Stress, anxiety and depression fueled by the coronavirus crisis — perhaps in ways never previously experienced — is “absolutely understandable,” according to Father John Hayes.
The priest, who holds a master’s degree in social work, acknowledged that scrambled routines, financial concerns, social isolation and uncertainty about the future all stand to inflame negative thoughts and feelings. However, he said, several options are at our disposal to keep ourselves and others from becoming overwhelmed.
For instance, Father Hayes — who serves as pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Caledonia, Churchville and Scottsville — noted the ongoing importance of social connections despite the cancellation of public events and implementation of social distancing for the foreseeable future.
“We need to interact,” he stated.
Father Hayes said that he, along with parish volunteers who normally make Communion calls, are striving to stay in touch with St. Martin de Porres parishioners who are isolated. He emphasized the importance of phone calls, emails, text messages and/or video chats — “even just for a short while, to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing, just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you.’”
Father Hayes pointed out that anybody doing such outreach with parish members, family or friends can play a vital role in helping others to realize that “’I’m not alone in this.’” He noted that his own heightened communication efforts have helped him reconnect with several old friends, adding that “I have thoroughly enjoyed” the increased level of online jokes he has received, providing welcome humor during these trying times.
Also along the lines of connecting, Father Hayes said that at his parish, “we’re constantly being thanked” by its members for the livestreamed Mass offered each Sunday at 10 a.m. “I think it helps them maintain their sense of normalcy,” he said.
He added that Catholics should lean on their faith frequently for strength and comfort during the pandemic.
“Jesus is walking with you on this journey, and we can forget that sometimes, especially when we’re scared,” he said. “At the same time, we can say, ‘God’s with me on this, and we’re not going to be afraid.’”
Father Hayes suggested additional activities to blend into one’s daily or weekly agenda, such as cleaning, writing, reading, baking, organizing, or going for a walk or ride. “It can give a great feeling of satisfaction to say, ‘Hey, I did something today.’ It gives you something to focus on,” he said.
‚Ä¢ Taking care of your body: sleep and eat well; get regular physical activity; avoid tobacco, alcohol and drugs; limit screen time; set time aside for such relaxing activities as deep breathing or listening to music.
‚Ä¢ Taking care of your mind: pray; keep a regular daily routine with reasonable goals; limit exposure to news and social media; stay busy; focus on positive thoughts.
‚Ä¢ Making social connections, especially with those who are most isolated. Offer to assist those in need.
‚Ä¢ Being alert to when life is becoming physically, mentally and/or emotionally unmanageable. Don’t be ashamed to seek professional help.
Reducing our stress and anxiety, Father Hayes observed, not only lightens our own load but leaves us better equipped to help others affected by the pandemic.
“Before you can take care of anyone else, you have to take care of yourself,” he remarked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A state-sponsored website offers several key resources, including a free Emotional Support Helpline at 1-844-863-9314, for those who are struggling to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re feeling suicidal or thinking of hurting yourself, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-8255.