This is a talk that I was asked to present to those at the Gabriel Network. Although it was intended for the Gabriel Network Moms and their Angel Helpers, it speaks to all of us during this time of global anxiety. I hope this presentation provides some help in this difficult time.
You can access the recording by clicking here or I’ve provided the transcript below.
Are you feeling Anxious? Insecure? Fearful/Scared? Agitated, Impatient, or Moody? Do you feel Trapped? Depressed, Out of Control? Exhausted? But not able to Sleep? Are you having weird pains or discomfort? Headaches? Anger? Confusion? Or sometimes do you just feel Completely Overwhelmed?
My guess is that you can relate to more than just one of these recently and you’re probably not sure whether they are normal or not, or are they caused by pregnancy OR COVID or what? Well, the short answer is – YES! And take comfort knowing you’re not alone.
It seems like the entire world is dealing with an influx of confusing, up and down emotions, and the whole world isn’t even pregnant. So, cut yourself some slack, EVERYBODY is in a little tizzy right now! We’re in a weird time and a weird situation. We are experiencing worldwide stress. Stress is when our nerves are on high alert, super-charged, and prone to over-react so we can be attentive to the challenges at hand. So, it makes sense that we are all anxious. Here, stress is the normal reaction to such an abnormal situation. So even though our reaction to a situation is the appropriate one, it doesn’t feel, right? It actually feels really wrong! That’s because stress, this state of being on high alert is supposed to move us to action – to either fight or flight-to stay and fight the stressor or to run from it. Here you can see then that stress isn’t always a bad thing. It’s is harmful when it doesn’t move us forward – when we linger in it, and then it can become crippling. We also might feel that we haven’t chosen a response and that the stressor has actually over-powered us. But that feeling – like maybe we are feeling helpless, and that we aren’t doing any fighting or flying, but that’s not true. We are choosing an appropriate response by doing our best at social distancing and observing other “stay in place measures.” In this way, we are responding to the threat by choosing the flight option. And that’s a good choice. But others, who are prepared by their education or their gifts, or their situations – their response might appropriately be, stay and fight, by caring for the sick or finding a cure. So, even though you might feel helpless in the face of this stressor (or virus) you ARE responding the best way possible. The problem is that we don’t recognize the value of our response, AND the response itself can cause us other stressors like feeling vulnerable, stuck, and anxious. Remember, this is an unusual situation, and an appropriate amount of stress, in some ways IS the correct response. So, give yourself permission to be somewhat stressed. You’re allowed.
Also, you’re pregnant! Which means your body and mind are on high-alert, super-charged, and prone to overreact most of the time anyway. This is an appropriate response. When you’re pregnant, your body should be extremely sensitive to the plethora of amazing changes that are taking place within you. This, however, doesn’t feel good emotionally. You probably feel like you’re being taken over by HORMONES FROM HELL – crying one moment, and then getting a case of the giggles for no reason, the next. This too is normal. It’s ok. Be at peace! You’ll not only get through this, but you’ll actually find that you can thrive during this time. And I’m pretty sure that one day you’ll come to realize that right NOW, this time in your life, is what helped bring out your inner “Super Woman.” The Incredible Hulk has nothing on you, ladies! YOU are growing a human being inside of you and that’s REALLY Incredible!!!
So, one thing we’ve seen here is that our feelings aren’t always the best indicators of what’s really going on. That’s why we can’t always just go with our feelings or as we’ve seen written on plaques and such “Follow your heart.” Noooooo! Be attentive to your heart – your feelings, yes. But our feeling can’t rule us. We can’t always count on our feelings. Like in our pandemic situation today or in pregnancy, we may feel awful, sad, and freaked out, and yet, we are actually making good choices – like doing what we can do to take flight from the virus. But the opposite can be true too. We can feel good about something when in reality, that something is not good for us.
So how then, you might ask, can we know we are handling stress appropriately and not be slaves to our emotions when we can’t always trust our feelings? Great question. Let’s explore some thoughts on this…
Whether it’s pregnancy or a pandemic, or family, or work or relationship issues, we need to be aware that there are always stressors in our lives. It’s just part of the human condition. Recognize or be aware, acknowledge or understand and acceptance, take action if possible, of stress. This is our first line of defense in combatting its adverse effects on us. It’s also important to IDENTIFY what it is that your feeling. We can’t really identify or name the culprit and move on to appropriate actions until we accept that it’s there and that it’s affecting badly. And a lot of times we can’t do that by ourselves. We know that we might not be sleeping well and that we are having anxiety nightmares, but we don’t see why, or how restless nights affect our moods, behaviors, or our interactions with others. Something as simple as being tired can make us impatient. Feeling overwhelmed can cause us to retreat and shut down. Stress from being physically uncomfortable can make us lash out unintentionally at someone. We can’t always tell when our nerves are wound tight, so I beg you to be humble enough to accept that others might be able to recognize the signs of stress within us better than we can. And in our humility in accepting other’s help and constructive criticism, we can actually develop trusting relationships and life-long friendships. For example, a caring helper or friend can sometimes see that we are returning to bad habits or engaging in over-indulgences like in comfort foods or binge shopping well-before we ourselves are aware that there is even a problem. While these adverse coping behaviors might bring us a short-lived escape, they very well may have lasting damaging effects. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the antidote we seek to relieve our stress, be authentic serenity or peace, and not just an easy, ready-available manufactured counterfeit.
Finding peace counteracts anxiety and two very insightful men I’d like to quote talk about where we can find it. The first is Reinhold Niebuhr and he wrote the Serenity Prayer which you might be familiar with.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
According to Niebuhr, peace comes with knowing what I can do and then doing it. AND, he says, peace comes when I can accept the fact that there are some things outside of my power to control and change. And peace comes when we are ok with that. This acceptance leads to serenity. Peace, therefore, is the antidote to stress. Much of our anxiety, anger, and frustration comes because we can’t accept that there are things outside of our control. That’s especially difficult when those things we can’t control are injustices. Some things aren’t fair. And some things aren’t the way they should. So, you may ask, how can we possibly be at peace in such situations?
The answer lies in a quote from an even more extraordinary man, who happens to also be God. In the Gospel of Matthew 6:34, we read that Jesus says, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has worries of itself.” What Jesus meant when He said this almost 2000 years ago is ‘BE AT PEACE.’ You don’t need to stress, I’ve got this. Today is hard enough, let me help you through today and you’ll find that you’ll come out better than trying to do it alone. Don’t focus on tomorrow, focus on right now because if you start thinking about tomorrow, you’re just going to get stressed out again! Yes, plan what is yours to plan. Do what is yours to do. Be responsible. But don’t let your mind wander to tomorrow’s what-ifs. What-ifs are just that – perceived threats. It’s kind of funny but Modern Psychologists get the credit today with realizing that a lot of stress, actually comes from, not our real problems or threats but perceived problems that might or might not happen – the what-ifs. It’s taken us two thousand years for psychological studies to realize that God was right all along, and we shouldn’t worry about what-ifs that may never come to pass.
When I was a young mother, I was a worrier. I would let my mind wander to ridiculous what-ifs. I’d become afraid and depressed imagining crazy scenarios of what-ifs. A friend of mine who had raised her 6 children to successful adulthood told me something to do to solve my problems of fear. She shared with me a different message from Jesus, the one from Mark’s gospel where Our Lord basically says, “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” My friend suggested that my fears came from not knowing what was going to happen to my kids in the future and that “not-knowing” was making me a nervous wreck. My friend said that instead of me allowing my imagination to run amok with horrible fears I should focus on what the only One who knew the future had to say. And He says “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.”
My friend told me to write down those words and stick them on my refrigerator and whenever I’d become anxious, I should repeat them over and over again until I believe them. So, that’s what I did. “Fear is useless, what is needed it trust. Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.” And I have to be honest with you, sometimes it did help. But sometimes it didn’t. UNTIL one day I heard another wise woman, Kimberly Hahn say something that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “I don’t know the future. BUT I know the One who knows the future. And I TRUST HIM! Whoa! That was the missing piece. Our fear, our anxiety is not so much us not knowing the future as it is an issue of trusting the One who does. Do I trust Him? Do I trust the One who created the world, who breathed life into me and my babies? The One who continues to hold me in existence out of His sheer love for me, who suffered the punishments of my sins so I can live with Him forever – He’s the only one who knows the future. CAN I trust Him even more than I can trust myself? Ah, Heck Yeah!!! Trusting God is the antidote to stress. He brings peace.
And something that goes with this and can be the source of much anxiety and anger, are the feelings that come with ingratitude. Recent psychological studies have proven positive effects come from – being thankful. There is actually something called gratitude therapy and it’s very effective and something we can practice by ourselves when we thoughtfully reflect on the aspects of our lives that bring joy by appreciating and being grateful for what we have. So, thank God!
Gratitude can only come about when we stop wanting what others have or what we think they have and find the positive and joy in what is already ours. Gratitude really does put a smile on our faces and joy in our hearts. Also, let yourself laugh. It’s hard to stay in an anxious dark place when you have a smile on your face. So, think of something that’ll make you smile, something that you are grateful for. It sounds crazy but there is something to be said about humor therapy and its role in emotional and physical resilience. So, smile! And laugh! And breathe!
Also, there’s something to be said about SELF-CARE which is a good thing for us physically, psychologically, and spiritually!!! Do something you enjoy. Do something creative – color, knit, journal, sing, play an instrument, or write. Studies show that creativity produces an immediate soothing effect on one’s mental status. If you’re not artsy, then read a book, take a walk, catch some rays and get your daily dose of Vitamin D, connect with others (socially distancing of course), work on a puzzle, plant a garden, exercise, cook or bake, clean or organize (I hear that some people actually find that kind of thing relaxing). And the best self-care you can do for yourself doesn’t cost a cent. You can always connect with God in prayer or just by resting in His presence, thinking about how much He does love you because He really does.
1. It’s not healthy to linger or wallow in negativity!
2. When stressed out, we might need to ask ourselves, “Is this something that God is asking from me right now, or am I letting my imagination get the best of me?”
3. Gratitude can be as simple as a change in how we see things.
4. Just remember BUT Be aware, Understand, Take Action if possible
ALSO, there may be times when we seriously need help from others. Even Jesus needed help in carrying His cross. So, if you need someone to help you with your anxiety, or sadness, or your fear, that’s ok. Seek help! We all need others in our lives to help us be the best we can be. The end-goal is that “We want Mama to be good because then everybody else is good, right?” We see this played out in our children and other family members around us, don’t we? If mama’s in a tizzy then the whole house is in a tizzy, especially the children. Kids are our emotional thermostats. They mirror our moods. So, we shouldn’t just try and hide our emotions from our children, as much as we need to manage our emotions in front of them. And it’s ok for children to see Mommy taking a little time-out to breathe and regroup. That’s something we all need to do and that would be a good thing for our kids to mirror. Never underestimate the value of a healthy long intentional breath – in from the nose, and slowly out from the mouth. This too has been proven to have positive physiological stress-relieving results on the body and the mind. So, breathe! And trust in God, and be at peace!