Editorial — Pastoral tips for coping

Marnie McAllister

The Record’s counterpart in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis did a great kindness recently. The Catholic Spirit published a public service story on the pandemic’s effects on mental health.

Reporter Susan Klemond interviewed local Catholic priests who counsel parishioners and licensed Catholic therapists about their observations and advice.

The stressors they observed seem to be universally felt in communities around the United States — they certainly sound familiar.

ν Job loss coupled with economic hardship.

ν Isolation felt by those who live alone, particularly the elderly.

ν Difficult family dynamics exacerbated by the lock down.

ν Disconnection from the parish community and the sacraments.

These can and have led to an increase in stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other mental health struggles, they said.

Many of these stressors are interconnected, the therapists and priests told Klemonds. But there is hope, and that hope comes from you and me.

Recognizing the pandemic’s effects on mental health helps people check on others, said Father Matthew Malek, a Conventual Franciscan priest and counselor at St. Bonaventure in Bloomington, Minn.

“It isn’t oftentimes about offering solutions or help,” he told The Catholic Spirit. “Sometimes the most important part (is) being present and listening, and also perhaps if someone seems to be experiencing some really heavy symptoms … to encourage folks or support people in pursuing treatment.”

Those interviewed by The Catholic Spirit offered some tips for coping with stress related to COVID-19:

  • Accept that the situation is tough and might continue to be for a while. Reach out to friends, family, counseling and medical professionals if necessary. — Father Malek
  • Seek connection with God. COVID-19 challenges can be numbing, so spend time with him. Meditate on God’s provision and protection through the psalms and Bible passages such as Matthew 11:28 — Dan Stokman, therapist.
  • Increase the capacity to accept uncertainty through meaningful connections with others and prayer. — Stokman
  • Control thoughts by practicing gratitude. Wake up and think of three things to be thankful for. In the evening, reflect on the day, identify three things that went well and thank God for them. — Melissa Nichols, marriage and family therapist.
  • Do acts of kindness. It can benefit the giver as much or more than the one receiving a kindness. Helping others can be the biggest action taken against anxiety and depression because the feeling of doing something gives more control over those problems. — Nichols

These tips are just what we need right now to help heal one another and our community. They also call to mind tips Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz offered when the COVID-19 lockdown was just beginning in March. They bear repeating. He wrote in his March 25 column in The Record:

  • Care for our neighbor presents challenges with social distancing, but this does not end our obligation to help others to the best of our ability. Reaching out to a neighbor and taking steps to help those who are in need should be part of our response.
  • Whether we are quarantined or living in self-imposed social distancing that isolates us from our normal routine, there is a need for us not to slip into a kind of stupor in which our only activity is watching or listening to the news or being on social media for 24 hours a day. For sure, we need to keep informed, and our media is doing a great job in helping us do just that.
    However, we also need to establish a routine that gives life and can be productive. Establishing times of prayer, reflection, good reading and even creative journaling are some other ways to establish a life-giving routine.
  • Trust in God’s grace for ourselves and others. … This includes being mindful of our neighbor in our prayer. We also should lift up others as we pray.

A good starting place is Psalm 31. It begins “In thee, O Lord, do I seek refuge” and ends in verse 25 with “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!”

MARNIE McALLISTER

Editor

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