Under ‘normal’ circumstances mental health is a big and critical issue. When we face greater challenges, the pressure on our mental health only increases. On Thursday Jan 14, the Ontario “stay at home order” went into effect. Some people will praise the decision, while others will be frustrated and angry. What I do know for sure is that this will put greater pressure on the mental health of many of us.
It is no easy challenge to deal with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. If you are one of these people, then you know what I mean. We find ourselves dwelling on things that we can do nothing about. We worry about what might happen. We feel helpless and defeated with all the terrible things that are happening around us. We take personally the things that people say and do. From all of these thoughts we end up with physical symptoms. We feel tension in our gut, our hands shake, our heart begins to race, we start to sweat, we feel exhausted.
So what can we do? Living under a stay at home order, there are many things we can do to help our mental health. Some of the basics which may not seem obvious include getting the right amount of sleep, making sure we eat healthy and getting plenty of exercise. I was once told that if we want to be strong mentally or spiritually, we need to keep our selves healthy physically. What I have learned since is that if you are weak in one area, the others will suffer.
So assuming we are all doing what we can to stay physically healthy, what can we do about our mental and spiritual health? The Bible has some very helpful advice for us in these areas. One of the hardest things to do, but one of the most critical is to manage or control our thinking. We need to make sure that we don’t feed our minds all kinds of junk. The book of Philippians from the Bible was written by a guy named Paul. He wrote it from prison. In Philippians 4:8 we read that we are to dwell on things that are true, honorable and right. In practical terms that means that we need to make sure that we keep ourselves rooted in facts. It is easy to let our emotions take control, but our health will be much better if we spend our time focusing on facts. This same Paul also wrote that we should try and “capture” every thought. Good thoughts that honor God should be held on to, and other thoughts thrown out (II Corinthians 10:5). Psychotherapists, social workers and counselors will sometimes encourage the practice of something called “mindfulness”. One of the benefits of this exercise is it helps root us factually in our current environment. I always think it is cool how modern day thinking comes back to match the wisdom offered in the Bible.
While the Bible offers good advice about managing our thinking, our faith in general offers us hope. Christianity teaches that if you have faith in Jesus then you can look forward to an eternal hope. That hope being the promise of an eternity in heaven. I don’t know how many movies I have seen or books I have read where the concept of hope is held up as a means of enduring difficult times. I personally have found that the hope of eternal life has been a life line in difficult times. Let us also never forget that while it may seem like we are isolated, God is always there with us. We can always talk to Him.
Of course there are things that the rest of us can do who don’t struggle with mental health issues. For one, we all need to remember that people who struggle with mental health would be glad to be free of it. It is also important to remember that they didn’t ask for it. Sadly, far too many people attach a stigma to those who suffer with mental health like somehow they are to blame for their own trials. But it is never that simple. Life experiences and genetics play a huge part and these are things we can’t control. In fact if we are honest, all of us struggle with our mental health at one point or another. Others will find that trying to keep healthy mentally is a life-long struggle. Those who suffer need compassion and a willingness for others to try and understand.
In the midst of trials, like this lock down, our faith can play a huge role in helping us maintain good mental health.