Malaise is the best word I can think of to describe what many people I know are experiencing, myself included. Dictionary.com defines malaise as “a vague or unfocused feeling of mental uneasiness, lethargy or discomfort.” When asked how they are, I hear answers such as tired, bored, exhausted. People tell me they struggle to concentrate. We collectively feel unsettled and unsure. There are many question marks right now and we all agree that 2020 has turned out to be a third-rate year. Lamentably, we are barely 75 percent of the way through; so we can expect more surprises in the fourth quarter. Malaise.
As humans, we desire control and predictability. We have had none of that.
A pandemic alone would be enough for one year, add in quarantine and economic deterioration, protests and riots, an ugly election and it makes sense that we feel mental uneasiness, lethargy and discomfort. Mass and community, the places where we usually find consolation, were stripped from us. For a long time, we couldn’t receive Holy Communion, which gives us grace to persevere. Many still haven’t been back to Mass. We couldn’t gather with our loved ones, where we can laugh and find some emotional relief. Some days, I’m tempted to stay in bed under the safe covers but this nonsense has crept into my dreams. Malaise.
As adults, it is challenging enough and, blessedly, kids are resilient but I am beginning to hear from parents that they are struggling to explain all of it to their kids. Some kids are back to school full-time, some part-time, some just virtually. Some kids are playing their sports; others are sidelined. Kids can’t see their grandparents or play with each other. The Class of 2020 was denied their senior spring semester and many of them are starting their freshman year of college at home. Malaise.
I was seeking solace with a friend one sunny afternoon on my front porch and she shared five remedies for sadness from St. Thomas Aquinas. I share these now because they are simple and work with all ages. These remedies can help us manage the malaise but are also an excellent reminder of something that has not changed: God.
God is constant. God is with us. God has it under control. This is where our faith must sustain us. Things feel nut bonkers because much in our world is nut bonkers but God has not abandoned us. Now is the time to lean on him more. We must throw ourselves and all our good and not so good feelings in front of him, and he will accept us and help us regain the peace we miss. He’s got this.
The prophet Isaiah instructs us to “take care you remain tranquil and do not fear.” (Isaiah 7:4) The remedies from Aquinas help us achieve that tranquility.
- Grant yourself something you like. Maybe it’s taking 30 minutes to read a book you enjoy. Maybe it’s a piece of Dove chocolate. Maybe it’s going for a walk around the block. Maybe it’s watching an episode of a favorite show. Let yourself indulge but don’t overdo it. Moderation is a good thing. Too much indulgence can lead to feelings of guilt or remorse. This may not be the time for leading the ascetic life but don’t get extreme, either.
- Have a good cry. Crying is our body’s way of releasing. It’s ugly and snotty and usually embarrassing if we are not alone but there’s no shame in lying on your bed clutching a roll of toilet paper because you’re out of Kleenex and heaving out the emotion. Weep and you’ll feel better.
- Share your sadness with a good friend. God created us to be together. He tells us to love each other. While you may feel you are burdening another person, you are also letting that person love you. It’s good for kids to learn that when we share with someone we trust and love, it makes the hardship easier to bear. We do not need to stoically handle this by ourselves. Let someone listen to you and in turn listen to someone else.
- Contemplate the truth. The truth is that you are a beloved child of God. He desires goodness for you and he will bring goodness forth from struggle. “For I know well the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) This is the truth. Spend some time with it.
- Take a bath and a nap. No explanation needed; these things can only be helpful.
Try these five remedies if you’re struggling. Then offer up a prayer to your heavenly Father and invite him into your malaise. Believe that he is there with you holding your hand and that he has it all under control.