How to look after your mental health in the midst of coronavirus

(Photo: Unsplash/Brigitte Tohm)

'Disconnection destroys us,' said the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby in an online service last weekend, adding, 'It leads to panic buying, to growing fear and to spiritual and emotional as as well as physical isolation.'

Isolation is not natural for human beings – we are not designed for it. In times of crisis, such as the one we are experiencing now with Covid-10, our instinct to group together is like a bunjee cord, and straining against it creates tension in us.

Yet here we are, millions of us, isolating ourselves even from our families to prevent the spread of the disease, while at the same time being bombarded with horrifying headlines. So it's no surprise that many people are feeling anxious, and older people are particularly at risk.

But it doesn't have to be like this. There are things we can do. Perhaps the clearest directive was written by King David, hundreds of years ago. In his life he experienced isolation, betrayal, persecution, physical attack and more.

In Psalm 94:19, he wrote: "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." 

Today's 'evidence based' psychological thinking reflects the Scriptural 'consolations'. They include:

Remember the good things God has done for you

The Israelites put stones in the river Jordan as a memorial to the miraculous stopping of the river when they crossed. When we are anxious, we tend to forget the times God has intervened in our lives. As well as remembering them, it helps to write them down, and give God thanks for each one. Older people have stores of 'memorial stones'.

Being grateful

This has a hugely therapeutic effect. There is so much we can be grateful for – for big and for little things. We can be grateful in the moment when we are experiencing these good things, but recalling these moments later helps to steady us and remind us that this too shall pass.

Encouraging others

Make telephone calls, send emails, write FB or Twitter posts. You can begin by saying, 'I was just remembering when ... (the person said or did something) and how much it meant to me.' You will have your own memories and words.

Accepting help from others

Older people like to be independent, but it can mean that they have subconsciously pulled up the drawbridge that lets people in to help. If you are that older person, then when someone phones to ask if there's anything they can get you from the shops, say 'yes'! Even if it's only a bar of soap. (It might even be toilet rolls!). If you are not older yourself, but know someone who is, share that piece of advice with them so that they know it's ok to say yes! 

Learn to spend a little time focusing on the small things

How the sun's rays through the windows light up the pattern in the carpet, or a picture – or even if it's only the dust. Then, of course, the sunshine itself!

Find the Scripture verses that are full of God's promises

Look these verses up if you have a moment: Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 46:1, Deuteronomy 31:8, Philippians 4:13, Psalm 139, Psalm 18:29, Psalm 138:8, Isaiah 54:10.

The Bible tells us that these verses are 'living and active'. Write them out on post-it notes and stick them where you will see them during the day – and take a moment to stop and read them.

Finally – worship music

Music is known to be good for the brain, and worship music is good for our souls. Welsh pastor Selwyn Hughes, late founder of Crusade for World Revival (CWR), believed that in worship we enter into the presence of the Lord and His unity becomes our unity. He puts our fragmented, world-weary selves back together.  

Louise Morse is a cognitive behavioural therapist with a masters' degree researching the effect of dementia caregiving on family members and older people. She is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims' Friend Society, a charity founded in 1807 to care for and advance the Christian faith among older people.