I went through a time of profound illness during seminary.
I went to multiple doctors. I prayed continually and sought the counsel of men and women I trusted.
Despite my proactive efforts, I was overcome by profound sadness.
Lawrence Klempnauer, then vice president at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and my Sunday School teacher, noticed my sadness.
Suspecting it was something more troublesome, he referred me to a counselor at the school who helped me tremendously over the rest of the semester.
Some of you likely have been consumed by sadness in the past few weeks. The 24-7 cycle of gloom-and-doom television has put us in a bad mindset during a time of profound uncertainty.
The loss of routine and social contact has only exacerbated the situation.
When people of faith add that together with the loss of corporate worship, we have a situation that could lead to depression. I am defining depression as more than sadness. It is accompanied with very real physical symptoms.
How can we know when we are depressed? What are the symptoms?
We have asked the very same questions of COVID-19. Indeed, there are great similarities.
Depression is a “silent enemy.” It seems even to be contagious. It has very real consequences. And it seems to be an inevitable part of the collateral damage that comes from a global pandemic.
I will always remember the first meeting with my counselor decades ago. He wanted to understand the depth of my depression so he asked me questions of appetite, headaches, sleep patterns, weight loss or gain, thoughts of suicide and even panic attacks. These are some of the symptoms of clinical depression.
Let’s look at this in a more positive and proactive way. While depression will happen to hundreds of thousands across the world just as sure as the virus will impact untold lives, the good news is we can take steps right now to stop depression before it comes into our lives.
Here are nine proactive measures to consider:
- Eat well.
People lose a sense of routine amid our semi-quarantined lives. Comfort food is often not the best for us.
This is a time to embrace healthy foods and to eat junk food in moderation. This is a great time to try the new recipes we never find time to fix.
- Drink in moderation.
Alcohol is a depressant. People often use alcohol as a liquid pain pill in times like these. The misuse of alcohol will increase our odds of depression.
- Get exercise.
Our normal lives will often include exercise we are unaware of. I am a teacher. I am usually on my feet all day. That routine has changed. I now have to be intentional in getting my steps in.
Exercise produces the endorphins that are actually quite effective in fighting the effects of depression.
- Maintain your normal sleep routine.
In times like these, people change sleeping patterns. The loss of early morning alarms and the need to fight traffic can often lead us to succumb to the temptation of late-night binging on Netflix or Hulu.
Loss of sleep can cause sadness to become more profound. Maintain healthy sleep patterns.
- Avoid the news as much as possible.
Get the information you need and then turn the TV off and put away your computer or smart device.
Some news stories intend to strike fear and extreme worry in people. The tendency of opinion-driven programming to politicize this pandemic will lead us to anger and frustration. This is true whether you might be blue, red or purple.
Turn to resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like Sgt. Joe Friday on the TV show “Dragnet” said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
- Find a way to talk about this.
Journal. Write. Talk with a friend. Putting words to scary events like COVID-19 is therapeutic. Feelings like fear and dread are neutralized when we put words to our feelings.
Maybe you are more creative. In that case, paint, create or landscape. Any or all of these help us get rid of toxic feelings.
- To quote Mr. Rogers, “Look for the helpers.”
His mother told him to do this when scary things came on television. There are great stories going on right now. Positive stories are there to be found. You must look for them.
- Embrace music. Music has incredible curative power. It soothes the soul. It moves us. It inspires. It heals.
- Finally, if you feel your sadness is more than sadness, reach out to someone.
There are people who can help, even at a time when we have to maintain our physical distance from one another. In a time of social isolation, we need people more than ever.
By embracing some or all of these proactive steps, you will put yourself on a pathway to healing.
I did not tell you all of the story from my seminary days. I was suicidal.
I did not tell my counselor that on my first visit. It took a while for him to gain my trust and for me to gain my courage.
If you have thoughts of suicide, you need to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline today. The website is SuicidePreventionLifeline.org, and the phone number is 1-800-273-8255.
If you find you are just lonely in all of this social distancing and you need to talk to someone, call a church in your area. They might not be able to see you right away, but they can talk.
Ed Hogan is a public school teacher and ordained Baptist minister who lives in Houston, Texas. He served previously on the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.