I write this well ahead of its appearance in Mississippi Christian Living and I have no idea as to what the circumstances of the metro area, our state or our country may be in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of publication. Regardless of the realty on the ground, something as been made abundantly clear over the last many months and is true no matter our circumstances individually or collectively. Whether we are referring to the pandemic or life in general, the painful truth has been exposed that we have an inability to control much of anything. Now this is not really news, but we work hard much of the time at thinking we are in charge of circumstances, other people and much of life. The truth of our lack of control may be understandably coupled with fear and anxiety. The good news is that while pandemics, other people and much of day to day minutia is out of our control, we can keep the two headed monster of fear and anxiety from controlling us.
Some basics to start with may seem glaringly obvious, such as limit your intake of news. As a news junkie myself, I understand the lure, but a 24-hour news cycle is not 24 hours of quality information. Gather relevant information from a qualified source and then turn it off. Perhaps turn on a favorite sitcom, exercise, or engage in some other enjoyable activity. Second, take a break from social media where everything is amplified. I recently had a client tell me she felt more isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed as she spent time on social media reading opinion after opinion that felt quite different from hers. Be aware of how much time you are devoting to social media and monitor your state of mind associated with your social media usage.
In addition, monitor your self -talk. Whether we realize it or not, we have a running commentary going on in our heads all the time. What are you telling yourself? How is it effecting your perspective, your self-concept, your relationships? Unhelpful or unhealthy self-talk can run the gamut from someone who has a bad day and the associated self-talk is, “my life is ruined” to someone with a pervasive negative focus or outlook who may tell themselves, “I’ll never be good enough”. Related to the pandemic, self-talk that may exacerbate stress could sound like “this will never end”. What can be tricky about our self-talk is that we may start with a fact or real event, but the distortions we apply in our thinking may lead us to feel down, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious and/or depressed. Because there is a nugget of truth at the heart of the distorted, negative self-talk, we may have difficulty identifying it as distorted or negative. This can be challenging to change if your unhealthy or destructive pattern of self-talk is deeply ingrained. You may need to enlist the help and support of a licensed professional if altering your self- talk proves challenging.
Also, let us not forget or underestimate the power of acceptance and thankfulness. Alcoholics Anonymous uses the concept of acceptance in their program demonstrated by their use of the Serenity Prayer. It states, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”. When I accept the reality of not being in control, that in itself can be a powerful tool to combat anxiety, fear and even anger. Acceptance allows us the freedom from trying to micromanage the stuff of life that cannot be managed. Thankfulness can be exceedingly helpful as well to reorient one’s focus. Taking the time to name 3 things you are thankful for on a daily basis can vastly improve mood, outlook and anxiety.
Finally remind yourself of the most important truth. While we are not in control, it can be well with our soul because our Sovereign God of the universe IS in control. Use this truth and prayer to combat anxiety, fear, negative self-talk, defend against the unknown and ground your thoughts. What is eternal can be and should be our most powerful tool to combat fear and anxiety.