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Health for the Whole Person

by Christy Otten, MA, LCPC

The internet has been awash with memes about the coronavirus. You may have seen the one(s) about Isaac Newton: He discovered theories of gravity and motion during a plague—the message clearly being that you can do a lot while staying inside. Then, there are the ones especially for parents—one tells us that while you, as the parent, know this is a crisis, your children may only remember scavenger hunts, family game nights, and the immense amount of together time. Imagine the family memories you can create!

If I’m being honest, though, these memes don’t connect with me.

Instead, the meme that asks how bored Isaac Newton must have been during lockdown to actually invent calculus—now that I find relatable! Another that shows a picture of Mary Poppins next to Miss Hannigan from Annie—the contrast between how you feel as a mom on day 1 of quarantine versus day 20—again, completely relatable. All this to say, my time in lockdown has not been impressively productive or full of amazing and creative mom moments. No, it’s been full of a lot, but not that.

  • It’s been full of questions: When? How long? What if?
  • Full of frustration. The hard-won progress from those months of language study and relationship building seemingly slip away. The newly enforced isolation only exacerbating the long-felt loneliness of an outsider in a foreign land. It’s been full of tears. Will our long-awaited trip to America, with the promise of donuts and free babysitting be lost? It’s difficult to think about those unfulfilled plans, only compounded by the inability to create backup plans.
  • Full of fear. “Mommy, what would happen if I got the “Corolla” virus?” (Sorry, Toyota!)
  • Full of discovery. Ah, that’s my natural hair color—disappointingly full of gray!
  • Full of repetitive tasks. Here I am, sweeping the floor once again.
  • Full of lost sentences. Jeremy and I don’t remember the last full conversation we had without an interruption from a little voice.
  • And again, the questions. When will this end? What will life look like after lockdown?

As Christ-followers, we are called to be people of hope. But it can be hard in the midst of such strong emotions and so many unknowns to live into that.

And while we can and should bring it first to the Lord, I challenge you to also recognize we are living in a situation we are not ultimately created for. God wired us for connection, but right now, much of that connection is limited and often relies on the use of technology. God made us to be productive and fruitful in the world, but circumstances greatly limit our ability to do work as before. Recognize that you may struggle to be healthy at this time, that the lack of balance is going to upset your emotions. It’s important that we figure out how to be socially distanced, even hurting, in a healthy way.

I love the field of psychology. In particular, I love that my study of psychology only amazes me more about how God has created us. Good psychology ultimately brings me a deeper understanding of Scripture, and a good study of Scripture only points me towards healthy psychology. God has wired us so that all of our pieces—the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual—impact one another. You can’t be entirely physically healthy if you are not emotionally, mentally, relationally, and spiritually healthy.

And that’s true of each area—one unhealthy area will ultimately negatively impact the other areas. More encouragingly, doing something healthy in any one area can positively impact your whole.

  • A physically active body’s brain produces more serotonin which acts as an anti-depressant.
  • A thankful heart (or even just a heart trying to think of something to be thankful for) also produces serotonin in the brain.
  • Healthy thinking can actually change the body’s biological makeup, increasing longevity and protecting against illness.

And I could go on. As a part of my initial assessment of a client, I often use this premise to identify what area or areas need focus.

Let’s get really practical.

How does a self-assessment in light of these areas work? If you’ve ever told yourself to “perk up” then you are aware that it’s very difficult to directly change how you feel through mere force of self-will. Instead, it’s often helpful to access the sphere of our emotions through one of the other spheres. Each day, the goal is to have done something—not necessarily a big thing, but something–to encourage health in each area.

Take some time to identify what tools help you in each area–perhaps a ‘thoughts’ journal for your mental area, a “go-to” physical workout, or a familiar spiritual discipline. How can you have a healthy human connection, even if it’s just a WhatsApp message? Sometimes even simply naming your emotions is a good exercise. From here, we use the stronger areas to target the weaker. Are your emotions feeling out of control? Try getting a good workout first, then maybe you’ll be able to identify and clarify the negative thoughts that could be driving down your mood. Is your time in the Word feeling stale? Try pausing to talk to God about how you’re feeling.

Giving some attention to your emotions may help clear some obstacles in your spiritual life. Addressing one area in a positive way will start to work its positive effects in the other areas—but be intentional about doing something, even a minor thing, to help each area. Make it your checklist for each day.

Memes aside, there is no definitive advice on how to make it through a pandemic. I think one difference all of us as believers could make is that, even in lockdown, we can strive to be healthy people of hope. Hope doesn’t mean we ignore the hard–grief, disappointment, uncertainty—those things may remain. Our Creator has wired us in such a way that in midst of all of this, as we seek him and pursue health in all the spheres he calls us to live in, we can also still experience hope, peace, and even joy.

If you would like to talk more about this or wish to contact Christy, please feel free via email or WhatsApp.
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