By Elizabeth Prata
Today is one week since we heard that school would be closed for a lengthy period, and a week since the President called a National State of Emergency, a week since coronavirus patients started exponentially increasing.
I haven’t seen (too much) complaining about government asking churches to suspend operations. I’ve seen churches comply in the spirit of Romans 13:1.
I’ve seen some amazing responses from folks, pulling together, checking on neighbors, being generous and sharing time and material stocks. I’ve seen people comply for the most part with the President’s and CDC’s guidelines for staying in place, and being mindful of those most at risk. I’ve read an inspiring post from Mr Ken Buck, a School Board member in South Carolina, who wrote on Facebook:
Yesterday at 9:47 AM ·
We gave educators almost no notice. We asked them to completely redesign what school looks like and in about 24 hours local administrators and teachers “Apollo 13’ed” the problem and fixed it. Kids learning, children being fed, needs being met in the midst of a global crisis.
No state agency did this, no so-called national experts on curriculum. The local educators fixed it in hours. HOURS.
In fact, existing state and federal policies actually created multiple roadblocks. Local schools figured out how to do it around those too. No complaining and no handwringing – just solutions and amazingly clever plans.
Remember that the next time someone tries to convince you that schools are better run by mandates from non-educators. Remember that the next time someone tells you that teachers have it easy or try to persuade you that educators are not among the smartest, most ingenious people in society. And please never say to me again, “Those who can’t do anything else just go into teaching.”
Get out of the way of a teacher and watch with amazement at what really happens.
And I really appreciated that post because I was part of a local school staff who saw our own teams launch into action, working together with the kids and their families utmost in mind. It really was amazing. His post is reassuring, publicly sharing that professionals, in this case, teachers and staff are diligently at work and their efforts are for the greater good.
Emergencies require a change in behavior
An emergency is defined as a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action.
Emergencies are unexpected interruptions in normal daily life. They are not long-duration events. The adrenaline and mental and emotional capacity we apply to an emergency is pitched but usually short. We sustain a new way of thinking and living for a short period and then we go ‘back to normal’ and sigh with relief. “Glad that’s all over.” Here is an essay written some months after 9/11 by several doctors on the public and health: September 11: The Response and Role of Public Health
The initial response to the World Trade Center attacks was swift and generous. The health care community joined with firefighters, the police, rescue groups, and an outpouring of volunteers from all sections of New York City and beyond. It was tremendously moving to see large numbers of people volunteering their time, resources, and blood; it was reassuring to witness the skill and competence of health care professionals at work.
When emergencies turn into longer-duration events…
Graduations, weddings, and even funerals, high-emotion gatherings that are important milestones in a person’s life, are currently forbidden. Simple tasks like going to the gym or picking up dry cleaning are now errands that are most likely forbidden. Normal things are out and abnormal is in- for the duration. It’s hard.
When the reality sinks in that this is how it’s going to be for a while, it causes angst and upset for many people. Worries about job loss, financial strain, and health, strike at the heart of family life. How will I live if I have no money coming in? Are my elderly parents OK? I miss seeing grandma in the nursing home, will she even remember me when this is over…all these feelings of loss and grief now rise to the surface, replacing the initial feelings of pride, and the can-do attitude we had with the first days of an emergency
There is a danger when the emergency extends into a longer duration event. The transition that’s required in our thinking and our very being to come to grips with the fact that ‘normal’ is gone and this is a new way of life for an unforeseeable future causes anxiety and sometimes depression. With those feelings often comes a ‘what does it matter’ attitude as the high from the emergency adrenaline subsides and we emotionally crash lower than when we began. Another paragraph from the same article linked above:
The tragedy has also posed long-term challenges to people living not only in New York City but also throughout the United States and, indeed, the world. The breadth of this tragedy has left an entire city, and indeed the world, in grief. Levels of care address a wide range of responses: the distress of families and friends of the victims, posttraumatic stress disorder among rescuers and survivors, and the fears of people who were not directly affected by the attacks. A concerted effort is being made to meet the needs of children in explaining the event, providing emotional and physical support, and ensuring that teachers and counselors are trained to give age-appropriate responses in the schools. Mental health care workers will deal with increased anger, depression, and anxiety long after the debris is cleared away.
Christians, be aware of the changes in personal attitude as we shift from short-term can-do to attitudes required to sustain a longer-term lockdown for an undetermined length of time. It will require effort to change our patterns of behavior and it will require a lot of effort to maintain Christian habits and perspectives.
WHO has some information on Mental Health during Emergencies
There are various types of social and mental health problems in any large emergency. Social problems include pre-existing: e.g. poverty and discrimination of marginalized groups; emergency-induced: e.g. family separation, lack of safety, loss of livelihoods, disrupted social networks, and low trust and resources; and
Mental health problems:
pre-existing: e.g. mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia or harmful use of alcohol; emergency-induced: e.g. grief, acute stress reactions, harmful use of alcohol and drugs, and depression and anxiety, including post-traumatic stress disorder; and humanitarian response-induced: e.g. anxiety due to a lack of information about food distribution or about how to obtain basic services.
How Do I Do Help Myself/Family as we Transition to Long-term?
First, I’d like to point to Reagan Rose’s recent podcast on laziness. I am familiar with laziness, battling it every summer. As an educator who is given 9 straight weeks off every year, I start the summer with schedules and productivity. I usually end it amid a sea of sweatpants, naps, and crumbs. Having lots of time can be good for ministry but also can lead to a slide in productivity. When time is a scarce commodity we value it more. The Craziness of Laziness helped me learn more about how God views laziness. (It’s not good).
Lists and Schedules
I find it helps to make a list or a schedule each day of what I want to accomplish. An endless stretch of time can be easily squandered as procrastination sets in. I write what I want to accomplish each day in my notebook. Anything not done the day before gets written in again. After enough days, if I haven’t accomplished it, I’m aggravated enough to get it done so I don’t have to repeat writing it!
Likely when you were a busy professional or a busy family, you had a calendar or schedule posted of all the practices, games, appointments you needed to get to. Keeping up a schedule or calendar is a way to connect to ‘previous times’ when ‘things were normal.’
I have my prayer list, blogs I want to write, hobby ideas, which books I want to read…writing a list helps me feel more in control. The government has currently mandated that people in our city cease non-essential trips, health concerns have taken away freedom of movement, but I can control my personal space. I know the situation will be different if you have kids, but still, maintaining a schedule or writing a list will be something concrete and gives you goals for the day. Achieving goals, even minimal ones, helps restore a sense of balance in these disorienting days.
Connecting with the outdoors is restorative. Go for a walk with the kids, husband, yourself. Fresh air clears your head. Watch the birds or look for letters in nature. If you’re restricted to a small area, re-train yourself to photograph macro instead of roaming in wide landscapes. Gather things for art projects or just found objects to put in a treasure box.
Drink water and eat healthy
What we put into our bodies directly has effects on not just our physical state but our mental state. Eating well and hydrating will help keep us balanced. Being homebound tends to make me eat more but I’m trying to keep the same eating schedule I have during the week at school.
Shower and dress, shave, and do your hair or (lighter) makeup routine every day. Lounging around in sweats only helps you stay unmotivated. Dressing like you did on weekends BC (Before Coronavirus) will help your mentally and emotionally stay connected to a life that has been temporarily suspended.
Eye on the Prize
Florence Chadwick was a long-distance open water swimmer. She swam the English Channel and other bodies of water, breaking records. On one particular swim from the shore of CA to the island of Catalina, she swam in fog and tired after 16 hours. She asked to be pulled out. She was only a mile from shore. She said that not being able to see the goal had mentally tired her as much as the physical exertion. She tried again a year later and made it. She said her success was due to the fact that she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind.
Now is the time for Christians to transfer their mental vision of the goal on earth, from the promotion, the bigger house, whatever the next thing; to heaven. Our goal is to keep the eye on the prize, which is Jesus and His kingdom. Holding the mental image of heaven close to our hearts will bring us through the fog of earthly uncertainties and crises.
Because things are ‘different’, your mind will want to let go and do different things, like suspend prayer, Bible reading, family devotions, or ministry. ‘Oh, I can always do it tomorrow’ is be easy to fall into, because there is another tomorrow with lots of time. Don’t allow it. It will take extra mental energy and dedication to maintain discipline but it must be done.
Cabin fever is real. Remedies for it are usually aimed at folks in the winter climes, since outdoor activity is usually less when it’s blizzarding and 10 below zero. Folks living in gentler climes might not be a familiar with it.
What is Cabin Fever?
Cabin fever can dampen your mood, energy level and motivation during the brutally cold winter months. Not sure if it’s happening to you? Here are some signs from an article 21 Ways to Beat Cabin Fever
You feel cooped up and restless.
You have difficulty concentrating on what’s in front of you.
You feel lethargic or simply unmotivated to do anything.
You feel irritated and on edge for no apparent reason.
As we transition from short term emergency to longer term crisis, keep track of your mental state. Try these or other tips you find on the net for dealing with a new normal. We will get through this. It’s a time for Christians to practice what Paul urged, relying on the peace of Jesus in any and all circumstances.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.