Every time I talk to a friend or co-worker about the pandemic, one of us eventually says something like this: can you believe we’ve been doing this for two years? We can’t. Who could? If you told me in February of 2020 that you saw this coming, I would’ve called you a fool, and maybe worse, and you would’ve deserved it. The idea that a virus could so completely alter our world wasn’t just ridiculous; it was unfathomable. It was as likely as aliens landing on earth or your neighbor sprouting wings.
Yet, here we are. It’s 2022, and the pandemic lives on.
I’ve been lucky. I don’t like the term blessed. If you like it, fine. You can use it on your own blog. I choose not to. It implies that God might have his divine hand on my life while not having it on others. I haven’t tested positive for COVID, and no one I know has died from it. I haven’t lost my job. Many of you can’t make that claim. Nearly 860,000 people in the U.S. have died from this dreadful virus. That number will continue to swell, along with our collective grief.
MY BREAKING POINT
After the initial pandemic shock wore off, I mostly handled everything okay. I kind of liked the change of pace, actually. It was slower, my schedule less riddled with activities. I like slower.
I reached my breaking point this week, though. I received a phone call from my kids’ elementary school. Due to the number of teachers testing positive, our kids would be out of school for the next week (and maybe longer). My kids just returned to school after being out a month. I was at a doctor’s appointment with Micah when I got the call. I got through that alright, dropped him off at home, and returned to work. When my butt hit the leather seat of my chair, a trigger went off. Tears formed in the corner of my eyes. What is going on, I thought. My emotions snuck up on me like a stealth ninja. Usually I can forecast them. Not this time. I ran to the bathroom, locked the door, sat down on the floor, head between my hands, and cried. I pounded my knees with my palms in frustration. Why? Why? Why? I repeated this over and over, like a Gregorian chant, starting soft and getting louder with each iteration.
I don’t know if you’ve reached this point. Maybe you have. Regardless, many of us are tired and stressed. We’re disoriented, lost, and weary. We’re in the midst of collective trauma right now. No one is immune from it.
I’m not a psychologist or a counselor, but I do know something about trauma. I endured a severe trauma for several years, one that confined me to the bed. It destroyed my life. For most of that time, I didn’t know I was dealing with trauma. I thought I was dealing with chronic pain. I began to heal as I learned the deep mysteries of the brain, how it changes every second, and how simple techniques can transform your life.
So, I want to share some tips I learned about healing from trauma. We’re in a stressful season as a society. But stress doesn’t have to consume us.
Here are 7 tips for surviving a pandemic.
1. TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR EMOTIONS.
Emotions aren’t facts. You’ve probably heard that before. It’s especially true in seasons of high stress, when you’re brain is primed to recognize negative or harmful stimuli. Your brain always searches your environment, sending signals to your mind based on the sensory input around you. These signals aren’t always real or true, though. Yes, your brain can send you false signals. It’s your job to filter these signals, to determine whether or not they’re real.
When you feel anger or sadness or anxiety or shame lurking around the corner, ask yourself “Is this emotion legitimate?”
In other words, do you have a reason to feel anxious or angry? Can you trace it something in your past, present or future? That’s an important question. Maybe your sadness is legitimate. Many times, however, you’ll find that the emotion is a by-product of your stress. In this case, it’s important to stop the emotion before it floods your mind. This prevents toxic thought loops and unhealthy spiraling patterns.
Emotions are just signals. You determine whether they’re true.
2. LIMIT THE INFORMATION YOU TAKE IN.
Your brain responds to the information it receives. That’s all your brain can do. It’s like a pet. It grows in response to what you feed it. Let’s be honest. At this point, you know everything you need to know about the pandemic and our government’s handling of it. You have more facts than you will ever need.
Feed your brain something good and wholesome, instead. Read the Bible. Read a good book. Watch a good movie. Spend time with friends, if you feel comfortable doing so. As you do this, you’re telling your brain that although this season is stressful, you won’t allow stress to define you. In response, your brain will build new and healthier connections.
3. PRACTICE PRAYER OR MEDITATION.
When I discovered a brain-based program that helped me heal from years of chronic pain, at the core was mediation. I spent an hour everyday meditating on positive and uplifting experiences, and I allowed those experiences to permeate through my entire body.
Prayer, by the way, is the same thing. It’s just awareness. Prayer is intentional focus on the good and true and holy things around you.
Meditating, you see, releases a host of chemicals in the brain, chemicals like dopamine and serotonin and oxytocin. These chemicals are responsible for everything from mood to pain to sleep patterns. Meditation is the great elixir against stress.
Try this: before you go to sleep or as soon as you wake, bring one positive thing from the day into your mind – the smile on your child’s face, the love of your spouse, the beauty of the trees, your job, etc. – then sit with this one thought for a minute. Or two minutes or five minutes. Doesn’t matter how long you do it. Just start somewhere. I promise this one practice, if you stick with it, will change you.
4. LET GO OF THINGS THAT DON’T GIVE YOU LIFE.
When I started my brain healing program, the instructors emphasized the importance of energy leaches on your overall health. Some of us tolerate unhealthy thought patterns and relationships and work environments and even churches. We don’t realize that these things leech spiritual, mental, and physical energy from us. But they do. They drain us. They diminish the energy we have to give to people we love (and who love us), and activities or causes we’re passionate about.
To navigate a stressful season, you need to pare down, to let go. You have limited stores of energy. Don’t allow energy leaches to siphon this most precious resource. Now is the time to let go of things that don’t give you life.
5. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF (AND OTHERS).
Some days, for no apparent reason, you might wake up and feel like a cowturd. Anger or depression will feel close enough to touch. You can’t push them away no matter how hard you try. You might even experience bodily pain, joints hurting, muscles sore, things like that.
I adopted this mantra during my healing. It goes like this: DO NO HARM.
It means I won’t allow the pain or discomfort I feel to breed more pain and discomfort. I won’t take my pain out on my wife or kids or my co-workers or friends. I won’t take my pain out on myself, either. I won’t hurt myself by self-indulgence. I won’t turn to my addictive tendencies. I won’t gorge myself with food or binge shop on Amazon or watch porn. I will DO NO HARM. I will get through this day, and I will find joy where I can, and I will go to sleep, and try again tomorrow.
Friends, some days, just doing this is an enormous win. So, you didn’t accomplish everything on your to-do list. You didn’t spend much time with your family. You weren’t productive at work. Who cares? You also didn’t self-indulge. You didn’t hurt yourself. You didn’t hurt others. The world is a better place today because you didn’t give in. That’s cause for celebration, not shame.
6. LIVE IN REALITY.
If you want any chance of peace and hope in this season (or any season), you must accept reality. Running from it or pretending it doesn’t exist is just another form of suffering. But it’s a worse form of suffering because it never heals. Reality is the foundation for healing. If you don’t live in reality, if you don’t see things as they are, you will live your days bitter and angry and cynical.
Some people pretend this pandemic isn’t serious. We need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and stop all the whining, they say. That’s false. This is the most serious and tragic thing our world has endured in decades and perhaps will endure in our lifetime. We don’t get to choose our circumstances, only how we respond to them.
Accepting reality doesn’t mean losing hope. It doesn’t mean basking in sorrow. No, it means we see the world as it is, we stare in the face of the grief, pain and sorrow. And we choose love. We choose joy. We choose life.
7. STOP TRYING TO CHANGE WHAT YOU CAN’T CONTROL.
The people who believe this is all a hoax. The people who refuse to wear masks when they’re required or who believe vaccines are the devil. The government’s response. Stop focusing on all of this stuff. What actual good is it doing you? None is the correct answer. You can’t control those things. I know you want the pandemic to end. You want the pain and suffering to end. We all do. But you can’t manufacture or manipulate your way out of this pandemic. You must endure it.
So, here’s a question: What can you control?
You can make sure your family does what they need to do to help us get through this season. You can love those close to you. You can take care of yourself. You can choose to love your neighbor, even the ones who believe this whole thing is a hoax.
Don’t allow people or situations beyond your control to steal your mental energy. It’s not worth it.
We can and will get through this pandemic. Until then, we tarry on. We do the best we can. But we don’t lose hope. God is with us. May you feel his presence. May you know that the Great Comforter fills the space you’re in.
Grace and peace, friends.