Fear Factor: What to Do When Panic Sets In
When tragedy hits how do you respond? Do you just let it all roll off your back or do you panic, becoming paralyzed to all the what ifs?
Award-winning author Maureen Pratt has lived through her fair share of heartache: living with a debilitating disease, recovering from a random act of violence, and putting the pieces back together following an earthquake.
In her new book, Don’t Panic: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough, Pratt draws from her own personal experience to explore how to strengthen your soul through troubling times.
I recently sat down with Pratt to discuss the concept of spiritual resilience, whether it is ok to be vulnerable in times of crisis, and how you can use your natural attributes to overcome fear.
What was the genesis for your book, Don’t Panic!: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough?
I noticed there were so many people who were getting just bottled up inside with anxiety about the state of the world, the violence that we see, all of the natural disasters that we’ve had in the last few months, and years. I thought, nothing has ever shaken my faith to the point where I have just been so bottled up with anxiety. God has always been a constant presence for me. And I thought, how can I translate the things I’ve lived through and the way that I’ve been able to cope into a book that people can have that will be easy to digest but will have real good, strong, practical coping skills for physical, emotional, and spiritual resilience building? It’s sort of like training for any kind of athletic endeavor. An athlete can’t just wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to run a marathon.” They have to do step-by-step training for it, otherwise they’ll collapse at the third mile.
How can I help people build that kind of resilience and know that we have so many tools inside of us that God has given us, that sometimes we take for granted, or we lose sight of because we get so caught up in the anxiety, and the worry, and the fear. So that’s how the book was born.
A central theme throughout your book is the topic of spiritual resilience. First off, to set the tone for the conversation, how would you define it?
Spiritual resilience is the ability to always move back to God and keep God central, no matter what wind is blowing around us or inside of us. There are times, and I’ve experienced this in my life as someone who suffers from lupus, where we are so tired or sick, or distraught, or in the throes of mourning the loss of somebody, or a job, where we are first emotional responders, where we cry, we rage, we get frustrated, but still that spiritual resilience is the ability to go through that process in order to kind of unclog the pipe of emotion. This is so that we can allow God’s wonderful calm to flood through us, and flow through us.
Is spiritual resilience something that you can develop over a period of time, or is it just sort of an innate sense that’s already inside you?
It’s something we have to keep developing, no matter how strong our faith is at any given point. It’s like a muscle that we have to exercise. It’s spiritual muscle, and the more we are conscious of bringing the Lord into our daily lives, the more muscle we develop, and the more natural it becomes. You know, as children we start to develop the ability to pray; we pray with our parents, or we pray in Sunday school, or we pray kind of formally, in a way. Spiritual resilience enables us to be able to pray anywhere, anytime, and make it feel natural so that we’re not self-conscious about it, but we’re really that vessel for God to come through us.
What are some good ways to nurture internal resources that God has already given you, things like creativity, compassion, or hospitality? How can you use some of those things to help combat the feelings of being overwhelmed by all of the threatening situations happening around us?
The power of a (television) remote works both ways. You take the remote, you turn the media off. I do that sometimes as an exercise. If I hear of something horrible happening and I get caught up in it, I will take that remote and I’ll turn it off, and I’ll sit there in the quiet. I’ll say, okay, God, now flood my life with you. Also, take little scripture snippets with you and put them in your pocket. Sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to turn on our cell phones to get to our Bibles and devotional apps, but bring those things of goodness and quiet into your life at times that seem almost counterintuitive, times that you think you should be busy and have something on in the background, or when you’re sitting in traffic, for example. The other thing is that we want to reach out to those people who are struggling, who don’t believe, who are troubled and in pain. When we do that, we take on some of that struggle and pain into our hearts, and so it’s so important to have a strong group of true friends around us who are filled with goodness, and encouragement, and inspiration, who sometimes tell us, you know, lay off of that for a little bit because it’s really getting to you. But we have to really be conscious of nurturing ourselves with good people around us so that we have that buffer, that protection. It’s almost like human armor to be able to then be strong in our ministry.
Is it good to be vulnerable in times of crisis?
It’s very good to be vulnerable because in crises, we need other people. And sometimes we think have to do it all. The single mom who’s been raising four kids on her own might think, I have to carry this all on my own shoulders, or the person who is diagnosed with cancer might feel, “I’m the only one in my family who’s sick, and I have to do this all myself, and I can’t allow other people to help me.” After a talk that I gave recently, a man came up to me. He looked very, very troubled and he said, “I have to ask you a question. What if you’re afraid you’re going to be a burden on your family?” And he didn’t go into why he was asking that, and I didn’t press him on it, but I said, “A family is an essential unit of love. Let them love you, and to help you is to love you.” After I said this to him he just physically relaxed. He stood there a moment and he nodded. He said thank you, and then he walked away. I pray for him every day and his family. But there are many people who are afraid of being a burden, and it’s not out of ego that you think, well, I have to do this or I can do this on my own, but you don’t want to put extra pressure and struggle, and challenge on the people that you love, but let them love you.
In your book you write about a crisis preparedness kit. What should be in your crisis preparedness kit?
Many things, but physical things. When we physically prepare for any potential crisis, we feel more security that we are prepared. So if you live in an area where there are natural disasters, have a plan, have a survival kit, have a way that your family can contact one another if you’re scattered. Make sure that if you have a family, you have all the paperwork in place so that if something happens to you and your spouse, your children are going to be looked after and don’t have to go through legal hoops to be looked after, and have a healthcare directive for each person. Think about those hard things and hard issues.
As an author, after people have read Don’t Panic: How to Keep Going When the Going Get Tough, what is your greatest hope for them?
I would like for them to feel that they actually do have more strength and more resources at hand than they ever thought they did have, that they can be strong through a crisis, never feel like they have to be victims in a crisis situation, and then I pray that they will pass that strength along, maybe pass the book along, to others.