10 ways to shift your thoughts when life makes you depressed and anxious
It hurts to turn on the news most days, doesn’t it?
For years, I urged people not to ignore the news, to stay engaged with what’s happening in the world so they could make a difference. As a former reporter, I also reminded them to keep it in perspective. News by definition is what’s out of the ordinary, what doesn’t happen every day.
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But even I am feeling overwhelmed. Even before the coronavirus and a global economic crisis, we had mass shootings, wildfires, floods, unprecedented heat and cold, endless turmoil at the border, and of course, the political divide in the United States (as in many countries), with each side contemptuous and fearful of the other.
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News is not the only problem. We all sometimes face personal challenges—illness, heartbreak, financial issues, conflict with family or coworkers—that can keep us awake at night.
So, I hear the question often: How can we stay sane? How can we see events through spiritual eyes? How can we handle these feelings of helpless stress or forebodings of doom?
I wish I had the definitive answer.
What I have instead are ways to think about it—ways to shift our thoughts so we can contribute positively to the whole. And, then, ways we can take action.
- Beware the Spiritual Bypass
I used to envy people who could float above problems and stay in what appeared to be acceptance and bliss. “Go with the flow,” they would say. “Embrace it all.”
I’m open to the idea that in the end, as we move toward the light, we will look back and see that our lives unfolded perfectly. But in the meantime, I don’t believe we’re here to transcend the human experience. It’s what we came for.
We knew there would be pain and drama. We wanted to help.
When pain and drama are in our experience is no time to turn away. I know it’s tempting to stay in bed! But we were made for these times—or we wouldn’t be here
- Words Have Power
The events, people, or situations in our lives that we dislike have simply been labeled as problems. Consider that they are not inherently good or bad.
We know this because we can all recount stories when something we first labeled a disaster turned out to be a blessing. Haven’t you heard people say cancer was their friend and teacher , or getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to them, or a divorce they resisted set them free?
Stay open to the possibility that what you are calling bad will be redeemed for good in time.
- Stay Grounded
I don’t want fear to control my life. I don’t want to give power to the threat of illness, financial shortfalls, or violence. I don’t want to misuse my imagination to envision the worst.
Here’s a helpful question that brings me back to the present moment: “Where are my feet?”
In other words, what is happening right now, in this moment? Chances are, I’m working online or puttering around in the kitchen. Or maybe my feet are stretched out on the sofa while I watch TV. Nothing bad is happening. Not in this moment. I’m fine.
This would be a good time to make a gratitude list.
- Get the Facts
Information doesn’t comfort everyone, but I like facts. Find a reputable, objective source so you will know what’s going on. Find more than one.
However, don’t get sucked in by fear and what-ifs. Facts are neutral, and our reaction creates the drama (or not). Remember, this is the soul’s journey you agreed to take on this planet at this time. There is great work to be done.
Unity Online Radio host Suzanne Giesemann suggests we respond to any event or news with, “Isn’t that interesting?” It pulls us back into the present moment without judging the circumstances. We become the observer, and our minds become peaceful enough to sense joy.
- Focus on Ultimate Goals
We all want the same things: peace and prosperity with health care and education available to all. Right? We only disagree about how to get there. Maybe the political party you disagree with isn’t really trying to destroy your way of life. Maybe they’re on a different path to the same destination.
We know what doesn’t work: anger, condemnation, and blame. Instead, we can look past appearances and, as they sang during the civil rights movement in America, keep your eyes on the prize.
- What Can You Learn?
It’s not a bad idea to wonder periodically what you could learn from whatever is upsetting you. Remember the adage: If you spot it, you got it.
That means asking yourself whether any of the traits you condemn in others are manifest in you.
How am I feeling threatened by changes in the world?
How am I prejudiced?
How am I violent, if not physically then expressing anger in hurtful ways?
How do I try to grab power?
Have I ever spoken out and been wrong?
It’s a graduate course in spiritual growth. As soon as you hear yourself judging someone, look for ways you might be doing the same thing.
- What Can You Be For?
Take action when you feel guided and inspired. Too often, activism stems from anger. The actions we take are actually reactions against whatever we perceive as wrong and bad. If we come from a state of resistance, we only generate more conflict.
Align with Spirit (the Universe, life, a force for good, whatever you call it) before deciding what to do.
Don’t be afraid to pray, “What is mine to do?” The answer might not be to march in the streets or write a tirade online. It might be to rear compassionate children. It might be to volunteer in your community or church. We each have different gifts, and every contribution matters.
You don’t have to save the world. Mother Teresa said, “Don’t look for big things, just do small things with great love.”
- Take an Even Bigger Step
Shifting our point of view takes practice, but the Bible tells us love casts out fear.
Here’s the whole verse from 1 John 4:18 : “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”
Could we release fear and substitute love? If you’re lying awake at night, focus on your heart’s warm light and imagine it growing brighter until you are enfolding the planet with love. Consciously or not, every sentient being will feel your energy.
- You Are Part of a Bigger Picture
We might not see the big picture, but I have to believe there is one. Maybe this is happening for the individual growth of each soul. Maybe it’s a collective experience to push society forward.
In my view, the human species is struggling to grow up. Other species are thousands of years older, and many have established cooperative systems with nature and each other that allow them to survive.
I see us as a bunch of teenagers. We consider ourselves independent until something goes wrong, then we’re looking for a rescue. But don’t you also see brilliant flashes of wisdom and intuition in teenagers?
As a species, we’re not finished yet.
- Every Thought Counts
In Practical Metaphysics, legendary Unity writer and teacher Rev. Eric Butterworth said, “The important key to effective living then is not trying to find the way to set things right, and to straighten people out, and to get the world to stop acting like it does. Not to set things right, but to see them rightly … As Emerson would say, from the highest possible point of view.”
We create our world through consciousness. What we hold in mind influences the whole. Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called it the noosphere, the thinking layer of earth. It contains every thought we have had and determines our collective experience.
What are you contributing to it today?
If you’d like to start with prayer, you can reach out now to the Silent Unity® 24/7 prayer line. To speak with a prayer associate, call 816-969-2000, internationally dial 01-816-969-2000. Or request your prayer online.
Ellen Debenport is a longtime Unity minister currently working as vice president of publishing for Unity World Headquarters. She is the author of Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door and The Five Principles (Unity Books, 2009).