Desperation. Does that feeling describe your home-bound experience? With this whole coronavirus stay-at-home thing, I was doing pretty well enjoying our relaxed routines until—BAM!—out of nowhere desperation seized me. The combination of an unexpected resurgence of grief for the babies we lost with a couple days of horrid, kindergartner obstinacy about school at home was all exacerbated by not being able to go anywhere. This sense of desperation held on relentlessly for several days (ironically right after I wrote about celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ). My tensions from grief and frustration had reached a boiling point and needed a release.
Maybe you have felt some of this desperation. I imagine that with quarantines, lock-downs, and stay-at-home orders across the world, along with all the trickle-down effects of joblessness and difficulty accessing resources, countless people are feeling extreme pressure, perhaps more acutely than ever before.
We don’t have control over the pandemic, or the decisions of our government, but we do have control over ourselves. We can in some small ways bring calm to our hearts and release tension from our bodies. We need to do this so we maintain our sanity, AND so we can help our families maintain theirs. We can get through this together.
What I really crave right now is an hour-long full-body massage (maybe you do, too). But that’s not possible with social distancing measures. Instead, we need to focus on simple, practical tips for reducing tension, ones that don’t require extreme effort, a steep learning curve, or an expenditure of money. Here are 13 tips for easing tension that have benefited my family over the past month.
Turn off the News!
First of all, turn off the TV! Turn off talk radio! Take a break from social media and online news sources. Just live.
A constant stream of coronavirus news only fuels our fear and anxiety. Yes, we need to be informed. But obsession is not helpful.
The first week that this pandemic shut down schools and businesses, we sat glued to the news, hungry for information. We recognized its seriousness, but didn’t consider ourselves scared. But that night and the next couple nights, I could hardly fall asleep. I was so keyed up with information, statistics, concerns and emotions swarming in my brain that my body didn’t want to fall asleep. Whether I admitted it or not, tension was taking me hostage.
And it wasn’t just me. Though my husband and I tried to be careful with our words, our 5-year-old still picked up on the fear. Whether from the news, or our conversations, or simply having her world turned upside down overnight by sudden separation from friends and loved ones, anxiety was disrupting her attention to school work, and even producing tears at bedtime.
Since then, we have gone a couple days at a time without news. Life is more peaceful. I can enjoy my family, my home, my back yard, and almost forget about the pandemic sweeping the world (at least until I have to gear up for a grocery run). That relaxation was so needed.
So, read or watch as much news as you need to stay informed and make wise decisions. But give yourself a break. Life has too many stresses to load on more than necessary.
Prayer, Meditation, and Music
For followers of Christ, prayer is already a part of life, just like eating and breathing. When difficulties arise, prayer is our avenue to God. We are invited to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Times of stress, grief, and anxiety are definitely a “time of need.”
Sometimes bringing our requests to God and casting our cares on him leaves us with utter peace. Other times, anxiety remains in the back of our heads. Yet there is still value in choosing, by faith, to seek God’s help and trust him in all things. He has promised to reward our faith.
Meditating on God’s Word is grounding, courage-giving, and sometimes even convicting. On more than one occasion I have been convicted of my failure to trust God. Peace comes through repentance and renewal of right relationship with God.
Sometimes God’s Word reminds us of a promise that we can hold on to. That’s one reason I love memorizing verses about the nature of God with my family. The words are always before me—literally on the dining room wall, and figuratively on my heart—as I go through my day. These help me maintain a healthy, rather than fearful, perspective.
And music! Sometimes it is purely the music that moves us, comforting or raising us up with new courage. But many times it is words ingrained in our hearts and minds from songs we have heard since childhood. “Peace, Perfect Peace” is an old hymn that has been speaking to me lately. “Whom Shall I Fear” by Chris Tomlin is a modern song that is also courage-giving with its rousing melody.
Many strategies are helpful in relieving tension and anxiety. But for the believer, drawing our hearts and minds back to our Creator and Sustainer is the first line of defense, not the last.
Over the last four or five years, I have learned how amazing the practice of deep breathing is for removing built-up physical tension from my body and easing anxiety from my mind. The consciousness of fully drawing in, holding, and slowly and completely releasing my breath instantly drops tightness from my shoulders. It can even relax me to the point of drowsiness, which is helpful at bedtime!
In fact, yoga teaches these deep breathing techniques along with an awareness of relaxing specific muscles that is really helpful.
For many years, I avoided yoga because of its roots in eastern religions. Hearing more and more health benefits from it, and finding that not all practice yoga from a Hindu mindset, I tentatively gave it a try.
I was working a stressful job as a Reading Specialist at a middle school (hard enough) with a large percentage of students well below grade level, few of whom wanted my help, and who were often rude and obstinate. Then a yoga instructor came to our building after school to do a class for the teachers. One hour of yoga for $5/person left me feeling as relaxed as a$60 full-body massage (and more in shape)! I was hooked.
Classes are not an option now, but there are plenty of You-Tube video routines you can do at home. (My favorite You-Tube yoga instructor is Sarah Beth. She’s calm, guiding you carefully through the routines without being overly chatty.)
Yoga provides relaxation and exercise, both needed in stressful times.
Walking is perhaps the simplest form of exercise, with the added benefits of fresh air, and on clear days, sunshine. Since my husband started working from home five days a week, he has been taking daily walks around the block during his lunch break. Some days he takes our little girl, so she also gets to expend some of her boundless energy. This daily practice—even on days I don’t get to go—has been good for our whole family.
So get moving and change your scenery. Renew your perspective. Clean out your lungs and synthesize some Vitamin D. Double the benefit of walking by taking deep, measured breaths for relaxation during your walk.
Nature has a calming effect. Green is my serene color. If possible (if you can find nature trails that are not packed with people escaping their home confines) get out and walk, or sit, in nature. Again, breathe deeply. Notice the details. The green emerging almost imperceptibly on trees and bushes. The tiny flowers peeking through the dead leaves. Verdant grass replacing the dull remnants of winter.
Recently I was having an exceptionally tough few days. That weekend, my husband sent me out to the local nature preserve to walk. Even with social distancing being in effect, I could hardly find a parking space. I knew of a minor trail, and was happy to find it almost unused by the other hikers that day. A walk wasn’t enough to completely resolve the turmoil in my heart, but noticing and photographing the variety of emerging wildflowers did revive my spirits.
If traveling to a forest or a meadow is not an option, there might be a piece of nature in your backyard: your garden.
To say I love gardening may be an understatement. Gardening is not just an interest or a hobby; the garden is my happy place. I find it therapeutic. It is sun and air and soil. While relaxing (to me), gardening is also labor—physical exercise that tires my body and helps me sleep well.
Gardening gives a sense of control (designing the layout, planting seeds, pulling weeds, mulching). But it also cultivates hope. The seeds will sprout. The plants will grow. Not every seed, not every plant, but some will grow and produce.
In this time of staying home, I am so thankful for a chance to get out in the garden. This summer it may even be the place to grow some sanity!
The sky always puts me in awe—whether sunrise, cloudless blue, dramatic gray, brilliant sunset, or sparkling, star-lit night—the sky calls me to stop, be still, gaze up and beyond myself, and inhale.
Even if only for a moment.
On my recent solitary hike in the woods, I got to the end of the trail and wasn’t ready to head home. Nearby, next to a pond, I found a large picnic-table-like structure built around the trunk of a huge sycamore tree. Lying down on the table, I could gaze up through the branches, appreciating the gnarly symmetry. I could breathe. I could listen. I could cry. Alone. After gazing at the sky like this, I was (mostly) ready to head home.
Sky gazing may be optimal in remote places, but anyone can enjoy it, whether from a backyard or a high-rise balcony.
I don’t typically take time to sit and color. Yet there have been a few times in the last few years that coloring was just what I needed—sitting for endless days administering tests in a computer lab, recovering from a C-section and losing my baby, and recently, at the request of our little one. We sat, focused and calm (so rare for our little), enjoying time together.
Coloring may be an artistic outlet, but I believe the focus it requires is also therapeutic. Whether using adult or children’s pages, coloring may be a relaxing activity for the whole family.
Another relaxing activity for solitary reflection or family togetherness involves jigsaw puzzles.
I did a lot of puzzles after our daughter was stillborn. Puzzles gave me something quiet and sedentary to do while recovering from birth, but also something I could do to put tiny bits of order back into my broken dreams.
During this lock-down, our little and I put together a 300-piece puzzle, again enjoying the calming focus of working quietly together.
De-clutter One Space
For as organized as I like to be (and am sometimes praised for) I CANNOT keep a clutter-free house. And it drives me crazy. It drives me even more crazy when I am overwhelmed by life.
Even as a teen, I couldn’t focus on my work until my space was clean. So I learned to increase my productivity by first taking 10 minutes to prepare my workspace.
As an adult with my own family, I hate starting the day with a sink full of dishes and all of the past week’s stuff piled on every inch of counter. My heart—my determination and positivity—shrivels into a little ball. I feel so much more positive and full of energy when I start the day with a clean kitchen—all the dishes done, the sink cleared, the counters cleared of clutter and wiped down.
Clutter piling up on the counter takes over my workspace, making me feel like a helpless victim. Cleaning gives back a sense of control—I can control my space. Maybe you don’t have time or energy to tackle the entire house. But maybe you have 10 or 20 minutes you could devote to one area that particularly bothers you or interferes with daily tasks, and put it in order. You whole day—or week—may improve!
One unexpected blessing from marriage has been the foot massages and the neck and shoulder rubs we give each other. Early in our marriage, we developed the weekly (sometimes nightly) habit of having “couch time.” This involved sitting at opposite ends of the couch facing each other, with our legs staggered vis-à-vis. Then we enjoyed 20, 30, even 45-minutes of mutual foot rubing while while talking or reading a book to each other. Those were wonderful times of connection.
Now, more frequently, we rub each other’s heads, necks, and shoulders in bed as we talk and settle in for the night.
Both of these practices yield great relaxation and comfort, both physical and emotional. Even our 5-year-old has picked up on this. When she wants to, she can give an amazing neck massage!
These are simple, free things we can do for each other. Times are tough for all of us, and the tension creeps into all of our minds and bodies, even the children’s. So spontaneously or at bedtime, give a foot rub or a back rub to your spouse or child. They may return the favor!
Quiet Time for Everyone
As I wrote about in a previous post, “Quiet Time” has long been a practice in our house. As the children grow, they may not even need it, but I do. I can take a nap, or I can be productive. If you don’t have children, you might need time alone, away from your spouse or roommate. Either way, whether resting or checking something off your to-do list, quiet time gives you back something that you need. And replenishing is what we all need when drained dry of physical and emotional resources.
Finding the things that help, whether some of these 13 tips for easing tension, or others that work for you, are part of surviving. Desperation doesn’t have to be our stay-at-home experience.