A well of peace under the anxiety of the moment

By Sarah E. Reynolds | May 29, 2020

This time of staying almost exclusively at home has been, paradoxically, both anxious and a time of learning to be at peace with what is.

I worry about whether Maureen or I will contract a potentially deadly respiratory illness for which there is neither a vaccine nor a cure; about doing my job as an editor and reporter adequately, cut off from my usual means of doing it; about when/whether I will get to see friends and family again; about the fate of our nation and the world.

But also, I have been practicing not responding to little things that irritate — or, as I would prefer to say — used to irritate me. Things like cupboard doors left open in the kitchen, items left on the counter instead of put away (sometimes they are left out for a reason), and so on. I'm also making more of a point of appreciating, aloud, in words, the many kind things Maureen does.

I put this idea into practice in a more physical way recently when I wanted to extinguish a minor bad habit. I sometimes chew my bottom lip when I'm anxious, and once I start it can be hard to stop. The resulting sore is endlessly tempting to my tongue and teeth and I just keep chewing on it.

Zoom was partly responsible for my resolve to quit: I saw myself and realized that it's distracting to talk to someone who is constantly twisting their mouth around while they chew on their lip. So I decided that when I caught myself doing it I would smile instead. For one thing, smiling makes you relax a little, and for another, you can't chew your lip and smile at the same time. Every time I started to chew, I'd smile. For all I know, that may have looked a bit strange, too, but gradually, my lip started to heal. The healing itself was also motivation to avoid going back to the bad habit, until now, the former sore is almost imperceptible.

Lest this seem an unnecessary digression into neurosis, the same technique can be applied on a mental level: When something irritates you, smile and drop the irritating thought. When someone is rude, smile and think about something else. When you're bored with standing in line to enter the grocery store, smile and turn your attention elsewhere.

We can't smile away all our problems, but by learning to step off the hamster wheel of repetitive thoughts, whether they be of irritation, rage or powerlessness, we can increase our peace of mind and save our energy for things that really need changing.

Another practice I have started in the last six months is keeping a gratitude journal. Each night just before I go to bed, I take out a small notebook and write things I'm grateful for from the day. They're not big things, but ordinary ones: a walk with the dog, the rose-breasted grosbeaks that have been visiting our bird feeder, something good for dinner, being healthy. Over time, I think this practice has helped to buoy my outlook and give me a well of peace under the anxiety of the moment. And it has certainly reminded me of all the good things in my life.

Sarah Reynolds is editor of The Republican Journal and a longtime columnist for Courier Publications.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 30, 2020 05:11

Thank you, Sarah.  Personally have found so many positive aspects of this Covid-19.  If nothing else it has shown  us things about ourselves and our own country that may no longer be acceptable. And what an opportunity to learn new ways of doing things from gardening to becoming a winner instead of a whiner and that; like it or not; the solution will be one that is world wide and not tribal. 

This in no way negates the pain, yet it makes some sense of it all.  No one has got through this unscathed.  It has become a great equalizer. Hopefully, we will have learned that lesson before another tragedy like what happened in Milwaukee.  Bind us together, Lord, bind us together.

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