Mental & Spiritual Health During COVID-19 – Part 3

Meditation, Gratitude, & Journaling

Research has shown three powerful and practical ways to improve mental health are with meditation, gratitude, and journaling. These aren’t the only ways but they are three great ways. 

So, let’s break them down and take a look.

Meditation

Meditation produces a variety of health benefits, including, positive effects on cognition, mental health, and reduction of stress-induced cortisol secretion (Xiong & Doraiswamy, 2009). It is a way we can minimize the effects of stress on our minds and bodies. It involves breathing and mindfulness techniques. If you’re unfamiliar with meditation, but, would like to explore it there are some great apps available to help, such as Headspace, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier.  

Gratitude

Gratitude enhances nearly every area of a person’s life (Emmons, & Stern, 2013). It’s transformational. Among the benefits, it’s been shown to reduce risk for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. These are only a few of the many positive effects of gratitude. It involves affirming the good stuff which requires identifying where the good originated, and expressing thankfulness. It has profound healing properties. Two apps that help with daily integration of gratitude are 3 Good things and The Happiness Planner

Journaling

Journaling has been shown to improve emotional processing which contributes to improved mental health. It helps the writer connect with positive elements of a stressful event (Ullrich & Lutgendorf, 2002). Journaling gives language to our stories. This can help bring cohesion to chaotic or fragmented thoughts that may have resulted from the traumatic effects of crisis. If you prefer a digital option for journaling, Day One Journal is an excellent app option. 

Spiritual Health

COVID-19 adjusted our faith practices as churches moved online. However, these homebound changes present a positive opportunity for us to slow down, breathe, and look for ways to enhance our spiritual practices. My spiritual heritage is in non-liturgical expressions of faith. Nevertheless, I recently learned a remarkable spiritual practice with liturgical roots; I was introduced to it as part of a spiritual training course (Sage Hill Training, 2020). It was a modern adaptation from “The Spiritual Exercises” by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Most importantly to me, it enhanced my connection with God and helped me process my emotions about my days. The practice is called Examen and I’d like to share the basic format with you. It includes liturgical style prayer which is modified daily with dynamic information about the day.

The Examen of consciousness & daily prayer practices instructions include using your own journal to answer the questions and prompts that follow the prayer (Sage Hill Training, 2020). I copied the prayers in my journal then followed them with section headers (i.e., Energy & Joy, Drained or Anxious, Near to God, Distant from God, Event to heal) and space to write which allowed me to answer these questions each day as I pray and reflect.

Examen

Examen Prayer:

God, my Creator, I am totally dependent on you. Everything is a gift from you. All is a gift. I give you thanks and praise you for the gifts of today.

Holy Spirit, I believe you work in and through time to reveal me to myself. Please give me an increased awareness of how you are guiding and shaping my life, as well as a more sensitive awareness of the obstacles I put in your way.

You have been present in my life today. Be near, now as I reflect on these things:

your presence in the events of today

your presence in the feelings I experienced today

your call to me 

my response(s) to you

God, I ask your forgiveness and healing. The particular event of this day I want healed is:

Filled with hope and firm belief in your love and power, I entrust myself to your care and strongly affirm (claim the gift that you most desire/need; believe that God desires to offer you this gift):

Examen reflection questions at bedtime:

Where have I experienced energy and joy today?

Where have I felt drained or anxious today?

Where have I felt near to God in the activities and decisions today?

Where have I felt distant from God today?

Let your prayer flow spontaneously from your answers to these questions. 

In a discussion group I learned about an Examen app. I’ve found that helpful as well. If you’re more digitally oriented you might prefer using the app which provides daily guidance on new topics each day using the Examen format.  

Staying Connected

A significant social challenge we face is staying connected. Extroverts need more than introverts but, even the purist introvert needs social connection. We must be intentional about connecting. There are many ways to do that without being in the same room. We are fortunate to live in an era with digital options like Zoom, Facebook Live, and Facetime to name a few. Yesterday, our family used Zoom to play digital games together with our phones. We’ve also stayed connected to each other’s lives using both Zoom, Facetime, and of course continuing our group text. 

Find what works for you and stay connected. It’s good for relationships to share our experiences and process together. It keeps us connected from a distance.

Finally, you can get therapeutic help in an online format as well. Many therapist are available through teletherapy platforms. Currently, the guidelines around teletherapy include that the therapist must deliver the therapy in the same state where they hold licensure. For example, the state the client is receiving teletherapy must be the provider’s licensing state. 

Staying connected spiritually is important as well. Review your spiritual practices to enrich your connection to God through prayer. Look for ways to lean on the Lord who is unchanging—the same yesterday, today, and forever—amidst our ever changing lives.

References

Kanel. (2019). A guide to crisis intervention (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage.

Emmons, R. A., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology8(69), 846-855.

Sage Hill Training, (2020). Module Three. Sage Hill. www.sagehilltraining.com 

Ullrich, P. M., & Lutgendorf, S. K. (2002). Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine24(3), 244-250.

Xiong, G. L., & Doraiswamy, P. M. (2009). Does meditation enhance cognition and brain plasticity?. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1172(1), 63.

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