Roughly a decade before the pandemic, when I was an undergrad student, one of my roommates would routinely come home from her afternoon class (I’m talking 3pm) in a total panic. She’d tell me about everything stressing her out, often ending up in tears, and I’d listen, wishing I could help. One afternoon, I was prepared! She walked into our dorm, already tearing up, and I was ready with a gallon-sized box of our favorite snack: Goldfish. She vented, we snacked, and after a few minutes, she said, “Wow, I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” We talked more and realized that due to the timing of this afternoon class, she’d been skipping lunch most days, going straight from her morning classes without stopping for lunch or even a snack! No wonder she was in tears by 3pm… her body had next to no fuel left. It was a very innocent, very critical discovery we made together: our momentum can make us blind to what we actually need. We can go, go, go like the Energizer bunny, but are we getting anywhere?
If the pandemic and 2020 (and 2021 so far) were absolute nightmares for you and your loved ones, you are not alone. The number of “unprecedented” events that have occurred in the past 12 months is undeniably staggering. There are several things about this period of my personal history that I would love to chuck in the garbage can, but I’ve already written a little bit about those. Today I want to write about one of the things that I’m definitely going to keep. Just one of the many ways in which the pandemic has convinced me never to “go back to normal.”What was my normal? Being busy. Filling every single line in my planner (it’s broken down by half-hour) with a specific task and knowing that if I didn’t get them all done, I’d be doomed. Never having time for washing dishes, doing laundry, or feeding myself a proper meal. Skimping on sleep. Saying “yes” to almost every invitation or opportunity that came my way. Not being able to catch up on sleep because I was so anxious about how I could possibly keep all the plans that I made. If you’d asked me back then whether I was enjoying my life, I would have said, “Of course I am!” But all I was really doing was surviving my life. And I had no idea that was a bad thing.
Hello, Reality Check
The problem is most of us, long before the trauma of the pandemic, were living in “survival mode,” and if you weren’t there already, the events of 2020 probably sent you there. What’s survival mode? It’s when our bodies and brains respond to stress by zeroing in on whatever we need to do to get through the next 24 hours. For my college roommate, the stress of getting to and from her classes triggered a survival mode instinct that made her think it was okay to skip a meal. Which seems small if you only do it once! One missed meal, one bad night of sleep, one month without enough money to put gas in the car… on their own, those things are a bump in the road. But when living without the things you need lasts longer than one event, one day, one week, one month… those stress hormones take a toll, and survival mode takes a firm hold.
- Feeling exhausted all time, but knowing you don’t have time to rest.
- Completely relying on coffee (or some other caffeinated beverage) to get through the day.
- Feeling guilty about or not being able to say “no” when a new project, chore, or commitment rears its head.
- Pushing others away because you don’t have the time or energy to connect with them.
- Losing sleep because you stay up late trying to get that to-do list finished, or not being able to sleep because you can’t stop thinking about all the urgent matters to attend to.
- A general sense of urgency.
- Not remembering the last time you had a good laugh or a good day.
Sound familiar? Yeah, that was my life too. And it didn’t change as soon as the pandemic hit us. No, it definitely took me a few weeks of Shelter In Place to calm down and realize… My momentum was gone. My career goals were on hold, whether I wanted them to be or not. I had no choice but to stop, wait, and rest. I’m so glad I did.
My Momentum Can Stay Lost
The pandemic was my wake-up call. Just like the time I gave my roommate a snack, and we realized she was simply hungry, I had been totally blind to the reality that my pre-pandemic momentum wasn’t success… it was actually survival, and just like my roommate, without my distractions, I realized I was hungry.
I was hungry to get out of that survival mode. I was hungry to slow down. I was hungry to remember what it was like to simply enjoy my day. I was hungry to exist without that constant sense of urgency. I was hungry to feel boredom. I was hungry for rest. And the pandemic was my bowl of goldfish. Don’t get me wrong. Survival mode is an impressive tool. It kicks in at life’s most dangerous moments and helps us think quickly about how to literally live through the day. It’s the thing that enables humans to do wild things like cut off their own arm in order to escape a disaster situation or gives a mother the adrenaline rush she needs to lift a car off of her injured child, or just skip lunch if we’re running late. We need it sometimes, but it also leaves us exhausted, injured, and in need of rest. In the famous words from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, “survival is insufficient.”
We Were Born to Thrive
God rested. No matter how you want to interpret the book, Genesis is pretty clear about the fact that after creating the universe, God took a break to enjoy what He’d done. Jesus rested, too. The man disappeared more than once to practice prayer and meditation. He performed miracles to ensure that meals weren’t skipped, and He even took naps during dangerous storms. We were not created to fill every single moment of our lives with enough frantic activity to keep us distracted from the things that actually make life sweet.
Slow down. You do have time to rest. A rabid coyote is not on your tail. Put away your phone. The world will not end if you take more than 5 seconds to respond to a text, or say “no” to the next event you get invited to. You don’t even have to give a reason, although rest is a perfectly good one. I know that when we finally tiptoe out of this pandemic, I’m going to be tempted to fill the pages of my planner… but that was a lifestyle I had to survive. And frankly, I no longer have time for that.
Thanks for letting me be vulnerable with you! I hope connecting with my experiences is helpful in processing your own. If you’re resonating with any of the feelings I described, or experiencing anxiety and depression, please know there is hope. Here is a resource that will help you gain greater understanding about God’s love for you and His ability to care for you… and as always HopeCoaches are available 7 days a week if you need to chat.
For more on how to handle anxiety and stress, download our free eBook, Understanding Anxiety.
About the Author…
Cara Beth Heath is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago, Illinois. She loves words and all the different ways they can come together to illuminate the world for us. All she wants to do is use her God-given word skills to bring light into dark places, and when she’s not doing that, she’s probably wrapped up in a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate watching a movie or playing Dungeons & Dragons… God loves nerds too!
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio