Spiritual and Mental Resilience in the COVID-19 Environment

12/02/2020  |  CH (LTC) Jim Maxwell 104th Division (LT), Division Chaplain
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Memes abound describing COVID-19 and the year 2020. What we hoped would be 14 to 30 days has turned into seven months as I write this article. It looks like we will deal with this virus and its effects for some time yet to come. This likely means continued wearing of masks, not being able to gather in large groups, and spending more time at home than we did before COVID-19. Anyone have cabin fever yet? Anyone feeling a little antsy? You love your family and yet you find yourself a little annoyed, frustrated, or simply wanting a little time away from them? You are not alone.

My civilian employment is as a Marriage and Family Therapist and Mental Health Counselor. In my sessions and the information coming from the professional organizations I belong to, I am seeing that COVID-19, the impacts of COVID-19, the media coverage of COVID-19, and the follow-on effects of the pandemic are wearing on people. COVID-19 (and the November 2020 elections) are increasingly becoming a topic of therapy. The emails and newsletters from my spiritual/chaplain side are talking about the same problems and clergy from all faiths are addressing these issues from their pulpits, which is now done mostly online in an empty building.

While all of this is inconvenient it is also an opportunity. This is a great time to use your current resilience skills and even add to them. It is important to take care of your mental and spiritual health. Both are connected to increased resilience.

For your mental health and resilience, I have two recommendations: the first is to seek counseling if you need it. Counselors across the country are using telehealth to conduct sessions. While we might prefer to have counseling in person, video sessions can also be helpful. Counselors are required to use HIPAA compliant video platforms, so sessions are secure. Attending by video means you get to sit in your comfortable chair or couch and save the drive time. The second recommendation is to read the book, The Resilience Factor, by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté. If you read that book and practice what it says you will increase your resilience, feel better, and be better prepared if you decide to take what is bugging you to therapy. The things in the book are the same things I use in my counseling sessions.

Your spirituality and/or faith are, from my perspective (and I think research agrees) the foundation of your resilience. Spirituality and faith answer the “big questions” and provide a guide for how to live and how to get through difficult times. While meeting for corporate worship and fellowship are more difficult in the current circumstances, this is an opportune time to work on your spiritual disciplines, especially the inward disciplines. You can do this at home. The inward disciplines are meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. Each of these disciplines has been shown to be helpful. When you combine one or more of them the benefit is even greater.

There is an app for each of these disciplines and likely one developed by your faith or belief system and most are free. Of course, there are books to explain each of these disciplines or books on the disciplines in general.

Here is a brief suggestion for each of them. Meditate, or think about, the concepts, principles, or teachings that encourage you and build you at this time. Prayer is a time for giving thanks and making requests within your faith or belief system. Prayer can also be a time for opening yourself to the presence and action of God, your higher power, or belief system within you. Fasting, though often connected to food, can be a fast from anything. I recommend fasting from the news and social media, it has helped me greatly. And lastly, study. Read and engage with the sacred texts of your faith or belief system. Those teachings and principles will sustain you in difficult times and build your resilience.

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