Finding Rest in Stress: Part 2
The air is ringing with "Happy New Years!", and a promise of a fresh start. But then... lockdown. Again. Many individuals face increasing inner turmoil, as the turn of the new year seems to bring a resurfacing of old insecurities - tightened social restrictions, less freedom to travel, more questions on the hope of a brighter tomorrow.
The ever-shifting tide of life’s affairs, and the unpredictable nature of current events are powerful evidences that we cannot allow circumstances to govern our sense of stability or peace.
In the days when airplane travel was a norm, I remember one particularly noticeable takeoff. The weather was miserable at best – dark grey clouds, continuous drizzle, and gusty winds made for a rocky ride as the plane left the ground. We were shaken left and right as the pilot made calculated attempts to control the vessel, assuring us that once we reach a certain altitude, the journey would improve. We were dubious as we found ourselves once again slammed against each other like dominoes as the plan took another turn.
And then just like that – we passed through the clouds. And above the angry grey was a most peaceful blue, and the brilliant light of sunshine. It was another world. As the plane soared higher, the atmosphere was still and bright, and the pilot told us we had finally reached cruising altitude.
There was truly peace above the storm.
This occurrence left a lasting impression in my mind. If we could only find the way to get above the clouds of circumstances in our lives, then we wouldn’t have to wait for sunny days in order to fly.
We could be soaring every moment of our lives, having learned the art of mastering circumstances and finding peace.
For most of us, our emotional responses to stressors are the underlying cause of future unpleasant physiological 'stress' symptoms, but what we often fail to realise is that these responses are largely fuelled by negative thought patterns.
Recognising and reversing these thought patterns can help to redirect and brighten the mood. Here are some practical steps to assist with re-aligning your thinking, and finding rest even in the midst of stress:
1) End the Catastrophe
We often 'catastrophise' situations in our mind, causing them to loom large and appear irreversible. This inevitably invites a sense of discouragement which could well have been avoided.
An example of catastrophising may sound like:
“If I have to spend another day indoors I’m going to lose my mind! It's killing me!”
In reality, just being indoors is not causing intense physical harm. We could change that thought by telling ourselves something closer to the truth, such as:
“Another day indoors has the potential to be frustrating, but I can decide to do something constructive and profitable with my time.”
2) Recognise the Reality
Sometimes, we go to the other extreme of greatly minimising a situation. We can end up internalising a problem without properly thinking though the possible outcomes, or planning for positive responses.
An example of this could be: “This lockdown is nothing. It will be over in a few days, and everything will go back to normal”.
The reality is, those statements aren’t true. The Bible says that hope deferred makes the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12), meaning when we pin our expectations on a faulty reality, we are prone to experiencing discouragement if it falls through.
A better thought process may be something like: “I’m not sure exactly how long this lockdown may continue, but I am determined to learn how to adjust positively, even if that means accepting and operating within a new normal.’
3) All, Nothing, or In-Between?
Some of us are prone to black-and-white thinking, where the conclusion in our mind is either one way, or another. For example: “If I can’t go on holiday this year, there’s no way I can enjoy any of my work leave.”
This type of thinking sets us up for failure, as we often become self-fulfilling proverbs of our own thoughts. Instead, looking at the half-full glass, and realising 'some-of-something' is better than nothing-at-all, can help bring back a sense of relief to a despairing mind:
“I may not be able to go on an international holiday as planned, but a stay-cation may be an option. Even just learning a new hobby during my down-time could be quite enjoyable.”
Focusing on what we can change (our responses) instead of brooding over what we can’t (external uncontrollable circumstances) is one key to breaking through the mood altitude barrier, and reaching the sunlight of peace.