I've said it before and I'll say it again. The best medicine for anxiety and depression is hope. Yes, I'm well aware of the ins and outs of the clinical diagnostic features for both anxiety and depression. And I'm also aware that there are, at times, biological mechanisms at work where pharmacological remedies are warranted and necessary. But don't miss my point. While a pill can level you out emotionally, it cannot inspire you to get out of bed. It cannot alter your belief system. A pill cannot instill joy into your heart and mind. That is something only hope can do. You may have been more available to the inspiration that hope provides once you started taking your meds. So in that case the meds opened a door. But just as opening a door is not equivalent to walking into a room, taking medication for your anxiety or depression does not equate inspiring yourself to be better.
So how then should we now live in this time of crisis? And more importantly, how can this time of crisis prepare us for the next? From my living room to yours, here are 5 steps to inspire hope in times of crisis.
Pray to God and Believe He Hears You.One of the biggest infections of our age is the belief we can do anything. It is the viral contagion of pride (see what I did there?). This cultural pride has reduced communication with God as something for wackadoos and the overly spiritual. This is dangerous. Especially in times of crisis. The truth is, we are powerless against so many things in this world, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this truth front and center. Which means it should come as a wake-up call to many of us. A call that reminds us we can’t do this life alone. And I’m not talking about the drawbacks of social distancing. I’m talking about connecting ourselves to something bigger and better that exists outside of us. And contrary to popular belief, it does matter what or Who you connect yourself to.
Every night my family and I take the time to pray. We all get together and talk about what is on our hearts and our minds. With a pre-teen girl and a 10-year-old boy, this does provide for some interesting conversations and a lot of laughter. But more importantly it keeps us grounded. We have a chance to connect, yes. But we also have a chance to be thankful for what we have. We have a chance to think about other people who need help and healing. We have a chance to verbalize our fears and our concerns about the future. This simply would and could not happen if we did not believe and inspire a belief in a good God who cares about our fears and cares about the world in general. Because what would be the point of praying to an unnamed being who has no care for you? The whole house of cards falls if God is not loving, caring, and capable of handling your request. But that’s enough theology for now. I want you to focus on the behavior itself.
If you doubt the helpfulness of prayer, I want to challenge you. And no one has to know the outcome but you. Go ahead and begin building the discipline of prayer into your life. See what happens. And just like every good discipline, I want you to do it for 30 days so that it becomes a habit. If it fails miserably after 30 days—and by fails, I mean adds no form of quality to your life at all—then I’d love to hear from you.
Change Your Thinking and Be Creative.I don’t mean go make arts and crafts. I hate arts and crafts. No ill-will to all of you crafty people and especially my 4thgrade Sunday School teacher (well, maybe a little). But the only reason I ever completed the craft was because she was holding the crackers hostage if I didn’t. That’s extortion!
My Sunday School teacher’s situational ethics aside, in times of distress we tend to cope by simplifying our mental constructs into three categories: Victims, Heroes, and Villains (also known as the “Drama Triangle”). We do this because it helps us to prioritize our lives when we’re bombarded with a ton of data and we don’t have time to process. Like in times of crisis. So we’ll put people, and ourselves, into one of these three categories. Most of us arrogantly put ourselves into the Heroes category because it just feels better, but the biggest thought pattern you’ll need to avoid in times like this is victimization. Nothing robs hope from a set of circumstances like thinking and focusing on how you’re a victim. Notice I didn’t say to stop thinking you’re the victim. That won’t work because it’s not true. The truth is, on some level, we each fit into all three categories. This means at times we’re all victims, we’re all heroes, and gulp, we’re all villains too. So instead of trying to pretend like you’ve never or will never be a victim, go ahead and accept your lot in life and move on.
Why is this important? Because it does you no good in the middle of a crisis to stay stuck in your perceived helplessness. You must accept it, but not live in it. Remember, you need to be inspired. You need hope. You need to be propelled forward. And this is where creativity comes in. The most hopeless people I know also seem to be the least creative when it comes to difficult circumstances. They give in way too easily to disparaging thoughts. “There’s no toilet paper,” quickly leads to panic. “This is a problem,” leads right into “This is impossible!”. This lack of creativity leads them to logical dead-ends, and then their emotional state of victimhood leads them to sit in a corner and sulk. Instead, we should use the frustration produced by a problem. Anger in and of itself is neither good nor bad. It is what we do with our anger that determines its value. And anger by nature is a “movement” emotion. It propels us in a direction. It gives us energy. So are you frustrated about being inside, or working from home, or homeschooling 14 kids? Do something with that frustration. This will inevitably lead you to be creative because when we’re in crisis we do not have the same resources at our disposal as we normally would. We don’t have the supplies we normally would or the people we normally rely on. So get to it. It won’t be perfect and that’s okay. But it will get done. And somewhere between the completion of that task and the next, you begin to feel that little warrior spirit known as hope move into your soul and set up residence.
Allow Yourself to Grieve Loss. I know you’ve heard me talk about hope and moving on. But please don’t stuff your emotions in an attempt to “move on”. We all have things we need to grieve during this time. Maybe it’s being away from loved ones. Maybe your graduation got canceled or your wedding was postponed. Maybe you just miss your friends. Either way, these losses take their toll on our souls. Just as anger can be used to motivate us in a direction, sadness has a purpose too. Sadness requires us to pause. Where anger propels us forward, sadness says be still and reflect. Most of us are not good at sadness because it makes us feel vulnerable. We associate being vulnerable with being weak, and this weakness is something we tend to avoid from a very early age.
The truth is we are all weak. Just like none of us have power over this pandemic, we are by our very existence vulnerable to the circumstances that surround us. And that is something to weep over. To mourn is the more appropriate term here. Because when we lose, this opens a door to our frailty. And our acceptance of this frailty through mourning is very empowering. I know it sounds counterintuitive. However, when we stuff or cover over our sadness it wells up inside of us. Like a wound it becomes infected. And like any infection, it eventually wreaks havoc on the whole body. Pent up grief can be expressed in many unhealthy ways, from addiction to depression. But more often than not it is expressed through rage and anger. This is because anger makes us feel powerful, even if it’s for a brief moment in time. But anger is a horrible replacement for sadness. Because anger can never appropriately deal with the grief that sadness was designed to handle. It’d be like taking a souped-up sports car made for a NASCAR race on family vacation. What was intended to be a slow, steady and comfortable ride, turns into a mad dash to the finish. No one enjoys the trip and the point of the vacation is lost. So when it comes to grieving your losses don’t make it a rush to the finish line. Take your time, reflect on what you’re feeling and why. Above all, accept your vulnerability and your humanity. This will bring peace to the heart and mind, and peace prepares the way for hope and inspiration.
Socialize but Don’t Grumble. Listen, I know the major commandment in your hometown is to isolate and stay at home. But we’re not meant to be alone. You and I need people so we don’t go crazy. Thank God we have multiple ways of keeping the lines of communication open with technology. Being around people should inspire you. If it doesn’t, you might be surrounding yourself with the wrong people. And that’s a whole different article. But connecting ourselves to friends and family during this time will be essential. Just last night our church small group met via Google Chats. It was a little clunky at times, but we had a lot of fun. It was good to laugh, and to hear what was going on in everyone’s life. To know how they and their families were handling the crisis. To know what we could be praying for them about.
Connecting with people gives us hope because it is another reminder that we’re not alone. That we’re all dealing with this on a collective level should inspire you. And as a clarifying point, don’t occupy the entire time by grumbling about the state of the world or the state of your life. Just hang out. Sometimes this can be a fine line because we shouldn’t ignore what’s going on in the world. However, if the conversation is drifting into a heated argument over politics shift it back towards laughter. If you’re having trouble at home with kids or your spouse, try not to make that the topic of conversation for the entire hour. That’s less of an inspiring social call and more of a party pooper.
Take Care of Your Fitness.I’m not talking about “fittin’ this taco in my mouth” either. I’m also not telling you something you don’t already know. Our bodies are intricately connected to our emotional well-being. What you eat matters. How much you sleep REALLY matters. And increasing your heart rate is healthy for just about every part of your body, including your brain. So here is the downside of our techno savvy world. We can stimulate our brains without ever getting off the couch. That’s a dangerous trap when our brain believes we’ve accomplished something that we really haven’t.
A good friend of mine who now serves in the Missouri State House of Representatives used to be a Navy Pilot. He once told me that flying was one of the most mentally exhausting brain exercises known to man, and that this mental fatigue would often lead to physical fatigue that very few people could understand. This physical fatigue was one of the reasons pilots had to be in tip-top physical shape. If they weren’t, the strenuous amount of focus and mental activity would deplete their energy reserves and they’d be no good to anyone once they got out of the cockpit and potentially a danger while in it.
Have you ever felt exhausted after watching TV for an entire day? Or drained from staring at your computer all day at work? Your mental exhaustion leads to physical exhaustion. And if you’re not eating well or sleeping well on top of that, it won’t take long before your mental health starts to fade. This leads to anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. So if you truly want to inspire yourself during times of crisis, do things differently when it comes to your fitness.
Eating healthy is top priority. Exercising to the point of physical exhaustion is second. And because the first and second get prioritized, sleep will come naturally to you (unless there’s some sort of underlying medical condition like sleep apnea). Because these items need to be prioritized in your life, you’re going to have to create some sort of structure. Unfortunately, crisis brings chaos and you’ll have to work harder at putting a new structure into place for you and your family. For some of us this comes naturally. For others, not so much. If you find yourself struggling in the arena of creating personal structure to your life, don’t fret. Instead, attach yourself to a friend or family member who is organized and wouldn’t mind helping you talk through creating a structure for your new set of circumstances. Of course, this will require you to be vulnerable (see above) and also creative (also see above). But in the end the structure will feed your peace by reducing chaos in your life. And like I said before, the peace paves the way for hope and inspiration.
I know this was a bit long-winded, but my goal was to help you find hope and inspiration during times of crisis, and that’s not a quick fix. Hope is one of those elusive character traits that is found in the adversity of discipline. Disciplining ourselves to be better, to bend our own distorted interests away from the easy alternatives. Nothing in life worth doing is ever easy, and so because of this, finding hope in times of crisis will be difficult. Fortunately, the good news for all of us is that it’s not impossible.
If you’re feeling inspired and have some time on your hands, I’ve listed some resources I’ve read and listened to in the last week below. I hope they feed your brain as much as they have mine.
Check These Out! Do it, do it now.
On Spiritual Awakening:
On Living in a Good and Bad World:
On the Drama Triangle:
On Fitness and Mental Health: