2020 has been one heckuva year. The bad news is, it isn’t over.
If I am reading the tea leaves correctly, we are in for a wild ride these next few months. Between now and the end of the year, we are likely to experience:
- The “second wave” of the deadliest pandemic in a century.
- A vitriolic battle over a seat on the Supreme Court.
- A contested presidential election.
- Violent clashes in our streets.
I hope I am wrong. I doubt I am wrong.
As I think about how this will play out over the next few months, I feel anxiety rise up in me. The temptation toward a resigned hopelessness is real.
How about you? How are you doing — really?
A recent study suggests that 25% of Americans are dealing with depression, three times more than before the pandemic. Anxiety disorders are on the rise. Substance abuse has increased. Many Americans are simply not OK, and the external circumstances may get worse before they get better.
But here’s what I know: fish that swim the deepest are largely unaffected by the storm. In other words, we must all tap deep into ourselves, to that place where the Spirit of God dwells with the peace that passes understanding, if we want to maintain our mental health during the tumultuous days ahead. Each of us needs a plan for protecting our sanity, and we need to be enacting that plan right now. We must make self-care a priority. We need to engage in practices right now to help us stay well throughout the coming chaos.
The good news is that there are practical steps each of us can take to safeguard our mental health. Here are 10 ways we can take care of ourselves both now and in the days ahead:
“Fish that swim the deepest are largely unaffected by the storm.”
Seek help. Most of us are dealing with COVID fatigue, but if you have noticed a sustained mood change, difficulty sleeping, trouble functioning or dark thoughts that persist more than a day or two, please seek help. See your doctor, visit a counselor, talk to a pastor. You don’t have to suffer alone. Antidepressants are our friends.
Get plenty of sunlight. Sunlight is a wonderful way to get Vitamin D, which is important for healthy brain functioning. There may be a link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression. As the days grow shorter and colder weather sets in, consider using a light-therapy lamp to help if you suspect that you might have Seasonal Affective Disorder. I didn’t realize I suffered from SAD until I moved to Florida and didn’t need antidepressants anymore. Go to the (sun)light!
Get enough sleep. Sleep helps regulate our moods and emotions. Without sufficient sleep, we can begin to feel anxious and depressed. We can become irritable with those we love. Establish a routine for going to sleep and waking up. Pay attention to your body telling you when it needs more rest.
Embrace beauty. Wake up early, before the hustle and bustle, and listen to the birds sing. Go on a walk and look for beauty in the plants, in the sky, in the faces of passersby. Turn off the TV and listen to Bach or Beethoven or Beyoncé. We have five senses — we can experience “beauty” through all five of them. Make it your goal to notice something beautiful every day.
“Notice how 24-hour news channels keep up their ratings by keeping us anxious and outraged.”
Limit news and social media. One hour per day of news or social media is plenty to keep up with current events. Be careful of social media algorithms designed to suck you into toxic rabbit holes. Notice how 24-hour news channels keep up their ratings by keeping us anxious and outraged. Set a limit and stick to it.
Eat a healthy diet. Diet is an important part of mental health. Certain mineral deficiencies can contribute to low mood. Limit caffeine, which might make you feel anxious. Limit alcohol and discern if you are using alcohol as a crutch for managing stress and anxiety.
Learn something new. What a great time to learn to play that instrument or pick up that paintbrush. Take an online course in some interesting topic. Read a book outside your normal genre. Better yourself. Grow.
Get moving. Exercise is a proven way to manage stress and anxiety, boosting brain chemicals linked to mood. Having fitness goals gives us something to focus on other than the bad news of the day. We don’t have to run a triathlon to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Including daily walks or yoga a couple of times each week can yield tremendous physical and mental benefits.
Make productive use of anger. It’s OK to feel angry. Your anger is telling you something — something is wrong. A boundary has been crossed. Recognize your anger. Sit with it. Study your anger without judging it. You don’t have to act on it immediately, but let it inform you. You may need to use that anger as fuel to make some necessary change in your life or in the world around you.
Take up a spiritual practice. Maybe you could set a goal to read the New Testament. You could take up contemplative prayer or gratitude journaling. Engage in social justice or activism as spiritual practice. Write a spiritual memoir — it doesn’t have to be a tome — just a story about your faith with its ups and downs, belief and doubt.
Friends, things may get worse before they get better. Establishing self-care practices now will help each of us navigate the tumultuous days ahead. We may not be able to singlehandedly stem the rising tide of chaos in the world, but we may be able to stem the rising tide of anxiety and depression within ourselves. Take care of you. Live, that you might fight another day.
Rhonda Abbott Blevins serves as senior pastor of Chapel by the Sea in Clearwater Beach, Fla., and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. She earned the doctor of ministry degree from Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and previously served as the coordinator of CBF Kentucky. She and her husband, Terry, live with their two sons in Palm Harbor, Fla.