Maintaining Mental Health During Coronavirus

This interview is drawn from a portion of a podcast I was part of through Christ Church Sierra Madre. I hope the information I share here helps you as you engage in self reflection and assessment during this difficult quarantine season!

Q: COVID-19 has made life hard for a lot of us. In certain ways, we might have blind spots to what is going on inside of us. What can we look for in ourselves to identify anxiety, depression, or other emotional disturbances?

A: Great question! Many of us are running on autopilot during Stay at Home. We are in survival mode! Especially if we have kids at home, we’re trying to get through the day and keep our family members from killing each other. So doing an internal assessment takes a little bit of extra attention and focus.

It’s helpful to think of stepping outside of ourselves as if we were an outside observer, or “going meta”, as it were. There are two things to observe: our behavior, and our bodies.

Our behavior might display symptoms such as irritability or crankiness. We might find our temper flaring. On a different note, maybe we’re having trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Maybe we’re living for nothing more than entertainment and distractions. Or maybe we find ourselves engaging in addictive behaviors such as alcohol, pornography, compulsive shopping, or constant video games.

Our bodies also offer data as we might experience symptoms like breathlessness, a tight chest or neck, a slight queasiness in our stomach, headaches, etc.

Once we have observed our behavior and bodies, we can follow the trail to gain crucial information about our underlying emotions and beliefs.

We might be feeling anxious and helpless thinking we ourselves or our loved ones might get sick. Further, the looming possibility of illness could stir up deeper fears about loss or abandonment.

Some of us are feeling deeply inadequate about our ability to provide for our families.

We might have further fears about changing laws and norms in our society.

Also, COVID-19 lockdown magnifies relational pain that already existed in our marriages and families.

What is often at the core of each of these emotional struggles is a sense of shame, worthlessness, or inadequacy. As you can see, humans have a strong tendency to get down on ourselves.

Q: How can we care for our mental health and emotional health during this Coronavirus period of time?

A: Lockdown has dramatically changed our daily routines. One of the biggest shifts is that many of us are now quite stagnant and inert physically. Because this is not how our bodies were designed to function, it produces imbalance and disregulation in our human rhythms.

Another major shift is our isolation. God himself is trinitarian: he dwells in eternal community with the 3 persons of the Godhead. As image-bearers of God, we were also made for relationship. Isolation is not healthy for us emotionally.

There are a number of practices that can make a huge difference in our lives right now. Engaging in these habits may turn this quarantine season from a time of adversity into a time of deep hope and redemption.

Engage your 5 senses. This is a way to be in our bodies and remind ourselves that we’re human, and alive. For instance, prepare a delicious meal and enjoy the taste, smell, sight, and texture. Slowing down and engaging in sensory mindfulness can ground us.

Stimulate your mind. Don’t sit around all day watching Netflix! Read some great books. Listen to some stimulating podcasts!

Spend time in prayer. Taking the time to talk to God about how you’re feeling. He wants to hear it all. Spend some time in quiet and let him speak to you.

✷ Engage in gratitude. Gratitude should never be about minimizing or denying current suffering. God doesn’t call us to sweep things under the rug so we can be positive and cheery all the time. However, taking the time each day to notice and say thank you for some of the abundance in our lives can really change our mood and mindset.

✷ Journal. For many people, getting their feelings and thoughts out of their brain and onto paper has a calming effect. It helps us clarify what’s really going on inside. Tip: don’t critique yourself as you journal. This is not about being a good writer. It’s supposed to be more like “word vomit”, or free association, to use a Freudian term. Also, journaling and prayer can go hand in hand.

✷ Practice Sabbath. Taking 1 day out of 7 for rest, play, and beholding all that is holy is a powerful way to remind us it’s ok we’re finite. So many of us tend towards self reliance, and feel as though we must keep our world spinning. We forget how small and fragile we are. One fortunate consequence of a global pandemic is that we remember our dependence on our kind and wise God. Sabbath is a way to practice remembering this every week.

✷ Know Your Identity. God’s Word speaks over us that we’re children of the Most High. Our perfect Daddy God cares for us and has a purpose for our lives.

✷ Be present with those you love. Hang out with people who speak life into you, even if it’s just over Zoom!

Develop hobbies and interests. Lockdown is a great time to try some new pastimes or invest ourselves in fresh ways. Plant something, learn a new skill, cook a good meal, decorate a room.

✷ Spend time in nature. As permitted where you live, take a walk outside. Go on a hike. Breathe in fresh air. Watch a sunset.

✷ Start therapy. Therapists continue to see people during this crisis, usually through telehealth (video conferencing platforms). Connecting on a vulnerable level with a therapist can produce growth and  transformation. In my own therapy practice, I’m excited to say I can now see people who live anywhere in the state of California due to the opportunities telehealth provides! Please do not hesitate to reach out if you are ready to begin the journey of self awareness and emotional healing.

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