Guard your sanity in a crazy time

It’s that time of year again when many of us are feeling the pressure. Running on near-empty, we may be trying to pull together loose ends on projects, support children writing exams, and deal with the frustrations of load shedding. I witnessed two incidents of road rage on my short trip to the office today. Not surprisingly, people are on a short fuse.

What underlies anger is usually fear. When we don’t feel safe, we tend to react in anger. So much is out of our control right now. We can’t predict or control load shedding, we don’t know when a fourth wave of the virus will hit, and we lack confidence in political leadership.

We are justifiably angry. However, when our frustrations consistently dominate our thinking and conversation, the risk is that negative neural pathways in the brain ‘fire and wire’ together and are strengthened, which leaves us feeling even less happy and more unsafe. Over time, our brains become less able to recognise positive experiences.

This is not to say that we should deny our feelings, put our heads in the sand and adopt a naïve Pollyanna style optimism. It does mean that we may need to be more intentional about deliberately looking for the good – pausing to savour the Jacaranda trees and the early morning sunrises, enjoying special moments with family and friends, perhaps anticipating a break from work over Christmas.

It is also about recognising what we can and cannot influence and where we need to put our energies. As author Stephen Covey explains, there are three circles where we spend our energy: a circle of control, a circle of influence and a circle of concern.

Our circle of concern includes all those things over which we have substantial control, like how we raise our children, what we read, when we exercise, who we spend time with. 

Our circle of influence includes those situations where we can make some meaningful impact: belonging to a neighbourhood group, helping in our parish, contributing at work and in our community in our areas of gifting.

Our circle of concern includes the things that impact us but over which we have little or no control or influence – like how long load shedding will last or when the fourth wave will arrive.

If we spend most of our energy and thinking in our circles of control and influence, we will feel more empowered. We will have greater emotional reserves to cope with the impact of things largely outside our control and influence. On the other hand, if we spend it in our circle of concern, our levels of helplessness and frustration will become debilitating.

As Christians, we also have the promise of God. God is ultimately in control and remains with us, in and through all the chaos and frustration. In spending time with God, we come to experience that we are safe in God, no matter the challenges we may be contending with.

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell has worked in the area of Ignatian Spirituality for 19 years and heads up the work of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality. Her primary focus is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and the giving of retreats. She is also a registered Psychologist and her PhD focused on the interface between Christian Spirituality and Psychology. Annemarie is an editorial advisor to “The Way” journal of Spirituality and has authored a number of articles relating to the training of Spiritual Directors in an African context. She has contributed to several books, most recently co-authoring a book of Lenten Reflections: “Long Journey to the Resurrection”. She has contributed to international conferences and consultations in Spirituality in the United Kingdom; the United States; Rome; Spain, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe. @annemariepc_c
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