Many of us, for the good of our health and that of our neighbors’, are in some form of “shelter-in-place” where we find ourselves suddenly learning a whole host of new skills from how to work from home to homeschooling our kids. We find ourselves isolated, overwhelmed, stressed out, and socially distanced with little to do but binge tv, or read the news. We just celebrated Easter, but many of us feel trapped in an extended Lent. The stress of the situation is clearly taking a toll, as Americans are drinking more than ever, stress eating, and pot sales appear to be booming.
And then, at least from what I’m seeing in spiritual direction, people are feeling guilt and shame about the coping mechanisms they are using. Have grace for yourself, dear reader, in this time. We are experiencing world-wide trauma. The coping skills we’re using to get through this are the coping skills we have. Guilt and shame for the numbing behaviors we use to cope with trauma only deepen our dependence on on those numbing strategies. In Eastertide, it is good to remember we have deep grace from the Divine.
Here are a few quick practices that can help us to cope. Use the ones that look interesting to you. Ignore the ones that don’t. This isn’t the time to feel bad about not doing yet another thing on your todo list.
Self-hugs For many people who experienced neglect or abandonment, social isolation can be triggering of those feelings of loss and rejection. For others, just the lack of the touch of other humans can take a toll. Self-hugs are shown to work, even though they may sound a bit silly at first for those who have never tried. Simply put your arms around yourself, squeeze tightly, and tell yourself “you matter, you are loved, you will be okay.”
Weighted blanket Weighted blankets work for a whole range of issues including anxiety and sleep disorders. I got one recently and, anecdotally, I can affirm an added sense of security and peace while wrapped in it.
Self-compassion journaling Similar to spiritual writing, where one is writing a letter to Love, in self-compassion journaling, one is writing a letter to oneself from Love. Here the goal is to write out your affirmations of yourself, remind yourself to have grace for your mistakes, and to reassure yourself that you will make it through this.
Loving-kindness meditation These are guided meditations that allow one to deepen one’s self-compassion and grace. Just searching for “loving-kindness meditation” will bring up a number of options, though the Liturgist podcast has put out one of their own. And yes, research backs up this practice as well.
Prayer of thanksgiving upon waking In the Jewish tradition, there is a practice called “modeh ani” (Hebrew: מודה אני), which means “I give thanks.” The full traditional prayer is translated as:
I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
One could recite that prayer, use the shorter form of “I give thanks,” or come up with a personal variant. The important thing is to start the day off with a feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving, because gratitude is good for us.
Crying A neurologist friend of mine prescribes to some of her patients to cry at least three times a week and, preferably, daily. Crying in this season of lament is natural and good for us. Putting together a playlist of sad songs can be helpful. Watching the right kind of movie can help jumpstart crying as well. Finding poetry that speaks to grief is something that has been very effective for me in this season. Psalm 22 is a wonderful starting point as is this poem by Stevie Smith. The important thing is to let oneself really release the tears one might be holding back.
Again, the goal here is not to add another task to feel guilty about not doing. The important thing is to be gentle and caring for yourself. Grace and peace be with you all.
Bart Hennigan has a Master of Public and International Affairs degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently in year three of Sewanne's Education for Ministry and is pursuing certification as a spiritual director through the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. When not reading or discussing philosophy and theology, Bart is a stay-at-home father of three, which has taught him much about patience and the importance of silence.