At the time this article is being written, we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. No one, in their wildest dreams, could’ve predicted just how much and how fast daily life has changed for all of us. If you’re someone who has a chronic illness and/or whose mental health has been impacted by how things are now being done, you know just how much more difficult life seems these days.
While it’s true that life isn’t the easiest for us, there are a lot of tools at our disposal that we often forget about because of all the doom and gloom we hear around us. Are you struggling to figure out what you can do? Here are some tools I’ve gathered from priests, cognitive-behavioral therapists, and other Catholics in the same boat.
Read edifying and spiritually fulfilling books
Sometimes, we live too much in our heads when we’re going through something difficult. We will spend hours ruminating, making things feel and seem worse than they actually are. If you’re someone who thinks to overthink and/or are seeking some sort of distraction, why not try reading an edifying and spiritual fulfilling book? You don’t have to read the entire thing at once. Perhaps a page or a chapter to start with. Bring out your inner academic and take notes of anything that makes you think (in a positive manner).
The book you choose is up to you. You can read a book written by a saint, a doctor, or any other writer you like. If you want to focus on helping yourself get out of your own headspace while struggling with illness or other issues, there are 4 books that I’ve seen often recommended. Interior Freedom and Searching for and Maintaining Peace, both by Fr. Jacques Phillipe, Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence by Fr. Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure, The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty are all great places to begin.
Learn about a saint who dealt with your particular affliction
“There’s a saint for that” should be part of the Catholic slogan because it’s true. Whether it be for career, illness, seasons, cities, etc. there seem to be saints for everything. While Our Lady and Christ are invoked during hardships (and rightly so), there are also a lot of saints who suffered from a number of maladies while on earth. You can look up your particular affliction on this wonderful saints resource webpage and see who is the patron of it. If they themselves suffered from it, you can research how they dealt with it while asking for their intercession.
Pray the Diving Mercy Chaplet and/or Rosary, especially at 3pm
This has been highly recommended by both priests and laity for good reason. By meditating on the Lord’s passion, we can better understand and unite our suffering with His. Of course, it’s not the same but it puts things into perspective for us. If you don’t want to pray for yourself and/or want to add people to the intentions list, you can offer the chaplet up for others.
You can do the same thing with the Rosary. You can offer up a decade, or individual Hail Mary’s, for those who need prayers. If you’re having a particularly bad day and have time to spare, am I suggest focusing on the Sorrowful Mysteries followed by the Glorious Mysteries? Trust me, doing them back-to-back can give you a much-needed spiritual boost.
Do as God did: rest!
The idea of resting is so underappreciated in a culture that glorifies busyness. There is an unfair stigma that resting is the same as being lazy or unproductive, which isn’t true. In fact, studies have shown that those who are overworked are actually less productive than those who take breaks and rest for a little while. Seriously, Google Scholar the research if you don’t believe me.
Before you make the argument that, yes, sloth is a sin, I want to remind you that even God rested after the creation. Of course, it’s important to do our duties and work, but it’s just as important to rest. No matter what anyone else may say, don’t feel guilty about taking a break. If you need a nap, take a 20-minute nap. If you feel too wound up but aren’t physically tired, simply put on some Gregorian chant, classical music, or any music that relaxes you. I highly recommend Benedicta by the Monks of Norcia or any of the albums by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles (they have several, including albums for specific liturgical seasons).
Disconnect from outside noise
It’s so hard to get away from the constant outside noise that often contributes to our overwhelmed state. If you feel like there’s too much going on while you’re having a rough time, choose to disconnect. Log out from all social media platforms. Turn off your phone (completely, not just on silent) for a certain amount of time. Embrace silence. Studies over the years have shown that 2 hours of silence or more helps restore your mind. As wonderful as technology is, our minds weren’t designed for the constant connectivity we’re use to. That’s why we burn out quickly. Turn off your phone, the radio, and all gadgets and quiet your mind. Or better yet . . .
Talk to God
Virtually nothing else feels as good as unburdening your soul to someone. If you feel like you’re seriously struggling but have no one to go to, go straight to the top and talk to God. Go to a quiet place: it could be your bedroom or anywhere else you can have some privacy, and either mentally or verbally tell God what you’re thinking and feeling. If you feel like you can’t do it, write Him a letter. The idea is to open up and let it out. Even if it ends up being a rant and if you know that he already knows, there’s something incredibly therapeutic about letting it out and opening yourself up to him. He may answer you in the moments of silence in you heart or He may use others to get you what you need but, trust me, he will help you if you ask him for it.
Place your fears at the foot of the Cross.
If you’re having a particularly rough time, try this experiment: close your eyes. Envision yourself at the foot of the Cross. Look up at Jesus and meditate on what the Passion means. Make an Act of Contrition if you feel the need to. Next, imagine all of your fears and worries placed inside a box. Tell Christ that you’re handing them over to him because you’re having a hard time with them. Then imagine yourself doing just that: placing the box full of your anxieties at the foot of the cross. Thank him for taking care of them and for any graces he may bestow upon you. Then imagine yourself walking away, trusting that He will help take care of them for you.
Set aside 15-minutes to panic
This is more of a secular tip but one that is important. Set aside no more than fifteen minutes to worry about whatever is ailing you. Use a timer if necessary so you won’t go over those fifteen minutes. You can do it at the end of the day. Whatever intruding thoughts threaten you during the day, jot them down but don’t go down the rabbit hole until you get to your specific time. If you want to give it a “Catholic twist,” do this in front of a tabernacle or a crucifix. Just like the tip on talking to God, feel free to tell Him what you’re worried about for those fifteen minutes. At the end, let things go and ask him to help you learn to trust him more and move onto the rest your day (or nighttime routine).
Start a gratitude jar or journal
Last year, during one of the most physically and mentally draining years of my life, I kept up a gratitude jar. On little scraps of paper, I’d write down at least one thing I was grateful for. Sometimes the daily list was several items long. On more challenging days, it was one simple thing. The main thing is to look for the good in the bad. It is recommended to do it daily, if possible. I’ve heard one priest suggest using Rosary beads to do this. He suggested building up to all fifty small beads (fifty things of gratitude) slowly. Start by giving thanks for one thing on a single Hail Mary bead. You then add an extra bead/thing you’re grateful for per day. Do a decade per day if you’re feeling up to it. The practice of cultivating gratitude during difficult times will help you in more ways than one.
Reach out to someone and ask for help
I shouldn’t have to put this one here but it’s surprising to hear how many people don’t ask for help. Whether it is due to embarrassment, pride, or the stigma of it, don’t let those negative thoughts prevent you from seeking help if necessary. Talk to your spiritual director, if you have one. Open up to someone you trust. If you’re in therapy and the therapist isn’t hostile toward your beliefs, talk to them. Most Catholic therapists work “out of network” but you can ask your insurance company if they’ll reimburse you if you can get a copy of each session’s cost.
“Offer it up”
Yes, I know. I hate being told to “offer it up” as well, especially when my mind is hyper-focused on my own symptoms. Sometimes, God places certain people in our hearts and mind for a reason. If you have a particular friend or person in mind, ask them if there’s anything in particular that you can offering up your sufferings for. If you can’t ask them, simply say “Lord, I offer this up for [insert name]’s intentions. You know what they are.” You can also never go wrong offering your sufferings to the poor souls in purgatory, especially those who have no one praying for them. There are so many golden opportunities us to do something good while we’re going through some difficult moments. Don’t let those chances slip away.
Spend time at church and frequent the Sacraments
I placed this one last because this is nearly impossible to do during lockdowns. Still, since this article can be read during or after the safer-at-home mandates have expired, I’m putting it out there for future reference.
Sit in front of the tabernacle. Catch a daily Mass on a day off. Drive or walk to your local parish for five to ten minutes, find the tabernacle, and sit in front of it either in prayer or in silence. Depending on how strict your hometown’s lockdown rules are, you can ,drive to your local parish, park in the parking lot or the outside on the street, and just sit in your car for a few minutes. You may not be able to physically be there but Jesus is still there, in the tabernacle, and He sees the effort you’ve made and why you’ve made the mini “pilgrimage” home.
These are just some of the multitude of things we can do. Of course, there is exercise, maintaining a healthy diet (read: not going on a diet, just eating well), and other things you can do to help get you in a better place. Please remember that there are so many things we can do to help us on our individual journeys. Most importantly, try to remember that God is always there. In fact, he is closest to us in our moments of suffering and tribulation. Whether he grants us the healing we desire or simply gives us the graces necessary to carry our crosses, he will never abandon us.
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