Where, Oh Where, Has Serenity Gone?

Most of us have heard of this version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, and although it was originally written in the 1930’s, it still seems very relevant today. Maybe even more so. We are constantly being bombarded with negative news – Covid, inflation, recession, war, mass shootings, road rage, and the list goes on and on. It’s in the newspapers and on Twitter, meta/Facebook, TV, radio, apps, etc. Even if you don’t actively seek it, as you scroll through your feed looking for cute pictures of puppies, the headlines blare it for the world to see. And you can’t un-see it. Your brain captures it and tucks it away. Until all that negativity spills out and you find yourself snapping at your kids, spouse, co-workers, and that idiot who just swerved in front of you from the left lane to make a right turn.

Many of us no longer feel like we are in control, not that we ever truly are, but now even the illusion is gone. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like not being in control. At all. Just ask my husband. The last few years have been hard on me, as they have for most of us. We all know someone who has been negatively affected by Covid (not that I’m sure anyone could be positively affected); we are all paying higher prices for everything and watching as our retirement or savings shrink at an alarming rate; and the anger from our fellow humans is palpable. And I can’t control it. Ack!!! It’s no wonder we’re stressed.

Stress for humans used to be part of the survival mechanism – the body physiologically goes through changes to prepare to either fight to the death or run like hell. This is the classic “fight or flight” response. Or, in my case, “freeze”. Yup, I’m more like a bunny and freeze in place, hoping whatever is stressing me out won’t notice me and will go away and leave me alone. Either way, fighting off or running away from saber tooth tigers isn’t so much an issue these days, at least where I live. So, while these responses worked in these short-term situations (you got away or were someone’s dinner, either way, game over), they don’t really translate very well in today’s world. Punching your boss or running away will likely get you a trip to jail or the HR office. And, as mentioned before, many of our current stressors aren’t short-term as we are constantly being inundated with negative news. The physiological response, however, hasn’t changed – it’s still dumping hormones and getting the body ready to physically respond by either running or fighting. This constant stress response, with no physical outlet, ends up causing physical harm. Oh, great… One more thing to worry about.

A pair of dolphins swimming at the surface of the water.
Dolphins just cruising along.

Getting back to the Serenity Prayer, I know I can’t change Covid, or inflation, or other people’s actions; but, what I can change is how I react. And no, it’s not easy, and I’m still working on it. But I know that the beach is my happy place. I know that whether I’m there for 2 min or 2 hours, I feel peaceful and serene. The outside world and all its problems no longer exist. I see the little sand pipers playing tag with the surf, dolphins leisurely swimming along the coast, and a squadron of pelicans skimming the waves. I feel the sand under my feet, the surf teasing my toes, and the sun warming my skin. I smell the fresh salty air. I hear the seagulls squawking at each other. All my senses are alive and I’m in the present at that moment in time. I’m not thinking about my “To Do” list, what I need to make for dinner, what chores I have at home, or whether my latest customer will like her custom order.

We all have a happy place: whether it’s the beach, a lake, a river, a mountain, a desert, or Starbucks (you’ll get no judgment from me!). Unfortunately, we can’t always physically be at our happy place, but we can use imagery or meditation to try to replicate that happy feeling. It takes practice and there are quite a few apps that can help you along this journey. And trust me, it’s a journey. You’ll take detours and there will be obstacles, but as long as you learn something, it’s a positive thing. Note what things you liked or what worked and replicate it. Note what things didn’t work and don’t do them again. Have you heard the saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome”? Well, it’s time to stop the insanity and move on to something else!

I recently found an app that I really like – FitOn. The reason I like this one is because it personally fits my needs – it has different physical fitness workouts, meditation sessions, and recipes. And being an introvert, I can do them in the comfort of my own home :-). When I can’t get to the beach, I try to do at least one meditation session daily. Even if it’s just a short one, the calming effects seem to last a few hours, or until my computer flashes the blue screen of death, the vacuum cleaner goes on strike, and/or one of my suppliers tells me one of my items that was supposed to arrive today is on backorder… I’m not going to lie, when this happens, I do still have a little baby freak-out; however, I can usually get my heart rate and blood pressure back to normal after a few deep breaths. Note, these should be SLOW DEEP breaths – too fast and you’ll hyperventilate and end up falling out of your chair. And, yes, this is one of those things that didn’t work and nope, don’t want to do that again. See, I can learn ;-).

I’ve also found that I can use creations inspired by the sea to trigger that serene feeling of walking along the beach. So, I basically surround myself with memories of the beach. Every morning I have coffee in my beach mug. There’s a lazy susan on my kitchen table with sand and shells from the beach that reminds me of being with my husband and finding the shells and fossilized sharks’ teeth at the beach. Wearing a necklace or earrings with real coquina shells reminds me of my mom telling me when I was little that they were tiny fairy or angel wings, which brings a smile to my face. Wearing a sea turtle anklet will make me remember the time we helped a nest of hatchlings make it to the Gulf (under the direction of the local Turtle Patrol, of course). Every time I pass the fridge or dishwasher, I see souvenirs of the beach in the magnets. And I feel like I can touch the beach with a sand and sharks’ tooth purse charm.

So, when you start to feel stressed over things you can’t control, take a few deep breaths, find your happy place, wherever that may be, and carry on. You’ve got this!

May your days be filled with sun, sand, and surf… or whatever makes you happy :-)

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