I saw something last week that absolutely fascinated me. I don’t know if I would have believed it had I not seen it. Four university students were in the parking lot at our local grocery store just north of Atlanta. I heard them talking about how nervous they were about going inside to shop and how anxious they were about their future prospects. They all returned home early from their college campuses, three would not get an in-person graduation ceremony, and all of their job plans had evaporated.
The conversation shifted when one of the students said, “Maybe we need to get our minds off our own problems.” There was a pause. Then she continued, “I’m going to look for the next person I see in this parking lot who looks like they need help, and I’m going to help them.”
Moments later, the magic happened.
An elderly couple drove slowly into a parking spot and sat in their car with the engine running. She approached the driver and said, “Are you OK? Do you need anything?” The driver, a man in his 80s, replied, “You must be an angel. My wife and I are terrified to go into the supermarket to shop. Could you help us?”
The young lady smiled and said, “Of course! Give me your list, and you stay right here.” The man handed her a hundred dollar bill and his shopping list, and she was off to serve as a personal shopper.
As I watched, I eventually realized both sides had just won.
The Best Part of the Story
In essence, this young woman was saying, “I think the secret to beating my anxiety is to get busy helping other people.” I think she’s right. I am certainly not claiming that this is a comprehensive remedy for all anxiety or mental health issues. There is a place for counseling, management, and even medication at times. But so much of our anxiety during this COVID-19 pandemic stems from the fact that we’re isolated in our homes, watching the news, and feeling very uncertain about our futures. We’re consumed with “me.”
Greta Thunberg is another example. While I recognize she’s a controversial teen from Sweden, protesting climate change, she has openly admitted that she’s struggled with depression in the past. She acknowledged, however, that getting involved in her cause has helped her beat that depression. Service and involvement are saving her.
My own son made this discovery as a young man. He had his own battle with depressive moods yet told me one day, “I have much better days when I lose myself in using my gifts to serve others. What I focus on can make me or break me.”
Using This Secret Weapon
Especially during this season of self-quarantine, what if we all discovered this “secret weapon” and used it. It is crucial during times of uncertainty to focus on something outside of ourselves and invest our time and energy in the service of others. It’s what our world celebrates on TV these days as we cheer on medical staff and first responders, people serving on the front lines of this battle with COVID-19. So, here’s the secret:
- Find something or someone you care about.
- Discover if there is a need to be met or a problem to be solved.
- Determine what resources you have to offer.
- Begin small and start focusing on meeting that need.
- Watch to see if it morphs into something bigger.
- Enjoy the endorphins, those happy chemicals inside you, as you serve.
My wife and I have made our own fresh discovery of this simple, secret weapon. We’ve been able to find places to donate funds; she has found neighbors for whom she can deliver groceries, and we have called people we haven’t spoken to in years to check up on them and encourage them. This secret weapon should not be a secret.