Life after COVID-19 will never quite be the same. We’ve seen a glimpse of something that will change how we view our world. COVID-19 showed us that the world we live in might be less stable than we thought. In just 6 short weeks our emotional and financial vulnerabilities were exposed. Some found it difficult to cope with the lack of social interaction. Others found the extra time around their family actually increased stress. Maybe after a few weeks of social isolation, you saw a side of yourself you didn’t like. Some didn’t have enough money in savings to make it through six-plus weeks without working. Several local businesses near my home didn’t make it through the shutdown and won’t be re-opening. Suddenly we are confronted with the hard truth that our world is more fragile than we realized. We were living under an illusion that we have far more control of life. In reality, our world as we know it can change in a heartbeat.
Maybe it took a crisis to expose some of our own vulnerabilities that we really needed to address. My own situation could have easily turned disastrous. A couple months without work could have caused enough financial pressure to make me seriously consider selling my home. It’s an uncomfortable reality that causes me anxiety just thinking about it. Now I feel hyper-aware of these disaster-scenarios. Maybe you do too. My gut instinct is to overcorrect by working more so I don’t have to experience that uncomfortable financial pressure again. We all want to feel “safe.” Sure, some level of preparation is healthy and important but can we ever really be completely “safe?” What if a more serious virus emerged? What if ebola mutated and became airborne? What if nuclear war breaks out? A large enough catastrophe would dismantle even the best-laid plans.
These possible threats always exist. We’re just more or less aware of them. I just happen to be “more” aware of them right now. Maybe you are too. So where do we go from here? How do we prepare for the future knowing that in the blink of an eye something like this could happen again? Like I said, things will never quite go back to the way they were but maybe that’s a good thing. What if the “old way” we were living wasn’t doing us any favors? I think part of the answer lies in taking a look at how we cope with uncertainty. It’s difficult for us to cope with the truth that we face an uncertain future. We all want guarantees in life that simply don’t exist. I know I do. Before COVID-19 we dealt with uncertainty by convincing ourselves we could control the world around us. COVID-19 showed us that some situations are simply too big for us to control. Now we’re faced with that truth. So how do we learn to live with it? How can we walk into an uncertain future without living in a state of constant fear and anxiety?
I’ll be honest, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just a normal guy trying to figure things out. However, I do believe now is the time for all of us to rethink how we process stressful situations like COVID-19. There will be another “COVID-19” though whether it be a virus or some other crisis. It seems inevitable that our next presidential election may put a lot of stress on our nation. We don’t yet know how the economy will respond to the stress of COVID-19. If you’re not scared right now, chances are high that someone in your family is. How will kids see the world after growing up during the COVID-19 stay-home order? Irrational fear of germs? Fear of going to the store? Fear of physical touch?
I think there are some things we can do right now to help us better cope with these situations in the future. I’d like to share a few actionable steps I came up with for myself. They’re not designed to prevent a crisis from happening but to prepare me to face a crisis in the future from a position of emotional stability and clarity. We’d all like to get to the place where if we experienced a true quarantine or our bank accounts disappeared, we’d be able to cope with it. We want to be a steady, calming voice to the people we care about. Call it laying a new foundation of “stability” in our brains. Maybe these steps I created for myself will inspire you to create your own steps to help you cope with stressful situations.
1. Make a 10-minute daily appointment with stress. Last week I watched the Global Leadership Summit livestream where psychologist Juliet Funt suggested that we all make a a daily appointment with stress. Every morning she allows herself to “feel” everything that’s bothering or frustrating her for 10 minutes. After that 10 minutes is up, she packs up her worries and puts them away for the day. If those worries re-emerge later in the day, she tells her worries they’ll have to wait until their “next scheduled appointment” on the following day.
I love this idea because I’m aware that I sometimes waste a significant amount of energy thinking about things I can’t even control. I want to have more energy to focus on the things I’m passionate about but I sometimes lose too much energy to stress. Similar to how a computer has many programs running in the background taking up resources, our brains are running many unnecessary “programs” that use up our mental and emotional resources. Creating a scheduled time to acknowledge worries and concerns could be a healthy way to deal with stress. This method doesn’t allow us to avoid or ignore our problems but instead creates healthy “boundaries” for them.
On a similar note, another speaker suggested creating “boundaries” for the news. Because much of the news is focused on things we can’t control, it was suggested that listening to the news all day long might not be the healthiest thing for our minds. It might actually cause us to waste energy focusing on things we can’t control . A better way to stay informed might be to get our news once or twice a day at a scheduled time. Then our minds are more free to focus on only the things we can actually control for the rest of the day, lowering overall stress.
2. Schedule a regular activity that helps us “unpack and organize” our emotions and experiences. I was watching a webinar on writing by Donald Miller from StoryBrand. He said writing is a way for us to organize and sort through the things we go through in life. Writing helps us understand and organize what’s going on in our brains. In a sense, it helps us “make sense” out of the things we’re feeling and experiencing. This is why some people find writing in a journal to be helpful.
I realized this is exactly what I experience when I write songs. As a rock musician, songwriting has always been an activity that helps me unpack and process the challenges I’ve faced in life. As my life became busier though, I stopped writing songs regularly. During the COVID-19 shutdown, I returned to writing songs and realized how much it helps me see the world more clearly. If I’m making a conscious effort when I write, it’s a chance for me to shift my focus from the things I can’t control to the things I can control.
Songwriting has always been a part of my life that makes me “me,” yet I let it slip through the cracks for a while. To build this habit back into my life, I decided to be more intentional about scheduling a regular time to write. Whether you like to journal, write songs or blogs, I’d suggest scheduling a regular activity that helps you sort through your thoughts and experiences. I think this will help us better understand ourselves, organize our thoughts and learn to think more clearly on a regular basis.
3. Create a regular routine to grow your spiritual life – I don’t know what you believe but for me, exploring my faith helps me focus on the “big picture” in life instead of specific situations that are stressful. It’s not always easy but it does provide an anchor and brings purpose to my life. I found it helpful to listen through Genesis, the first book of the Bible on my phone during the COVID-19 shutdown. Genesis is a fascinating book to me because early civilization faced major threats on a regular basis. They had no police to protect them, no insurance and no bank account. They faced diseases and sickness that we can’t even imagine today. It’s a wonder how they survived. Their lives seemed so fragile.
In contrast, God was there shaping them through those moments of crisis. If I focused on one particular chapter or paragraph in Genesis, it seemed like the story could end in disaster at any moment. However if I could zoom out and focus on the big picture, I could see the whole story. I remembered what one of the speakers at the Global Leadership Summit said. During any crisis like COVID-19, remember that this is just a scene in a movie. It will pass. If you pause a Netflix movie and examine all of the different still-frames from each chapter, some of those still-frames would reveal moments of crisis and pain. But that individual scene of crisis is not the end of the story. The next scene will come. There will be good scenes again.
There are many “scenes” of crisis in the book of Genesis. Many are worse than anything I’ve ever faced. Even during those scenes of chaos though, God was there acting as a stable presence. He brought stability to that fragile young civilization. God was writing a bigger story. It was helpful for me to be reminded of that during the 6 weeks of social isolation. As I felt concerns over health, personal finances and the economy, I could remember that this is just a scene in a movie. God is still writing a bigger story just like He was with that young and fragile human civilization in Genesis.
There are a number of ways to incorporate this step thanks to technology. I’m not much of a reader so I’ve been listening to the audio Bible using the YouVersion Bible App on my phone. Every day when I wake up, I fire it up and listen to a few chapters while I make my coffee and breakfast.
Installing a few regular routines like the activities above can bring a sense of predictability and stability to our lives. These activities also help me practice shifting my focus from the stressful scenes of life to the bigger picture. I can’t promise we’ll ever be completely free of anxiety. These feelings are simply part of the human experience. However, maybe we can learn new ways to cope with an uncertain future. I’d like to think that we can prepare ourselves to face whatever crisis lies ahead with a sense of stability. We’re stronger than we think we are; sometimes we just forget that sometimes. The human race has survived some pretty crazy situations. Just read through Genesis and you’ll see. I hope the steps I shared help you find your own place of mental, emotional and spiritual stability. If you’d like, you can share your own ideas in the comments below. Take care and stay safe!
Brewery Ministries, Inc.
Church In A Brewery is a casual place to discuss Jesus and spiritual questions over a beer. Want updates on Church In A Brewery and other events from Brewery Ministries? Sign up below!
Great article Nathan! You are a great writer and have good thoughts to share! I liked particularly you talking about the idea of taking some time to immerse ourselves in our feelings and then after that time allotted, get back into life – The 10 minute appointment with stress. Then also to limit our time watching the news, and doing some writing about our feelings. All great stuff. Thanks for sharing Nathan.
Thanks Mark! Yes, I find the 10 minute stress appointment to be really helpful. The biggest challenge for me just seems to be turning it into a habit. Sometimes when a stressful situation pops up during the day, I forget to wait until the next day to worry about it. I might have to put some post-it-notes around as a reminder until I break in the new habit!