Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those that hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles,
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not faint.
When I was told that I had cancer, my body responded. It got ready. It geared up. And not just on the day I received the diagnosis, but every day for months my body was geared up to fight for survival.
Whenever we are faced with difficulties of any kind we experience extra doses of adrenaline pulsing through our bodies. We are on alert. We are all charged up. This extra adrenaline often leaves us feeling anxious and wired.
Small amounts of adrenaline help us learn, help keep us focused on a task, and even help us do well through surgeries. But too much adrenaline makes it difficult to learn or focus on anything. And it wears us out.
So the question is, what do we do about all this extra adrenaline? How do we take care of ourselves when we are under stress?
There are two things that seem to help me the most. First, it helps me to be still every day for a period of time. And second, it helps me to keep moving. It helps me to get outside and walk, to go to the gym for a workout, to run around and play outside with our grandson.
Sit still and keep moving. We need to practice both of these things. They are helpful during times of low stress, and crucial to our functioning during times when stress is high.
When we become still and quiet, our bodies begin to calm down. The sense of threat begins to lessen. When we couple this with intentionally slowing down our breathing, we can reduce the amount of adrenaline being pumped into our blood stream and when we get moving we can metabolize some of the extra adrenaline. The adrenaline is there to help us fight or run faster than we normally could. Our bodies are ready to move and moving helps to use up extra adrenaline.
Normally I go to the gym three times a week and work out for an hour. But a few days after I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that I needed to walk on the days that I was not at the gym. At least, as often as possible. And I did. It gave me extra time alone to pray. It got me outside more. It gave me a sense of being partially in charge of my body. It felt like a gift I was giving myself.
Normally I spend time nearly every day in quiet. Reading, journaling, praying, meditating. This also needed to be increased. I had more going on to journal about—more feelings, more inventory, more prayers. I could feel my need for quiet stillness. I hungered for more time alone in quiet with God. So I allowed myself more time whenever possible. This, too, was a gift I gave myself.
It might be helpful to brainstorm ways that you enjoy being still and ways you enjoy being active. Consider posting these two lists somewhere so you can refer to them easily during times when you are too tired or too agitated to remember them.
A list of quiet activities might include listening to calming music, soaking in the bath, breathing slowly and easily for several minutes, meditating, reading, praying, or simply being still and quiet. A list of moving activities could include walking, biking, hiking, gardening, going for a run, dancing, going to the gym.
It is clear that both being still and being active take time. This means that taking care of ourselves in these ways will need to become a priority. This is often not an easy thing for us to do. We often live our lives responding to other people’s needs and being unaware of our own. But it is always a gift—not only to ourselves but to everyone in our lives—when we take good care of ourselves. In fact, when we don’t take care of ourselves we are not really able to care well for others. So we need to be willing to say no to some of the demands in our lives (including our own demands of ourselves) in order to find time to be still and to keep moving.
Take good care of you. You are God’s beloved child. You are of infinite value. Find time to be still and time to move.
When you don’t know what to do…be still and keep moving.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What are your favorite ways to rest and relax?
2. What are your favorite ways to be active?
3. What are you doing to take care of yourself during this difficult time?