3 simple steps to easing your emotional pain & improving your outlookSep 02, 2020
If 2020 has taught me one thing, it is that I must have deep tear ducts. I have cried more in the past four months than I ever dreamed possible. I cried when we cancelled Joey’s birthday party, when schools closed for the remainder of the year, when I couldn’t visit my dad in the hospital. I cry almost every time we watch church online, when I watch news stories (both touching and saddening), and sometimes just when I am sitting at home and the weight of this year hits me anew. As I have talked to friends and family around me, I’m finding this to be quite common—a fact that is simultaneously comforting and disheartening.
Easing our emotional pain
Tears aren’t the only physical manifestation of the emotional pain we are collectively enduring this year. Headaches, heartburn, nausea, and restless nights plague us as our bodies bear the weight of our inner turmoil.
Friends, I know this time in history isn’t easy. I don’t have a magic wand to wave and make it all better. (I actually do have a wand, but it just sits on my bookshelf rather uselessly.) But that doesn’t mean we have to keep muscling through, enduring the pain or coping through unhealthy means like overeating, overspending, or distracting ourselves with social media. We can take some simple steps to help ease our pain and improve our outlook. It’s what I call the 3 Ps: Posture, Prayer, and Perspective.
When our emotional pain is taking a physical toll, we need to pay attention to our bodies! Take a quick inventory. If you realize your jaw and shoulders are tense, stop what you are doing, take a deep breath, and stretch them out. Intentionally relax them.
If instead you notice you are slumped over (or curled into a ball), take a deep breath (a nice deep breath is always a good place to start!), sit up straight, and put your shoulders back. It is amazing the difference it can make when we simply adjust our stance!
And when you have a few extra minutes, an even bigger posture change is hugely helpful: movement! Go for a walk, go to the gym, spend 10-15 minutes stretching. Studies abound showing links between exercise and mental health. Let’s take them seriously.
But what if my body just needs rest? Yes, absolutely, sometimes we should rest! I would still encourage you to spend a few minutes walking or stretching first. I’ve learned firsthand that sadness can feel like tiredness; and in those cases, laying on the couch and watching TV only makes me feel worse. When I do something active first, even light stretching, I am in a slightly better mindset to make decisions about what I need to do next: rest or keep going.
Sometimes posture also helps us connect to God better. Kneeling before Him can remind us of his kingship. Praying while we walk can remind us of our Creator and even help us to stay focused as we talk to God. And of course, this is part of our next P…
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,” Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11:28, “and I will give you rest” (NLT). And isn’t that just about all of us right now? Prayer allows us to take those heavy burdens and lay them at the feet of the One who can carry it all.
But prayer is more than only giving Him our troubles. Prayer is about getting our hearts in line with God’s. To do this, I like to use the old acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.
- When I adore God, I praise Him for who He is: the almighty God, the Creator, the King. This reminds me of Who is in control—and that He is someone I love and trust.
- I confess to tear down any walls between me and God, so that He can better speak to my heart. It also helps me to remember why it’s better that I’m not in charge.
- Then I give thanks to God for the ways I have seen Him at work in my life. It could be as simple as thanking Him for the sunshine and the flowers, or it might be a time when I recall the ways He has been faithful in the past.
- By now, my spirit is already lifting a bit. I remember Who I am talking to and why He is so good. And now I can lay my requests at His feet with confidence that I can trust Him. This plea is called supplication.
God has made us mind, body, and spirit, and sometimes each one of those needs a little shift in perspective when we are bogged down by our circumstances.
For our minds, this means intentionally telling yourself the truth. As Paul reminds us, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2). Write or print out Scripture verse and put them where you will see them regularly and focus on telling yourself the truth. If you are consumed with questions like “Why is this happening?” or “When will this end?,” remind yourself that God is in control and look for ways he can use you right now in the midst of your circumstances. Write down things you are thankful for or times that God has been faithful in your life.
For our bodies, we may need to literally change our perspective by going somewhere else! Get outside for a walk, go to the gym (yep, we are back to that “posture” piece—isn’t it cool how these are all interrelated?), or grab a cup of coffee with a friend. Engage your senses using the “5 senses” anxiety-reducing tool.
And for our spirits, we change our perspective by meditating on and praying through Scripture. Repeating God’s own words back to him is a powerful way to engage with him. If you’re not sure what that looks like, the Psalms are a great place to start. Pray the words of the Psalmist, then add the things that God brings to mind as you go.
One healthy whole
Do you see how the three P’s work together? Don’t think of them as three separate actions to implement, but ingredients that mix together to produce one (healthy) whole: YOU.
We can’t always change our circumstances, friends, but we don’t have to let them weigh on us, either. By engaging our minds, bodies, and spirits and focusing on God’s truth, we can find relief and rest in Jesus, the One who bears all of our burdens.
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