Physical, mental and spiritual self-care needed to weather the COVID-19 pandemic

How are you doing? Most people I ask answer with some variation of “OK, under the circumstances.” Many of us are mostly OK. We have some resilience.

It’s harder to be OK if you test positive for COVID-19, are ill, or have had someone in your circle become sick, or succumb to the virus. It’s harder to be OK if the pandemic has hurt your business or cost you your job. It’s harder to be OK if the lockdown has meant you couldn’t visit a loved one in long-term care, is ill, or who was dying. It’s harder to be OK if you depend upon in-person recovery groups, counselling, or therapy to continue the work of being your best self. It’s harder to be OK if the rules mean you couldn’t have the family gathering, wedding or funeral that you would have arranged if things were different.

I recently attended an online meeting for pastors with a community mental health worker who used statistics to show what we can all guess has been happening. More people are depressed than a year ago. Suicidal thoughts and behaviour, self-harm, self-medication, violence in the home, abuse and neglect of loved ones are on the increase. Hopelessness, despair and anxiety affect our neighbours, friends and loved ones, especially young people. Pre-existing issues and tendencies can become worse under lockdown and harder to address.

The mental health worker reminded us that clergy are as prone to these hardships as anyone, and as likely to shrug and say, “I’m OK.”

Have you heard the old story about the frog? If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it does all it can to get out. If on the other hand the frog’s already in the pot and you heat the water slowly, it will adjust as the temperature rises and not try to escape until it’s too late. It’s a terrible story. We’ve been in the pot for a while. It may be time to check in with ourselves.

A useful image is that of a tripod. Body. Mind. Spirit. If I don’t attend to each of these, I won’t have a leg to stand on. It is harder to be resilient and to help others if I don’t care for these aspects of myself.

Care of my body includes attending to what I put in it — food, water, other liquids, supplements, medications (actual and self-prescribed!) I have to keep my body moving with daily exercise. (Use it or lose it!) What am I doing more of, or less of, since this all started? What habits and practices need adjustment?

Caring for my mind also means being proactive about what I put in it and how I use it. A steady diet of bad news and conspiracy theories can leave me in a dark place. Too much time on the computer or phone, consuming without thinking, can leave me in a zombie-like state.

You might shy away from the word spirit for its religious or otherworldly connotations but it can also point you toward your emotional well-being and sense of connection to others and the world beyond ourselves.

I need to actually use my brain — play a board game, or solve a problem, do something that does not involve an electronic device. If I am going to spend time online, I try to seek out positive stories to balance my mental diet. My new favourite website, other than the Kingsville Observer, is Reasons to be Cheerful. It’s a project of David Byrne, former frontman for the Talking Heads.

You might shy away from the word spirit for its religious or otherworldly connotations but it can also point you toward your emotional well-being and sense of connection to others and the world beyond ourselves. We can feed and exercise our spiritual selves. Schedule time for prayer, meditation, devotional reading, yoga or tai chi. Read or watch videos online about mindfulness. Find a source of spiritual nurture that speaks to you and which helps you be hopeful.

A good measure of how my spirit is doing is to take an honest look at my capacity to help others. If I’m so caught up in my own condition that I have nothing left for others, I may need to do something about it. Happily, the diagnosis tool can often also contribute to the “cure.” There are times when the best thing I can do for myself to revive my own spirit and reawaken my appetite for connection to a reality beyond my own is to help someone else.

If you are struggling spiritually, emotionally, or otherwise, please reach out. If you don’t know where to turn, email me at and I will do my best to help.

Darrow Woods is the pastor at Harrow United Church. He lives in Kingsville.

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