ARLINGTON, Va. With the rapid changes brought on by COVID- 19, there is an incredible level of stress for everyone in the country. We have worries about our families, our work, finances and loved ones living in areas that may be experiencing an even greater impact than we are.
We have seen widespread effects that are unprecedented in our lifetime such as all Masses being suspended and the cancellation of major sporting events. So how can we cope with the chaos of the pandemic?
Make the healthy choice
Three key goals are eating well, staying physically active and getting a good night’s sleep. While this seems simplistic, sticking to these core points will improve health, strengthen the immune system, and are good for preventing anxiety and depression. When we are worried or depressed, we get away from all three of these activities. We tend to eat junk food because it’s easier than cooking, but eating high amounts of carbs, sugars and fats can lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes. When blood sugar and insulin levels crash, this causes the release of stress hormones. A balanced diet leads to better mental health.
Similarly, when we are depressed, we’re less likely to be physically active, but exercise leads to the release of endorphins which improves mood and reduces stress. Finally, when stress throws our routine off badly, the temptation is to distract ourselves by watching TV or being online late into the night. But not getting a sufficient amount of sleep, or even unintentionally shifting to a more nocturnal schedule, is taxing on the body, which stresses our immune system and mental health.
When faced with chaos, keep the normal structure of your life as much as possible. Ask what you would normally be doing and do as much of that as possible. Obviously, there will be disruptions, but try to keep continuity in key areas. If you are working from home and would typically arrive at the office at 8 a.m., make sure to get up, eat breakfast, shower and get dressed so you are ready to start working at 8 a.m. If you go to the gym after work, try to exercise at home after your work day is over. If your kids have a snack and watch TV after school while you make dinner, let them have a snack and watch a show while you’re busy in the kitchen. The routine can be a stabilizing factor and can help reduce feelings of anxiety, or the feeling of being out of control or stuck that often accompanies depression.
Social distancing has, and will continue, to lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. We’re used to seeing our friends and interacting with people at work or school. Fortunately, the same technology that can allow us to telecommute or participate in distance education can be used to stay connected to our friends and loved ones. Use technology creatively. Consider virtual coffee dates, game nights on webcams or karaoke on a videoconferencing platform. While it may not be the same as really being there, the creative use of technology can help bridge the gap until the crisis passes and we’re able to be with those we care about.
Prayer as an anchor
The inability to attend Mass and receive Communion is an incredible hardship for the faithful. But we can still rely on our faith during these challenging times. Take five minutes to read the Gospel of the day. Take 10 minutes for a Divine Mercy chaplet. Take 20 minutes for a family rosary. Take 30 minutes to watch one of the many livestreamed Masses from parishes around the diocese. Strengthening our prayer life and remaining engaged in our faith reminds us that we are not alone, but are part of a widespread community, praying daily with each other and for one another.
(Horne is director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese if Arlington. This article originally appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper.)