News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Finding rest amid uncertainty

When you sit with patients long enough, you start picking up on patterns.

Individual wellness is often connected to the collective, and with our digitalized world becoming smaller, that collective is more interconnected than ever. Feelings and sentiments are more palpable and like a contagion, can spread. While we may not ourselves have experienced a particular trauma or loss, we have immediate access to those who have, creating a breeding ground for secondary anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, or division.

Despite my training in stress reduction and self-help, I am by no means immune to my own anxieties. I prefer to sit near the exits in a theater. I scan a crowd with a healthy dose of scrutiny. I am more comfortable in the woods than in the city. I am a bit slower to trust others. After weekly commutes across the mountains and pondering “what ifs,” my SUV is probably ready for the apocalypse and definitely not kid friendly. I made my first emergency kit. I bought an escape ladder. I am intent on adding a bit more cash to the emergency fund. With so many images and stories of tragedy filling the news, my mind easily slips to a place of “what would I do?”

My imagination can sometimes feel like an intruder whipping up worst-case scenarios that periodically overpower my sense of safety. I find myself needing to be more mindful of “walking the talk.”

It’s a strange paradox that amid trying to avoid imagined fears, the energy, thought processes, and attempts to control an outcome, can become pretty scary and overwhelming in themselves.

It is easy to be in a place of anticipatory anxiety, to over-prepare, to feel the need to plan and predict. To an extent, there is good reason for this. There is political unrest. The economy is not great. There have been acts of violence that challenge our comprehension. The climate is changing. To anticipate is to survive. It is part of our evolution story. And yet, defaulting to a mindset of anticipation and preparation without the balance of rest and restoration, can be costly to our health, relationships, and spirit.

Sometimes we may not have a choice. Life will sometimes demand that we grind. Life will sometimes demand that we stay vigilant. Our sympathetic nervous system takes the wheel pumping out adrenaline and cortisol priming us for action — at least for a while. Our parasympathetic nervous system allowing us to rest, heal, and digest, gets pushed to the back of the bus. This arrangement is only meant to be temporary. Regardless, the primal alarm bells eliciting a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response are, for many of us, in overdrive. Even in the midst of relative safety, many of us are convinced that if we let our guard down, even temporarily, the risks are too high.

In the midst of preparation and anticipation, it would benefit us to remember what we are trying to preserve. Most of us would cite safety, stability, connection, peace, gratitude, and hopefully a bit of joy. Compared to so many who are searching for such outcomes, it can feel almost indulgent or selfish to bask in such positivity. And yet, our joy and ability to hold compassion for ourselves and the greater world is the ultimate rebellion against tyranny and unrest.

How do we cultivate joy in a world that seems to be lost in so much struggle? Smile a little more. Compliment. Dance. Sing. Be a little silly. Go on an adventure. Prioritize acts of kindness. Take a walk in nature. Practice gratitude. Take care of ourselves. It takes mindful intention.

As we enter the holiday season, let’s remember in the midst of feeling pressure to prepare and anticipate, what it is we are working so hard for. The welfare of the world is not just secured by military arsenals and weapon stockpiles, but so too in our insistence to not forego our compassion and kindness despite it all.


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