Due to a summer of missed experiences, as well as the swirling stress surrounding the uncertain school experience this fall, I have been a bit of an emotional mess. I tend to react with strong emotions to pretty much everything, so it isn’t a surprise that I haven’t been my best self the past few months. Lately, especially, I have looked for encouragement and things to do to prevent myself from falling too far into my low-mood spirals. The solution is not always simple and there are times when nothing seems effective. (Please note: Speaking from personal experience, I encourage anyone that feels habitually stuck in a spiral to reach out to a doctor or trusted resource for additional support.) However, I have often found some peace when I am intentional about changing my mindset to focus on gratitude. I frequently listen to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast For the Love, and towards the end of every podcast she asks her guests a question, first posed by Barbara Brown Taylor: “What is saving your life right now?” The answers are all over the board and Jen encourages her guests to be as light hearted or serious as they prefer. Every time I hear this question, I think of something that fills my heart with gratitude and supports the shift in my mindset. So, I would like to pose the question to you, “What is saving your life right now?” To start the conversation, I will share some of the things on my list:
- Connection. Social distancing by definition reduces connection. After recognizing the impact isolation was having on my mental health, I have sought new, creative, ways to prioritize connection. Through bi-weekly zoom conversations with friends, a monthly virtual coffee and writing date, and frequent text and phone conversations, I have refound my connection while still honoring social distancing.
- Siblings. Watching my two kids play with each other and observing the growth in the relationship between them has been one of the very best things that has come from COVID. The way they support each other, use their imaginations together, and rely on each other for entertainment makes me so happy. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to mentally capture the moments to remember forever.
- Running. With gyms operating under restrictions, my summer workout routine looks different as I rely on running outdoors. I have always enjoyed running and found it an effective outlet to release stress. Each run brings mental clarity and calm. I am a more patient person and a better mom for it.
- Musicals. I now know too many lyrics to several songs in Hamilton. This is something I would have never expected from myself. However, it brings me joy when I randomly break into song as different experiences trigger the lyrics in my memory. Turns out when it comes to obsessively listening to Hamilton, “I’m helpless.”
- Backyard. The kids and I have developed a hobby of watching the birds and squirrel (pictured above) in our backyard. We put out a feeder and love to see the different colors, sizes, and sounds of the different birds. We put out two bird houses and were so excited when we saw some leaves sticking through the bottom of one (implying a bird had moved in.) However, when we were outside the other day a squirrel stuck his head out. So, our birdhouse is home to a squirrel who eats all our bird food, but we love him anyway.
- Reading. This is probably my ultimate escape. Getting lost in a different time and place is incredibly stress-relieving. My reading habit has increased significantly during this season and I am currently on track to break my “number of books read in a year” record. I recently finished, This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel and loved it. I am also currently reading My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray, which is very long but also great, and it is supporting two obsessions at one time. However, even if it was only fueling my reading obsession, “that would be enough.”
- Tomatoes. Specifically, the cherry tomatoes in my backyard garden that my kids constantly pick and eat straight from the vine. They think they are being sneaky, they are not. However, I love watching their cute little faces disappear behind the tomato plant only to run away with hamster looking cheeks filled with tomatoes. Watching this brings me such joy, even more joy than the taste of a ripe tomato, if I ever get to try one.
These are a few of the things currently saving my life. I look forward to hearing about some of the things that are saving your life! Feel free to share in the comments below.
I want to end with a quote from Bob Goff’s Living in Grace and Walking in Love; “Love is like a rhythm, like breathing itself. Where we are taking in grace for ourselves and holding out love for others.” When I feel my nerves rising during these particularly challenging times, I try to take a deep breath, close my eyes and picture that I am breathing in grace. May we all fill our hearts with grace, gratitude, and joy in the little things.
Jessica is a wife, mom, school social worker, and aspiring writer. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters.