Do you feel lately like the days are just melting into one another, and you’re not even certain what month it is, let alone what day it is? Me too.
I’m still stuck back in March-something when the world screeched to a halt. Or I’m stuck in a reoccurring episode of the Twilight Zone. The rate of uncertainty with which we meet each day during this unprecedented time in history has catapulted us all into a foggy state of confusion. When my masked-face glance meets another at the grocery store, I see lots of deer-in-the-headlight eyes. Veiled fear. It’s like we’re all wading around in a quagmire of perpetual unpredictability staring into an abyss of endless unknowns and anomalies.
You would think the pool of uncertainty we all find ourselves swimming in would drive us to be kinder to one another, and pull together – and on many fronts, it has. Healthcare workers, first responders and everyday citizens alike fill our news screens with stories of heroic and self-sacrificing acts since COVID-19 arrived on the scene. On the other hand, we have also witnessed acts of selfish hoarding (you never know what you have until it’s gone) – toilet paper for instance. Stories of price gauging and politically abusive behavior have also dominated the headlines. There is self-survival and then there is selfish-survival. Just when we thought we were making progress and there was enough TP to go around again, this week the world watched in horror as a black man died at the knee of a white police officer. I watched the breaking news, speechless. Shocking, deplorable, and racist are a few words that come to mind now. And fear. This week, the world has exploded in anger, with fear bubbling beneath the surface. I find myself wondering, what are we so afraid of?
As a mental health clinician, I can attest that people do and say things when they are in a state of fear that they would never do when they are emotionally regulated. The response to the George Floyd murder by some people is no better than the initial act of violence itself; rioting, looting, and burning buildings aren’t the solution. Violence doesn’t end violence. We know this. Yet, fear is a powerful motivator and operates outside of logic. Where there is anger, you will find fear and unresolved pain in its shadow. I have witnessed fear drive people into a state of irrational behavior on many occasions. American is witnessing it right now, not just in Minneapolis, but in most major cities across the country. A friend recently asked me, “Is fear driving the world into a state of mass hysteria?” Is coronacrazy real, or just a figment of our quarantined and isolated imaginations?
Fear threatens our sense of peace.
We often fear that which we don’t understand or cannot control. And let’s face it – we all like to be in control of as much as we can. Yet during this unprecedented time, we understand little about what is happening on the daily, and we are in control of even less. Loss of control is our new norm. This scares us. Most people become more fearful when living in uncertainty. One thing I have learned about human behavior is that we crave control. When we don’t have it, we get anxious. Anxiety is a form of fear. Sound familiar? To varying degrees and somewhat based on temperament, on some level, we all want to feel we are in control. That’s what hoarding all of that TP was about – control of something – anything! I can’t help but wonder if the response around George Floyd’s tragic death exploded like a champagne cork as a result of all the pent up fear Americans have been storing since mid-March when the coronavirus made its frightening debut. Humans were meant for connection, not isolation. #Quarantine may be taking more of a toll than we realize. Our country is hurting. And when pain is unresolved, well – hurting people hurt other people. We need healing. On every level. But grasping for control won’t do it.
Right now, in our out-of-control world, the best thing you can do for your mental health, is focus on what you can control, instead of what you cannot. And then let go of the rest – yes, LET GO. Some of you are panicking right now just reading that last sentence. Here’s another thought that may make you squirm: Control is often an illusion. The choice to let go however, is very real. The choice to accept what you cannot change or control, is also real. Radical acceptance is an important skill step in the journey of mental wellness. It’s also a pathway to peace.
If you strongly crave control then you may not agree with me, but what if the coronavirus crisis and all the chaos in its wake can be a catalyst to real change? Letting go of what we don’t understand or can’t control is challenging, but if we aren’t challenged, we won’t change. And we need change. I’m guessing that’s something we can all agree on.
We are all playing control tug-o-war with someone or something. Who or what is at the other end of your rope? That person or situation you can’t control and you’re driving yourself crazy trying? The world’s TP supply? The government? The security of your job? Your children’s anxieties? Your own anxieties? Someone else’s choices? Here’s a thought: Focus on your own choices. Choose love. Love doesn’t seek to control.
You want peace? Drop the rope. Then take a deep breath and do something that fosters peace. In fact, make a point to pursue it.
Hope whispers, pursue peace.
Begin with yourself. There is a reason the airlines instructs you to put on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. If you aren’t in a peacemaker mindset, how can you take steps toward helping others get there? The ocean has always been a place of serenity for me. So, I drop my rope of control, take a deep breath, and go there often. Turmoil and chaos can be swirling all around me externally, threatening to invade my internal head space, but when I set foot on the sand, everything shifts within. With the abrupt changes and disruption of life-as-we-know-it the past few months, the ocean has become even more of a place of solace for me. Stressors and worries drown out in the roar of the waves.
When I sit cross-legged in the sand, staring out at such a vast and powerful force, it reminds me that God is vast and powerful. When I lean into God, I don’t need to be in control because I know He is. I visualize letting go of that which weighs me down, imagining it floating away on the ocean breeze. What brings you peace?
If you are a person of faith, or you are searching for it, there is no better time to grab onto God. Right now, during this unusual time in history, we are uniquely positioned to be reminded that God is always in control, even in times of uncertainty. In the disturbances of life, especially in the disturbances of life, pursuing peace can foster healing, build resilience, and inspire hope. True peace is not defined by a lack of present disturbance – it is an ability to live undisturbed in spite of its presence. Chaos and conflict may be present, but fear doesn’t have to be. Leaning into the presence of God and depending on him to carry me through difficulties is more powerful than any pain I will ever face. My faith supersedes my fear. That stabilizes me in times of turmoil and enables me to live above the disturbances present around me, so that I can become a part of the solution, instead of contributing to the problem.
When we pursue peace, we pursue God’s presence. When we purse God’s presence, we pursue love, because God IS love. And love drives out fear. In the absence of fear, there is peace. See the connection? I’ll leave you with these parting words from the Prince of Peace himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”