COVID-19, Long Stress, and Self-Medication

We are all living in a prolonged season of uncertainty and stress, and we may find ourselves carrying feelings and emotional loads that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Even the new modes of connecting are causing their own problems, such as “Zoom fatigue”. Some, in an effort to regain their equilibrium, may be seeking outlets for these feelings. This can be a good thing. I have a friend who talks about keeping his feelings all bottled up like green beans in a mason jar. He jokingly says, “It keeps them nice and fresh for a long time, so you can take them out years later.”

The problem is, at least with uncomfortable, negative feelings, we want to keep them all nice and sealed up because they are too hard to deal with. But these emotional “jars” tend to leak and the feelings often come out in negative, damaging ways: damaging to ourselves, those around us, and, most regrettably, those we love deeply. This means that some type of outlet is needed for our good and the good of those around us.

Some emotional outlets are good and healthy and bring growth. Some will have negative, long-term consequences. As we look at COVID-19 to potentially bring prolonged adjustments and prolonged stress, self-care needs to rise in importance if we are to be effective in life and ministry for the long haul. This needs to start with some realistic self-examination, starting with a prayerful meditation on Scriptures like Psalm 139:23-24:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

As we look at this text, we clearly see four submissive appeals directed toward God:

  • Search me: to penetrate or examine intimately
  • Try me: to test or prove
  • See (into) me: to search deeply
  • Lead me: to guide; by implication to transport

(Definitions pulled from Strong’s Concordance)

This can be an intimidating passage to pray, but one that can be most helpful in times like this, when caring opportunities abound, and we need to be aware of our deeper motivations before we move in a particular direction. This also may be something we need a trusted friend to guide us to and through with some gentle but direct questions:

  • What are you feeling, and where does that come from? (Internal/External stress?)
  • What expectations do you have? Where do they come from, and are they realistic?
  • What are you doing to deal with your stress? Is it really helpful?
  • What are the long-term consequences of your chosen stress outlet?
  • Are you serving the Kingdom or serving some internal emotional need?

As with Psalm 139, these can be difficult questions to ask, but they’re necessary in the long run.

And that is our hope: life and ministry for the long run. Below are two lists that may be helpful to consider as we sort emotional outlets. Move away from the left hand column (Negative Outlets) while you move toward the right hand one (Positive Outlets):

If you feel like you need someone to talk to about any of this, the NCD Staff is here for you. Just give us a call.

In Humble Service to the King and the Kingdom,

Kelley Johnson, NCD Pastoral Care