I spoke with a young person a while back, a counseling client who was thinking about moving away from her current life and starting over fresh “somewhere else”. She dreamed of a life of peace, maybe a town house in a suburb, maybe a job with a nice boss and encouraging co-workers, maybe a new set of friends… It would be awesome. Fresh. New. Different.
From previous conversations, it had become evident that this young woman’s life held some pretty significant chaos. She was scheduled from morning until night with things she had said “yes” to, but which left very little white space for margin in her life. She’d survived a very chaotic childhood, a couple of traumatic betrayals, the death of a friend, and she was navigating a less than ideal work situation. She found herself now in a state of pretty constant stress, and more and more frequent bouts of anxiety and sleeplessness.
And so, a fresh start in a new place sounded like a big glass of iced sweet tea on a hot summer day. It did.
The only hitch in her plan is that the peace she is looking forwon’t be found in a place. Or a friend group. Or a new job. Because the circumstances of her stress and anxiety were largely inside her – swirling around like a tornado, keeping her constantly on her toes and unable to find rest. And when the storm raging is inside of us, we take it with us wherever we go.
My client would have to discover peace on the inside before she would ever find it anywhere.
And so, we kept talking. I explained to her the fruitlessness of picking up and relocating without first figuring things out here. While moving away is sometimes an option, our motivations reveal everything about whether we will find what we’re looking for. There’s a vast difference between running away from and running to something, someone or somewhere.
As a mental health professional, I have found that this conversation is not unusual, and so I was able to share some strategies with my client that, over time and practice, will almost certainly alleviate some of the internal storm she’s experiencing and lead her into a place of greater peace. There her mind will be clearer. Decisions will become less about escape and more about what is good for her – in the present and longterm, for a more abundant and vibrant life.
And if you are one who struggles with some internal chaos (and let’s face it… who doesn’t?), maybe you’d like to learn about a few of those strategies, too:
• There is nothing like a good working relationship with a skilled counselor to work through past traumas (or smaller wrinkles) in your story, to navigate current situations, or to look toward future goals. There is nothing better than sitting with a competent, wise and objective someone who will listen without judgement, ask curious questions and help you to find the way forward. Find a counselor with whom you can connect and do the hard work on yourself that will lead you toward peace – a peace that will follow you wherever you go.
• Do the things that are life-giving to you. We all have an emotional “battery” that can be drained or charged. Some things drain our energy while others leave us energized and ready for more. Discover which things do which for you. We can’t always escape the things that drain us, nor do we always want to. Sometimes even very good work is very emotionally hard on us. But we can intentionally do the things that charge our batteries and bring us to life, fueling us for the work before us. The supply of peace within us becomes more readily accessible. And when we do this, we are better for everyone, including ourselves.
• Consider putting some effort into your own spiritual practice and growth. In a review of over 32 different studies, published in the International Journal of Depression and Anxiety, it was shown that “…in almost every study, religion in general, religious training, spirituality, faith, prayer, religious community and worship were associated with reduced anxiety (stress). These effects were observed in both healthy individuals and in various patient populations. In addition, a number of studies demonstrated that religious based treatment intervention was helpful in the treatment of anxiety.” A faith practice can change us from the inside out and bring inner stability that bolsters us for the storms around us.
• Develop a practice of mindful meditation. This might sound simple, but it really does change everything. To find sustainable quiet within us is life-transforming and brain-changing. There are some free and inexpensive apps for your phone that can help you get started. As you get the hang of it, you’ll find you can take this practice with you anywhere – which means you carry with you the ability to access peace wherever you are. And that’s powerful! (If you want some help with this, you might want to consider a fun class I’m teaching through Chesterfield Counseling Associates on Oct. 23-24.)
Start small but build. With work, time and patience, you can cultivate a greater sense of serenity than you ever imagined possible. And as you do, I think you’ll discover an internal, abiding and lasting peace… one that doesn’t depend on place or space or time or other people… peace that’s not situational… peace you can take with you.