Maintaining And Enhancing Our Mental Health (in these difficult times)
We have already seen, heard, and read so much about this prolonged pandemic from mainstream media – global/national statistics, debates among government officials and medical experts, economic analysis of its repercussions, complexities brought to educational institutions, advisories released by the Church, etc. But for us ordinary people, in these difficult times, how are we affected? Are we aware of its emotional, psychological impact on us, across time? It has been more than a year and a half already! How do we maintain our well-being and enhance our mental health, so that we can help ourselves and be more effective in accompanying others?
On August 21, 2021, the John de Britto English Center organized a two-hour ZOOM webinar on Mental Health as part of the formation of its regular members and volunteers. They were joined by some members of the Japanese community and invited guests: religious sisters, lay missionaries, church leaders, and educators from other places in Japan and abroad. The speaker was Fr Roberto Buenconsejo, a priest of the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, an experienced pastoral counselor.
Fr Buenconsejo started his talk by defining mental health. It refers to our emotional and psychological well-being. It affects what we think, how we feel and act as we cope with life. He emphasized that mental health and well-being are just as important as our spiritual and physical health.
He discussed factors that contribute to mental health problems. He gave examples of warning signs that one’s mental health is not well. The spectrum could be: Depression ←→ Flourishing. And in-between, is Languishing. “Which state are you in now, in these difficult times? Are you depressed? flourishing? or languishing?”, he asked. The participants broke into groups according to ministries and sharing groups.
Impact of the Pandemic on Mental Health. Fr Buenconsejo said that the psychosocial footprint associated with a major emergency, such as this pandemic, is typically larger than the medical footprint. Some examples are being faced with new realities of working at home, or emotional reactions to threat, loss, and change. There is also a collective trauma. Cases of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) are rising.
WE HAVE A CHOICE, WE CAN DECIDE to be healthy and loving persons with God’s grace, a lot of effort, and the help of people who care for us, according to Fr Buenconsejo. We can develop active coping which involves Self-efficacy and Self-determination, Connectedness, and Hope.
He then gave many practical tips and expounded on how to maintain or enhance our mental health and well-being: (1) Value yourself and be compassionate with yourself. (2) Be aware of what you are feeling inside. (3) Get professional help. (4) Choose fact-based and reliable social media. (5) Practice Gratitude. (6) Avoid negativity. Choose to be positive. Choose to reclaim your energy. (7) Choose to commit to life- saving habits. (8) Follow specific health practices. (9) Develop active and positive coping skills. (10) Do volunteer work. (11) Break the monotony. (12) Eat nutritious meals.
Spirituality of Hope. “I sense that, spiritually, we are going through the ‘dark night of the soul.’ This pandemic is a global phenomenon. You cannot see anything clearly. All is dark. It is a very purifying process. … Rich and poor, we all share in the same boat of humanity, of human suffering. But we are in it together. That itself is a gift. We are able to be more compassionate, be healing instruments to one another,” Fr Buenconsejo said.
He continued, “Hold on to your faith … ’All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well,’ our Lord said to St Julian of Norwich. Christian hope is certain even if we cannot control the future. Meanwhile, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Gather the resources you have (inner strength, relationships) and realize that God is present within you and around you. At the end of his talk, he shared this PRAYER:
by Sr. Flor Florece, F.I.