Don’t go at it alone: Coping with stress amid COVID-19

May 19, 2020

Elsie Eller, 84, is a one woman town — literally.

She lives in Monowi, Nebraska, the only incorporated town in the United States with a population of one. Eiler is the clerk, treasurer, librarian and mayor. During Elier’s youth, Monowi was a small farm town, occupied by some 150 people.

But following World War II, Monowi started to decline and most of its residents moved away. By the early 2000s, its sole occupant was Elier. Talk about being alone.

If you are struggling with mental distress during the pandemic, you may feel alone, but in reality you are not. Still, when we’re afraid, overwhelmed, exhausted and burned out —- that makes us believe we’re alone and no one else understands. If that’s you and you decide not to tell anyone how distressed you are, then you may be headed for trouble.

Case in point: We were all stunned recently when a heroic New York City hospital nurse, dealing with COVID-19 patients everyday, committed suicide. Afterward, her friends tried to explain what happened: “She wouldn’t go home after her shift, she couldn’t stop working, and became detached from others. Then, when her family attempted to intervene, it was too late, she was gone.”

Couldn’t she tell someone? After all, she was a medical professional who taught others how to deal with pain. “Me, myself and I,” she must have thought, ”It’s just me, myself and I. No one knows what I’m going through.”

If you are struggling with mental distress during the pandemic, you may feel alone, but in reality you are not.

It’s no surprise that we are not good at sharing our mental distress, especially Christians, who are supposed to know what to do with problems. Surely, of all people, we know how to trust God for hope and healing. If only that were true.

The problem is, like that nurse, we have a hard time seeing the truth about ourselves. Most of us have carefully crafted an image of ourselves that we want others to see. We may even start believing it ourselves. Makeup covers our skin, hair dye covers our age, bigger shirts cover our weight, working longer and later covers our guilt, another degree covers our inferiority, erasing browser history covers our addiction, and big credit card balances cover our bank account.

But if something comes along and tears apart that image, we may start to come apart too. Image management is one of the idols we have a hard time toppling. Besides, we are afraid that if we share our mental distress we will be judged and forever stigmatized — even by people closest to us. We’ve all done it, that’s how we know it’s true.

To be sure, this pandemic has rocked us. And mental distress has skyrocketed. But this time our image problems can’t be hidden. Time magazine recently printed an article comparing mental distress in 2018 versus 2020.

The percentage of people from age 18 to 59 who report mental distress has increased from single digits to nearly 40%. And when broken down by gender, the percentage of both males and females who report mental distress has increased from single digits to nearly 30%.

What’s interesting is how mental distress seems greater for people living with children under the age of 18. That should tell us something about what they are feeling and who the rest of us should be ministering to.

If you find yourself in great distress, drop your image and your pride and tell someone you can trust. The great thing is that God works best when we admit we are weak (Isaiah 40:29), and your real friends will stand by you no matter what.

by Eddie Thompson  
Pastoral Ministries  /  Baptist State Convention of North Carolina

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