CITY TO CITY NYC Blog

Mental Health Care During Isolation

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way pastors address the needs of congregants. In the midst of this upheaval, it can be difficult for leaders to know how to care for themselves, much less advise people on how to practice self-care. This historical moment is rife with anxiety and grief, and practitioners around the world need tools for how to think about mental health in particular. 

In New York City, considered the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., 6,175 mental health professionals answered the governor’s call to offer free services to those in the city who are struggling. “We’re all concerned about the immediate critical need, the life and death of the immediate situation, but don’t underestimate the emotional trauma that people are feeling and the emotional health issues,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. The Center for Disease Control has also acknowledged the mental health concerns around the pandemic, saying fear and anxiety related to the situation are likely to cause strong emotional reactions in both adults and children. 

One practical framework* for self-care looks at stress in terms of four metrics: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. By being attentive to these four areas of self-care and monitoring practices in each, we can see where adjustments can be made to help someone function optimally amidst stressful circumstances.

What follows is a description of each area, an inventory of questions, and a few resources to aid in healthy self-care. Below the framework is a tool you can use with discouraged congregants, not in an effort to ask those suffering to do more, work harder, or adhere to a rigid structure, but instead, help diagnose where they may need to focus additional attention.

(A note: The first step in helping your parishioners is listening and helping them find how their suffering is situated in God’s biblical narrative. For more insight on how to do that, we recommend Lois Kehlenbrink’s recent podcast, Our Place in God’s Story.)

A SELF-CARE FRAMEWORK:
MEETING BIOLOGICAL NEEDS

The biological portion of the framework considers the physical aspects that impact mental health. The three main factors to consider here are sleeping habits, eating habits, and physical activity. Individual circumstances may make it impossible to adhere perfectly to best practices in these categories, but they should be evaluated and monitored nonetheless. 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Am I eating regular meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner)?

Am I making healthy eating choices? 

Am I exercising consistently? 

  • Find exercises you can do in your home in this article from the New York Times.

Am I getting enough sleep? And am I taking time to rest if I feel sick?

  • Find lifestyle changes to improve sleep here from the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

MEETING PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS

The psychological portion of the framework looks at someone’s mental and emotional well-being, particularly how they manage stress. Many will experience worry, fear, and grief in this season. The goal in a crisis is to manage these feelings in a way that does not push someone into deeper anxiety or depression.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Am I dealing with my negative thoughts instead of just pushing them aside? 

  • This guide from Redeemer Counseling Services has a five-step process for calming the mind and body. 

Am I spending too much time watching and reading the news? 

  • Although staying informed is important, the CDC recommends taking regular breaks from consuming pandemic news.

Are my anxious thoughts getting out of control? 

If I need to speak to a counselor, do I have one? 

  • If you are feeling overwhelmed beyond a normal level, there are now many virtual options available for care. 

MEETING SOCIAL NEEDS

In a non-pandemic world, the social portion of the framework is about balancing social interaction and alone time in healthy ways. This balance is more difficult now since the options for how we socialize are likely removed. In communities practicing social distancing, those who live alone will not be able to physically connect with others. People who live with roommates or families do not have the option to leave as they could previously. Too much or too little social interaction could be impacting your mental health more than you realize.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Have I had quality time this week with someone who is a life-giving presence for me?

Am I maintaining contact with those I value?

Am I reaching out to trusted individuals when I need extra support?

Have I spent so much time this week connecting with others that I feel drained or depleted?

Do I need to set aside alone time in order to gather my thoughts?

MEETING SPIRITUAL NEEDS

The fourth element of self-care is spiritual; stress, grief, anxiety, and loss must be processed through a spiritual lens. Even though options are limited, it is important to pursue individual and corporate spiritual disciplines. Spiritual practices are always vital to the Christian life, but especially under great stress, frequent prayer and time in God’s word anchor your mental health—and that of your congregants—as we all filter our emotions through our relationship with God. 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

Am I spending time in scripture and prayer, regularly keeping in mind that during periods of stress I may need to invest more time in this area?

Am I participating in a spiritual community regularly? 

  • Ask your local church what virtual options are available for regular worship services, Bible studies, or community groups.

Am I sharing my concerns with God in prayer—my worries, my fears, my sorrows, and my losses?

  • This video devotional from Tim Keller on using the Psalms can serve as a guide to pray through your emotions.


To evaluate your own self-care practices, click here for a Self-Care Inventory Worksheet.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

 

*Framework adapted from concepts in Craig Ellison’s From Stress to Well Being: Contemporary Christian Counseling. 

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