If anxiety seems to be running higher than usual right now, remember, it is also part of our human nature to be anxious. That's because we're finite creatures who are able to think beyond our finite circumstances. "Rational animals," Aquinas called us. The challenge is not to let anxiety get the best of us, and cause us to hurt ourselves and others.
Remember there’s another side.
Remember past hard times and times of crisis, and remember that you emerged on the other side. There have been times before when things have been really dark and desperate, but you made it through. "Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. " Remember that.
Count your blessings.
Gratitude. Count 'em—your blessings, that is. Anxiety magnifies our deficiencies, deficits and inadequacies. Gratitude, where the spiritual life begins, is the antidote.
Hold out your hands, palms up. For the shortest time, place the deficits in one hand. In the other, pile up the blessings, the people and things you're grateful for, the personal strengths you have, and the good that surrounds you.
Stay focused on the things that last.
Think on the things that last, like, say, love. "Love never faileth," reads the King James. That could mean love wins in the end. Or it may mean that while we can run out of oil, we can't run out of love. Either way, there are lots of things that are temporal, things that don't last. Getting too focused on those leaves you empty in the end.
Extend a hand to others.
Anxious times are times to remember the truly vulnerable among us: the poor, the refugees, children and the aged. Extend a hand in their direction. Next fall, make sure your local food bank is stocked up for the coming winter. Think now about someone who is likely to be alone next Thanksgiving and whom you may include at your family table. There are churches and other groups that regularly send care packages to soldiers overseas. Join them.
Celebrate simple pleasures.
Celebrate the simple pleasures, such as dogs. I stayed this week with a family that had a black Lab, Raven. Petting black Labs is good. Also good is taking a walk, around the block or in the woods. At the farmers markets, it's time for all the glorious summer produce and plants.
Respond instead of reacting.
Here's a tough one: Remember the difference between reaction and response. When anxiety runs high we're tempted to be reactive—firing back when fired upon. Take a few deep breaths, count to 10 and instead of just reacting, respond.
It's what Jesus was talking about when he said, "Turn the other cheek" and "Go the extra mile." He didn't mean being a doormat. He did mean we don't have to get caught in cycles of reaction. Instead of letting someone else's anger or fear control us, we can be in charge of ourselves and how we respond. It's not easy, I know, but in anxious times, reactivity runs wild unless we stop it.
Make a funny face.
Laugh. When grim threatens to overwhelm, I sometimes duck into the bathroom, close the door, look into the mirror, make a funny face at the guy I see and laugh. Forced at first, it can actually become pretty hilarious. Rent an old, funny movie. Ask everyone to bring a joke to dinner. Doesn't mean there aren't real problems. It does mean that taking yourself too seriously can be fatal.
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