Distancing Without Disconnecting

We asked RCC church family member, psychologist, now missionary, Carmen Morrison to share some insight with all of us on how to remain mentally healthy during this time of being in isolation. The following is her post...
For many of us, maintaining distance from others is new.  It may be uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking.  We may find it hard to be with ourselves and others.  This is especially true when it is not of our choosing.  How do we do physically keep ourselves distant during this pandemic without losing our connections with others, God, and ourselves?

What’s Happening in our Bodies
It is important to first understand that much of what we might be feeling during these times is a result of how our bodies are designed.  So often, we try to reason our way through circumstances, trying to make sense of what is out of our control.  When we do this, we are attempting to use the “smart” part of our brains, the prefrontal cortex, where we think, problem-solve, and reason.  The problem is that this part of our brain goes offline when we are under threat of any kind.  When that happens, the center of our brain, called the limbic system, goes into full alarm mode, to help us protect ourselves.  This is the classic “fight, flight, freeze” response, which is a normal function of our brains to enable us to survive unexpected dangers.

Fight mode: Some of us might go to the fight mode, becoming reactive, irritable, or short-tempered.  If we are feeling stuck at home in this mode, we might struggle to be patient with our kids, or be more critical than usual with our spouses, resulting in relationship disruptions or conflicts that add to our already overloaded brain circuitry.

Flight mode:  Others of us might go to the flight mode, which can look like a lack of motivation or withdrawal, a disengagement from others or a difficulty getting work done.  Or it might look like minimizing what is happening or denying that it is really that big of a deal.  If we go into flight mode, our brains are trying to help us get away from a situation that is overwhelming us.

Freeze mode: A third protection our brains give us can look like freezing.  This is where we don’t do anything, trying to “hunker down” and hope that it all passes.  Others might see us as disinterested, unresponsive, or uncaring.  What is really happening to us is that our brains are “numbing out” all the fears and anxieties that are too much for us all at once.

All these responses are perfectly normal and healthy, a part of how God has designed our humanity.  If we know that our behaviors are reflecting what is happening in our bodies, it allows us to give validity to what we are feeling and gives us language for communicating that to others.  The really cool thing about God’s design of our bodies is that when we reach for others when we are stressed or afraid, our brains release a chemical called oxytocin, which is calming, soothing, and regulating, enabling us to reconnect with the “smart” part of our brain, and return to our normal selves.

Staying Connected with Others
  • Talk about what you are feeling in your body and emotions.  If you are single, reach out through social networks.  If you are in a family, talk with your significant others.  This is the single most important thing you can do!
  • Ask others “What is happening inside you right now?” or “What’s it like for you right now?” and share with them your own answers to those questions.
  • Don’t forget the importance of physical touch.  If you live in a family, make sure to hug and hold even more than usual.  If you are single and/or live alone, this might be a good time to shelter in place with someone else, a good friend, your own family, or another family.  We can be responsible in preventing the spread of the virus without having to isolate.
Staying Connected with Self
  • This is a good time to pay attention to what your own heart, mind, and body are telling you.  Spend time each day reflecting on what is happening in your inner self and journal it or share it out loud or in writing with a trusted other.
  • Take advantage of this time to reconnect with your own passions.  Perhaps there are projects or hobbies that you have let go of that you could restart.  Books that you’ve been wanting to read.  Plans you’ve wanted to organize.  Turn the forced time at home to rekindle some of the passions God has given you.

Staying Connected with God
  • Times like these are always good challenges to our own beliefs.  Trials and struggles have a way of showing us what we actually believe, not just what we think we should believe.  This is a good time to open yourself up to the Holy Spirit, to ask him to show you places where you have been self-reliant, where you have been disconnected relationally from God and others, where you have let fear reign in areas of your life.  This is not for causing shame or beating yourself up.  Quite the opposite!  If we share these things with each other, the Bible promises us that we will be healed.  If we bring these things into the light where the Lord dwells, he will meet us there and speak to us in new and personal ways.
  • This might also be a good opportunity to begin to practice some disciplines of spiritual formation like fasting, silence, and intercession.  These can open us up to seeing where God is moving around us and how he is present with us.
  • Perhaps it is in just such dark and anxious times as these that we are most able to show the light.  Light is so much brighter in contrast to darkness.  Ask God: is there someone you would have me reach out to? Is there a way to serve my community?  Since I have been loved so much by God, how can I be a blessing to others?

A Word to Those Whose Brains Were Already in Alarm Mode
If we have a history of trauma, depression, or anxiety, or if we were already struggling emotionally or relationally when this pandemic hit, then our already overloaded brain circuits are going to be taxed beyond our own limits.  Most mental health professionals are working hard to make services available remotely and to make it financially feasible for those who are struggling economically due to lost employment.  You can reach out for help to begin working on those things and have support in navigating your existing struggles during these challenging times.  You don’t have to suck it up or just do it on your own. Let God redeem this hard time by connecting you with the healing he has prepared for you.

Finally…
“Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him! Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4: 4-9, The Message)

-Carmen Morrison. Carmen and her husband Bob founded Reclaim Life Now. See more below.
Reclaim Life Now focus is to equip local churches primarily in the urban slum context with small group programs designed to bring emotional and spiritual healing and growth across a wide spectrum of unmet needs in Mexico and Ecuador. Visit link below to read more.  
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