When will this end?

That’s the question a lot of us are asking right now. When can we leave our homes? When will the numbers trend in the right direction? When can we make plans? When will things be back to normal?

This line of questioning is not new to me. Four years ago, my husband had a medical emergency that launched us into long hospital stays, scary surgeries, and so much anxiety. There have been so many times that I have found myself crying because things weren’t right….and I didn’t know when they would be again.

You’d think that years of uncertainty would have prepared me for a worldwide pandemic, but that has not been the case. Last week, a new wave of anxiety hit me as our high-risk household became completely quarantined. If I wasn’t disinfecting something, I was fighting off another panic attack.

The more I talk to others (online, because social distancing), the more I realize that I’m far from alone. A lot of us are dealing with anxiety. This is a scary time. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that.

So how do we function amidst the anxiety? Someone once told me that gratitude is a great way to fight off negative thoughts. But if I’m honest, I have a really hard time being grateful when it feels like the entire world is falling apart.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly try, but everything I’m grateful for comes with its own fear:

“I’m thankful for my husband!” But what if he dies?

“I’m thankful for food!” But how am I supposed to get more right now without risking infection?

“I’m thankful for friends!” But I can’t be with them.

“I’m thankful for my home!” But what if we lose everything?

Logical me says, “Have faith! God will provide.” But anxious me spirals out of control.

This week, I was looking back at old journals of other really hard times in my life. During one long hospital stay last year, I made a list of all the “little joys” that were getting me through. Top of my list? Cafeteria soup.

It’s odd to think that cafeteria soup got me through the hardest weeks of my life, but there’s something about focusing on the small gifts God was giving me each day that helped me through the really big problems.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be grateful for the big things. We absolutely should. But if anxiety is making it hard for you to see the big picture, try starting small.

Here’s my list of small joys that are getting me through this pandemic:

• My jar of queso in the fridge
• A dog that likes to cuddle
• Card games
• Marco Polo (the app that’s keeping me connected to my friends right now!)
• My husband’s laugh
• Wearing sweatpants every day
• My heated blanket
• Zoos that show animals roaming free since there are no visitors
• Online church
• Diet Coke

That’s just 10 things, but once I get going, I can’t stop. And soon, I’m able to spiral upwards toward gratitude for the big things instead of downward into despair.

Because that’s the thing I’m learning time and time again: no hard time comes without joy….no matter how small that joy may be. I don’t know when life will return to “normal,” but I know that if I take a second to look around, I can find good among the pain.

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