Dear Yates Family,
I am praying for you every day. As I pray for you this week, I do it recognizing that our time as a scattered church and disparate community will last longer than we first imagined. My prayer this week is for that often undervalued Christian virtue of endurance, so we can see what we started through to the end. We are always looking for the best ways to stay connected, encourage each other and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:4) Let us share hope as often as we can!
Our understanding of the effects of COVID-19 is increasing every day. There are many secondary impacts we’re also beginning to recognize. I want to take to address one this week, an important dimension of health that is particularly vulnerable right now: mental health. Christians have not always talked about mental health very well, but I want to speak openly and compassionately to you about it.
In case you don’t make it to the end of this message, I begin with this: Help and support in mental or emotional crisis is always available. You don’t have to be alone with your worry and it can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with those trained to help. You can reach out to any of our ministers confidentially. You can trust your church friends if you’re feeling overwhelmed by world and local events. Reach out and trust you will be heard with care. You can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
We’ve been saturated with stress and anxiety for many weeks now. Consider the cumulative impact of it all. We’ve lost control over our daily choices. We’re stuck indoors. We’re worried about an uncertain future. We watch the news and social media and we’re concerned for family or friends. The pandemic is a stressful situation for anyone to contend with, and can significantly threaten mental health for everyone, but especially for those already living with mental illness.
We don’t always recognize when our mental health is suffering. You might feel more on edge than usual, angry, helpless or sad. You might notice that you are more frustrated with others or want to completely avoid any reminders of what is happening. You might feel more depressed, more anxious, more despairing or less motivated to carry out your daily activities. There are often bodily manifestations, like increased heart rate, changes in appetite or sleeping patterns. It may be a non-specific sense of feeling “not right,” or a clear fixation on difficult emotional or thought patterns that won’t quit. In isolation, these thoughts and feelings can overshadow us in ways we do not expect.
While some of the supports are available through medicines and talk therapy, those are just two ways mental wellness is supported. They are not appropriate for everyone, and that decision is one that must be made in conversation with qualified medical professionals. There are many more daily practices to structure your life and your thinking that can support your mental health, and I think they will grow more and more important for all of us as time passes. Here are a few:
Separate what is in your control from what is not. There are things you can do, and it’s helpful to focus on those. Wash your hands. Remind others to wash theirs. Eat healthy food. Abide by the recommendations of our public health officials. Practice patience in all the waiting.
Remain grounded in the present. You might find worry compounding as you not only think about what is currently happening, but also projecting into the future and dredging up the past. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, or fixating on what is behind, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Prayer, that foundational practice of Christian discipleship, is a gift that leads us to abide in the presence of God and experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 1 Peter 5:7 was written for these times: “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.”
Moderate your consumption of news and social media. Media can be a balm when isolated, but social media has been shown in some studies to actually make people feel left out or “less than.” Instead, use your device to connect meaningfully. The church is providing more and more opportunities to gather for prayer, discipleship and fellowship. It has been encouraging to see friendly faces and hear encouraging voices.
Structure your life and your time to give your life rhythm and consistency. Get Dressed. Don’t give in to the immediate urge to sleep in and stay up late. Set your alarm for your usual time and stick with your routine. Even if you have very few obligations, it will help you stay balanced to have different activities you regularly do at relatively set times. It’s ideal to have a mix of things you need to do (pay bills, chores, work, etc.) and things you just like to do. This approach to your day is an evidence-based clinical treatment called “behavioral activation” that can also help prevent depression.
Don’t drift through the weeks. Devote consistent time for prayer, Scripture study and worship. Practice Sabbath. Devote some of your time to grow in something new. Read a new book. Organize some cluttered space. You can even audit an online college course at Yale, Oxford or Stanford for free! Just visit www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses and find out for yourself.
Take time outside to be in creation. Take a walk or jog, preferably in a leafy area. Exercise, sunlight and being around trees all benefit mood. If you must stay inside, try one of the many workouts that you can follow on the internet. If your mobility is limited, open a window and listen. As one woman shared from her experience in China: “I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan, because you rarely saw them and never heard them. I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people. All day long now I hear birds singing. It stops me in my tracks to hear the sound of their wings.”
Be a Helper. Helping others is a known mood-booster. In word and deed, you can fulfil your vocation to serve like Jesus. Be aware of who in your circle might be particularly vulnerable during this time and be sure to check on them by phone or email and be a part of the solutions they may require in this time. If you think someone else might help, contact the church office and let us know how we can help meet those needs.
These are some practical supports for promoting wellness, but they may not be all you need in this time. Do not be ashamed if the emotional and spiritual impact of these times feels greater than you can manage on your own. You are not alone. There is mounting evidence locally and globally of the physical, mental and spiritual toll of these times is extraordinarily high. Anyone who suffers mentally is suffering, and is deeply loved by God.
Remember that we are in this together and – together – we will see it through.
Grace and Peace,