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.