeriia Miller