“I can’t wait for 2020 to be over”

“2021 has proven to be worse than 2020. Can this year please be done already?”

It’s all too much.”

Many of us have either thought these things or heard them from friends or family over the past two years. We’ve faced a global pandemic, virtual schooling, tension that comes from the increased salience of systemic racism (a long overdue awareness), wars erupting overseas and the resulting effects on our daily life in the US. It seems that everywhere we look, there is ever-increasing opportunity to be overwhelmed with the state of the world and its effects on us. Our external circumstances certainly influence us, but is it possible to be at peace internally while the world around us is seemingly falling apart?

Spiritual leaders in the Christian faith answer that question with a resounding, “Yes.” Jesus himself addressed our ability to overcome the stressors of the world around us, through Him, when He stated, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world.” Although the source of support may vary, mental health practitioners would agree that it is, indeed, possible to live with a deep sense of peace in the midst of difficult circumstances. In addition to prayer and believing in something greater than what our eyes can see (an actual definition of faith), there are a few things we can do to effectively “Be okay even when the world around us isn’t.”

This framework for peace begins with how we define “Being okay.”  Anxiety would want to tell us that if things aren’t 100% okay, they aren’t okay at all. We may start fixating on everything that’s wrong and lead ourselves straight into a state of overwhelm. Truth is, there are a lot of really horrible things happening in the world right now, both within the world at large and within our own smaller spheres of influence.  If you’re feeling a bit of weight on your shoulders these days, you’re not imagining it.  There are a lot of really difficult things happening and yet, at the very same time, there are a lot of wonderful things happening as well.  One doesn’t negate the other.  As humans, we have the tendency to live in black or white thinking, and we have difficulty accepting that the hard and the good can co-exist peacefully. One key shift in our thinking is to replace the word “but” with “and”. This reminds us that even in the midst of great suffering, deep joy can thrive.

“I’m excited for this year to be over AND I’m grateful for what I learned.”

“2021 has brought on new challenges AND I’ve found new ways to cope.”

“It feels too much right now AND I can take a break to re-charge.”

Therapists recommend a few things to help with tolerating uncertainty in a challenging world: 

  1. Take care of your body. Emotional stress can take a massive physical toll on the body.  During stressful times, pay attention to whether your body needs more rest, more hydration, more meaningful movement or time in nature.  Pause before you choose a meal and determine what your body actually wants and needs.  What nourishes you? What energizes you? Food can be medicinal but it’s also communal and can serve as a form of comfort at times. Take a moment and ask yourself what your body needs right now to function at its best. Stress effects us physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. Amazingly, our immune systems are actually weakened or strengthened (on a biological level) by the thoughts we think. Challenge thoughts that lead you to an “all-or-nothing” mindset.
  2. Re-frame.  It’s the most basic of therapeutic interventions but if you’ve ever sat in a therapist’s office and shared with them what felt like a jumble of word vomit and then heard them repeat it all back to you in a clear, organized way that makes sense and gives you hope, you’ve just encountered a re-frame.  Think about a time you’ve put a new frame on a picture…the picture inside stays the same, but the frame you put on it gives it an entirely different feel.  When you re-frame a part of your life, your situation may not change, but you see it with a different perspective. Re-framing is accomplished by choosing to seek meaning within the current struggle. When our situation is framed in the context of a greater meaning or purpose, we begin to live in deeper peace. Viktor Frankl, a neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor, stated that “Those who have a ‘why’ to live with can bear with almost any ‘how.” What’s your current why? Don’t lose sight of it while getting overwhelmed with the pain you see around you.
  3. Boundary formation. If you notice, re-framing a photo or painting takes the picture we’ve been given and creates lines around it.  It holds it in and holds it together.  When we set boundaries around what we choose to fill our minds, homes, hearts and time with, we are essentially saying, “Yes, I’m acknowledging what is happening but I do have an element of control in how much of it I let into my world, and in what capacity.”  My heart has been broken for the children in Ukraine.  However, I know if I watch too much media about it, as an empath, I’ll become overwhelmed with despair.  My kids are aware of what’s happening as well and they chose to do a neighborhood bake sale/lemonade stand to help support Ukrainian kids.  Will it solve all the problems?  Of course not, but as Frankl’s theory of psychology, logotherapy, reminds us, a key element of thriving in crisis is to find meaning.  What is within your realm of control?  How can you find meaning within the current picture of your life?  
  4. Finally, when the world seems heavy, Don’t quit…just rest.  Being engaged in a broken world with a whole heart takes a lot of energy, boundaries and discernment.  Sometimes we need to rest and then return refreshed the next day, week or month.  Staying rooted in the love of God and loving others in the midst of difficult seasons is a relay race, not a sprint. It is an act of humility to rest. 

Whenever a client is carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, we engage in an exercise called “Returning responsibility.”  So much of our stress and anxiety comes from taking responsibility for something that isn’t within our realm of healthy responsibility. Perhaps take a moment today to consider your greatest stressor and see if there’s a way to return responsibility to the rightful owner.  When my family struggles, at times I want to fix it for them, but sometimes, I need to return responsibility to them for their own lives.  When I feel like I need to make things right for others, I rob them of the opportunity to take ownership of their lives and consequently add unneeded stress to mine.  When I catastrophize about the future, I have to remember to return responsibility to God for something that is outside of my immediate control.  Who/ what do you need to return responsibility to today in order to feel peace in the midst of a stressful world? 

A therapist or pastoral counselor can help you find your “why”, develop boundaries and learn how to rest in a fast-paced world. Visit our main page and take the free assessment today. We’re here to help you find peace today in a world that is filled with chaos.