“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Grief is a universal emotion that is often associated with the crisis. Community violence and feeling a loss of safety, death, and loss related to income, stability, and opportunity can contribute to feelings of grief. Grief reactions continue until we can accept the crisis loss and adjust to the changes the crisis created in our life. It’s different for each person depending on his or her current mental and physical health, coping styles, culture, family supports, and previous life experiences. Whether it is a loss of a loved one or a pandemic, we are in a crisis, and the bottom line is that we need to protect our mental health. Another point is that we have suffered loss during and due to COVID-19—loved ones, jobs, social contact, entertainment, and athletic events. The people and things that add substance to our lives. There is nothing funny about a pandemic, but it’s essential to stay grounded. As difficult as it seems, it’s important to accept reality and not catastrophize about what has not yet happened. We all cope differently with horrible situations, and we all struggle with our locus of control.
Our lives have changed in a series of big and small ways. Some have a tough time coping with their loss to the point of a mental breakdown and a downward spiral of negative behaviors. I met a young lady while driving Lyft; she openly shared with me the path she had taken after the loss of her 9-year-old son. While struggling with her loss, she had tried everything that she thought would relieve her pain; drugs, alcohol, and several attempts of suicide. Eventually, those pain relievers landed her in jail after having a car accident leaving the passenger dead. Grieving is normal; however, the grieving process is unique to each individual, but in the end, there is hope. This young lady, in her statement, realized, “it was God that protected and kept me here.” She acknowledged that God helped her through the process, and she received healing.
Often we are compelled to judge others’ behaviors before getting to know their story. Grief can lead many people down self-destructive paths signaling that they are desperately crying out for anyone to listen to their heartache. Think about this; if someone tells you their story, it may be God leading you to tell them your story. The Lord may be reminding us that we once were in that persons’ position, and God healed us or showed us a different way to cope with the crisis in our lives that did not destroy us. James 5:19–20 says, “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” God places people in our path on purpose for a specific reason, a mystery that can be revealed in not just hearing their story but listening to their pain. First Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Love is demonstrated when we stop reacting to what the person has done, instead respond with compassion as to why the person did it or why they are behaving in such a manner. It is just as important in what path a person grieving takes as it is for the person responding to the griever; “hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs” (Proverbs 10:12). It matters to God!
Protecting Our Mental Health
During our times of grief and crisis, being proactive about our mental health can help to keep our mind and body healthy. Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty are normal emotions during an awkward situation, such as the world is currently experiencing. There is unproductive anxiety too, where we allow our minds to spin out of control. However, there are things we can do to maintain control in these situations by focusing on things to reduce risk to our mental and physical health. What stands true in normal times is the same during a crisis, which is the basics of life in the practice of self-care to sleep well, eat well, and move often. When we negatively experience either one of the three fundamentals of life, please seek professional help from a licensed mental health professional to find ways to manage the stress that will help us to make the best decisions for ourselves and our family. Our means of coping with stress and anxiety goes a long way in managing our mental health.
We must protect ourselves during a crisis to stay sane. It’s important to recognize our reactions to stress and how to manage them. During times of increased stress, people respond with four types of reactions, physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive. Sometimes we may experience emotional responses, such as anxiety, worry, fear, sadness, tearfulness, or loss of interest in regularly enjoyable activities, including feeling frustrated, irritable, or helpless. Strong feelings that won’t go away, last longer than a few weeks, or are interfering with healthy functioning may be a symptom of depression or anxiety and are a sign that we should seek professional mental health help. Anxiety can create behaviors that add to the feeling of depression and poor behavioral reactions. Harmful practices include increased dependence on nicotine or alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, bullying, and blaming others.
It is essential to recognize and manage physical reactions caused by stress, where we may experience low energy, exhaustion, sleep problems, headaches, muscle aches, appetite change, increased heart rate, or stomach upset. It is best to speak with the doctor about significant changes in our bodies because many physical stress reactions can be an indication of something else. Maintaining our physical health and well-being will have a positive impact on how we manage physical stress reactions. Healthy eating, routine exercise, and attention to our mind-body connection are crucial. Remember, we are strong enough to get through it. Stay connected to other people. Reach out to family and friends. Physical exercise can also decrease the feeling of anxiety and reduce harmful behaviors.
We can build positive stress and grief reactions by finding support and working to keep a positive mindset, which includes practicing gratitude and kindness. Become more understanding and tolerant of others and ourselves. We can increase our appreciation for relationships and loved ones while becoming more socially active. Be grateful for what we have and for those in our community who are loving and caring. More importantly, we can enhance our spiritual connection. Some even find comfort helping others during times of crisis and distress by sharing their experiences. When we are calm and have detected that comfort, sharing our positive attitudes with others can support them, and in turn, they can provide support back to us.
Always remember, Jesus promised that He would pray for us and give us another comforter that will abide with us forever (John 14:16).