4 Paths to Hope in Seasons of Worry

I’ve had a harder time focusing on hope this Spring compared to years in the past. Across the plains, I see green grass sprouting up which is a dramatic shift from the brown, lifeless ground that typically dots the Kansas horizon during the winter months. Every morning I see new flowers arriving — daffodils, iris, and peonies shooting up with life. The sun continues to warm the earth each day, and its trailing beams linger longer in the evenings. Usually these beautiful rhythms of nature bring me such joy and anticipation. But my heart feels like it is still in hibernation and dormant with the cold of winter. 

If you asked me to describe myself before the pandemic of Coronavirus, I certainly wouldn’t have used the words anxious or worried. In our marriage, Jonathan refers to me as the positive one, always thinking on the sunny side and looking for the good. But during the past few weeks though, I’ve found my posture to be tight and weary. I’m anxious for family and friends, saddened by constant bad news, and worried about the future. Despite the “stay at home” orders lifting in multiple states, nothing about the nature of this virus will change. Without an impending “end date” on the calendar, the fear of the unknown is starting to catch up with me. 

Recently with a few other women in my community, I’ve been reading the book Get Out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts by Jennie Allen. In the first few chapters Allen provides the hard truth that we can’t truly understand our emotions and feelings unless we take the time to process them. So I sat down, with a blank piece of paper, and wrote for a solid 20 minutes every single line item that came up around my dominant feeling of the moment. That emotion was “worry”, and before CoVid-19 I don’t necessarily think I would have gravitated towards those thoughts. I believed my list would be filled with health concerns because of the pandemic. But after I was finished mapping out my thoughts and lists surrounding worry, I started to notice trails of worry throughout other areas of my life like community, family, and my future professional goals.

Writing these thoughts down, recognizing that they were there and existed (pandemic or not), and searching for patterns helped me understand that my emotional well-being was deeply impacted. These thoughts were running rampant, affecting my attitude about myself and others, and in turn also impacting my spirituality. Instead of focusing my time and energy on serving those around me and taking care of myself, I was letting thoughts of worry in all areas of my life drown me.

This is all to say that I don’t know how to “do” a pandemic. I wish this pandemic wasn’t leaving a mark on me emotionally. I wish I had answers and a way to move forward. Like the famous hero stories that are interwoven in our myths and culture, I wish I could find an expert or guide who could provide me with direction. You probably feel the same way — a little lost as these days of staying home turn into weeks, that might even turn into months. And while that’s scary, I’m finding ways to hope even when my head and heart don’t really feel like it. Here’s what’s helping me:

  1. Boundaries

We are missing a key piece of technology on the first floor of our home. Our television hides out in our basement, used a few times a week for us to relax (and watch 30 Rock). This to say, we have stopped the constant news cycle that feeds our generation. The access to information at our fingertips daily (from print to social media to the radio waves that hit our ears) has a negative impact. Feeding your mind with constant notifications and the drone of endless news hurts your spirit. When we knew we were in this pandemic for the long haul, we stopped. We are telling the television, our phones, and the news that they are not the boss of our minds. While it is important to stay informed, we knew that things weren’t going to change in an hour. Stepping away gave us the chance to create stillness and to notice. By creating a boundary and quieting our minds, we found more hope in our home around us.

  1. Perspective Shift

This is something I work on every, single day. Often, I find that it is a lot easier to mope into the idea that I am a victim of my circumstances. My son doesn’t take a nap? Woe is me. My husband has to sit on a work phone call late into the evening and can’t help with bedtime? Woe is me. About six months ago, I heard on a podcast featuring the author Bob Goff that he spends much of his daily energy to “focus on what I’m receiving, not what I’m lacking”. If we continue to look for the missing gaps, we will find giant craters that we have split open with our own minds. But if we focus on what is filling our lives, we will find an overwhelming abundance of goodness to be grateful for. During this time, I am shifting my perspective to focus on the gifts I am receiving. I’m noticing the connection my husband is making with our son, the generous help he provides to me, and the work he does for our family. I’m watching the service neighbors and friends are stepping up to provide for one another. I’m creating healthy rhythms for myself to find rest in a creative contemplation. All this goodness comes because I am open to receiving it.

  1. Be Still

I’m fairly addicted to anything surrounding Brene Brown, so when I found she was creating a podcast that arrived during Covid-19, I considered it a personal gift to myself and was overjoyed. In a recent episode with Alicia Keys, they were describing the stillness that came on with social distancing. By removing the hustle from our lives, we have each been forced to slow down. Brene said, “We stay busy enough so the truth of our lives can’t catch up to us.” That quote hit me like an arrow to a bull’s eye. If I don’t have to ask for help, I don’t have to slow down. I can carry the weight by myself and not rely on anyone else. Yet, that do-it-all mentality serves no one. It doesn’t provide others with a space to give and it doesn’t help my soul in the long run. I’m willing to stop and ask those around me for help when I need it. I’m taking time to be still and rest, and this has helped me tremendously.

  1. Daily Spark

Watercolor painting, writing snail mail, yoga, and baking have been filling up my soul lately. I don’t do all of them at once (wouldn’t that take true talent) or necessarily every single day. But I’ve given myself a mission to find something small to look forward to each day. It may not be the time in life to pick up a brand new hobby. I wish I could make a sourdough starter or learn to knit, but I know there are limitations on my time. Instead, I’m focusing on what feeds my soul and I am searching for ways to do something joyful (as small as that might be) every day.

While this season might seem empty or filled with worry, I pray that you will find hope in the small things. It is okay to let yourself feel the emotions of worry, anxiety, and fear. If we find paths to hope, those emotions can be held in the same space with peace.

Creating Space for Your Emotions

If we could be together today, I’d welcome you into my home with a hug and a smile. A sweet baby boy would cackle with delight when he saw you coming up the walk, tugging on your pant legs as you come inside. The smell of coffee would fill your nose and I’d offer you a mug from our eclectic collection. I’d invite you to take a seat, make yourself cozy, and simply be. If we could be together today, I’d welcome you into my home because right now, I miss community.

It’s been a little over a week of time to ourselves, social distancing, quarantine, or whatever terms you might like to use to describe the current state of our world lately. With the news rapidly spreading about the Coronavirus and many cities around the United States essentially shutting down, Jonathan and I made the call to retreat into our home life. Despite missing out on fun activities and precious time with friends and family, I consider us to be fairly lucky. We are still employed. We still have a roof over our heads. We have food, comfort, and each other. As a team, we are finding a rhythm to our days.

Because we are so fortunate, I was beginning to feel like difficult emotions didn’t belong to me. I have friends who have had to post-pone weddings, are experiencing wage cuts or lay-offs, or are struggling to make ends meet because they had to decide if they wanted to put themselves in a harmful situation for an hourly job. With my thoughts spinning, I kept telling myself that I don’t deserve to feel difficult emotions right now. Here we are, surviving. And yet, in spite of our blessings, I still feel emotions like a stronghold over my heart:

  • Inconvenience
  • Uncertainty
  • Disappointment
  • Grief
  • Out of control
  • Anxiety

Last night I sat in on a small, virtual retreat with seven strangers. We were each asked to reflect on the overwhelm and disruptions this pandemic has brought to our daily lives. I listened as each woman expressed the same feelings that were building up inside of me. Each of us are in different life stages — some with children, some married, some single. We are from different corners of the world. I’m sure if we had time to dive deeper we would have disagreed on politics, religion, and values. And still, in our small gathering together, we came to realize we all share so much in this moment. Our generation has never been fully connected by emotions until now. We were not alone. And neither are you.

In the past, I would have fled these thoughts in anyway possible. Happy, optimistic, hopeful — any way to escape feeling pain. Over the course of my lifetime, I have numbed with food. I have numbed with wine. I have numbed by scrolling through social media. I have numbed by widening distance between myself and others. All to avoid settling into pain. Each of us find a way to escape reality for one reason or another. In cognitive psychology, they often call this the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. My typical response to emotional processing is flight. I don’t want to make space for difficult emotions in my narrative. Before social distancing, I could probably call myself a professional daydreamer because of the many ways I had found to escape my reality. Browsing Pinterest for changes to our home, from new furniture to new floors to new light fixtures. Spending hours researching part-time, working from home job opportunities to use my talents and skills. Fantasizing with my husband about a  dream vacation in the United States. (Spoiler Alert: his idea was South Dakota… Apologies to all the Black Hills fans out there, but I was hoping for something like Hawaii.)

But one way or another, pain can be like a boiling pot. Even if you spend time fighting or running, those bubbles will build over time. Eventually, with the heat rising, they will collectively rise to the top.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a fun package of stationary which featured a card declaring “Find Joy in the Ordinary”. At first, I didn’t think much of the popular saying. It wasn’t until when my eyes caught the card after our time in isolation that I took it a step further. Find joy in the the uncertainty, the anxiety, and the grief. In the midst of trials and pain, find space for every emotion and let it be

In this moment of history, I am choosing to hold on to those feelings and experience them. All I can control is the internal. My external world has forced me to pause, even though I wish I could grip my environment between my fingers and mold it like clay to my will. But I will create space for discomfort, just like I will create space for happiness, joy, and hopefulness. I refuse to retreat to a state of numbing or escapism. I know that my narrative is so much stronger than the difficult emotions during this time. This forced pause has helped me realize that I was craving something intentional and meaningful in my life, needing quiet time for my soul in the midst of motherhood, and seeking out solutions before taking time to understand the emotions I was truly experiencing. Now that it is quiet, I’m ready to listen.