Mental Health Minute

Our Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry team offers Mental Health Minutes as they work to educate, create awareness and support the mental health of our community. Below are past Mental Health Minutes that we sent in our weekly News from Gloria Dei emails, with the most recent at the top of the list. Learn more about our Mental Health Support and the ministry team.

June 24, 2020: Despair

It feels like forever, but we are only a few months into a pandemic that may last a year or more. I am beginning to hear about “deaths of despair” due to COVID-19. This term was coined about 10 years ago to describe preventable deaths from substance abuse and suicide fueled by the opioid epidemic. In 2018, 158,000 Americans were estimated to have died from despair (NBC News, April 15, 2020). This number doesn’t include chronic physical and mental health conditions caused or complicated by despair.

Thankfully, we can treat despair and sometimes even prevent it. Studies* show that weekly religious participation, strong social connections and a sense of purpose can protect against despair, heal it, improve health outcomes and create joy.

Help is available if you or someone you know is having a hard time. 

In a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255, or text MN to 741741 for help any time.

– Contact First Call For Help for free, confidential help with health care, COVID-19 testing information, housing, transportation and more, 24/7. Dial 211, visit the website or text your zip code to 898-211.

Here are some ways to provide support:

– Self-care is important; you can’t pour from an empty cup. Do your best to follow a regular sleep schedule, eat healthy foods, exercise and stay hydrated. If you have a health condition, keep your medical appointments and follow your plan.

– Faith practices are restorative. Participate in worship and learning opportunities. Read scripture and daily devotions. Meditate or do yoga. Take a few minutes to sit and breathe quietly. Pray.

– Appreciate beauty, music, and art. Look for ways that God is creating good. Spend time outside in nature.

– Build and nurture connections. Call, text, email or send cards to keep in touch. Join a small group or committee. Look through your photos.

– Help others. Collect food, clothing and household goods for donation. Sew masks. Help neighbors with yard work or tend the Gloria Dei Garden for Francis Basket. Be an advocate.

– Do something fun. Enjoy jokes, comics, comedies or funny video clips.

– Take a break from social media or the news if it makes you feel worse.

– Contact the church office to reach a pastor, the parish nurse or the Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry for information and nonemergency support.

*Medpage Today: Health care providers who regularly attend worship services have a lower risk of dying from drug or alcohol abuse, overdose, or suicide, collectively referred to as “deaths of despair” (JAMA Psychiatry 2020; DOI:10.1001/jamapsychiatry2020.0175)

Message by Jill Stewart, Gloria Dei Parish Nurse.

June 17, 2020: Nurturing Trust in Tumultuous Times

Matthew 10:19-20 from June 14, 2020, Gospel reading

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

I take prescribed medication for generalized anxiety disorder and depression; I believe that this medication has supported me through the last few weeks. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and my sadness, fear and soul-searching following the killing of George Floyd, life goes on with other challenges.

Medication improves my mood and lessens my anxiety, but I also need to take action: deep belly breaths, long walks, and reaching out to others and to God. Like this verse from Matthew, the Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (“Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand Him”) reminds me to trust. It’s my favorite of AA’s 12 steps because it relieves me of the need to fix every problem, to anticipate fully what the future will bring and to be prepared for every possibility. Instead, I can pray to discern God’s will and, especially in times of stress, rely on God to show me simply the next right thing to do today.

That may mean deepening my commitment to volunteer for social justice or making a donation. It often is simple things like calling a friend, tackling a household chore, taking time with a pet or being in nature.

On Sunday, Pastor Bradley acknowledged that we live in “extraordinary times.” That calls for extraordinary attention to our own mental health and the mental health of those around us.

Message by Patrice Vick, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member and Hope in Recovery Team Member.

June 10, 2020: We are grieving

We are grieving. In these concurrent pandemics of violence and COVID-19, we have lost much; grief is the normal response to loss.

Many of our losses are emotional, physical, social and financial:

– We have emotionally lost our assumptions of peace and security.

– We have physically lost lives of loved ones and our assurances of good health.

– We have socially lost our direct contact with family and friends, coworkers and schoolmates.

– We have financially lost jobs and income.

Our bodies and minds will react to these losses. Psychologically we may experience anger, guilt, anxiety, sadness and despair. Physiologically we may experience changes in appetite, disrupted sleep patterns and illness. This is grief.

We encourage you to treat yourself with the same compassion and care that you would share with a grieving friend. Talk with a trusted loved one or professional, confide in a friend, demonstrate kindness to a stranger, read an uplifting book or article, write your story so far.

Pray for our future – as individuals, families, congregations, communities, states, nations and our world.

Message by the Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team.

June 3, 2020: Anxiety

We all experience anxiety. During this uncertain time, our anxiety may become increasingly overwhelming – both emotionally and physically. We encourage you to monitor yourself and others for feelings of tension and dread, and for fatigue and stomach problems. Many of us find relief in prayerful thanksgiving, and by practicing acts of joyful kindness, mindfulness exercises and meditation. Sit still; concentrate only on your breath, breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of eight. To find additional skills to help with anxiety, read this more detailed Mental Health Minute.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

May 27, 2020: Dialing down restrictions  

In this ever-changing reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and our shelter-in-place orders, many of us may find ourselves transitioning back to work – either remotely or to the actual workplace. Others may be encouraged to step out into the public square more often. These transitions are sure to be accompanied by an anxious mood for many, especially with renewed concerns about exposure to the coronavirus and the grim economic difficulties we are facing.

Transitions of all sorts lead to feelings of nervousness. This heightened sense of anxiety is our body’s way to try to be mentally ready for the unexpected and novel situations ahead. For some, it is a mild case of “butterflies” in their stomach; at its worst, it can be debilitating panic attacks or a constant state of dread. If you are experiencing the latter, talk to your doctor or contact a mental health professional for assistance. Treatment is available; treatment is effective.

As you find yourself facing a transition back into public spaces, make it a priority to take care of yourself. Transition thoughtfully; think ahead and be prepared. Please recognize you are not alone in this experience and that the nervousness, dread and panic will ease as you grow accustomed to the changes you have successfully weathered.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

May 20, 2020: Sleep

Do you find yourself staying up late? Sleeping in? Without the structure of work, school, etc., you may find your sleep schedule has shifted. Anxious thoughts may keep you up at night, or you may want to hide under your blanket all day. Sleep is a necessary biological function, that is crucial for brain health and important for optimum functioning during the day.

Be sure to check in with your primary care provider if you are experiencing issues with sleep: your sleep disturbances may be the symptom of a medical condition. Your primary care provider may recommend further testing or treatment options, such as over-the-counter remedies, prescribed medications, or referral to a sleep specialist. These links (GoogleiOS) are to a phone-based app that could be helpful at getting your sleep schedule back on track and feeling rested.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

May 13, 2020: The blues or depression

Many of us are experiencing a heightened emotional response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter-in-place order. This stressful situation is leading to nervousness, anxiety, sadness, crying, anger, depression, grief and other emotional states. For the most part, this is normal and to be expected in these trying times. Sometimes, however, our emotional state starts to take a turn for the worse and interferes with our ability to function, our relationships and/or our hygiene.

A Major Depressive Episode is when the depressed mood lasts throughout most days for over two weeks and is accompanied by five or more of the following symptoms: change in sleep habits, change in appetite, impaired concentration, loss of interest, feelings of guilt, feeling like your brain is functioning slowly and/or thoughts of suicide.

Fortunately, you are not in this alone. Many treatment options are out there. Strong evidence points to the benefits of exercise, talk therapy, over-the-counter supplements, mindfulness-based stress reduction and medications. Talk to your primary care doctor to further explore options. If you experience thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

For many people, depression leads to not wanting to do things or feeling like you can’t do things. This inactivity worsens the depression, which in turn makes it harder to do things and results in a vicious cycle. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy addresses this directly with the recommendation to keep a structured day, filled with both productive and pleasurable activities. Eventually, maintaining this activity structure may help to pick up your mood.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

May 6, 2020: Reaching out

May is Mental Health Awareness Month: a time to acknowledge that mental illnesses are medical illnesses, that great treatments/ prevention strategies exist, and that there is hope for recovery from symptoms. As we continue to look for strategies to assist us in moving through this pandemic while maintaining physical, emotional and psychological health, we are reminded to reach out to others in our circles – our family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, classmates, fellow parishioners and community members. Since we are reaching out virtually, our circles can be extended far and wide.

This Star Tribune article by Kevyn Burger, a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer, appeared in the April 30, 2020, paper. We encourage you to pay special attention to the “Acknowledge Uncertainty” section near the end of the article.

April 29, 2020: Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation has been a practice across cultures for centuries. It has more recently been adapted and studied for many different health conditions, and championed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who defines mindfulness as: “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness can be practiced daily, in brief intervals, and can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety. You do not have to devote hours to the practice. Any time you can become aware of the present moment, instead of worrying about the future or ruminating on the past, can bring you peace of mind. Mindfulness can be done sitting still, standing or while moving. While there are many apps, book and videos available about mindfulness, we want to direct you to two sources for free educational information on mindfulness, as well as links to audio files of guided meditation (at end of article).

At a well-received Gloria Dei Sunday Forum, we learned about and practiced mindfulness under the guidance of Robert Reed from the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing. Participants encouraged our Mental Health Ministry team to develop this training into a full-fledged course, which became cost prohibitive. We encourage you to begin or continue your mindfulness exploration with the online resources below.

– University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing free webinars.

– University of Wisconsin-Madison Integrative Medicine Clinic free guided meditation audio files.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

April 22, 2020: Alcohol use during pandemic

For some of us, this COVID-19 pandemic has been very difficult. We lack the social mores of work, school, and/or church. Everything we hear in the news may lead to an increase in stress, anxiety and depression. For some, it is the boredom of social isolation that is most difficult. Whatever the reason, some of us will turn to alcohol to cope.

Maybe you’ve had a slip or a relapse, or maybe you notice you’re consuming more alcohol, and this concerns you as it impacts your ability to function. Please know, you are not alone. The good news is that there is help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers this general information sheet with facts about alcohol and a screening tool. SAMHSA also offers a guide on how to talk to a loved one you are concerned about. Local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and other treatment options are going virtual, along with the rest of the world. You may choose to use this site to search for a meeting; specify that you are looking for virtual meetings.

We are all in this together, and we want to make sure everyone can make it safely through.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

April 15, 2020: For our Youth—Pandemic (adults, please read and share)

I am sure the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has been difficult for you. I would guess it has been hard to be away from your friends and school. I’m sorry about all the things you are missing because of the shelter-in-place order and social distancing. I can only assume that some of you are very stressed out; maybe your parents are not working, or you know someone who is sick with COVID-19. You will probably remember this year for the rest of your life. I hope you remember this as just a short period of time that you passed through, but likely you will remember it because of the people and things you’ve lost. For some of you, living through the COVID-19 pandemic has not been difficult, and that is okay, too.

My guess is that by now you are getting into a daily rhythm and routine; this has probably been hard without the structure of school, sports, and other activities. I encourage you to, as best you can, stick to a daily schedule. Make sure you take time for yourself: eat meals, take baths or showers, brush your teeth. Make sure to do your schoolwork. Just as important is making sure you connect to your friends and family. And have some fun. I challenge you to be creative in how you have fun. For example, if you like to go a park, try to imagine how you can “bring” your favorite park activity back home to your backyard.

If you find it is hard to sleep at night or if you have trouble focusing on schoolwork because you’re worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, or if you have an upset stomach or a jittery feeling in your body, this could be anxiety. Talk to your parents or an adult you trust. There is a lot you can do on your own to make this feeling less strong, but if it persists it may help to talk to a therapist.

One way I help myself feel calm is by looking at pictures of mini lop rabbits on Google. When I do this, I can’t help but smile and I feel more at ease. You can try this, too; find something that makes you smile.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

April 2, 2020: Pandemic

In this time of “shelter-in-place” and “social distancing,” it may seem like much is out of our control as we are forced to halt our routines. Whether we like it or not, many changes have been forced upon us because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Focusing on what is out of our control can lead to a worsening of anxiety, depression and dread. One option is to instead concentrate on what we have the power to change. As Viktor Frankl notes in Man’s Search For Meaning: “… [E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” What does this look like in the Age of a Pandemic? Make a schedule for yourself in the absence of the externally provided structures of church, work or school. Include nurturing things like exercise and connection to others however you can. Choose to take a break from your focus on news related to COVID-19. Let go of COVID-19 for at least a moment and hold onto something that gives you joy, hope and peace. As you change your focus, you may find that anxiety, depression and dread lessen, a sign that you exercised that last of human freedoms.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.

March 25, 2020: Anxiety

We all experience anxiety. During this uncertain time, our anxiety may become increasingly overwhelming – both emotionally and physically. We encourage you to monitor yourself and others for feelings of tension and dread, and for fatigue and stomach problems. Many of us find relief in prayerful thanksgiving, and by practicing acts of joyful kindness, mindfulness exercises and meditation. Sit still; concentrate only on your breath, breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of eight.

Message by Alexander Stegeman, DO, Psychiatrist, Gloria Dei Mental Health Ministry Team Member.