Department: Think About It
“How are you doing?” is a common question asked in daily casual conversation. The question took on new meaning as I prepared this issue of JCN and learned many are not okay due to stress and anxiety. In my research for “Anxiety: Etiology, Treatment, and Christian Perspectives” by Debra Walker and Jane Leach (pp. 84-91), I learned anxiety disorders impact over 40 million adults, many of whom are women. I thought about nurses, many of whom are women, and how we are always caring for others, sometimes to the exclusion of caring for ourselves. I noted areas where I tend to get anxious. I don't have an anxiety disorder, but sometimes I feel this underlying uneasiness. At times I am outright fretful and engage in negative self-talk or turn to food for comfort—not healthy responses. I also have healthy responses like crying out to God and going to the gym for exercise.
As I reflected on how I respond to anxiety, I wondered how are other nurses, husbands and wives, moms and dads, students and teachers doing with anxiety? How are they managing the stresses of life and nursing work? As Christians, how might we better identify and manage anxiety? What could make the difference between turning to healthy versus unhealthy responses?
Recently, one of my colleagues in Nurses Christian Fellowship suggested I explore The Daily Examen, a spiritual discipline began by St. Ignatius Loyola in the 1500s as part of the Spiritual Exercises. This ancient practice “is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God's presence and discern his direction for us” (Loyola Press, n.d.). I've heard about but sadly never tried to practice the Examen. I should have much sooner—I discovered this is a great resource for dealing with anxiety.
A quick web search took me to IgnatianSpirituality.com by Loyola Press. The Daily Examen is taking time in the middle or end of the day (or both) to look for the subtle movements of God in one's life. It begins with stopping to become aware of God's presence then reviewing the day with gratitude. Where did I see God's face? Where didn't I see his face? Where did I miss God because I was preoccupied? As you pray and reflect, pay attention to your emotions. Look at any strong feelings, either positive ones of peace and happiness that move you toward God, or negative feelings of anxiety, restlessness, or doubt that move you away from God. These feelings indicate something important is going on and you should ask God, “What does this mean?” This is a time for checking in with God—putting everything in his lap and asking him what's going on, where do I go next? The Examen isn't a beat yourself up exercise or look at everything that's gone wrong. It is inviting God into all aspects of the day, asking him to point out what he has done for me, what he is doing, what he wants to do, where I can walk differently with him. It is stopping and reflecting on the fact that God is here with me, in every moment. It is asking for and accepting God's forgiveness. It is asking God how he wants to help tomorrow. I suggest reading Bible passages with the Examen to allow God to speak through his Word.
It will be hard for me to stop and reflect. A priest noted this in a video at IgnationalSpirituality.com saying, “If it doesn't fit your personality, learn to make it fit.” Why? Because the Examen teaches us how to find God in the present moment—in the relationships, challenges, frustrations, and feelings we are experiencing. It helps bring God into the “doing” of everyday life. I discovered beautiful, peaceful audio files you can download for free to help you be still, reflect, and work through the Examen.
I suspect many JCN readers are familiar with The Daily Examen. If not, I encourage you to learn more about this great tool to help you bring God into the anxieties of life.
Are you okay? If not, what are you going to do about it?