A Counselor’s Tips for Holistic Health during the Pandemic
I miss driving to work. I miss meeting with people face-to-face. I miss the freedom of going where I want when I want.
With the end of the school year abruptly cut short and the fall semester still uncertain, I’m guessing you’re missing a lot of things too.
It’s hard to believe how long it’s been since this pandemic broke out in the US, crazier still to think about all the ways our lives have changed. Yet strangely the longer this goes on, the more familiar it’s becoming.
As a counselor working in private practice for almost 10 years, I help people navigate all the ways that COVID-19 is affecting them. At the same time, those things are affecting me too. I’m tired of it: the masks, the social distancing, the video calls and computer screens.
This has caused me to think a lot about how the pandemic and sheltering in place with families and friends—some healthy and some not so healthy—affect us. Why are some people more resilient while others are struggling so much? What factors are at play here, and how can we all move toward holistic health?
Amplified Struggles & Energy Deficits
As I talk to people about how they’re doing, two common themes emerge. The first is that all our struggles seem amplified. We’re dealing with higher levels of weakness and temptation, anxiety and depression, addiction and addictive behaviors, conflict and tension with the people we live with, and loneliness and isolation.
But honestly these struggles aren’t new. I’ve been talking about them with people for years. They existed in our lives before all this happened, and they came with us into the pandemic. What’s different is that those things are louder and more intense than they ever were before. This might mean that you’re just noticing them now for the first time, or you’ve been aware of them but just feel less capable to handle them.
The other constant has been just how tired people are. There’s the obvious strain some of us are feeling who have sick loved ones or have COVID-19 ourselves. The future’s uncertainties, hospital stays, and the illness all take a toll.
But others of us are surprised by our level of tiredness and diminished capacity to do our jobs, study, and interact patiently with the people around us. We may feel like the virus is distant, that it doesn’t really personally affect us. But we don’t recognize how much increased stress it brings into our lives just by its existence. We keep trying to live at the same pace and capacity we did before everything started. And let me just be upfront: that’s not possible.
COVID-19 is constantly taking from our energy supply; we’re starting at a deficit each day. If you can be at 80 percent of your normal capacity, you’re rocking it, gold star, amazing! But that means if you’re at 50 or 60 percent, you’re still doing really well.
These amplified struggles and energy deficits too often combine to produce explosions of tension, stress, impatience, hurt, and anger. So how do we deal with that?
1. Be Aware of Your Limits & Realistic about How Tired You Are
A basic Christian understanding of human nature emphasizes that we’re finite. Unlike God, we don’t have unlimited energy, physical stamina, patience, or emotional reserves. I think God made us limited on purpose, so we’d be aware of our need for him and others.
It’s especially important during a time of high stress and anxiety to take stock of your physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual energy. We don’t have an unlimited supply, and when we get down to the dredges of our energy tanks, we’re not at our best.
2. Don’t Neglect Self-Care
We need to take the idea of doing things that add energy to our tanks seriously. Often we view this kind of self-care as an indulgent, somewhat selfish luxury. But I would argue that self-care is a necessity. Without it, you’ll be ineffectual, unable to love well, and lacking what you need to deal with stress.
I always ask clients to make a specific plan for adding energy to their tanks, and I think we all could benefit from that. Some simple suggestions are:
Get outside, go for a walk, and stand in the sun. There’s something almost magical about how being outside and moving can add energy back into our lives.
Play. Remember that when we were kids, we could find energy from simple things that didn’t require a lot of time or resources. Try to find these kinds of pursuits that recharge you, and if you’re not sure what this would be, think of things you enjoyed before starting college or work when you had more free time.
Remember the good that’s happening around you even in the midst of a difficult time. Practice gratitude and be diligent in spending time with God and others.
3. Be Aware of Patterns in You & Your Interactions
We all have areas of weakness, places where we are tempted to sin. Being aware of that helps us know how to be accountable, how to make plans, and allows us to be more conscious of our needs.
In the same way, family units have patterns and cycles of interaction, some healthy and some unhealthy, that are important to understand. A lot of my work focuses on helping people identify these patterns, exit old cycles, and engage in better alternatives. But this process can’t happen if we don’t recognize what’s already present.
This introspective process can be easier with the help of professionals or others who know you well. We see this modeled in David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23–24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
4. Be Aware of the Resources Available to You
I believe in introspection, making a self-care plan, surrounding yourself with those who love you and can speak into your life. But what’s become even more clear to me is that all the struggles we’re facing in this pandemic can’t be solved on our own.
We need God to supernaturally fill us with his energy, blessings, peace, and joy. And praise be to God, we have the freedom to ask that from him every day with the expectation that he will answer us. We serve and follow a God who is unlimited and powerful. Who loves us and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). Who is the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23, showering us with abundant blessings even in the valley of the shadow of death.
Another powerful resource for weathering this hard time is having a community of Christians who know you, who can talk with you honestly and openly about your tiredness, struggles, and relationships. We weren’t created to be alone but to be in community with God and others. If you’re a student, use our Find a Chapter page to connect with a local community of Christ followers.
The bottom line is be gracious with yourself and others. We’re in a hard season. We’re limited, tired, and stressed out. With humility, we need to acknowledge that we are not at a 100 percent and often need a lot of help. And that’s okay.
Jennifer Aguirre is a Licensed Professional Counselor, who has been in private practice for the past nine years. She cares deeply about cultural competence in counseling, helping people live balanced and healthy lives, and helping them identify the patterns, cycles, and habits that keep them from thriving.
After a decade of chronic illness, I’ve learned how my body and heart speak the same language. The pain in my head tells of the twist in my heart. I’m still sleepless—mind, body, and soul. I wonder if your new realities feel sleepless, too?
I don’t know what you are facing, but God does. He wants to meet you in the reality of the finished work of Jesus Christ, the gospel—our hope. Let him meet you there and, if necessary, seek out others and let them help you as well.