Spiritual Care for First Responders During the Coronavirus Pandemic (or any time)
Spiritual Self-Care is Not Optional
First Responder professionals are in a unique position during this worldwide crisis. The demands thrust upon us due to the need for our expertise are higher now than in “normal” times – especially because we face the same dangers as our patients with coronavirus. The stresses can be debilitating. We must take every precaution to mitigate the effects of stress on us as individuals so we can function at as high a level as is humanly possible during this pandemic. It is critical that we learn how to best care for ourselves so we can – to the best of our abilities – fulfill the responsibilities we have inherited by virtue of our professions.
It is important that we understand the best way to handle the stress. In a nutshell:
- Do your best to remain coronavirus-free
- Nutrition, exercise & sleep
- Be Flexible
- Know your limits
- Talk about death
- Create a sacred space
1. Follow health guidelines from the CDC and other trusted medical sources
Spiritual Self-Care includes caring for others. Healthy spirituality thinks of others ahead of oneself. Do your best to protect the health of yourself & those around you by implementing the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control, your healthcare institutions and other trusted medical authorities.
2. Simplify your life away from work
You work long shifts and/or are on call many hours during the year. Home should be a place of respite. Yes, your family must be tended to & the housework must be done. Beyond that keep it simple. This crisis will not last forever.
Remember: You are a front-line first responder. You need down-time
3. Nutrition – Exercise – Sleep
Nutrition: Eat sensibly & healthily. Limit caffeine & other stimulants used to enhance performance. Limit your use of alcohol & other depressants for help in relaxing. You a;ready know the dangers if these things become habits.
Exercise: Structured & regular physical exercise promotes both psychological & physical health. It also fosters resilience. It relieves stress & releases endorphins. But exercise sensibly. Do not cause yourself injury. Schedule exercise time so it is not missed.
Sleep: Some of us need more sleep than others. In crisis you must be sure to get the amount of sleep your body, mind & spirit require.
In a crisis that might be more than usual
5. Be flexible – “go with the flow”
The “unwritten beatitude”: “Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken.”
Be smart. Life is not a plan “written in stone.” It’s a journey with many surprising twists & turns. Know when to make adjustments – course corrections. Changing course or a habitual schedule does not mean that your original plans were wrong. It signifies that you are a creative and wise person who knows when to change gears in order to better survive whatever your present circumstance in life might be. A new “life-list” might be a good thing.
The most psychologically resilient seem to have a “take one day at a time” attitude. This is neither lackadaisical nor unfocused. They have learned to appreciate “the moment” for what it is – an opportunity to do what they are trained to do – help alleviate human suffering one moment, one person at a time.
6. Know your limits
Your age & fitness level play a part. So does your spiritual foundation. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits while stretching yourself to extend those same limits.
You are not invincible. Ask for help whenever you feel stretched too far. You are in the midst of this pandemic along with everyone else. Stick to your new life-list. If your life-list needs adjusting, do it.
Burn-out is possible. Schedule time off.
There is evidence showing that keeping a written journal specifically for your reactions during crisis promotes health & resilience. Poems, prose, drawings or whatever you feel best expresses your feelings. There’s no pressure to journal all that you experience. Maybe everything. Maybe only those things that leave a deep impression.
8. Talk about death…but not morbidly
People will contract COVID-19. Some will die. Death is something that makes most people uncomfortable and creates fear. When searching your religious beliefs/belief system, learn about it’s teachings on death. Others – especially children – have questions. You should have some answers. But you won’t have them all. Collaborate with your religious/spiritual leaders for guidance in this.
9. Create a sacred place
Do not neglect your spirit. Look deeply at your religious beliefs/belief system. Search for the wisdom contained therein which speaks to the important things of life. Then prioritize your life in our “new normal” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Start each day with quiet time. If you have children, this might be difficult. But it’s necessary. Get up earlier. This should be on your newly prioritized life-list. Use these quiet moments to pray, meditate, read your Scriptures or whatever it is that soothes your soul. Starting in this manner will strengthen you all day.
Your “sacred space” can be wherever you are. Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley, had 19 children, 9 of whom died. She was a woman of grief & so many children that her heart, mind & household were very busy. There was no Zen Garden to which she could retreat. It is said that her sacred space was under her apron. When she would realize that the hectic pace of life in her home was getting overwhelming, she would sit on a chair, flip her apron over her head, then pray. That was her sacred place. I suspect there were times she simply wept.
Tend to your newly prioritized life-list with purpose of heart
10. “Do unto others”
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31
Do because you love. Remember, love isn’t simply an emotion. Love is a proactive commitment to “do” for others – especially those nearest to your heart. Help your family & your community. “Doing” includes listening. Not only to their words, but to the unspoken words of their hearts. In crisis – or even when things are not critical – others want to be heard.
Just listening shows that you care
11. Pray…for yourself, with & for others
It is not selfish to pray for yourself
“Pray” sometimes seems kind of nebulous. What does it really mean?
Many words in the Bible are translated by the English word “prayer”:
request, ask for favor or pity, beg, implore, earnestly desire, groan, demand mediate, wish, complain, whisper, discuss, interrogate, argue, hostile conversation [& others].
Your prayers need not be formal. They can & should reflect your heart.
In order to be effective, prayer should be organic & frequent. Just keep it honest & heartfelt.
You will be more comfortable praying for others if you regularly pray for yourself.
Pray with & for others. Especially those more fragile, more afraid, more susceptible.
Do you feel uncomfortable asking people if they would like to pray?
Here are 5 words you can memorize that will help.
“May I pray for you?”
A few will say no. Most will gladly accept your offer. It gives them an option and does not put pressure on them to pray. People need to feel that there is something in their control in the midst of this pandemic.
Don’t know what to pray?
Memorized prayers are the easiest. But they are less personal and not often relevant to the person for whom you are about to pray.
It’s not likely that you will offer to pray for someone you don’t know something about. In compassionate conversation you will hear them explain the circumstances they are struggling with. I suspect your compassion is what led you to strike up a conversation with them. You will often be the initiator of the conversation. As the initiator, listen.
Here’s a word that will help you listen. Ting.
You might be wondering, what in the world is Ting? Maybe a graphic will better explain it.
Ting is the Chinese symbol for the verb to listen. Verbs are action words. Listen actively with your undivided attention. Turn off your cell phone BEFORE you engage in listening.
By listening – even if only for a few moments – you will already know what to pray for the person.
- What are they afraid of? Pray for them to be less afraid of that particular thing.
- What are they struggling with? Pray for their strength to withstand & overcome in that struggle.
- What are they in need of? Pray for God to meet their needs either via other people or miraculously.
- Use the person’s name when praying.
Do not be afraid to address God in heaven!
You offered to pray, right? In this you introduced yourself as a person of faith. Don’t hesitate to publicly acknowledge that your faith is in the God of Heaven. All people need hope. When faced with a pandemic it seems that there is no hope on earth. Prayer supports mankind’s intrinsic belief that there is something more to existence than life on earth. There is Someone greater in control. Praying reminds both them & you.
In His Hands,
Fran Pultro, Ed.M., CPSP, ICISF
“Pastor Fran” has been the Staff Chaplain at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children since 2002. He is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway, a chaplain with the Philadelphia Police Department and an ICISF Approved Instructor.