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Serenity is a choice you make for yourself

Tackle the roots of anxiety, don't just mask the symptoms by distracting yourself.

Serenity is found inside yourself, not in your surroundings
Serenity is found inside yourself, not in your surroundings

For the last couple of weeks, and likely for the foreseeable weeks to come, we’re inundated with minute-by-minute updates on our current Armageddon. And right alongside we’re being given no end of advice about how to deal with the widespread anxiety that’s accompanying this pandemic.

Most of the guidance I’ve seen offered is focused on coping strategies – basically, how to distract yourself from the racing thoughts that keep you tossing in the night and fretting through the day. I’ve seen suggestions that range from guided relaxations, to cooking and baking, journaling, exercising with a YouTube video and making a photo album for grandma.

These are all delightful activities that are likely to be helpful in the moment. But like tossing a bone to distract an angry dog, they’ll only work for a little while. They won’t change the fact that anxiety has control over you. Will grandma get a new photo album every time there’s a crisis?

Anxiety is anxiety. Whether it’s over coronavirus or your dwindling followers on Instagram. And when you find the secret to permanently overcoming it you’ll be able to apply it no matter what the cause.

Begin by asking yourself if you enjoy your anxiety and whether or not it’s serving you.

If you find it pleasant and useful, there’s nothing more to be done. If, however, you think you’d be better off without it, then you’ll have to tackle the roots of the issue, not mask the symptoms by distracting yourself.

There are three fundamental principles that can make a difference for you today, in the midst of all this uproar. More importantly, they can make a difference for you every day for the rest of your life.

1. Decide that you are going to take full and complete responsibility for everything that happens in your life. While it’s easy and tempting to find culprits and complain about how bad things are, neither of these will change anything. Even if there is someone or something that’s responsible, pointing the finger won’t change your situation one whit.

You’re stuck at home, you’re running low on toilet paper and you’ve been furloughed from your job. Got it. Now, write down five ideas that occur to you immediately that could help relieve each of these situations. Here are a few suggestions to get you started: Read three new books, use wash cloths and launder them, register yourself on one of the freelance work websites. Now it’s your turn…

Doesn’t it feel empowering when you start to actually solve a problem instead of merely stressing about it?

2. If there are absolutely no good actions to take, and the choices in front of you amount to Bad, Really Bad and Awful, remember that you ALWAYS have the ability to choose your mental and emotional response.

I was making dinner the other night and discovered that I was short of an ingredient. While normally I’d dash across the street to the grocery store, this time I was tempted to whine about our current lack of mobility. I thought I was due a little pity-party until I remembered our visit, last summer, to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. For 25 months she and her family hid in an attic, relying on the bravery of friends to keep them fed. If you haven’t read her inspiring diary, or if it’s been some time, this would be a great time to read it again.

As Viktor Frankl, another prisoner during the Holocaust, wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

3. Realize that peace is not the absence of external turmoil or discomfort. No matter where, no matter when, if you look around you’ll be able to find something with the ability to distress you: You’re lying by a babbling brook, fluffy white clouds floating overhead and warm, gentle breezes rustling the leaves. How many people do you know that would point out the mosquito?

Instead, let’s model those who, in the midst of pandemonium and panic, will always notice and take delight in the flower growing up through the cracks in the concrete.

It takes desire and it takes practice. But anyone who truly wants to can do it.

Let’s face it – life occasionally hands us a sour one. There have always been and there will always be external events that challenge our ability to remain calm, centered and at peace.

But the more you fight against, complain about or live in fear of what might be going on, the harder you push against it, the more whatever’s going on will push back. The more you protest that it’s not fair or right, the more you’ll discover that whatever’s going on is bigger and stronger than you.

When you relax and accept what’s going on for what it is, though, you regain the power to choose your response and influence your outcomes.

No, serenity is not the absence of disorder and chaos. Serenity is a choice you make regardless of what’s going on around you.

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