9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

3 Things I’m Learning About Anxiety and 5 Things that Help – part 2

This is part 2 of a two-part series on anxiety. Read part 1 here.

Let’s jump right in. Here are a few things I’m finding helpful in dealing with anxiety:

Routines
The pandemic taught me that I rely on imposed routines. When all normal routines vanished, it took me a while to find my way back to some kind of order. It hasn’t been easy, but intentionally developing consistent blocks of time for consistent activities helps. I also switch up my seating: writing in my recliner in the morning or at the patio bistro table in the afternoon, for example. I can’t control a lot, but I can control how I structure my days.

Well, mostly. Let’s be honest: sometimes life happens and even my own plans go down the drain…causing anxiety. Take a deep breath, acknowledge the mess, and move on, asking What’s my next right step?

Also, adding a touch of ritual to the routine, like a favorite mug within reach during my morning writing or lighting a scented candle during my evening reading, lends whimsy or beauty to the occasion.

Outlets
We need healthy ways to get out the Big Feels. When I wasn’t sleeping, exercise felt hard but also eventually helped me sleep better. Getting outdoors is especially important when exercise has been the only regular reason to leave home. Long brisk walks, running occasional stretches, and yoga locate me firmly in my body and help me feel healthy and strong. I can’t stand “stretching,” but call it “yoga” and I’m in; whatever works! I’m using the Down Dog app and love that it’s fully customizable to what I need.

When I over-exercised and injured myself, I doubled-down on writing. Every day I type fast and furious for 20 minutes, dumping on a document no one but me will ever read. Putting words to what life looks like and how I feel about it gets it out.

I’ve always loved to read and I’m reading more than ever to keep my mind occupied with something beyond me. I’d also like to create more art or put together some photo albums, but I’m wary of pandemic productivity pressure, of comparing what I know of myself to what I see in someone else (especially since what I can see are their curated social media posts); I will get to those things when the time feels right for me.

Interestingly, a synonym for outlet is safety valve, and these regular practices combine to help me feel safer.

Be
I tend to live in my head, either in the past or the future, so it’s always a challenge to be here now. But when anxiety grips me I need to do something – noticing the feelings in my body, walking away and taking intentional deep breaths, stretching – anything that healthfully disengages the immediate cause for panic helps. I also capture a few things each day for which I’m grateful; I have a journal specifically for that purpose.

One recommended way to ground yourself is the 54321 method; this hasn’t been as helpful for me, but naming my feelings and putting them in the clouds that gently drift away has – I may have a cloudy hour or even a few cloudy days, but eventually the sun will shine again.

If you’re a reader, I recommend Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion. Let it RAIN: Recognize your feelings, Allow them to just be (rather than stuffing or numbing them), Investigate how they feel in your body, and Nurture your inner self. She writes that RAIN “awakens mindfulness and compassion, applies them to the places where we are stuck, and untangles emotional suffering.” As a Christian, it’s a course on prayer I didn’t get at church. (Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases).

Boundaries
I fell hard down the social media rabbit hole and my scrapes hurt. At first it made sense since a) it was a way to connect when we were all stuck at home and b) everyone had a different news source to share.

But alongside “news” I saw pictures of friends not taking things seriously and posts encouraging “you do you” individualism rather than “let’s all give a little for the common good.” I saw conspiracy theories and rants of many colors. I had to set radical limits.

And since the world is a wee bit scary right now, and everyone seems to be angry about something (I feel others’ emotions so hot they burn), when we can’t easily gather and seeing even a few people feels emotionally risky, I’m resigned to staying home as much as possible for as long as necessary.

To stay connected, I’ve started reaching out by mail; a note in the mailbox brightens someone’s day and often they respond with a text or email that brightens mine. Yes, I could call, but I like the phone less. Don’t even ask me to Facetime; I’ll Zoom only if it’s essential to you.

Anxiety doesn’t have to make sense, and my triggers will be different from yours. I’m paying attention to how I feel and giving myself permission to set the boundaries I need. Sometimes I feel guilty – everyone else can [fill in the blank], so why can’t I? – and I’m working hard to let that go. I’m not everyone else; I get to make my own rules.

Love
Jesus loves me, this I know… The fact that I’m dealing with anxiety absolutely does not invalidate my faith. God still reigns in heaven, and here on earth I’m having a rough go. Yes, I pray, and yes, I can pray while engaged in self-care practices.

My family has managed to balance time together with sufficient alone time even in our small home. I’m grateful for the support and joy they add to my life. But I can’t expect them to shoulder my burdens continually. I have to do this work myself.

I’ve been reading about anxiety and self-care. I have saved so many images to my camera roll that remind me to breathe, to be gentle, to tell myself a better story. I’ve asked myself what someone who loves themselves would do, and I’ve spoken to myself the loving words I’d speak to a hurting friend.

None of this is rocket science, and honestly, none of these approaches work on their own or all the time. So far I haven’t been able to banish anxiety from my life; this has become my new normal and I expect I’ll continue learning how to be me – and how to be kind to this version of myself – for the rest of my life.

What works for you? I’d like to know. And if you’ve found this post helpful, please share. We’re in this together.

Reminder: YOU are Essential Even if You’re Not an Essential Worker

Essential: s·sen·tial
/əˈsen(t)SHəl/
adjective
Definition: absolutely necessary; extremely important.

Who knew the word essential would take on such significance in 2020?

At midnight on March 17, 2020, Californians were suddenly under lock-down orders due to an unprecedented pandemic. Everyone but essential workers would stay at home, leaving only for exercise (and that on foot or bike) or essential needs like picking up groceries or prescriptions.

Essential workers are those on the front lines: health care workers and first responders; government officials and those employed to maintain needed infrastructure like water, electricity, transportation; grocery workers and minimal restaurant staff; mail carriers and delivery people; and a few others somewhat randomly defined. Yet even essential workers were asked to work from home whenever possible.

My Guy’s a pastor. Pastors inspire hope, essential (anytime and) in a pandemic. He works from home for all but a couple hours each week when a very few people gather to record elements for the now-online services.

Pre-pandemic, I worked at a wine bar. While some might argue that wine is also essential during a pandemic, you don’t have to go to a wine bar to get wine. Our bar closed. Guy can work from home; I can pour wine at home all I want, but I’m no longer paid for it.

He is considered essential; he can continue to do his job. I am not considered essential; my job can’t be done remotely; I can’t do my job. 

That right there is the fly in our ointment: essential and essential worker have gotten mashed up-messy like mud pies. Just like we’ve mashed up our occupations and identities since forever. Guy’s job may be that of an essential worker whereas mine is not; however, we are both essential. We are essential because we are.

You are now and will always be essential even if your work is currently not that of an essential worker.

Your occupation occupies a lot (or, currently, little to none) of your time, but what you do is not who you are.

You are who you are; you are not what you do.

Who you are matters regardless of what you do.

I’ll admit, it’s been a struggle. Guy’s done a lot of what he’s always done, plus a few newly-related things, just differently. Meanwhile, now and again I’ve floundered trying to figure out what to do next.

What you do matters, but it doesn’t make up all of you. It doesn’t create your identity. Purpose and Meaning are different.

For example… Purpose: my job required me to pour wine for customers; Meaning: As I poured wine I also offered generous hospitality and, when invited, a listening ear. I made customers happy not just by doing what I had to do but by serving wholeheartedly.

Currently unemployed, I spend a lot of time doing stuff for my family. Most moms know that can be a thankless job but it depends on not just your purpose, the activities that fill your day, but also the meaning you give to those actions. I do dishes and laundry, I cook and clean. But what I’m really doing – the meaning in the purposeful actions – is providing tangible care for the people I love.

Payment doesn’t provide meaning, either. A paycheck doesn’t equal value. I don’t get paid to care for my family. I’m also not getting paid to write these blog posts. But I write because it’s who I am, how I process the world and my place in it, and I hope that my writing extends hope to others. Purpose: I write words. Meaning: I write words that offer hope.

Please remember: You are essential. Whoever you are and whatever you do, you matter. You have purpose (your To-Do list, whatever that looks like these days) and meaning (the why behind it). You are unique, one-of-a-kind, with strengths and gifts to offer to a waiting world that needs you. You are absolutely necessary and extremely important. You are loved.

Cover image by Jessica Joh from Pixabay

Pandemic Pause: Month 3

Tuesday marked three months since shelter-in-place (SIP) began in NorCal. We’re in Week 13. Other than exercise, out the door on my own two feet, I’ve left the house four times; three times I stayed in my car; I haven’t interacted with more than a few people at a time.

I recognize how incredibly fortunate I am. My superstar husband, whose “acts of service” love language has seldom been more apparent, has done all our shopping and errand-running. While my job got “postponed” I have a (tiny) side gig that helps (a tiny bit). We’re also spending less, with little need for gas, new clothes or make up, entertainment, etc.

I wish it weren’t so, but wearing a mask gives me a panic attack. I need to freely breathe fresh air and, though my mother-in-law has sewed us an assortment of masks from beautiful materials, I’d rather stay home than wear a mask for any length of time. (For what it’s worth, I don’t love snorkeling, either.)

Three months is a long time to stay home; Pandemic Fatigue has set in everywhere. Then again, there are those who never took it seriously or who kinda-sorta went through enough of the motions to at least resemble those who played by all the rules. Anyway, reopening has begun and people have ventured forth.

Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm was interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air. He points out that, worldwide, we’re all confused as to how to live in this pandemic time.

He warns that so far, only 5-7% of the U.S. population has been infected. “All the pain, suffering, death and economic disruption have occurred with 5 to 7%. But this virus is not going to slow down transmission overall. It may come and go, but it will keep transmitting until we get at least 60 or 70% of the population infected and hopefully develop immunity — or if we get a vaccine, that can get us there too. And so I want to be really clear: None of us are suggesting this is going to stop and go away…”

One commenter did the math: “So given 7% of the population of 328 million has been infected and 119K have died that makes the mortality rate 0.5% over all. Given 70% of America’s population would need to be infected before we get herd immunity I calculate that would be over 1 million dead.” While 0.5% sounds negligible, 1 million dead does not.

Last weekend a neighbor posted this:

I followed the link to a CDC graph of CA cases. Yikes!

Tell me again why we’re reopening?

Another graph specific to our county shows that right now our small town is actually one of the safest places in CA to live in regards to the pandemic. And yet, as the county rushes to reopen, cases have begun to rise. And as people begin to travel and return to shops and restaurants, it may get worse. A county spike of 114% in the last month is nothing to sneeze at. Goodness gracious, please don’t sneeze!

Of course there is the debate about what SIP was meant to do. Even though the CDC graph shows a dramatic spike from March through June, that may be considered a flattening of the curve from what had been predicted. The spike might have been gargantuan, Jack and the Beanstalk tall versus The Hulk. The Hulk is still larger than life, but not Giant in the Sky ginormous.

We needed time for hospitals and medical personnel to prepare, and for medical equipment to become available. So our case numbers are low enough that they could potentially handle a full load of very sick people. Okay.

Some argue that SIP was never meant to drop the infection rate to 0. But why would we not do everything we can if we have it in our power to at least keep the infection rate from climbing? Even if that means not doing things we’d like to.

CDC guidelines specify that reopening should only happen after a downward trajectory or near-zero incidence of documented cases over fourteen days, which hasn’t happened yet. In fact, according to Dr. Leana Wen, an ER physician, visiting professor of public health at George Washington University, and former Baltimore city health commissioner, “Nothing about the virus has actually changed.”

But…the economy. Our country runs on money. We need money to feed and house our families. Committed to supporting small local businesses, our family seldom ate out before yet we’ve gotten take-out every other week in the last three months. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be eating in a restaurant filled with people and servers milling between tables, even out of doors. And I don’t need anything at TJ Maxx.

But…mental health. New-to-me anxiety soared as SIP began, so I followed all the guidelines to a T and made meticulous shopping lists and got kitchen-creative to manage our needs while limiting Guy’s grocery runs. That helped my mental health, while others in my household struggled differently. We had good conversations and did our best to be gentle with ourselves. No matter who you are, this pandemic pause has taken a toll.

As reopening continues, Managed Risk will be key. I continually ask, “Is it necessary?” Is it necessary to meet in person if we can talk on the phone? Is it necessary to eat out if we can eat at home? Is it necessary to go to the gym if I can go for a run?

For me, the answer tends to be a big, fat NO. Meanwhile, my 16yo son went out last night. Three teenagers in a car together, all wearing masks, drove down the freeway to a fast food place. They got take-out and ate as they drove home. A fairly small risk that certainly helped his mental health.

Sometimes as I have observed loved ones and neighbors differently negotiating SIP, I have felt ashamed, like Chicken Little crying, “The sky is falling!” Maybe I’m just annoying. Maybe I’m not equipped to correctly interpret the scientific data. Then again, maybe I’m not wrong, and maybe I’m reading the info correctly. Caution doesn’t make me a coward.

For now, I’ll continue to stay home.

Cover image by Miroslava Chrienova from Pixabay

My Five Things – Part 2

As I shared yesterday, I discovered a fun pandemic-related blog topic going around called “My Five Things.” I started playing with the idea and got a little carried away, hence two posts.

I’d love to read your five things, fun ways you are staying sane during these unusual days. If you’re a blogger, tag me. If you’re not a blogger, leave a Five Things list in the comments. Let’s play!

5 Things New to My Life Since Quarantine
Anxiety (related: Headspace – offering a free year for those unemployed due to the pandemic)
At-home yoga with the Down Dog app (purchase includes customizable workouts + HIIT, Barre, and 7-minute total body workouts)
SoundCloud, particularly 2F Big Bootie Mixes, upbeat dance mixes long enough to make my dog walks (almost) commercial free
Take-out food from local restaurants on a regular basis
I joined a writing group

5 Bands/Musicians I Listen to on Repeat
U2
Mumford & Sons
Judah & The Lion
Indigo Girls
David Crowder

5 Books I’ve Just Read
I’d Give Anything by Marisa de los Santos
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Daily Rituals edited with text by Mason Currey
Radical Compassion by Tara Brach (almost done)

Read all my reviews on Goodreads

5 Books in My To-Read Queue
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Beach Read by Emily Henry
(Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.)

5 things I Want to Do When the World Feels Safe Again
Take the dogs to the beach for a long walk (repeat as often as possible)
Hug friends
Gather with others – at church, a movie, a concert
Camping
Explore a new neighborhood, a new city, or a new country – or all three