5 Steps to Coping in a Pandemic

Are you nervous yet? I am!

I’m old enough to be very nervous about the Corona virus. And, my wife struggles with asthma and a heart condition.

We beat the rest of our state into voluntary lockdown, stocking up on groceries and hand sanitizer as we did. I’ve been to a small pharmacy twice (avoiding Costco crowds) and even stayed away from McDonalds with much angst.

I have friends who have lost loved ones to the virus, so I won’t return to normal activity any time soon. A natural introvert, I’m enjoying the extra time to catch up on projects around the house and things I do for ministry. Zoom gives me an outlet in that I’m still coaching pastors and staying in touch with people I’ve mentored over the years. However, I find myself awaking to an occasional day of depression which is why I’m writing this.

Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Depression is a little unusual for me since I normally struggle with anxiety if I’m going down a less-than-helpful emotional path.

Let’s look at some things we can do to reduce the power of this evil trinity, but first let’s grab off a quick definition for each.

  • Stress is a state of emotional strain triggered by adverse or demanding circumstances.
  • Anxiety is unfounded fear usually caused by uncertainty and loss of control.
  • Depression is unhappiness or despondency which can be caused by anything from bad news to gloomy weather to inordinate demands on your time.

If the virus is causing you one, or all three, of these nasty conditions there are some things you can do to protect yourself.

1 Cut back on your news intake

I turned off TV news long ago after an emotional crisis which led to an acute anxiety attack.
I’ve found that by getting my news on the internet, mostly just print news, allows me better control on the negative impact of bad news. One friend told me that she leaves CNN running in the background while she works from home. Simply turning the TV to Pandora and listening to music uplifted her where the news tore her down.

As to reading, I’ve found a couple of sites that track the progress of the virus. I try to look at them daily which frees me from constant attention to whatever is being said during this time when no one really knows how this will turn out. One is a local site which presents a bar graph for San Diego County where I can see the spike in new cases on a daily basis while tuning out a lot of other stuff. The other is a Time Magazine site which tracks the hopeful flattening of the curve for the United Sates https://time.com/5809038/coronavirus-flatten-curve/

On another front, don’t let social media ruin your life. Cut back on the hours you devote to reading what other people say. Avoid clicking coronavirus hashtags, mute key words on Twitter and unfollow or mute especially negative accounts. Hide Facebook posts and feeds that overwhelm you. Same goes for WhatsApp.

2 Set boundaries around your time

If you’re a pastor you need to set “office hours.” By this I mean that you should inform your congregation of the days and hours you’ll answer your phone and those when you will not. Everyone in your congregation with a job works a set schedule. You should too. You need control of your time and need a daily break from other people’s problems. I also read somewhere about a concept that might interest you – it’s called “sabbath.”

To some degree the same goes for family. If you’re a parent, give your kids a schedule for time you’ll spend entertaining them and when you won’t. Help them organize their lives around your schedule rather than the other way around. This will benefit them, and you, after life returns to semi-normal.

Create a time for dating your spouse. One friend and his wife escape to a takeout restaurant and then drive to the edge of a park where they dine out while watching the grass grow.

You should schedule daily exercise. It’s good for both body and soul. Scheduling and accomplishing it gives the ability to check something off your daily list, as does making your bed in the morning. You need to be in control if you’re to maintain emotional equilibrium.

While we’re talking about accomplishment, don’t go OCD with hand washing and sanitization. Design a routine for safely opening mail, venturing to the grocery store, etc. Stick with it and do wash your hands often. However, don’t let hand washing become a fear fetish.

3 Stay connected with those you value most

You won’t be aware if they show up, but who would you want at your funeral if this thing got you? Those are people you most need in your life. Call them. Schedule time on Zoom or some other face-to-face media. Just being in touch will lift your spirits. It will also help you prioritize and put into perspective the myriad of details constantly dogging you if you are a church leader.

4 Lighten up a little…

I recently discovered “Some Good News” by John Krasinsky on YouTube. It not only lightens my spirits with humor, he actually collects good news and pulls some nice attempts to brighten our world.

Ever catch funny “cat videos?” I did and found it made a nice break from the news as do all the old Eddie Murphy films that I choose to watch rather than binge on Lord of the Rings which I’ll save for a brighter day.

Speaking of life in the Shire, Ruby and I are into gardening in pots and have discovered a guy named Monty Don on Netflix. He’s a British gardener who lightens our spirits. We’ve also grown addicted to 23 minutes of Bob Ross the landscape painter just before bed at night. Much more fun to watch than to go to sleep with a headful of bad news about corona virus or political infighting.

Got any old detective novels laying around? I escape to the less violent numbers in times like these rather than reading about church leadership during a stretch where I can’t change much anyway.

5 Make someone else’s day

Sorry to pile on extra work, but I think you’ll find this suggestion uplifting to yourself as well as others.

Grab a series of daily devotions from YouVersion. I’d pick their five day devotionals. Read and soak in whatever they offer then do a 60 second recap on Facebook. Clue your congregation into your efforts, being sure to reference where you got the material. You’ll help struggling saints who could use a good dose of their pastor’s face and voice during their own down time. This will probably cut back on the number of counseling calls you receive and give you a daily sense of accomplishment along with a good reason to shave and comb your hair.

We’re in this thing for the duration. It has, and will continue to change the way we live our lives and lead our congregations. But it doesn’t need to overwhelm us. We can fight back and take control over our emotions along with those things and people whom we hold dear.

Stay safe and please comment on what I’ve written (in the box below). Better yet, share this with a friend you’ll be doing me a big favor. I do this to help others–the only “pay” I recieve comes in the form of comments, shares, etc.