By Rev. Dr. Valerie Miller-Coleman
On June 13, it will be wonderful to be home again.
At Judy Prather’s suggestion, I spent a little time this week listening to “On Being with Krista Tippett.” The episode Judy recommended was “What’s Happening to Our Nervous Systems?” It featured Christine Runyan, a psychologist who specializes in mental health and well-being among healthcare professionals. Apparently, she also reads my mind.
Runyan talked about how our bodies and minds respond to ongoing collective trauma. She said it’s normal to feel physically and mentally foggy while also a little bit hypervigilant right now. Our bodies are doing what they’re supposed to do under stress.
I’m not sure why it made me feel so much better to hear Runyan say that. Maybe it’s because feeling like this isn’t normal for me. It feels like something’s wrong. My first instinct is to assume that something is wrong with me. My next instinct is to assume that something is wrong with this jerk standing in front of me, messing around with no mask on, and holding me up in line at the check-out. Apparently, that’s normal too.
What’s this got to do with church? Plenty. As we prepare to return to in-person worship on June 13, it makes sense to anticipate a whole swirl of feelings. Yes, it will be wonderful to be home again. It will also be hard in ways we might not expect. If you’ve known trauma or grief before, you might remember how unpredictable they can be.
For example: A beautiful piece of music opens up parts of your heart you’d sealed off for safekeeping, and suddenly, you’re crying. Your friends are here, and the sun is shining, and you’d looked forward to being together for so long. For some reason, it all feels a little bit empty, though. It’s like you’re half-present and half-absent. Or it’s been more than a year, but you can remember exactly where that occasional table belongs in the narthex. Someone must have moved it. A sharp pang of irritation surges up inside you. Everything just feels off after that. See what I mean?
Even if you aren’t personally experiencing these emotions, I can promise you someone near you at church will be. Runyan says compassion is the golden road through this time: compassion for ourselves and compassion for one another.
Hearing from a Mental Health Professional.
Plymouth’s Moderator, Derrick Hurst, is another gifted mental health professional. He says that we have tools at our disposal to manage difficult emotions related to trauma and grief. He offers these practical tips:
“Some may already be familiar with the 3-legged stool concept for emotional health in individuals: Nutrition, Sleep, and Exercise,” Derrick says. “These are fundamental building blocks to support both physical and emotional health. However, this pandemic and subsequent isolation have highlighted the need for a greater focus on a fourth stool leg - Social Connection. Our well-being requires that we attend to all four areas.”
“We can incorporate small moments of self-care in each of these four areas,” Derrick adds, “especially when we are experiencing stress. For example, pausing for a healthy snack, going to bed at a consistent time each night, walking with friends, or while listening to an audiobook. We can reconnect with our loved ones, neighbors, friends, and worship partners in ways that honor our need for social connection while continuing to practice risk reduction strategies, such as masking indoors.”
Derrick wants everyone to know about an important tool available to help us navigate this difficult time. “Every Douglas County resident can access a self-driven behavioral health support application the County has worked to make available, the MyStrength app. This app includes everything from modules on healthy sleeping habits, healthy eating, exercise, and dealing with COVID-Specific issues.”