It is interesting that in the middle of this pandemic that this month is designated as “Mental Health Awareness” month. To be quite honest, far too many people think pastors aren’t real people and should never deal with issues like depression, isolation, or despair. For some people, they are super-human. Nothing could be further from the truth. A pastor’s life is complex and often stressful, resulting in an aloneness that can have discouraging results.
You may have heard of the May 7, 2020 death of Pastor Darrin Patrick. Darwin was a teaching pastor at Seacoast Church, a multi-site megachurch based in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and the founding pastor of the Journey Church in St. Louis.
While we may never know the exact details of Darrin’s death, we do know this is a reminder that pastors do have struggles. Amazingly, pastors, for the most part, know how to help others when they are struggling but don’t know what to do when they struggle themselves. Often pastors feel like they have no one to turn to for help. In fact, some pastors feel the need to hide emotional or mental needs from everyone because to admit that this kind of struggle reveals a spiritual weakness or failure. Most pastors find it difficult to find a safe personal friendship in which they can be transparent and honest.
A lack of close friendships and the turbulent times that have surrounded the COVID-19 crisis may heighten the feelings of emotional distress. To be honest, when life is jolted off its normal course, and almost every area of life gets disjointed, it is easy to get weighed down emotionally. Even people that are the strongest find these seasons of life can be discouraging.
To add to the pressure, as a pastor, you may even feel the weight of trying to keep your congregation together and moving forward as something too great for you to handle when your own soul is running on empty.
As pastors, every day and especially in these days, we have to make sure we are taking care of our own souls. The Mayo Clinic staff pulled together an excellent list for the daily care of your own soul for emotional, physical, and mental health.
Self-care strategies are good for your mental and physical health and can help you take charge of your life. Take care of your body and your mind, and connect with others to benefit your mental health.
Take care of your body
Be mindful about your physical health:
- Get enough sleep. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Stick close to your typical schedule, even if you’re staying at home.
- Participate in regular physical activity. Regular physical activity and exercise can help reduce anxiety and improve mood. Find an activity that includes movement, such as dance or exercise apps. Get outside in an area that makes it easy to maintain distance from people — as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) or your government — such as a nature trail or your own backyard.
- Eat healthy. Choose a well-balanced diet. Avoid loading up on junk food and refined sugar. Limit caffeine as it can aggravate stress and anxiety.
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. If you smoke tobacco or if you vape, you’re already at a higher risk of lung disease. Because COVID-19 affects the lungs, your risk increases even more. Using alcohol to try to cope can make matters worse and reduce your coping skills. Avoid taking drugs to cope, unless your doctor prescribed medications for you.
- Limit screen time. Turn off electronic devices for some time each day, including 30 minutes before bedtime. Make a conscious effort to spend less time in front of a screen — television, tablet, computer, and phone.
- Relax and recharge. Set aside time for yourself. Even a few minutes of quiet time can be refreshing and help to quiet your mind and reduce anxiety. Many people benefit from practices such as deep breathing, tai chi, yoga, or meditation. Soak in a bubble bath, listen to music, or read or listen to a book — whatever helps you relax. Select a technique that works for you and practice it regularly.
Take care of your mind
Reduce stress triggers:
- Keep your regular routine. Maintaining a regular schedule is essential to your mental health. In addition to sticking to a daily bedtime routine, keep consistent times for meals, bathing and getting dressed, work or study schedules, and exercise. Also, set aside time for activities you enjoy. This predictability can make you feel more in control.
- Limit exposure to news media. Constant news about COVID-19 from all types of media can heighten fears about the disease. Limit social media that may expose you to rumors and false information. Also limit reading, hearing or watching other news, but keep up to date on national and local recommendations. Look for reliable sources such as the CDC and WHO.
- Stay busy. A distraction can get you away from the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and depression. Enjoy hobbies that you can do at home, identify a new project, or clean out that closet you promised you’d get to. Doing something positive to manage anxiety is a healthy coping strategy.
- Focus on positive thoughts. Choose to focus on the positive things in your life instead of dwelling on how bad you feel. Consider starting each day by listing things you are thankful for. Maintain a sense of hope, work to accept changes as they occur, and try to keep problems in perspective.
- Use your moral compass or spiritual life for support. If you draw strength from a belief system, it can bring you comfort during difficult times.
- Set priorities. Don’t become overwhelmed by creating a life-changing list of things to achieve while you’re home. Set reasonable goals each day and outline steps you can take to reach those goals. Give yourself credit for every step in the right direction, no matter how small. And recognize that some days will be better than others.
Connect with others
Build support and strengthen relationships:
- Make connections. If you need to stay at home and distance yourself from others, avoid social isolation. Find time each day to make virtual connections by email, texts, phone, or FaceTime or similar apps. If you’re working remotely from home, ask your co-workers how they’re doing and share coping tips. Enjoy virtual socializing and talking to those in your home.
- Do something for others. Find purpose in helping the people around you. For example, email, text, or call to check on your friends, family members, and neighbors — especially those who are elderly. If you know someone who can’t get out, ask if there’s something needed, such as groceries or a prescription picked up, for instance. But be sure to follow the CDC, WHO, and your government recommendations on social distancing and group meetings.
- Support a family member or friend. If a family member or friend needs to be isolated for safety reasons or gets sick and needs to be quarantined at home or in the hospital, come up with ways to stay in contact. This could be through electronic devices or the telephone or by sending a note to brighten the day, for example.
What to do when things aren’t right?
You may have tried all of these things, but you know that something isn’t right. You may feel emotionally drained, not motivated, sad, easily irritated, lethargic, or have a bad case of the blues. If these kinds of feelings last for days, don’t ignore the symptoms or pretend that they aren’t real. It may be time to get some help. If you are having trouble determining your emotional and mental condition
Tanaya Meaders (BSN, RN, CNOR) is a wellness consultant with our team has found a great simple tool for self-assessment. The below site allows you to answer a few simple questions to gauge where you might need help. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional, but only to help identify if you might need additional resources. Once you take the assessment – you will be provided a score with comments on the next steps.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board partners with Eagle’s Landing Christian Counseling Center for mental health and counseling services. For more information, please visit their website @ www.ELCCC.org