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The Dos and Don’ts of Protecting Mental Health in a Crisis

  by Pamela Coburn-Litvak


multitude of health care professionals and government leaders around the world are battling the COVID-19 crisis with us and for us. Right now, they are dealing with the immediate issues of containment, safety, treatment, and making sure supply chains for our basic needs remain unbroken. Thank God for their efforts.

What fewer people are dealing with are the emotional aftershocks that inevitably follow a crisis. And believe me, they will come. 

Just as our bodies respond to a physical threat, our minds must grapple with the shock, uncertainty, and anxiety that such a crisis evokes.  

I’ve spent 25 years studying stress and trauma. And if I were to boil it all down to a single statement, it would be this: the aftershocks can last a lot longer than the crisis. 

Those who are not prepared will be at greater risk for stress-induced disorders, including:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • clinical anxiety
  • clinical depression
  • substance abuse, and others

How are you feeling right now? Are you feeling frustrated, worried, anxious, fearful for the future, helpless, or hopeless?

If so, please get the main point of this article loud and clear: while these feelings are normal and natural in the wake of trauma, we can control their impact. You and I can break the link between severe stress and severe distress and anxiety.

What Does and Doesn’t Help Mental Health in a Crisis

DON’T overload on media. 

While it may be tempting to keep in lockstep with the latest COVID-19 news updates, this may end up feeding your feelings of worry and fear. 

I’m not saying, “Don’t watch the media.” I’m saying, “Don’t overdo it.” Be careful to not feed this beast to the point of it controlling your life and disrupting your emotional health. 

DO pay attention to your basic needs.

Your brain and body are connected. In order to take care of your mind, you must take care of the rest of you as well. To stay mentally healthy, you need quality sleep, healthy food, fresh air, and exercise.  

DON’T minimize the problem. 

We must not minimize the COVID-19 risks to vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with underlying health issues and compromised immunity.

We also must not under-estimate the emotional impact of this virus on global mental health.

DO stay positive.

In the spring of 2001, Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues began a study of emotion and resilience in a group of college students.1

When four hijacked planes crashed into U.S. landmarks a few months later, she had an unprecedented opportunity to study a before- vs. after- sample of a population in crisis. She quickly rounded up the students again and asked them how they were feeling.   

I had a personal interest in this study. My husband and I lived with our small daughter in New York City in 2001. My husband’s first job in Manhattan was across the street from the World Trade Center. We knew people in those towers. 

I can attest in a personal way to Frederickson’s results. Along with the citizens of NYC and Washington, DC, the students in the study felt a mix of emotions in the months following 9/11. They felt angry, fearful, and sad. Like the rest of America, the vast majority were experiencing symptoms of depression. 

But Fredrickson noted that “within this dense cloud of anguish, a silver lining shimmered.” The silver lining was a set of positive emotions that, for the most resilient of the college students, mitigated their mental anguish following the attacks. 

Resilient citizens in NYC, DC, and across the nation were focusing on the positive. They felt grateful for their loved ones and chose to count their blessings. They also chose, during that horrific time, to stay close to friends and family and find new ways to express their love for one another. In Fredrickson’s words, “analyses suggest that positive emotions were critical active ingredients that helped resilient people to thrive despite the emotional blows delivered by the September 11th attacks.”

Let’s do the same now. Let’s encourage each other by expressing gratitude and love during this difficult time. Research tells us that this can be a mental health imperative.

DON’T play the blame game. 

I get it. When disaster strikes, we all have a natural urge to try to find the root cause. But arguing over who is to blame takes our eyes off more important goals, like solving the problem and supporting those who have been affected.  

Those who constantly want to play the blame game not only rescind personal responsibility over what went wrong; they also relinquish personal control to fix it. A healthier alternative is to recognize and own our personal part in any situation. This gives us a lot more control over the outcome, including how it affects us emotionally. 

DO focus on what you can control. 

What can you and I control in this Coronavirus era?

We can control our behaviors to stop the virus spread. 

We can control our access to resources. This means that, while we make prudent choices in stocking our own pantries and medical supplies, we do not greedily take for ourselves what is needed by others.

We can control our choices to reflect who and what we value most. 

DO remember that God is ultimately in control.

During World War II, a prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr was circulated among soldiers on the battlefield: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Nearly fifty years earlier, Ellen White wrote: “To all who are reaching out to feel the guiding hand of God, the moment of greatest discouragement is the time when divine help is nearest…From every temptation and every trial He will bring them forth with firmer faith and a richer experience.”2

Feel free to check out my free, 5 lesson e-course on how to stay resilient during a crisis at:

1. Fredrickson, B. L., Tugade, M. M., Waugh, C. E., & Larkin, G. R. (2003). What good are positive emotions in crises? A prospective study of resilience and emotions following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 365–376.

2. White, E. (1898). Desire of Ages. p.528

Did You Know?

There are almost 1 million international students in the U.S each year.  

80% of those students will return to their countries having never been invited to an American home.

40% of the world's 220 Heads of State once studied in the US.

Only 10% of international students are reached by ministries while in the United States.

– Open Doors Report

Witnessing 101

Short stories to inspire you.

Neighborhood Evangelism

  by Brenda Kiš


ow can museums contribute to evangelism? This was my question when I joined the Adventist Heritage Ministries (AHM) team as editor of the AHM Bulletin. Although our four sites (the Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek, MI; the Hiram Edson Farm in Clifton Springs, NY; the William Miller Home and Farm in Whitehall, NY; and the Joseph Bates Boyhood Home in Fairhaven, MA) may not look like museums, they are definitely centers of influence where both history buffs and Seventh-day Adventists from around the world find meaning in the events and artifacts of the past. Both groups get to hear stories of the Sabbath, the sanctuary, the sleep of death, the Spirit of Prophecy, the Second Coming, and much more as they take these tours with volunteers passionate about the way God has led this movement. But that’s not all.

Witnessing to their own communities has inspired site directors and friends to find ways to interact with neighbors and neighboring communities. Surgeon Jo Ellen Walton, who passed away on April 4, 2020, had a passion for the Hiram Edson Farm. She procured Edson’s father’s 1830s barn and had it restored so authentically that nearby Mormon leaders from Hill Cumorah came to see how the Adventists had accomplished the restoration. Then she got New York’s top historical architect to design a Greek revival style house of the era that would likely have been the type Edson lived in. After it was built, Jo Ellen and her husband Lewis Walton launched into designing and writing narratives for the Bible Prophecy and Prayer Trail on the property. Today’s site directors, Jim and Linda Everhart, are hoping to develop a bird and butterfly attraction near that trail to give nature-loving neighbors a reason to check it out. That’s evangelism.

When Lloyd and Dora Hallock became site directors at the Joseph Bates Boyhood Home, they began cultivating friendships. AHM Executive Director Markus Kutzschbach said that this was their first task: to befriend the neighbors. As they busied themselves pulling weeds, cutting back overgrowth, moving trash piles, and planting beautiful flowers on the AHM property, they were also helping neighbors with their outdoor jobs. Soon the lady next door, who had been a ringleader in resisting whatever AHM wanted to do, became one of their best friends. In fact, this non-Adventist neighbor, a former school teacher, expressed interest in helping out. Today she is one of their best allies, giving tours for them and presenting the Sabbath truth when no one else is available. That’s evangelism.

Rachel Middaugh, a student intern at the William Miller Home and Farm, learned about Sacred Harp singing a few years ago. Sacred Harp is a type of shaped note acapella singing that has its origins in New England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Used in singing schools, it was designed to teach voice students to sing in parts for church worship services. There are four different shapes, which stand for different sounds and also represent different intervals between notes. Singers face each other in a square with the different parts forming the four sides of the square. Someone calls out a song and stands up to lead it. Sacred Harp attracts people of all ages, interests, and religious persuasions. Intrigued, Rachel decided to see if there were any of these singing groups in the area around Whitehall. She went one step further and organized an Artisan and Trades Fair on site where basket weaving and other arts practiced around the time of William Miller were featured. About twenty people showed up just for the Sacred Harp singing part of the fair. Travis and Cesilia Dean, site directors at the Miller Home, plan to make this a regular feature, drawing people who otherwise would not discover the Miller story and its significance today. This, too, is evangelism.

Historic Adventist Village has been reaching out to its community during the holiday season since December 2007. Each year the Village is made ready to receive guests from the neighborhood and larger community. Candles burning brightly in the windows of village buildings welcome those who come for a special time of stories in each venue. In addition, offerings are stuffed in little red stockings and hung on the Christmas tree to support the local Police Department’s “Toys for Tots” program and “Shop with a Cop” night for low-income families. Each year the Village also hosts second-graders from local elementary schools who come to experience Battle Creek history. They get to hear stories of Seventh-day Adventist pioneers, too! This is evangelism.

There’s no limit to the creative ways in which we can touch the lives of our own neighbors. Adventist Heritage Ministries is committed to reaching our communities as well as the wider world.

My Young "Angel" Continues to Bless Me

  by Luella Nelson


wo and a half years ago, Joel, a university student studying marine biology, approached me and asked if I would help him learn more English. Since I was fresh from California, now teaching English in La Paz, Mexico, I was thrilled to share conversations with him. 

At school events and before and after church, we just talked. I introduced or corrected English words and he corrected my stammering Spanish. Over the next year, ours became such a sweet friendship. During my second year in La Paz, I was impressed to teach Joel to drive. I took him to various, safe places around town and gave him the opportunity to practice. I encouraged him to save a little money each month so he could pay the 975 pesos ($51 USD) to get his license. Having large feet, he was awkward at first, not realizing if his foot was on the gas or brake, but over time, he mastered the pedals.

In September 2019, it became abundantly clear that I was going to need a simple surgery to remove a pin from my right foot—my driving foot. I was not sure how long the recovery time would take. I was worried that staying in California for over two weeks would be a financial concern, but God led me to the decision to have the surgery in La Paz and not in California. Thankfully, God had already introduced me to a general practitioner and an orthopedic surgeon from a previous situation.

A few days before surgery, I had several pre-operative appointments; but by this time, my foot was in constant pain. However, Joel was now a capable driver, so much so that I could just hand him the keys to the car and he took over as my attendant and chauffeur. During the surgery, he waited in my recovery room. He also took pictures of a very entertaining bird outside the window to show me later. During my recovery, the principal and treasurer from the school I work at came to visit. I am so blessed to associate with God-fearing young people at the Colegio Libertad y Saber!

 Being a retired nurse, I was well aware of my post-operative needs and prepared for them at home. I needed to stay off my foot as much as possible. So again, Joel became my standby-attendant, helping me walk, cook and drive for the next three days. After a few days, I could move about safely, but I still could not drive. Joel always made time to drive me and take care of my needs. Additionally, the principal, teachers, and treasurer from school as well as church members made frequent visits to pray for my recovery and keep me company while Joel was in class.

I am so very grateful to God that He put me into such a loving environment. God has always taken care of my needs, often well before I even realize I need help! Joel's friendship has been such a blessing and his English has greatly improved. He has had lots of opportunities to be my chauffeur. Soon he will take his driver's test and I am sure he will pass with flying colors.

“God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

– C.S. Lewis



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