On Monday (part 1) we took an introductory look at anxiety and how pervasive an issue it is in our society. Today, I would like to share an overarching framework that has helped move me from stress, anxiety, and depression to greater calm and mind-body-soul peace. This list can help with joyful living. I am struggling a lot with posting this, actually, for fear of 1) either being too vague and unhelpful or 2) perpetuating anxiety or overwhelm in some of you. Honestly, this is the benefit of working 1:1 or in a small group setting with a coach or counsellor – someone who can help guide you to an appropriate starting place and remind you to just take one step. Then the next.
For most of my healing I was not following this framework consciously; I was simply taking faltering step after step, gleaning from this person or that resource, moving through life as best I could. Now, however, I look back and see that these 7 (sometimes overlapping) concepts have been critical to helping me live with greater JOY in a stressed-out world.
It has taken me years to get to where I am today and yet continue the work in my own life. And everyone’s unique life circumstances and personality come into play so the details I share within each concept are offered as ideas, not ‘rules’. May they offer a measure of inspiration or encouragement to you.
I Got Clear On My Identity
It was absolutely essential for me to get clear on who I am, to grow in self-awareness and self-knowledge. To learn to respect myself – the fullness of my strengths and weaknesses, my learning style, personality type and introversion – basically how I am knit together (I am a HUGE fan of tests for personality type or spiritual gifting). To understand that I do not need to compare or force myself to fit into someone else’s suffocating box in order to be good enough. My faith reminds me of my inherent worth as a created being, an amazing piece of poetry, an intricate and expertly crafted piece of art. And this helps me walk with greater strength, dignity and quiet confidence and enables me to call others to the same. I still fear man (I wish it weren’t so). Rejection. Taking off my mask completely. I see myself as fragile and a wee bit broken some days. And a warrior the next. And it is ok that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I Live With Mindfulness
This remains a tremendous challenge for me and my frenetic brain and fearful heart. This learning to control my thoughts, my tongue, my attitude. Learning to regulate my emotions and face fear and other scary emotions head-on and move through them. Learning not to numb out. Learning to breathe (seriously, I am pretty sure I breathed shallow and stilted for most of my life), to choose joy in the midst of pain, to live with daily gratitude, to see the beauty in a world that can feel harsh and demoralizing. To live each and every day “on-purpose”. I intentionally try to craft a daily life that brings me joy rather than always waiting for the weekend or the next vacation. I want to live each day as though it could be my last. Living with mindfulness also includes limiting the type of media I consume, reducing consumption in general, and a purposeful decision to focus primarily on promoting what I love and what lifts others up rather than bashing what I hate. This seemingly simple shift in perspective can help reduce anxiety quite significantly.
I Got Clear On My Vision
A clear vision is a big part of joyful living. I needed to get clear on where I hope to go or the work I am called to do in this world. There have been times I could only see a few steps in front of me and that had to be enough. My vision has deepened and expanded as I have moved through different seasons of life; it guides my decision-making and roots me. It helps me set healthy boundaries and say no to things and people that do not align with who and how I want to BE and reminds me that I do not have to do everything others think I ‘should’, no matter how wonderful. It prompts me to step back and see the big picture rather than falling apart over the myriad details. To remember that life is a journey, I am a work in progress, and that I simply need to take baby step after baby step and rest in the process.
I Nourish My Family Well
Creating a safe, creative, orderly and nurturing environment for me and my family is so very important. I honestly see my home as a Safe House of sorts and pray that every person who enters in leave stronger: uplifted, heard, better equipped for their journey. I prioritize strong, connected relationships with my children and husband; this involves vulnerability (a long, painful process in my case), integrity, and a lot of saying sorry;) It involves grace and space for each of us to be imperfect, interesting human beings. To talk about hard issues, disagree, and treat each other with kindness. This also involves prioritizing a healthy lifestyle (sleep, time for creativity, movement, breathing room in the calendar) and good quality food that I source from afar. Food that supports mood balance and optimizes overall health. Those of you who have no immediate family may choose to forge your own family of kindred spirits. A tribe of people (or just one or two!) who will accept and love you and where you feel a sense of belonging and contribution.
I Practice Self-Care
I say that I now put myself first. Above my family. I have learned the hard way that selfless devotion without self-care leads to serious burn-out that ultimately serves no one. Joyful movement and quality sleep help strengthen me physically. I require fairly constant brain-food in order to be joyful so I keep learning and thinking and invest in my education in various ways. I don’t spend a ton of time with friends but do enjoy meaty conversations with like-minded people who enjoy discussing ideas. Social support helps alleviate anxiety and promotes overall health and wellbeing. And taking pleasure in life, slowing down to notice the gifts of today, and chunking out time for “purposeful rest” all support my emotional wellbeing. I have learned to heed the whispers of my soul that warn me of my need to come aside and rest awhile which prevents me from crashing and burning (I will generally prioritize solitude over group functions). I have developed the courage to speak up more often and seek help when needed (ex. a season of counselling).
I Do Meaningful Work In The World
Paid or not, I believe we all have work to do in the world – but there are also seasons for everything. If you are raising little people or struggling with chronic illness- let that be your primary work, if possible. Regardless, we all have gifts to contribute. While this may involve a career or ministry, this isn’t necessarily about education level or being ‘expert’ at anything. Some people may need help pinpointing their areas of gifting (before he died, my dad wrote me an encouraging letter in which he highlighted the strengths or giftings he saw in me; a beautiful gift). I think that teaching or mentoring is probably part of this meaningful work for each of us to some degree. We teach by example and we are always ahead of someone else on the journey; someone who is watching and listening and in need of us speaking encouragement into their lives. And our work doesn’t end at retirement; the healthiest societies understand that young or old, we have a contribution to make to our community. I know we have bills to pay so this isn’t at all “black & white” but believe that taking care of yourself (emotionally, physically, spiritually) and building a strong, connected family take priority over your work or serving other people.
I Pour Out
When my cup is filled I have something to pour out into the lives of others: compassion, encouragement, comfort, finances, time, energy. We may give of ourselves in mind, body or spirit. Whether in small or large ways, pouring out pulls us out of self-absorption, helps us put things in perspective, reminds us that we are all part of a delicate microcosm of humanity in which we all play a necessary role. That every choice we make sends a ripple of impact into the world. That we are all interconnected and if I wish you were fed but do nothing to alleviate your hunger then I myself am part of your suffering. Pouring out might look like putting a roof on a Tanzanian school/church, carrying a homemade loaf of bread to an ailing neighbor, rescuing young girls from sex-trafficking, or visiting forgotten folks at a care centre. There are no rules about what this has to look like. I have to admit, though: my grief over the suffering in the world has definitely contributed to my anxiety. While I give myself permission to reach out my hands with what I have to share, even if it seems small and insignificant to others, I cannot give myself permission to NOT care or to do nothing at all. Yet to lessen anxiety it has been critical to focus my attention on one or two specific areas of concern (for me this is loving and feeding children and their mamas) and trust others to fill the needs they are called to.
If you are feeling crushed by the weight of anxiety right now, please seek help. Tell the truth to someone. Choose to love yourself – right now in the midst of your pain and struggle. Joyful living is possible but can take some time and hard work. I encourage you to visit my friend, Renée’s, post to see the steps she has taken to calm anxiety in her life (she is a gifted and honest writer) . And then come on back to read about nutritional supports for better mood-balance (part 3) and supplementing for anxiety (part 4).
If you want to begin living with more CALM, check out my 30 Days to Greater CALM Mini Course