“Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times, for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.”1 Peter 5:8 AMPC
How To Manage Stress During a Pandemic COVID-19
Source: Mind Health Report – Dr. Gary Small – Throughout history, humans beings have had to face global health crises that are out of their control, and threaten the physical and mental health of entire populations. In Europe and Middle East, plagues occurred sporadically from the year 541 to 750. During the 14th century, the bubonic plague killed an estimated 25 million people. The 1918 flu pandemic infected one out of every four people globally.
With the recent coronavirus pandemic, the world population has once again been reminded of the potentially devastating effects of pandemics that threaten not just physical health but also our mental well-being.
In this Mind Health Report by Dr. Gary Small, he will describe the emotional and social challenges created by pandemic illnesses, and explain what we can do to better manage the stress, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, loneliness, and other psychological challenges that can result from these crises.
Sheltering In Place Tests Marriage
After 40 years of marriage, Christie and I had been looking forward to our empty nest. We loved our three sons and one daughter, but once the children especially our youngest daughter finally moved out we felt closer than ever – like we were newlyweds again. We took long walks, went out to dinner every weekend, and on Sundays, we got together with our best friends, and Bible Study Groups.
I retired as a Civil Engineer 3 years ago from California to Texas and Christie kept busy with babysitting our seven grandchildren and socializing with her friends. Each evening, we prepared dinner together and recounted the day’s events.
We were not prepared, however, for the coronavirus pandemic. At first, we rushed to get supplies like everyone else in anticipation of the growing crisis. And when we were told to shelter in place, our fear escalated but not not much of me. Thankfully, our family was safe and in comfortable surroundings, but it was still a huge adjustment.
What we didn’t expect was the onset of constant bickering especially from those with political agenda. Almost every day, one of us would get irritable over something minor like deciding what to eat for dinner or which movie to watch that evening, and/or gardening decisions to be made.
Our relationship worked well when we each had our own activities during the day and then got together to relax in the evenings – either on our own or with other couples. Suggested several strategies, including making sure each of us got some alone time each day especially time alone with God in prayer, sticking to a regular schedule during the shelter-at-home order, and reaching out to our friends and family online (Skyping or Zooming) to keep up their social lives. The bickering would be tapered off and we would once again enjoying our empty nest.
Challenges of Social Isolation
Human beings are social animals – we crave connection with others. Spending time with friends and family lowers stress, improves brain health, and can even extend life expectancy.
But during pandemics, people are forced to shelter in place especially this coronavirus, which can strains relationships. In addition to fear of becoming infected, people confined to small spaced with others – or those on their own – may begin to struggle with irritability, anxiety, and relationship difficulties the way we did.
Extended confinement can dampen mood, cause restlessness, and reduce energy levels. During times of crisis, these challenges can feel overwhelming.
Animal studies have shown that higher population density has an adverse effect on social interactions and can cause an elevation in brain neurotransmitters like serotonin. Increased serotonin may lead to social avoidance, which is an adaptive behavioral strategy to mitigate the stress of a crowded environment.
Fortunately for Christie and I, spending some time alone each day and socializing online with our friends and families reduced our tension and improved our relationship. These kinds of strategies can be effective for many people.
Stress and Immune Response
Relationship conflicts, anxiety, and fear about getting sick elevate stress levels, and during an infectious outbreak people are naturally concerned about their reaction to a foreign agent in their body. When exposed to a virus or bacterium, a healthy person’s body will fight to inactivate the foreign agent. Stress, anxiety, some medicines, smoking, alcohol consumption, and poor nutrition can weaken that immune response.
Research shows that relationship conflicts and hostility also weaken a person’s ability to heal physical wounds, and that people under stress are more likely to develop cold symptoms. Lowering stress levels will not only improve quality of life, it will reduce the risk of contracting an infection.
When people experience anxiety, the body releases stress hormones that simulate production of inflammatory molecules. These can damage cells and disrupt normal body functions.
Numerous studies have shown that prolonged inflammation increases the risk of cognitive impairment and depression. Autopsies of Alzheimer’s sufferers show evidence of increased inflammatory reactions in brain regions that control thinking and memory.
Patients with depression also have higher levels of inflammation. Moreover, people with disrupted sleep – typical of most cases of depression – experience further weakening of their immune response.
For some, understanding the link between stress and immune response can motivate lifestyle changes that lower stress levels. The good news is that there are many strategies we can use to achieve healthier stress responses and help keep our immune system healthy.
Pandemic-Related Mental Health Issues
In the face of uncertainty, people may experience any number of uncomfortable feelings. As the members and friends of dementia patients who can only have limited contact with their loved ones who must remain isolated in nursing homes and other institutional settings for their own safety.
Coping With the Mental Challenges of Pandemics
Despite fear and anxiety about becoming infected or experiencing a financial crisis due to a pandemic, there are steps we can take to lower our stress levels. Here are some strategies to better cope with the often daunting threats of such illness outbreaks:
Knowing the facts about rapidly emerging public health issues can lower anxiety levels. However, spending too much time watching the news can increase stress levels, so be sure to take breaks from television and social media news feeds.
Discuss your concerns with people you trust by sharing what you know about an infectious illness, and asking what others know. Understanding the risk to yourself and your loved ones will reduce anxiety.
BE KIND TO OTHERS
Even people we love can sometimes drive us crazy if we are sheltering in place with them. Attempt to focus on nurturing your relationships. Remember that being kind is more important than having the last word in an argument. Try to listen and remain empathic. If something bothers you, speak up about it without attacking and getting defensive.
It’s also important to let go of petty squabbles during such a time. Those feelings will pass. Remember that everyone is experiencing the same shock, fear, and anxiety. Assisting others and letting others assist you will help us get to the other side of the crisis together.
REMAIN MENTALLY ACTIVE
Consistent mental activity will lower your risk of experiencing depression and anxiety symptoms. Spend time with others playing games, doing puzzles, or having conversations.
If you are sheltering in place on your own, reach out to family and friends regularly; that will reduce feelings of isolation. You can use technology such as videoconferencing, texting, phoning, or social media to stay in touch and maintain a sense of community.
STICK TO A ROUTINE
Establish and maintain a daily routine so you adjust to the new normal. If you can, work from home during your normal hours and take regular breaks for meals, snacks, exercise, and leisure activities.
Consume a healthy diet to protect your mind and bolster your immune system. Fresh fruits and vegetables strengthen the immune system by fighting off oxidative stress. The anti-inflammatory effects of fish and nuts support both heart and brain health. Minimize your consumption of processed foods and sugary desserts, which lead to weight gain and increase lethargy.
In addition, avoid excess alcohol consumption and smoking, which can worsen your mood and thinking abilities, and even lower immune function.
Meditation, yoga, deep breathing, tai chi, and other mindfulness exercises can lower stress levels and improve mood and memory. Just 10 minutes of daily meditation can have a significant impact on improving your mind health.
Make sure to spend some time on your own each day so you can reflect, meditate, or do whatever helps lower your tension.
To boost mood and cognition, engage in regular aerobic exercise every day. This gets your heart pumping oxygen and nutrients throughout your body, including to brain cells. Set a goal of 20 minutes or more for daily cardiovascular workout, and include strength training at least twice each week.
SEEK HELP IF NECESSARY
If your feelings become too intense, reach out to a mental health professional. During the coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic, psychiatrist, psychologist, and other counselors rapidly transitioned to telehealth platforms that are readily accessible and can often be just as effective as face-to-face therapies.
Spiritually: The Bible New Living Translation (NLT) – Matthew 22:37-38 stated, “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.”
On Romans 8:6 NLT says, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”
The mind refers to our mind-set, our goals. Choosing to let the sinful nature be in control will result in death, both spiritual and physical. Choosing to let the Holy Spirit control our minds will bring us full life on earth, eternal life, and peace with God. Elsewhere in Scripture we find the characteristics of a mind under the Spirit’s control. It will be a mind directed toward truth, aware of the Spirit’s presence (John 14:17). It will be a mind seeking to please the Holy Spirit (Galatians 6:8). It will be a mind active in memorizing and meditating on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:26). It will be a mind sensitive to sin (John 16:7-11). It will be a mind eager to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance (Galatians 5:16-22). The control of the Holy Spirit begins with voluntary commitment and submission to Christ.
Our Lord Jesus Christ referred to Deuteronomy 6:5 to show that a person’s total being must be involved in loving God. Nothing must be held back because God holds nothing back: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. The word for “love” is agape, totally unselfish love, a love of which human beings are capable only with the help of the Holy Spirit. The heart is the center of desires and affections, the soul is a person’s “being” and uniqueness, the mind is the center of a person’s intellect. To love God in this way is to fulfill completely all the commandments regarding one’s “vertical” relationship.
The peace Lord Jesus offers His disciples isn’t like the peace the world gives. It is His peace, the peace He modeled every day of His life. Our Lord Jesus’ peace did not flee conflict, pain, or death. In fact, the more intense the difficulties, the more apparent Lord Jesus’ peace became. Our Lord Jesus derived His peace from His relationship with the Father God.
Sin, fear, uncertainty, and doubt work to make us troubled and afraid. The peace of God moves into our hearts and lives to restrain these hostile forces and offers comfort in place of conflict. Our Lord Jesus says He will give us that peace if we are willing to accept it from Him. The Holy Spirit’s work in our lives brings deep and lasting peace. We have confident assurance in any circumstance; with our Lord Jesus Christ’s peace, we have no need to fear the present or the future.
Reference: The Mind Health Report – NewsmaxHealth
THE PRIORITY OF PRAYER by Dr. Charles Stanley of InTouch Ministries https://www.intouch.org/watch/the-priority-of-prayer