Mental Health & your spiritual life

Mental Health

With the restrictions on our lives that we are all facing – restrictions that prevent us from doing the activities that usually keep us mentally well – it has never been more important to be aware of our mental health.

In my professional role as a psychiatrist, I am often asked about lifestyle advice. I often keep this advice simple: it is about being conscious of ‘balance’ – balancing each important area of your life within another.

These areas, if consciously invested in, enables the mind to be ready for the ‘war’ of life: the ups and downs, the to and fro, the push and pull, but ultimately, the stresses and traumas that we all inevitably face.

We are advised as health care professionals to design and abide by a ‘self care protocol’ to protect us from the daily stressors of supporting patients and from being in touch with our patients’ various traumas, as well as the stressors of working with the health care field.

It is the consistent, conscious approach to our every day lives that is key: we need to be moving away from simply ‘reacting’ to life, but rather, consciously planning and becoming more aware of the important areas within our lives.

But we must also learn to start at the very basic of levels.

First and foremost, I would recommend having a planner or diary that remains visible in your life. This will support you with keeping organised and self aware of your time, and how your time is spent. Mark out areas of time for your routines - morning, day time and evening – as well as your own scheduled activities.

Within these routines, focus on your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing, and also use time to effectively plan on a daily basis.

The first thing I do when I wake up is spend a few minutes in solitary prayer and meditation in the company of the Bible, Jesus Christ, Mary, St Michael and St Jude. I will then invest time in ‘self compassion’, ‘forgiveness’ and ‘gratitude’: all of these pillars of thought will strengthen your mind, increase your capacity to manage stress, and will instil a fulfilling sense of peace within you – try it! I will then spend a few minutes listening to a podcast or an educational video, followed by a few minutes of focused exercise. I know I am not an Olympic athlete, however I am always mindful to engage in a sustainable and realistic exercise programme that is not going to set myself up for disengagement or failure.

Over the course of the day, my evening routine is organised for connecting with my wife and children, as well as my family, and friends. It’s all about ‘checking in’: be open, honest and authentic in your communication, and this includes listening! This will enrich and nourish your relationships, but will also encourage others to be open and authentic with you. Remember, it is OK not to be OK and it is important to confide and open up with others around you when you are stressed. It is well known that relationships directly influence your mental health, and they also serve as a ‘protective support network’ in times of trauma and stress: never be lonely.

I would recommend all of this to start off with, and it will enable you to avoid ‘drifting’ and ‘reacting’ to the stress of life.

I hope this helpful and I wish you good luck: we are all in this together.

Dr Robert Gordon

Catenians : New Forest Circle

 

Mental health and your spiritual life

A healthy and nourished spiritual life is central to mental health and well being. For Catholics, attending Mass on Sundays and during the week is a source of mental and spiritual strength, as well as a social and community activity. This section will briefly explore some ways in which we can keep up a healthy spiritual life during times of social distancing and isolation.

Catholic churches in England and Wales are now closed until further notice. This will be a cause of distress and disruption to Catholics, but we are lucky to live in a time when technology can be a great help for the development of our spiritual lives.

The Catholic Truth Society has put together a helpful list of suggestions for several ways in which you can nourish your mental health and spiritual life during this time. You can find the full list and more information here, but here are a few key points.

Make a Spiritual Communion: Spiritual Communion is the heartfelt desire to receive Our Lord, even when we are unable because of the distance or for some other reason.

Watch Mass: Many dioceses are providing information about livestreamed Masses in parishes.

Read the Mass readings of the day: When you can’t attend Mass, you can follow the prayers and readings of the Mass at home.

Meditate on the Mass readings: Spend time meditating on the Mass readings and discerning what God might be telling you through them, using Lectio Divina, an ancient method of prayer. There is a guide for how to do this on IgnatianSpirituality.com.

Watch a video of a priest preaching on the day’s Gospel: New ministries are coming to light during this uncertain time, and one of those is Lent in Isolation, where you can listen to the day’s Mass readings and hear a priest give a homily.

Join an online community praying together daily: It is more important than ever to join together in prayer and utilise technology to form communities so that no one is isolated. The CTS will be posting prayers every day on Hozana.

As Catholics, we know the importance of going to Sunday Mass which is why the Church tells us that not going is a grave sin. However, this does not include those who are physically unable to get to Mass through no fault of their own. This means if you are unwell, in self-isolation, or for some other reason you cannot get to Mass, you are not committing a sin because in those instances you are not required to attend Mass.

Coping with OCD during Coronavirus

Coronavirus will present a unique challenge to those who live with OCD, especially in the form of scrupulosity (a form of OCD involving religious or moral obsessions). Indeed, the charity OCD Action has reported an increase in support requests from people whose fears have become focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

For people with OCD and some types of anxiety, being constantly told to wash your hands can be especially difficult to hear. It could also be difficult to identify which behaviours are ‘acceptable’ and recommended, and which are driven by the OCD and anxiety. OCD Action has published some helpful guidelines about how to manage your OCD during this time. The full list and more information can be found here

Scrupulosity is something which Catholic living with OCD might struggle with during the coronavirus pandemic. Scrupulous individuals are overly concerned that something they thought or did might be a sin or other violation of religious or moral doctrine. In particular, not being able to attend Mass might be a cause of concern and worry for Catholics with OCD. As we stated earlier, it is important to remember that you are not committing a sin by not attending Mass during the pandemic. There are many ways in which you can maintain a healthy spiritual life, listed above.

For more information on scrupulosity and how it may be treated, please see this factsheet from the International OCD Foundation Reading this alongside OCD Action’s guidelines on Coronavirus might be helpful if you are a Catholic struggling with your OCD during this time.

News and Social Media

At times like this it is of course important to keep up to date with health information and advice; however, rolling news is not always helpful, and can contribute to mental ill health, including feelings of anxiety and depression. Here are some pointers for how to look after your mental health while keeping up to date with the news:

Limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching things which aren’t making you feel better. Perhaps decide on a specific time to check in with the news;

Stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information such as government and NHS websites, and updates from the World Health Organisation (WHO);

Take some time away from news websites and social media if you are feeling anxious;

Mute key words which might be triggering on Twitter and unfollow or mute accounts

Mute WhatsApp groups and hide Facebook and other social media posts and feeds if you find them overwhelming;

Talk to someone if you feel that you can’t manage your anxiety alone. Support helplines are listed below.

SUPPORT AND HELPLINES

An extensive list of mental health support and helplines can be found on the Helplines page of the Catholic Mental Health Project website.

ORGANISATIONS MENTIONED ON THIS PAGE

Anxiety UK              Phone: 08444 775 774

OCD Action             Phone: 0845 390 6232

Email:                       support@ocdaction.org.uk

Skype:                      0303 040 1112.

OCD Action recommends that if you are currently in therapy for OCD, try contacting your therapist or service provider and ask if they offer skype/phone sessions instead of face-to-face appointments.

 

RESOURCES

Coronavirus: How to protect your mental health (BBC)

bbc.co.uk/news/health-51873799

 

Catholic Truth Society: Weekly Blog ctsbooks.org/blog/

Hozana: Social Prayer Platform       hozana.org/en/

Ignatian Spirituality        IgnatianSpirituality.com

The International OCD Foundation       iocdf.org/

Lent in Isolation              lentinisolation.com/

OCD Action and Coronavirus    ocdaction.org.uk/articles/covid-19