In the midst of chaos, how can you ‘return to center’?

The email from the school district came through saying that schools are closed “indefinitely.” 

In the blink of an eye, I became a teacher again. (Our district will be offering online instruction, but I knew I would be needed to help my kids with the material). 

This time around, I wasn’t a twenty-five-year-old, bright-eyed and energetic teacher with twenty-two adorable first-graders hanging on my every word. Instead, I’m a forty-five-year-old mother of four contemplating how to guide these four young people, who would rather be looking at an iPad than listening to me most of the time. 

Yes, I used to be a teacher (shout out to all of those amazing men and women who do one of the hardest and most important jobs on the planet), but I felt ill-equipped to do this job at home. 

My anxiety slowly started to rise. No matter how hard I tried to use my “coping skills” (the same ones about which I talk to my clients), I could not seem to settle down. As I sat alone and did some deep breathing and praying, the thought occurred to me that it is time for me to return to my center. 

After the initial thought became clear, I began to think more about what returning to center would look like.  

What does it mean to ‘return to center’?

If we are to consider returning to the center, it might be helpful to know what the word means. 

According to dictionary.com, center is defined as:  

  1. “The middle point of a circle or sphere, equidistant from every point on the circumference or surface. 
  2. “The point from which an activity or process is directed, or on which it is focused.” 

I like the visual created by the first definition because it suggests the middle point of something which is surrounded equally on all sides by some sort of border or boundary. 

The second definition resonated with me as well because it denotes some sort of grounding purpose. 

Both of these definitions can be helpful during this unprecedented time, when the unknown seems to loom in the not-so-distant future and we might find ourselves spinning with anxiety at any given time.

Healthy borders  

Now, let’s take a look at the first definition. 

Creating a border for yourself physically is the responsible thing each of us can do right now as part of the social distancing effort we have all heard about and have been encouraged to practice. 

We must create physical space for ourselves and our families in order to help ourselves and the most vulnerable stay healthy. This relatively short time in our lives, where we are asked to distance ourselves physically, is a change we can make for the benefit of all.  

Creating a border for yourself emotionally and mentally is a little more abstract but just as important for your health. 

How to create healthy borders

What does creating a mental/emotional border look like?

  • Create space and time for yourself to sit alone and spend time with God. Meditate on some of the Scriptures regarding centering and focus. Some of my favorites are

    • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). 
    • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). 
    • “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me” (Psalm 28:7). 
    • “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17) 
  • Do some yoga. Look online for free resources. Peloton is also offering their app to new users free for two months right now. This is an excellent resource for meditation, yoga, and other activities.
  • Do a body scan. Pay attention to each part of your body and notice where there is tension—and breathe through it.
  • Take some time to breathe. Inhale through the nose and exhale through your mouth. 
  • Five senses check-in. Focus on one of your senses at a time. Notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Distraction is normal. Gently bring your attention back to the present.  
  • Set limits for yourself on how much information you will consume in the form of news, health alerts, closings, etc.  
  • Set aside device-free time where you can enjoy time with family members who are at home with you.  
  • Go out in your front or back yard and get some vitamin D and fresh air. Look around you at the beauty of God’s creation. Thank him for the beautiful things you see.  
  • If you have a dog or cat, take some time to sit with and pet your dog or cat. This can be very soothing for your mental health and has also been shown to lower blood pressure in some cases.  
  • Since we are washing our hands more than ever, do this task mindfully. What does that mean? From turning on the water to drying your hands, deliberately pay attention to the sound, feel, and temperature of the water, the feel, sight, and smell of the soap, and the texture of the towel you use to dry your hands.  
  • Make a daily schedule for yourself and your kids. Include consistent wake-up and bedtimes, add in time for physical activity and screen-free time as well, and time to study and do online schoolwork. Get out those puzzles and games that might have collected dust and spend time playing and creating with your kids.  

Healthy activities

When we consider the second definition of the word center, we begin to think about a point on which our activity is focused. 

After creating space and boundaries for yourself and your family, you may feel more ready to look for purpose during this time. At this point, it can be life-giving to determine how you and your family can serve others without leaving the house. 

How to serve others from home

  • Make a card or mail an encouraging note to an elderly neighbor or grandparent. 
  • Donate money online to your church or cause close to your heart.  
  • Brainstorm ways your family would like to physically serve others in the days after the virus has passed. 
  • Clean your home and donate items another person could use. 
  • Support small businesses in your area. (Get takeout from a local restaurant, for example.) 
  • Reach out to neighbors and friends online or via text or phone to see how they are doing. 

Even in my own moments of increased anxiety, I take comfort in the fact that though the current global situation is shocking and unexpected, it is not a surprise to our Lord. He is the author and perfecter of our faith and our story. He is right here with us, right now, and in every moment. 

We now find ourselves with time to be still and know that he is God. 

Let’s not miss this moment in time to return to center in order to ultimately serve others. 

This is our purpose. 

This is our opportunity.  

Thanks be to God.