How faith can help with stress caused by pandemic

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, August 19, 2020

On Aug. 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that more than four in 10 Americans are struggling with mental health issues related to the pandemic.  For many Catholics, faith can be a way to help them cope with such challenges, especially during trying times.

That’s no surprise to Catherine Sims, who is associate director of both the Institute for Pastoral Leadership and the doctor of ministry program at the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary. She is also a longtime spiritual director.

It’s not just people of faith who are seeing the connection between good mental health and spirituality, she said.

“Everybody is recognizing that something deeper is needed to cope with this whole crisis,” she said.

Sims sees this time as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. The opportunity is centered around helping others, she said.

“When it comes to spirituality and we think of the great commandment [love your neighbor as yourself], if we really want to keep up, if you will, our own focus on Christ while we’re navigating all of these unpleasant waters of this COVID experience, we focus on others,” Sims said. “In focusing on others, we can see things differently rather than being self-focused on how hard this is.”

That doesn’t mean a person who is especially vulnerable to the illness should go out and volunteer. It can be something a person can do from home, such as reaching out to family members or parishioners.

“Send them a note. Tell them you’re praying for them,” Sims said.

Remembering others is what she’s been focusing on with people in spiritual reflection lately. 

“It’s about using this time to allow God to increase in us the sense of his presence and why we’re here. We’re here not just for ourselves,” she said. “We’re here for care of creation and care of each other because together we go to the kingdom. We don’t go there individually.”

Deacon Tom Lambert, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, 708 W. Belmont Ave., who is co-chair of the Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness, agrees with Sims that helping others gives people a mental and spiritual boost.

“It’s so important in terms of finding meaning in our lives by helping others,” Lambert said.

As the pandemic has continued, Lambert said, he is thinking more about how the mind, body and spirit are connected.

“For example, if I have anxiety, maybe my stomach hurts, my jaw gets tight, I have depression and I don’t feel close to God,” he said. “That all plays together and I think it’s just so important to know that and to acknowledge that we are going through these difficult times. It’s OK to feel bad about that as long as we acknowledge that there’s something we can do about that, which is educate ourselves about the issues that we’re dealing with individually as well as reaching out.”

Sometimes reaching out means getting professional help or contacting organizations that offer help, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness or Catholic Charities. The Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness also provides a list of resources on its website. 

Having a routine is especially important during this time, Lambert said. Including prayer as part of that helps connect us to God.

“And then exercise, which helps us connect to our physical well-being,” Lambert said.

He remembers using running to keep himself psychologically healthy when one of his daughters, who experiences mental illness, was going through a rough period.

Lambert also recommends people find some intellectual stimulation.

“Change is always difficult so it’s a matter of dealing with new change or new ways of doing things,” he said. “It’s the old saying, you can only control what you can control. What you can’t control you really turn over to God.”

God gives people the spiritual tools to deal with times when they are anxious or depressed, he said.

“Another thing I think is important to ask ourselves as this pandemic continues to go on is, ‘What makes you laugh?’ ‘Where do you find fun?’” he said. “It’s having a sense of humor that gets us through so much.”

For information about upcoming virtual events sponsored by the Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness, visit



  • mental health
  • coronavirus
  • covid-19

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