As I write, we are about 240 days into the COVID-19 corona virus global pandemic. Do you remember when we first initially heard about it and it sounded so far off, so far away? And then we faced the lockdowns.
To be honest, when that happened, I thought – in my simplistic way of looking at things – ‘Okay, we’ll stay at home and we’ll get through this, and it’ll be about six weeks long and then life will return to normal.’ And so I just plunked myself down and became a total couch potato, watching the news and every report for several weeks. And at that point, I said, ‘Okay, this doesn’t look like it’s very good, and it might go on forever. So, I’ve got to get my buttootie up and start working.’ So, I started working hard and working from home.
What have I learned about how to stay sane during crazy times like this? So many of us are simply trying to make it through a time where nothing is normal and we’re isolated in many ways. For those of us in the United States, we’ve just gone through a confusing whirlwind of an election, where people burned bridges with family and friends due to politics, fueled by the influences of social media.
Let’s look at ways to stay sane as we now approach what is being called the ‘Dark Winter’. At this writing, COVID numbers are critically rising across the United States. Hospitals are filling, and many can take no more patients. Most likely, more restrictions will be coming, especially with the holidays upon us. Traditional gatherings and celebrations will be smaller and far different than what we look forward to.
So how do we stay sane during times like this, where everything we thought was certain now becomes uncertain, and life becomes rocky and we don’t know what the future looks like? At times, we end up isolating ourselves due to difficulties, and isolation in and of itself can bring on even more issues. I have gone through basically storm after storm with my family: losing our home, losing my mother-in-law to suicide, my episodes with bipolar disorder and hospitalizations which all became public, as well as experiencing difficulties in ministry through the years. So how do we survive these times?
Here’s some of the things I found. One very important point I want to share right up front is that you’ve got to grab hold of how you are thinking. You must maintain your thoughts. You must pay attention to that. Especially during crazy times, you cannot let your thinking be on automatic pilot. And so, here’s three core values that have helped me and are underscored by a psychologist I found on the web. These are proven to be effective and they’ve been clinically researched.
First of all, you’ve got to get it clear in your mind that you can choose to believe in your ability to manage whatever is going to come and for however long it takes. So it really is okay to take it one day at a time. In other words, you have to believe in yourself and you have to choose to believe that. You have to choose to think that. You have to choose to see that – that you will in fact have what’s necessary for the day that you are in. But if you start looking at everything society will experience weeks, months, and a year from now, you won’t know what you have for that day.
I many times think of the passage from Psalm 23, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.’ To me, that means I’m going to have everything I need for every single day that I’m alive. But if I start looking at months and months ahead, I worry how the Lord’s going to provide for all those things. And so, I just need to rest in my faith and in the abilities that God has given me – that I in fact can and will have everything that is necessary for day to day. And I will be able to cope with all of this. I’ll be able to manage it no matter what. Now, that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. It doesn’t mean that I have to like it, but I certainly don’t have to see it as being something I hate and detest- and complain about. I’m only making myself more miserable by detesting it every inch of the way.
There comes a point where you just say, ‘It is what it is. I cannot change it, therefore I accept it. And I accept the fact and I believe that I will be able to manage, however I need to manage through all of this, but I will only take it one day at a time.’
Secondly, you and I can remind ourselves that uncertainty does not guarantee that bad things will happen. It just means ‘I don’t know yet. I don’t know what it’s going to be like.’ For instance, you may be dreading getting the COVID virus. And if you do, how bad is it going to be? And when are they going to get that vaccination? Honestly, I find myself thinking that way. After all, I’m overweight, I’m older (let’s just say over 60). And on top of that, I have asthma and mildly high blood pressure that I take medicine for.
And so I find myself having anxiety about, ‘Oh gosh, do I want to get together with this person or do this at the risk of getting sick?’ And my assumptions always lead right down a dark rabbit hole that says, ‘Oh, I’m going to get really sick if I get this and may even die.’ Well, that’s kind of catastrophizing, isn’t it. It could be that some people get it and some won’t. Anxiety and angst come from the uncertainty with the virus, the economy, and the election. We don’t know what the outcome is going to be yet.
The fact that I worry about COVID-19 does not increase the likelihood of having it or not having it. It just feels like it becomes more intense because we keep ruminating about it. And we live with a lot of unknowns in our lives. Choose to believe that, ‘Hey, today is good. Don’t have it today, not sick. I’m going to live. I’m going to take today and enjoy it and live and get things done that I need to get done.’ In fact, I initially said, ‘Oh, let’s hit the pause button here and wait until they get this figured out. And then I’ll press play again and go about living.’
Instead, it’s unknown. There are a lot of unknowns right now, but we actually live with all kinds of unknowns every day. It might help to remind yourself of some of those unknowns. Thirdly, you and I can recognize that we cope with uncertainty in other parts of our lives all the time. Try to envision exactly what your relationships are going to be like a year from now. How about work? What will two years, three years, four years, five years from now look like? There’s just a lot of stuff you and I don’t know. So we’ve had lots of practice in tolerating unknown things.
You and I can believe and recognize this is, in fact, true – that we’ve learned to tolerate the unknown all through our lives, and this is just another unknown. And in fact, I really see it happening within myself, and maybe within society in general, that we’re just learning to accept that this is a new thing we have to navigate. But it’s like a lot of other things in life – we don’t sit around worrying whether we’re going to get cancer or have a heart attack, or whether we’re going to do this or that.
To recap, the three ways of looking at things and thinking about them, are 1) we can choose to believe in our ability to manage whatever may come. 2) we can remind ourselves that uncertainty does not guarantee that bad things will happen. And 3) we can recognize that we can cope with the uncertainty in other parts of life. Certainly, we can deal with the uncertainty in these matters.
Part 2 will focus on things to remember when you’re going through tough times. And Part 3 will be about how to do some practical things to help cope.
I’d like to pray for you…
Father, the Apostle Paul said that we need to take captive our thinking and that we need to hold on to all of those things, and we need to control how we look at things and frame them. Paul says it, Your word teaches it, that we need to take captive our thinking. So Lord, help us during this time that just seems crazy and uncertain and all over the place, just to take this one day at a time. Knowing, Lord, that You have given us the ability along with You and using our faith to manage uncertain times. And Lord, help us to remember also that uncertainty doesn’t mean bad things are happening or will happen for sure.
Lord, sometimes I think I understand why we have and will live with a lot of uncertainty in our lives, because if things were always 100% certain, we wouldn’t trust in You as much. So in this uncertain time, in these times of craziness, Lord, we turn to You, we trust in You, and we know that You never ever change. So help our faith rise to the top of all the uncertainty and all the noise that’s going on in the world today. And to help our faith, fill us with hope in You. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you’re looking for mental health help during these trying times, consider participating in a Fresh Hope support group. You can go to our website to find where we have groups, both in person and online, in English and Spanish. We also have books and other resources. Check us out at FreshHope.us and share with your friends, too.
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