category: Musings

Recognizing Reality: The Stress of Pandemic

By Rachael Keefe

Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:36-37 Here we are on the brink of another church program year, a year very different from previous ones. With the possible exception of epidemiologists, …

Recognizing Reality: The Stress of Pandemic

Image: open journal with fancy pen and a cup of hot tea on a white cloth

Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:36-37

Here we are on the brink of another church program year, a year very different from previous ones. With the possible exception of epidemiologists, none of us could have predicted that we would be planning a program year to be online. As strange as this is, many of us believe we have become accustomed to the “new normal” dictated by pandemic. We wear masks in public, minimize contact with people outside of our “bubble” or take every precaution when our jobs mandate personal contact. We tell ourselves we’ve adjusted and go on with life.

On the one hand this is true. We get through our days and don’t think twice about wiping our mail and groceries with a bleach solution. We cross the streets to avoid those who choose not to wear a mask and try not to judge the cyclists and joggers who don’t alter their course to stay six feet away. Some of us have even come to appreciate some of the benefits of working from home if we are lucky enough to be able to do that. We’ve created a routine for ourselves which might even include new hobbies taking up the time we used to need for commuting.

This is all fine. It’s the other side of our days we need to look at. Those moments when the smallest thing brings tears to our eyes or sends anger coursing through our bodies, and we wonder what’s wrong with us. These moments reveal the truth of the situation. We are living under a tremendous amount of stress. It is on-going. Just because our daily routines have accommodated it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. We haven’t gotten to the point of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress; we are still accumulating trauma and stress.

Think of it this way. Pandemic has us living at 80% of our stress capacity. This is why those minor things set us off. We aren’t going from 0 to 100 without cause. We are going from 80 to 100 with good reason. If there was no pandemic, the dog incessantly barking might cause usual stress levels to go up 20 points. We get annoyed and yell at the dog with a little more volume than strictly necessary. However, given the 80% stress we endure as a result of COVID-19, the same constant barking puts us at or over maximum capacity to cope. We might end up crying over the stubborn dog or feeling way more anger than the situation calls for.

We need to recognize this and have more patience with ourselves, and be ready with healthy coping skills(see below for a list of suggestions) . In other words, we might not be able to decrease our stress levels or control our seemingly over reaction to what were previously minor irritants, though we can learn to respond differently to our emotions. This is where faith can be helpful. Prayer, meditation, gratitude, and other spiritual practices can help refocus us and defuse the intensity of a pandemic stress response. Think of the psalmist asking God to turn their heart to focus on God’s ways and to have the ability to find life in those ways.

Practicing love of self, neighbor, creation, and God in this time of pandemic can help mitigate the stress we are all living under. Of course, not all of us are in the same boat. Those of us with more resources have an obligation to support those with fewer resources. We need to remember that for some of our neighbors pandemic conditions have elevated their stress levels to maximum; they are coping the best they can. Now is a time to practice compassion and not judgment. Remember that Paul tells us in Romans that we are to “owe no one anything, except to love one another.” If you are doing okay today, right now, what can you do to help someone else alleviate some of their stress? Reach out and listen before choosing what to do. Remember that people living alone, single parents, healthcare workers, retail workers, delivery people, people with physical disabilities, people with mental health challenges, People of Color, and many others have increased stress, often more than the 80% we can attribute to COVID-19.

For yourself, consider making time for a daily spiritual practice. Engage in something each day that opens you to the Spirit, grounds you in the present, and guides you to a sense of meaning and purpose. Almost anything can qualify as a spiritual practice if you are intentional about it – prayer, meditation, journaling, creating, baking, walking or running, gardening, expressing gratitude, true self-care, etc. One of the most often over-looked spiritual need is the need for community. A good spiritual practice is to intentionally connect with a community (church, AA, book club, etc). Remember that it is okay to be stressed, to be overwhelmed, to feel what you feel in any given moment. It is not okay to ignore the stress, self-destruct, or take out our emotions on another person. We are not alone. God wants us to find life in God’s ways even now.

It’s okay to take time out to care for yourself in healthy, constructive ways. It’s also important that we reach out to our neighbors when we have the resources to do so. No one is at their best right now, and it may be quite some time before we are able to be functioning better. In the meantime, let’s all do what we can to love and support one another. As this church program year begins, may we all practice compassion with our neighbors and patience with ourselves and those we love.

Healthy Coping Skills

  1. Focus on breathing, slow deep breaths in and out
  2. Exercise (walk, run, etc)
  3. Yoga or Tai Chi
  4. Go outside and pay attention to your senses
  5. Call or text a friend
  6. Do something nice for someone
  7. Clean something
  8. Make a cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa and enjoy it
  9. Bake and share with a neighbor
  10. Do something creative – paint, write, knit, crochet, etc.
  11. Journal
  12. Meditate
  13. Pray
  14. Make a Gratitude List
  15. Share your feelings with someone you trust
  16. Play an instrument or listen to music
  17. Do a crossword puzzle or sudoku or word search
  18. Work on putting a puzzle together
  19. Give yourself a manicure or pedicure
  20. Sing
  21. Watch your favorite tv show or movie
  22. Watch funny pet videos
  23. Punch a punching bag, pillow, or mattress
  24. Plan a vacation
  25. Take a virtual tour of a museum
  26. Color a picture
  27. Read
  28. Try a new recipe
  29. Aromatherapy
  30. Spend time with your pet
  31. Dance
  32. Go for a drive
  33. Contact a helpline or therapist
  34. Read the Bible
  35. Rearrange a room
  36. Take a hot bath or shower
  37. Sit in the sun
  38. Write a letter
  39. Perform a random act of kindness
  40. Make a healthy snack
  41. Make a gift for someone
  42. Research something that interests you
  43. Finish a project you’ve been working on
  44. Go for a walk and take pictures of everything you see of a color you choose
  45. Send an encouraging email to someone else
  46. Attend a virtual support group
  47. Send someone a thank you card
  48. Learn a new hobby
  49. Sit near water
  50. Memorize a Bible verse, poem, or song
  51. Fly a kite
  52. Watch birds or fish
  53. “Shop” online without buying anything
  54. Attend a virtual worship service or Bible study
  55. Blow bubbles
  56. Play a video game
  57. Call someone who makes you laugh
  58. Wash dishes
  59. Create a video
  60. Organize a messy drawer, closet, or room

RCL – Year A – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 6, 2020
Exodus 12:1-14 with Psalm 149 or
Ezekiel 33:7-11 with Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Photo: CC0image by Free-Photos

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

2 thoughts on “Recognizing Reality: The Stress of Pandemic”

  1. Hi Rachel
    Thanks for a wonderful meditation! I have been sending out Daily Prayers to our Youth StreetReach volunteers who are so frustrated that they can’t engage in our hands on ministry to the homeless. We decided to stay connected electronically and share different prayer concerns and different types of prayers. Today we had focused on teachers and students returning to whatever the new “normal” may be for them. But your list of Healthy Coping Skills is great- I find I have been utilizing many of them. I will be sharing this with my group and I know they will benefit!
    I recently bought hummingbird feeders and have been mesmerized watching two of them buzzing around! Since I am the 24/7 caregiver for my husband who has Alzheimers I need all the help i can get!
    Thanks again
    Marilyn Lariviere

    • Thank you, Marilyn. It seems you are as busy as ever with important ministries. I also love humming birds. I hope you are able to take time to care for yourself in between and among caring for everyone else. I hold you and your husband in prayer.


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