What name would you give 2021? For me, 2021 was the Year of the Covid Crush. The constant drone of scary predictions, bad news, lockdowns, social isolation, and the ever-divisive rhetoric of “vaccinated or unvaccinated” has not done anything to encourage mental health. Yet one of the outcomes of the pressure of the past two years is that we are seriously talking about mental health. And we should!
The rates of depression and anxiety among U.S. adults skyrocketed alarmingly to about four times higher between April 2020 and August 2021 from 2019.
Anxiety: 7.4-8.6%, January-December 2019
28.2-37.2%, April 2020-August 2021[i]
Depression: 5.9-7.5%, January-December 2019
20.2-31.1%, April 2020-August 2022[ii]
While this article is primarily concerned with adults, there are some sobering statistics about young people as well. Take a minute to read these articles about how you can help kids:
Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus published by Focus on the Family.
The good news is, these numbers are gradually coming down, and people are getting better.
While we are not out of the woods yet, I am guessing that in a few weeks, after the Omicron surge has subsided, we will be able to live mask-free for the most part once again. While we are looking for better days, one cannot overlook the residual impact of the past two years.
Because of the rise of depression and anxiety, I will be doing a short series of articles on how you can begin recovering from the anxiety and depression that may have impacted you and those close to you during these recent months.
As a Licensed Mental Health professional and a human who deals with anxiety and depression, I have some proven, practical, faith-friendly tools that will help you get to a better place. I hope you will be on the lookout for that next week.
This week, I want to talk about Self-Care, what some are calling Self-Compassion.
Let’s start with the teachings of Jesus in order to see how important this is.
Jesus dealt with this directly in answering the question of a young, well-to-do man.
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “’You must love the Lᴏʀᴅ your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 NLT
What comes to mind when you read the words self-care or self-compassion? Are you aware that one of the components of resilient, successful people is practicing self-care?
Jenn Shultz is a wonderful and practical, faith-based blogger I ran across while working on this article. Be sure to check out her article 10 Bible Verses About Self Care located on her What You Make It Blog for an insightful read.
The first reaction to self-care is often one of concern, misgiving, or uneasiness for many. They believe that being kind and gracious to themselves might make them weak, more vulnerable, or even snotty (a clinical word that could mean arrogant, puffed up, or aloof). They erroneously think self-criticism keeps them accountable or improves their performance or are overly concerned that letting go of the nasty habit of self-criticism will somehow cause them to appear less competent.
It’s hard for those of us who have struggled in this area to understand that the reverse is true. Tormenting ourselves and holding ourselves accountable to completely unrealistic expectations only sabotages our efforts.
I know in my own life, one of the voices I consistently listened to was that nagging whisper planted in my head by a teacher in high school—that I was a horrible English student and might not make it out of high school. In all fairness, she planted the seed, but I did a phenomenal job of watering and fertilizing it. That is until I chose to turn the volume down and begin to write. FYI, I got through high school and completed two Masters degrees.
Since then, I have authored two traditionally published books, contributed to two more, written articles for magazines, and am a blogger.
This past year, I took another step regarding my self-care. I hired a copy editor, Kaley Rhea, a wonderful young woman and insightful editor who graciously makes my writing look a lot better while keeping my voice intact. Kaley, thanks for being one important piece of my self-care program.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, bludgeoning yourself with self-criticism compromises your goals, impairs your pursuits, and steals your dreams, whether they are mental, physical, spiritual, academic, health-related, or professional.
As a therapist and a Crisis Response Specialist, I have learned self-care/self-compassion is a must if I want to provide adequate care to others. If I desire to impact this world, self-care/self-compassion isn’t optional. It’s essential.
We are not talking about some narcissistic type of self-love, but, to use a biblical metaphor, “temple maintenance.” We cannot export what we do not have.
With that in mind, let’s look at how self-care can enhance your resilience, expand your endurance, and power up your perseverance as you seek to live an impactful life.
It brings forth resilience, enabling you to be more flexible and agile as you face life’s challenges. It provides you the capacity to identify problems, accept both good and bad feedback, and modify habits that no longer serve your best interests. This type of shift in your thinking opens the doors to enhanced resilience, hope, increased strength, optimism, and opportunities.
Do you remember the safety briefing from your last flight? I know, it may have been a while, but reach way back in your memory banks. When the flight attendants get to the part about the unlikely event of sudden cabin depressurization, they explain that the oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling. At that point, they instruct you to put on your mask first. Then, and only then, help someone else with theirs.
Self-care is sort of like this in a way. It is a very intentional, active choice to take care of our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health. It’s putting us first…because we can’t care for or be the best help to help others unless we first take care of ourselves.
Self-care can have the following positive effects:
– Improved self-esteem and self-compassion
– Increased insight in decision making and motivation
– Boosted immune system
– Enhanced stress management by reducing anxiety
– Improved productivity fostered by a greater ability to focus
– Deepened spirituality and sense of meaning
– Heightened connection to yourself and others
– Increased resilience
– Greater ability to set boundaries (internal and external)
1. Get your horizontal and vertical relationships in order. The quote from Jesus I mentioned earlier pretty much sums it up. First, love God, and out of that love of God will come the love of self and then love of others.
2. Remember, we must all constantly fight the inner poser. We all feel like fakes and frauds from time to time. When you find you’re beating yourself up, calling yourself names, rehearsing old hurts, telling yourself you are a loser, or suffering from the paralysis of analysis, stop. Everybody struggles with this from time to time. It’s part of being human. They are just thoughts. You always have a choice to give them a place in your brain and heart or to dismiss them.*
Here is a simple truth, there are only two types of people, ones with issues and those that pretend like they don’t have any. Remember, God says you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Remember to let that thought help you fight the inner poser.
3. Be a buddy to yourself. Would you offer your best friend support and encouragement on a bad day? Would you cheer for them on a good one? Treat yourself with that same kindness.
4. Move more! You don’t need a gym membership for this. Just begin a simple walking and stretching program. Your body and your brain will thank you for it.
5. Use your meals as an act of self-care. When you eat, pause to notice you are taking time to nourish yourself. Rather than seeing how fast you can consume your meal (a nasty habit I picked up in the military), chew your food slowly. Savor the flavor as you add fuel for your body. One of the reasons for saying a blessing of thankfulness is to help you and me slow down. So try it!
6. Get the rest your body needs. Seven to eight hours is a great goal and has been proven repeatedly to renew and refresh. Insomnia has been a significant issue in the past two years of Covid. Combine a 24-hour news cycle with other consequential disruptions, and the first thing you get is sleep loss. Do your best to go to bed and wake up at the same time. Try to stick to your routine.
7. Have a time of stillness and quietness in the morning. It could be a time of prayer and meditation. You could read from a daily devotional or have a daily reading plan. One I have used is a chapter of the Old Testament book of Proverbs each day. I personally love the You Version Bible App for my phone. It’s free, and you can scroll to the bottom of the screen to find various Bible reading plans in several translations. The selection is multidimensional, and there are audio versions built in, so you can listen along if you prefer or if you’re struggling to focus on the written words.
You could also begin memorizing and meditating on Scripture. Find one verse or passage that is especially meaningful to you right now, and read and repeat it often, reflecting on the words.
8. Limit your Screen Time and Your News Intake. Remember the old saying, “What you put in your brain is what comes out of it.” In other words, garbage in, garbage out!
9. Ask for some help. No, I do not mean therapy, although a good therapist could help. Here is a thought: experiment with giving someone else a chance to help you. It might be a friend, colleague, a ministry leader, or mentor who can come alongside you to help out, be an accountability partner or just an encourager.
Choose three of these suggestions to begin showing yourself some self-care. Hey, while you are at it, shoot me an email and let me know which you choose and how you’re going to start practicing them.
If you need help, take the next step. Here are some helpful links.
5 Ways to Stop Your Racing Thoughts, Psychology Today