The COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting consequences are having a myriad of impacts on people’s mental health. In my own home and in my clients’ lives, I have seen both the positive and negative effects of this crisis. For those with anxiety, this pandemic has typically increased and heightened any symptoms that they would normally have. The fear is cultivating quickly due to the fact that their body is on high alert for a large portion of the day. They might become more paranoid about germs and obsessive-compulsive tendencies could kick in. They may remove themselves from even safe situations out of fear and hostility. Overcome with paranoia, they will watch the news constantly and live in a state of anxiety awaiting – what they feel – is the inevitable. Especially now that people have permission to go out! It was easier for anxious people when the rule was just “stay home.”
However, people with social anxiety are experiencing tremendous relief as they do not have to be in social situations all day at school and work. For these people the burden of performing socially is on hold, and they likely prefer it would stay this way.
For those with depression, this can be a very lonely and isolating time. Although for some there is reduced pressure and stress, which might boost their mood…for most, there is an abundance of change occurring that can be overwhelming and possibly harmful. Changes to online learning, working from home, juggling multiple roles. Those with the tendency to withdraw may find that this situation can make depression much worse, especially for those who live alone. Not to mention all of the losses. No celebrations for grad, canceled vacations, tight finances as a result of layoffs, wedding plans being changed, deaths, negative focus from the media. There is a heavy grief that permeates and weighs down even the healthiest people mentally.
Even people who typically do not struggle with poor mental health are reporting a higher level of irritation. People want to return to normal, are tired of being with the same people day in and day out, are used to getting breaks from their loved ones. The most patient of people are being tested and require the Holy Spirit to help them love their family well.
So how do we cope? How can we emerge from this situation even better than before?
- Focus on gratitude—Research has linked gratitude with increases in happiness, health, energy and it reduces stress and depression. In Philippians 4:6-7 it says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.” Practice gratitude daily and try to focus on some of the benefits you are experiencing, such as more time with your children, more free time to pursue goals and more quality time as a couple. I for one am thankful that we live in BC, where we have some of the best statistics in the world in regards to number of cases and deaths.
- Take captive every thought— 2 Corinthians 10:5 says “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Here is the truth: A thought is just a thought. There is no power in said thought unless we allow it to have power. Focus on challenging your thoughts. Especially those ones that tell you to be afraid, that you are alone, that life is not worth living and that God doesn’t care. Research shows that we retain thoughts, especially when they are connected to emotion. Romans 12: 2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” This requires us to be diligent in connecting with God through reading His word, prayer, worship and devotions. It also means minimizing newsfeeds and social media that can have a negative impact. I am really enjoying watching John Krasinski’s “Some Good News.”
- Trust in the Lord. Although that seems easy to say, it is not so easy to do, especially when your body is having a panic attack. Your body doesn’t always know the truth of who God is. But you do. Remind yourself of his faithfulness in the past, whether it is through personal experience, others’ experiences or through Scriptural examples.
- Keep a routine. For those with depression and anxiety, structure can help you get out of bed in the morning. It can help you feel like you have some control in your life. Exercise, eat well, go to sleep and get up at the same time. Make small manageable goals that you can check off when you have accomplished them. The more positive behavioural choices you make, the better you will feel. Don’t give into those depressive/anxious urges to avoid life all together.
- Extend grace to yourself and others. Recognize that those around you may be struggling and be patient with them. Ask God to help you be more gracious and patient with your family and friends. People are doing the best that they can to cope, therefore, do not hold people to the same expectations that you would under “normal” circumstances. Also, do not forget to show compassion to yourself. You are in this storm too. I came across a meme the other day that made an impression on me: It was a picture of a storm and there was a cruise ship and a raft, with huge waves all around them. It said: “We are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to reach out socially. People do not necessarily know about your suffering. They definitely aren’t seeing you right now, which means they might be missing cues that you are not okay. Let some friends know and seek professional help when needed. Many people require medication and therapy techniques in order to overcome this and there is no shame in that. I, for one, am a perfect example of that! These are biochemical, medical conditions. Medication is often necessary to heal your brain and NOT a sign of weakness.
- Find ways to focus on others. Making a contribution not only gives us feel-good endorphins, it also gives us purpose and meaning when we may be feeling aimless. One of my favorite verses is Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” Maybe it’s something as simple as picking up items for a neighbour but do what you can with the energy that you have.
My hope is that you will experience God’s goodness this week. That you will know, without a shadow of doubt, that He is in control. These are trying times for us all and I pray that those who are struggling will understand that God’s love and grace for you is more powerful than any pandemic. May He bring you peace, comfort and Joy in this journey.
Shannon Thiessen, MA, RCC