I recently had occasion to read step two from a 12-Step program: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” I thought about those words, “restore us to sanity,” grasping them and holding them close for a while.
Some years past, I regularly attended a 12-Step program and I am forever grateful for those meetings. But that is not my focus here. And to be clear, I am not proposing that anyone has a higher power or that anyone else needs a 12-Step meeting. My attention is solely on the words “restore us to sanity.”
If you are anything like me — if anyone has anything in common nowadays — you may feel off balance, confused, hopeless, angry, irritable, or a bit frightened. On top of all that, many of us are kind of lonely and missing our regular social connections. Two years of COVID-19 have forever changed our familiar landscape, our national political system is in upheaval, families are torn, traditional supports are strained. As the saying goes, “Normal is only a setting on your dryer.”
How are you coping? Tuning out and playing endless games of spider solitaire may not work forever.
What could “restoration” look like for those of us who are feeling not quite right in the head or heart? Is it possible to get back to where we were when we felt our best, or at least better than we do now? It is possible for people of any age to improve their diets, get some exercise and do some things that generally improve physical well-being. What might help us feel better on the inside? Restoring our sense of wellness, adaptability, acceptance, generosity, tolerance, and perhaps happiness and hope, is a goal that could be within our reach.
While talking with a friend this week, we discussed the lengthening days and how much the added minutes of daylight improved her outlook. Others have shared their renewed vigor and the fresh bursts of energy they feel of late. The restorative powers of sunlight cannot be underestimated, just ask the person who was washing all her windows. Turning your face to the sun for a time each day is an easy and natural way towards restoring a better mood.
In researching the subject of restoration, I found that experts had a few suggestions in common. For example, the idea of managing your reactions to people or events by taking a 90-second pause. Practice some deep breathing, and “recenter yourself.” In other words, catch yourself before you fly off the handle at someone. One person uses the phrase “I am going to take this opportunity to stop talking right now.” She has found it effective in creating a “big U-turn” in a fractious conversation and hostilities are avoided.
Another technique for restoring sanity is to create a break in routine. Changing location, for even a day, promotes relaxation and renewed energy. I have a few favorite places I enjoy driving to for an afternoon, off the peninsula, and away from my everyday reality. For me, these are places to get in a walk, a change of scene, and perhaps a meal out. I return home feeling invigorated.
Create a rock-solid morning routine. Routines help us focus our energy on the work before us and not on the day-to-day business of finding food or gathering clothing. Routines can help us remain calm and get our busy days off to a good start. Likewise, a calming routine at night encourages a good night’s sleep.
These ideas are not deep therapy. They are common sense reminders that are achievable and helpful. Other suggestions include avoiding a “hangry episode,” cultivate happy habits and friendships with happy people, get a houseplant and take a break from your work every 90 minutes. Spend some time every day laughing. Practice gratitude. The restoration of your sanity is purely subjective. Each person will have a personal prescription.
As we navigate our new normal each day, keep in mind that sanity can be restored with thoughtful and sustained attention to mental and emotional health.
Vicki Biggs is a longtime social worker. She lives in Home.
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