Nearly 16 months of a pandemic have made their varied mark on our varied circumstances across the world. For those who have worked from home and had to live extremely isolated lives under stay-at-home or lockdown orders, it has taken its toll on the mental and physical health of many, both in the United States and beyond. Survey data from the American Psychological Association, based on interviews of 3,013 adults between February 19 and 24, 2021, offers a dire picture.1 Sixty-one percent of adults reported experiencing undesired weight changes (mostly gains, but some also struggling with dramatic weight loss). Nearly half of the interviewed parents reported a significantly increased level of stress, often related to virtual learning of their children or questions of childcare. Forty-six percent of Gen Z adults said that their mental health had worsened compared with prior to the pandemic. Gen Xers (33 percent), Millennials (31 percent), Boomers (28 percent), and others (9 percent) also reported increases in mental health challenges.
Seventh-day Adventists are not exempt from these dramatic health challenges and changes. While we are admonished not to be “of the world” (cf. John 17:16),2 we live in the world, are affected by the world, and, ultimately, are sent “into the world” (verse 18) to be light and salt and the hands and feet of Jesus. But we hurt too when people all around us hurt. We also struggle when loneliness and pain seemlingly extinguish every last bit of joy. We also need consolation and encouragement when disappointment and loss knock on our door. Those who have met the Gentle Healer will recognize their continual need of physical and emotional healing.
Those who have met the Gentle Healer will recognize the continual need of physical and emotional healing.
Some weeks ago I participated in a workshop on mental health by an Adventist M.D. and psychiatrist. The participants were all committed Adventists and church employees. As we listened to data relating to the current mental health crisis affecting everyone, I saw and heard echoes of real pain in friends looking at me on the Zoom screen. I too felt and relived some of the pain of the past 16 months that has affected my emotional and mental health.
The presenter shared with us an important principle that I have begun to implement in my own life. He called it the 5-to-1 principle: fill your mind and your life with five positive ideas for every negative one. It’s more difficult to apply than one would imagine. News sites all around the world tend to highlight crises; TV thrives on tension and conflict; social media is increasingly polarizing, painful, or even disturbing; and don’t get me started on music lyrics. Finding five positive news pieces or ideas can be challenging, but it’s an important step to recalibrate our minds, or, using Paul’s words, to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). The 5-to-1 principle doesn’t apply only to my media choices. It can also be applied to other areas of our lives, including serving others in practical ways, caring for those who are discouraged, or lending a listening ear to those who are burdened.
For the rest of 2021 I have committed myself to the 5-to-1 principle. What about you?
Gerald A. Klingbeil serves as an associate editor of Adventist Review Ministries.