I am currently going through a divorce and am really struggling with anxiety. The things that used to help me feel grounded, specifically scripture study and prayer, don’t seem to be helping me much at all. I’m having such a hard time with feelings of betrayal… it’s extra painful when my spiritual tools also seem to be betraying me. What can I do?
I am sorry to hear you are experiencing such pain. When we go through an especially difficult time… it can be completely disconcerting. It’s fairly normal that things that we once relied upon as tools of comfort are now unreliable. Your entire system is going through changes that it will adapt to… but that period of adaptation can be unpredictable, painful and leave you off balance. I’m going to share a post that one of the providers at my practice, Sara Hughes-Zabawa wrote last year that I believe has some really helpful suggestions of how to create some calm in the storm. And hopefully with time… the things you once found spiritually helpful will return to be so. If they don’t, that’s okay too… There will be new ways to self-soothe.
Are you in a season of you life that feels stormy?
Maybe you are caring for an elderly parent, battling depression, ending your marriage, or experiencing a loss of health, faith, or financial security. Regardless of what it is, life shifts can cause suffering, various levels of discomfort, and a general sense of chaos. The following ideas will support you create a sense of calm within the chaos.
Return to Your Breath – Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Take a deep inhale and exhale… in through the nose and out through your nose… feel your chest and belly rise gently underneath your hands as your breathe. Repeat the practice until your thoughts soften, your jaw unclenches, and your mind gently slips back into the present moment.
When we are experiencing emotional or physical pain our thoughts are often busy digging around in the past or trying to frantically organize the future. When we return to our breath we invite our mind back to the only moment we truly have power and control over – the here and now. The sympathetic nervous system is calmed that allows our fight-or-flight response to soften. Returning to our breath and to the present moment is one of the quickest ways to both honor and reduce our suffering.
Create Stillness – Sometimes the last thing we want to do is sit with our suffering. We tend to be afraid of letting ourselves feel pain. So, we opt for numbing behavior that provides an immediate distraction. What behaviors do you gravitate towards when you want to numb? Do you start scrolling through social media, or pressing “next episode” over and over again, working longer hours, or creating a busy schedule to try and outrun the discomfort? Do you feed the chaos instead of quietly sitting in it?
In her book The Gifts of Imperfections: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown states: “We cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” Therefore, we can not numb pain without also numbing hope, joy, and peace. Creating stillness in our lives provides us the opportunity to connect internally, acknowledge our suffering, and invite healing to occur.
How can you foster more stillness in your life to challenge the chaos? Consider the ways you like to be still and ask if it is realistic to set aside 1-15 minutes a day to simply breathe and check back in with your mind and body. Could you adopt a mindfulness practice such as meditation? Would utilizing a meditation app on your phone help you begin to foster stillness? What is one thing you could add or subtract in your daily routine that would cultivate more stillness? One tip is to combine the practice of stillness with something you already do. For example, I have added a few deeps breaths and a minute of reflection before checking my emails, something I do habitually throughout the day. Creating stillness is one of the healthiest ways to challenge the chaos you may be experiencing internally and externally.
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine, is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.