As someone who lives with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, I can confirm that the presence of coronavirus and the changes it has wrought in my daily life are making it particularly challenging to cope. I find myself with racing thoughts: When will this be over? Will my loved ones and I be protected? How much will this affect my finances? Where even is God in this? This is why I am particularly invested in my mental health right now: the challenges of the pandemic have the potential to trap me in an endless state of anxiety, panic, and depression. Although the pandemic presents me with challenging days ahead, I know that I can survive them by taking extra care of my mental health.
To take a step back, why should mental health matter to us so much as Christians, especially now? First, mental health allows us to live in right relationship with ourselves, others, and God. By cultivating mental health, we can strengthen self-esteem, learn how to be a more compassionate friend or partner, or learn how our human experiences have affected our relationship with God. Second, focusing on our mental health allows us to be stewards of God’s creation, specifically good stewards of the body that God has created and given to us. Though we are living in a time of panic and uncertainty, we have agency and the ability to take care of ourselves in a way that allows us to continue the hard work of bringing forth the Kingdom of God, even in a pandemic. Third, focusing our efforts on our mental health is bound up in our pursuit of holiness. As we focus on mental health, we grow in self-awareness, communication, compassion, and moral judgement; in other words, we engage in formation that allows us to be a “bridge and not an obstacle” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 43) to Jesus Christ in our own lives and the lives of others. In other words, intentionally focusing on our mental health during this challenging time is a way in which we can follow the command to “love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
In being intentional about my own mental health at this time, here are some thoughts and practices that I’ve found most helpful in coping with uncertainty, panic, anxiety, and depression:
What are the habits and patterns that you operate on during challenging times or crises? Do you withdraw from others, don’t get enough to eat, or find it hard to do small, everyday tasks? What are the things that you need to feel grounded and calm? Getting to know yourself and your needs are a great first step to figuring out how to engage in practices that will help you cope during this time.
In times of difficulty and stress, I find that I often want to sleep more as a way to experience relief from the way that I’m feeling. However, too much sleep is harmful to my hope, drive, and well-being. So, in this time of the pandemic, I have adopted the practice of making a schedule for each day in the “notes” app on my phone. This allows me to know that there are responsibilities, tasks, and things to do the next day, and that I can’t allow myself to get lost in uncertainty. Additionally, I know that exercise is one of the most important coping methods for me to feel grounded and calm. In the last week, I’ve been intentional about moving my body for at least an hour a day.
In this time, it is especially crucial to seek the support of others. Do you have an existing relationship with a therapist or mental health provider? Do you have access to resources to provide you with support?
During this last week, I’ve been making my therapy appointments a main priority in both my budget and time. My therapist and I are able to meet via teletherapy during this time, and I know that most therapy practices are choosing the same option. The therapeutic relationship is not a mutual relationship where both parties are sharing their concerns and difficulties; rather, the therapist is exclusively focused on the client and therefore holds the space for them, not requiring the client to do the same. As the pandemic continues, I have shared my feelings with my friends and loved ones, and have allowed them to do the same. However, my weekly sessions with my therapist have allowed me to process my anxiety in an objective context where I don’t have to hold the space for someone else’s emotion surrounding the pandemic, or be cautious about how my anxiety might affect her.
If therapy is not a possibility for you right now, it may be helpful to consider your other options. Social media can be a helpful place to look for easy-to-access resources. Accounts on Instagram run by individual therapists or social workers, mental health clinics, or university counseling centers can be especially relevant and helpful. Some of my favorite accounts include @millennial.therapist, @lizlistens, and @catholicucounseling. They have been providing content especially on coping during coronavirus. While these resources are not a substitute for therapy, they can be an accessible place to get help.
- Keeping promises to yourself
With the help of my therapist and from my own self-reflection, I’ve been able to identify practices that have helped me to regulate my emotions each day. I’ve had to adjust my schedule and make time for new habits. To be honest, it’s difficult for me to be disciplined during such a difficult time, but a mindset that has been helpful for me in doing the hard work of keeping these habits is the need to keep promises to myself. In other words, each time I find myself putting off a helpful practice or feeling overwhelmed by the new changes I’ve had to make, I remind myself that I need to hold myself accountable. The difference between allowing myself to be completely overtaken by depression or anxiety is showing up for myself. A practical way that I keep in mind the importance of showing up for myself is to keep track of completing and engaging in the practices that support my mental health. I have used the app “Done” to track each habit, the amount of times a day I engage in that habit, and the overall amount of days in a row I have been able to keep that habit going.
Though I’ve striven to make a few intentional changes to my life in order to cope with the challenges of coronavirus, I am not perfect. I, like many others who deal with mental health concerns in their daily life, have experienced moments of intense despair and panic over the past week. However, I am intentional to be self-compassionate. I acknowledge that, like everyone else in the human race right now, I have never had to exist during a pandemic before. I have no experience to draw on: I have never before been a student, co-worker, partner, or friend during a pandemic. Therefore, it’s been crucial for me to remind myself to be gentle with myself. I will make mistakes. I will get discouraged. However, being compassionate with myself allows me to continue with an attitude of hope, adaptability, and resilience.
How can you engage in practices that cultivate your self-awareness this week? What/who are valuable resources of support? How do you feel that you need to show up for yourself this week? Where could you use some extra self-compassion in your life? Finally, how might being intentional about cultivating your mental health bring you into right relationship with yourself, others, and God during this time?
Colleen Campbell is the Coordinator of Formation Programs at the Catholic Apostolate Center, and a 3rd year PhD student studying Catechetics at The Catholic University of America. She holds an MA in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and a BA in Pastoral Ministry from the University of Dallas. Colleen is also an alumna of Notre Dame’s Echo program, where she served in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. She is co-author of The Art of Accompaniment: Theological, Spiritual, and Practical Elements of Building a More Relational Church.