Mental Health in Stressful Times
Seven habits for staying sound in mind, body and spirit
These are anxious times. In the midst of a global pandemic, social distancing, stay-at-home orders, economic uncertainty and health concerns are sources of stress for laypeople and ministers alike. What can you do to stay mentally healthy so you can be your best for the Lord and the people you serve? Here are seven habits to keep in view.
1. Limit Media Time
The world is changing daily, and it’s important for leaders to stay informed about the latest events, health advisories and government mandates. You may also be following the posts of friends and colleagues on social media. However, experts suggest setting limits on such exposure.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s wise to “take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories [related to the pandemic], including social media.”
Obsessing over these issues will only increase your anxiety and make it more difficult to take steps in a positive direction. Establish some healthy boundaries that will allow you to keep up without becoming overwhelmed. Renew your mind by meditating on God’s Word throughout the day (Psalm 23:4; Isaiah 26:3; Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:7–8).
2. Stay Active
What can you do to stay mentally healthy so you can be your best for the Lord and the people you serve?
You may not be able to use your gym membership right now, but physical activity is no less important. Exercise can help prevent and improve a number of major health issues, from diabetes to arthritis. It also releases endorphins that ease anxiety and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Take a walk outdoors with your family. Go for a bike ride. If you’re stuck indoors under quarantine, perhaps you could drag out that old piece of exercise equipment or do some pushups. (Seek the advice of a physician about what kind of exercise is right for you, especially if you are managing an illness or starting a new regimen.)
3. Make Good Food Choices
With Spam and Oreos flying off the supermarket shelves and restaurants stepping up delivery services, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy eating habits. It’s natural to turn to comfort foods during a time of crisis, but such choices may not be the best for long-term health.
According to a report from the Wellness Councils of America, the consumption of refined sugar, sodium and processed foods can actually increase anxiety. On the other hand, eating nutrient-rich, fiber-dense whole foods boosts immune health and reduces stress.
With the family together at home, perhaps you could take turns planning and cooking healthy meals. You might even get everyone involved in planting a vegetable garden to enjoy for months to come.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated as well. During times of routine disruption, it can be easy to overlook even the most basic needs, such as drinking water.
Even in peaceful times, resting is seldom easy for pastors. But when your congregation and community are hurting, you feel a strong desire to do everything you can to minister to their needs. Add to that the demands of altering the way you do services, changing family routines and a host of other concerns, and it can be hard to find a moment to catch your breath.
Nevertheless, it’s vital that you take time out for rest. The CDC stresses the importance of getting sufficient sleep and engaging in relaxing, enjoyable activities to manage stress and stay healthy physically and emotionally.
It may seem strange to think about laughing during a time of global crisis, but there is medical evidence to support the benefits of keeping a sense of humor.
According to Mayo Clinic, laughter may increase oxygen flow, ease tension, reduce stress, boost the immune system and even relieve pain. So watch an old sitcom with your family, share a few corny jokes, and make the most of the humorous moments in your day.
6. Maintain Relationships
Connecting with others is an important part of staying mentally healthy, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It may take a little creativity in a time of social distancing, but find a way to maintain the relationships in your life. Video chat with your mentor or mentee, call up other ministers, and write some old-fashioned letters to friends and family members.
Be sure to carve out time for the members of your own household. Maybe you have young kids home from school, a spouse working from home, or college students who have moved back in. Make the most of these moments together. Create memories, have meaningful conversations, support one another, and come together for family meals, prayer and devotions.
7. Draw Close to God
Most importantly, invest in your relationship with God. Research has shown the health benefits of faith. Of course, you don’t need a study to recognize your need for God.
In good and bad times, we need His presence, provision, protection and power. We need His wisdom, guidance and insight as we respond to hurting people. We need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to reach our world with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.
James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Don’t let the busyness of the day intrude on your time with Him. Put a meeting with God on your daily schedule. Silence your phone. Call out to Him. Worship Him. Spend time in His Word.