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How to Be Present in a Pandemic

Marti Wibbels, MS, LMHC

MayMHM

While the world focuses on social, physical, and financial ramifications of COVID-19, increasing rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicide, and domestic violence point to a growing mental health pandemic. Research from Kaiser Family Foundation indicates “45% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic is impacting their mental health.” Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s focus on what we can do to limit a concurrent mental health “plague.”

One of the most concerning issues related to the coronavirus is the social isolation it delivers. We practice “social distancing,” but [as I’ve suggested before], why not call it “physical distancing” instead? And when we’re separated from loved ones, friends, and co-workers, we can be present in many ways.

One nearly forgotten form of human connection is writing letters. In Gift of a Letter, Alexandra Stoddard wrote, “You don’t have to be a professional writer to take pleasure in letter writing, any more than an artist has to sell paintings.” We can write short notes of encouragement and mail them to a pastor, teacher, nurse, doctor, or even mental health professional. We can send family members and friends updates that include spiritual encouragement along with news. Stoddard says, “Not surprisingly, I often write my most meaningful letters when I have the luxury of time to ponder in utter leisure the larger meanings of life and love, uncluttered by the details of daily life at home or by the constant harassment of the telephone.” Even though most of us are busy in the midst of COVID, it’s possible to find time to ponder long enough to write something meaningful to a friend.

Another way to be present is to binge watch [I know you can’t believe I’m saying this!], as long as what you’re watching is The Chosen. This new series, available on YouTube (or you can download the app to your smartphone and watch on your phone or television), can provide an incredible opportunity for you to have a conversation about Jesus with the people you live with or with friends who are far away. We can share God’s love in meaningful ways, wherever we are!

Use social media, such as Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime to connect. Yes, it’s exhausting to be in Zoom meetings all day, but we can choose to be thankful we have options for being present with others. With her in Minnesota and me in Florida, my grandson’s wife and I had fun baking together via Zoom. And a friend has a Zoom cooking club…there’s so much we can do; let’s move beyond what we can’t do!

Fear and anxiety multiply when life feels out of control. While it’s true that we can’t control the COVID pandemic, we can control our minds. 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) explains: For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. This tells us that “a spirit of fear” is something we don’t have to accept! Instead, we can live with “power…love and…a sound mind,” choosing what we listen to and believe, living beyond anxiety, fear, and dread.

Being separated from friends, family, and co-workers is one of the toughest parts of this “season.” But we can be present with them, day and night, through prayer. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 urges us to pray without ceasing. It takes conscious effort to pray continually, but we can pray--anytime, anywhere, for anyone. In letters, emails, or texts, we can share how we’re praying, or ask them for requests. I’m praying Ephesians 3:16 for each of you reading today’s blog: that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. God sees you, loves you, and promises to provide for your needs (mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual) according to His riches in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 4:19). May you realize His loving Presence today!

For practical ways to reduce anxiety and depression, check out the following articles from my website:

For those living with an abusive family member, Leslie Vernick has helpful articles and information.

If you are experiencing life-threatening mental health challenges, call 911 or contact one of these hotlines:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800.273.8255 (800.273. TALK); crisis text line: text HOME to 741-741

Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.500.1119

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800.799.7233 (800.799.SAFE) 

Sexual Abuse Hotline: 800.962.2873 (800.96ABUSE)

National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 800.373.7888

To find a counselor, you can contact your church for recommendations or look online at a “find a counselor” section at any of these websites:

For additional help, you can work through my book, Core Healing from Trauma, a biblical counseling workbook for individuals or groups, available on Amazon. To reduce the impact of trauma, you can also watch my series, Strengthening Your Core,” on YouTube.

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