Coronavirus, Mental Health

Coping with these times

The week before last, we at the church office decided to follow government advice, closed the office at the Henry Fry Centre, and started working from home. It was quite exciting at first, setting up video conferencing, exchanging documents online, communicating with everyone using a variety of apps. No longer commuting was great and I could make my coffee just the way I liked it. I could also listen to the news regularly to keep up to date with the Covid-19 pandemic.

By the end of the week I was feeling constantly tired, my head was aching, my chest felt tight and I wasn’t sleeping as well as usual. My mood was up and down as well, one day I felt great, the next day I was lethargic, grumpy and irritable. Sometimes I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. What was going on? Did I have the Coronavirus? Was I coming down with something else?

Then my training as a therapist kicked in – I started to reflect!

Reflection is asking yourself, “What’s going on in my life?”, “What’s changed for me recently?”, “How am I feeling emotionally?”, those sorts of questions.

So, I took myself away from the computer screen, my phone screen, the TV screen and had a think…

The whole world is going through a dramatic, traumatic, never seen in a lifetime event. We’re constantly being told of thousands of deaths. We’ve been asked to not go near or touch other people. We’ve been separated from loved ones. Some of us are in isolation. Some of us have lost our jobs and those who haven’t are having to work in a very different way from home. Our children are now at home all the time and our home life is getting all mixed up with our work life – where and when does work finish and home begin? We’re having to use screens constantly; to work, to find the news, to stay in touch with loved ones, colleagues, shopping, even church!! We are suffering from information overload!

On top of all that the future is very, very uncertain.

So, I reflected, is it any surprise that I might be showing a few symptoms of being a bit stressed? Perhaps I’m not showing symptoms of Covid-19 after all, perhaps I’m showing perfectly normal, and to be expected, signs of stress.

I wonder if, as you read this, that you can identify with what I’m writing?

“But I’m a Christian”, I hear you saying – “I’m supposed to be alright!” Well, let me let you into a secret; we are emotional beings. Yes, we are also rational beings, but emotions aren’t rational (we shouldn’t be surprised at this, we are made in God’s image and He is both rational and emotional). Emotions happen and we can’t just dismiss them. That path leads to being psychologically unhealthy. No matter how strong your faith is, there is an emotional response to all of this, and we have to deal with those emotions somehow.

That begs a question – just how do we deal with the emotions that the present crisis throws up for us?

The first, and most important, thing to do is to

Acknowledge That You Are Reacting Emotionally to These Events

When you do this, it starts making sense of how you are feeling. It’s actually to be expected that we are going to be knocked off-centre by such huge events and such changes in our lives. If you think about it there are many life events that cause stress and anxiety and at this time we seem to be getting a load of them all in one go. No wonder you might be feeling it – everybody is!! Take yourself off to a quiet corner, put the phone on silent and have half an hour thinking about how you feel, and just acknowledge to yourself that this is ok, it’s to be expected in the light of all that’s going on. You can use this time to talk to God about how you feel too, but it’s important that this time is about how you are feeling and not about what you’ve got to do.

Secondly, it’s important to take some practical steps and

Put Some Boundaries in Place

By this I mean the following:

  • As best as you can, decide when you are working and when you are not,
  • Decide when you are going to listen to the news (I suggest designating one or two news programmes from a reliable source each day),
  • Schedule regular breaks throughout the day where you get a bit of a breather from work,
  • If you have children at home it’s difficult and you will have to be flexible, but whenever you can, take a few minutes for yourself and in that time resist watching or listening to the news,
  • If at all possible, take regular exercise – try and do something that gets your heart rate and breathing up a bit,
  • Don’t watch/listen to the news, or use a screen within an hour of going to bed,
  • Guard your time with God. Make a decision to spend time with God each day and allocate a time slot (I realise that this is not always possible with children around and you may have to grab snatched moments – but decide that you’re going to do it).

Finally, can I urge you to join in with Jubilee’s webinar meeting on Sunday mornings and Powerhouse in the evening. I was feeling pretty grotty last Sunday morning, for all the reasons I’ve written about, but the online service was so enjoyable, so uplifting of my spirit, that it transformed the day for me and I later joined in with Powerhouse which was a fantastic and inspiring experience (just remember that everyone can see you too!) It’s so good to be connected with the church family again; to know that we’re not isolated; to hear from God; to have a laugh together, to have things put back into perspective – God’s perspective.

 

Steve Atkinson

Steve is the Pastoral Co-ordinator for Jubilee Church Coventry and has an extensive background in  pastoral care and counselling.

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