Volumes and volumes could be written on the stuff about which I know nothing. For these things I have no answers. No solutions. No good ideas.
Today, however, I’m writing about something I know. I know it like I know my birthday. Like I know the sound my son’s bedroom door makes when he squeaks it open in the morning. I know this through practice, practice, practice and I realized today that it’s nearly become an auto-skill for me. The subject is: how to deal with discouragement. Sometimes I write about it and let you know that I’m in it. Mostly, though, I just work through it. I don’t want to get stuck in the dark places, but in this season of my life it seems that discouragement lurks around nearly every corner. It can sneak up on me when I least expect it: in a grocery store, in a meeting at work or just sitting in the quiet of life, contemplating the seen and unseen, the real and imagined. It’s been a trick to learn the tricks, but I do believe that these things work. Usually one works by itself but sometimes it takes all of them together to get me through a storm of sorrow. I have no scientific or psychological evidence to back up my suggestions. The only hard proof I have that these things work is that I’m still standing. Two years and three months in, I’m still standing.
So, when discouragement wants to sink the ship, these are my lifelines:
1. Three essential words: this won’t last. Even the hardest waves only last a day and most last less than thirty minutes (ironically, I learned this trick years ago when trying to survive stomach flu.) Our minds can’t hold onto one emotion indefinitely and as I process through grief or sorrow or anxiety, it subsides and then drifts back out to shore. So in the middle of the onslaught, I just keep reminding myself that the wave is passing over and I am passing through. I’ll be okay on the other side.
2. Find a good anchor (and commit it to memory.) I rely heavily on my faith and so my anchors are almost always scriptures. They are etched into my thinking like tattoos and I say them over and over when I feel discouragement rush in with the tide: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living…” But I don’t only use scripture. Sometimes I say the words to a song or an old poem or prayer. Whatever makes you feel stronger – make it a part of your automatic response system and then use it to override thoughts of discouragement. (My long list of go-to verses is in included in my book and even if you don’t read anything else, I think that list is worth the price – it’s ammo for the fight!)
3. Get moving. Few things break the grip of discouragement for me like a brisk walk or working out. Endorphins are anxiety-fighting superheroes. The trick about this one, though, is that I am absolutely, 100% positive that it works – and yet I never, ever want to do it when I’m stuck in an emotional ditch. In fact, when life already feels heavy and sad, the idea of putting on running shoes is only slightly more appealing than a root canal. However, when I force myself to get up and get moving, it nearly always works like a dream. I remember one day feeling like the world was caving in and dragging myself up onto that treadmill, literally sobbing while I walked, thinking, “This isn’t working!” But just like clockwork, when I hit the ten minute mark, I felt a fresh surge of energy and with it, new faith, new hope and perhaps even a little something that looked like joy.
4) Control something. I know this sounds crazy, but when I feel discouraged it’s usually because something is outside of my control and that makes me feel helpless, powerless and small. I’ve learned to find things that I can control and the thing that works the best for me is – oddly enough – laundry. I start a load of laundry and I pray as I wash it and dry it and put it away. I watch the stacks of clean clothes take their places in closets and drawers and it’s a measurable achievement. Sometimes I’ll work on the budget or organize closets or plan a month’s worth of menus – anything that has identifiable and positive results. Word of caution: people are not for controlling.
5) This one is more preventative, but still important: identify and eliminate trigger points. Is there music that makes you sad? Certain books or movies that poke at open wounds? Friends who are fun to talk to because they help fan the flames of bitterness, but then you feel worse afterwards than before? Be ruthless with these things and eliminate them from your life. I have learned a healthy respect for my own pain threshold this year. Some people can watch sad love stories; I cannot. Some people can listen to certain music; I cannot. Do you know how I learned these things? The hard way; by swimming around in a pool of murky sadness until I was able to retrace my steps and figure out how I ended up there.
So those are my tried-and-true go-to’s for dealing with discouragement. What works for you?
Believing for Fresh Strength in the New Year,