All quiet in the noisy city? Emotional Health And Life Amidst COVID-19

Though COVID-19 may have dampened the thrum of New York City a bit this week, there’s a new sound just on the edge of my conscious perception that’s taking its place.

When I slow down enough to become aware, I can feel a low-grade drone of adrenaline and tension coming from somewhere deep in my physiology. Unlike the white noise of Manhattan cabs, crowds and construction, I can’t drown this sound out with noise-canceling earbuds. Neither is COVID-19 like the usual threats of cars that careen around corners or the over-abundance of dog poop that peppers the sidewalks or (as every New Yorker knows) anyone inside of that sketchy phone booth; it’s more subtle and powerful. COVID-19 sweeps you up in an impulse to check the news at first light or watch the Johns Hopkins dashboard count like the score of some now-defunct final four game. It presses you to make one more run to the stores while they’re still open or even to get into an argument with a friend about just how bad things are going to get.

There’s also dissonance in this new noise. How can it be sunny, 70 and spring in the city and yet the world seems to be on the edge of falling apart? This dissonance is cognitively fatiguing. For those of us leading or parenting through it there is the additional fatigue of all the tough decisions required to care for the people entrusted to us.

I can learn to live with the constant washing of hands or even being locked in a little Manhattan apartment for 2 weeks with my three kids… but this new incessant discordant thrum? What do we do with that?

As the Coronavirus begins to spread to other parts of the country, so do the anxiety and uncertainty that come with it. The emotions surrounding this disease can be overwhelming and cause strong responses in adults and children. Though people respond differently, living in a COVID-19 world is fatiguing for most of us. And here’s the threat: prolonged anxiety can carve real neural pathways into the brain that may be hard to resolve even after COVID-19 abaits.

So it’s not only important to wash our hands and practice social distancing, it is also important to pay attention to our emotional world and guard our mental health. How do we do that right now?

Our family is trying to book-end our days with some intentional spiritual practices, limiting technology and news, and adding more prayer and reflection. In the same way that noise-canceling technology works, we are trying to be still and let Scripture act as “anti-noise” to the dissonant hum of COVID-19.

You might consider protecting your morning and bedtime routine similarly - limit online media, news, or reading about COVID-19. Let friends, roommates, and spouses know your intention to guard that time and ask them for help. Perhaps your family, small group, or church might covenant together to intentionally practice the stillness and knowing of Psalm 46:10 in this season.

We are also taking 15 minutes individually each afternoon to journal and reflect on what is happening around us and in us. Each of our kids has their own COVID19 journal. I wonder if more of us safeguard our times for quiet, journaling, prayer, Scripture and reflection, perhaps the next few weeks might turn out to be a uniquely rich season. I wonder if the treasures in our journals and hearts might become priceless heirlooms.

Despite COVID-19 there is still time, maybe even more time, for the best things in life. Consider what behaviors or available activities may bring restoration in your life. Psychologist Robert Wicks believes that restorative activities, or renewal zones, provide us with space for respite, inner refreshment, and reappraisal of our inner world including life rhythms… and even a chance to simply have fun. In my experience simple pleasures make the best renewal zones, so we’re trying to make more tea, music and laughter these days. We are trying to spend less time zoning out on screens and more time in books, around boardgames, near friends and outside while we can.

We all have limited resources and if they are not restored we get depleted. Don’t be surprised if this is an extra depleting season, so let’s be intentional about restoration. In your work day (from home?) it may be important to take longer breaks to exercise if possible or engage in a restorative activity. Plan a little extra time between meetings or digital calls to breath deeply and mentally transition. Turn off the news feed. Avoid numbing out with Netflix, social media, video games, food or alcohol to deal with the stress. A binge here and there in any of those categories while practicing social distancing or while in quarantine can have a negative cumulative effect.

We still need each other.

Even with social distancing and quarantines, we are a social species created by God for community. Fortunately technology lets us stay connected even when the pandemic experts tell us to stay apart. So when COVID-19 gets loud in my head, I need people I can be real with in person or on Zoom. I need my community to let me be vulnerable to share my thoughts and feelings… even my doomsday escape from Manhattan plans. I know that’s not always easy when we are all just hanging on by a thread but don’t brush negative thoughts away with theology or epidemiology. Instead, enter in with me.

Just don’t let me stay there.

We need to be reminded that the science says 80% of cases are mild, 97% will recover and children are a low risk for severe cases.

Let’s remember the truth that… “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). He’s not freaking out or caught off guard by this.

We need to remember, as the mayor said, that “The sun will rise tomorrow, and your city will rise to meet it.”

Let’s remind each other that “the LORD is good to all; His compassion rests on all He has made” (Psalm 145:9.) Let’s not forget that Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matt 10: 29-30). And that “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

Let’s tell each other, “We can flatten this thing” and remind each other to “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread… for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you" (Deut 31:6).

And when we’re overcome by the resounding noise of COVID-19 and feel overwhelmed, let’s remind one another that we can “Cast all [our] anxiety on Him because he cares for [us].”

Let’s remind each other that one day “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:14).

There is a hope and reality that COVID-19 can’t touch.

Adam Penning: NYC Cru Campus Mission Director


Created with images by Meriç Dağlı - "untitled image" • CDC - "This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)." • Toa Heftiba - "Story in a cup" • Kari Shea - "untitled image" • Kelly Sikkema - "Recording Space" • Sincerely Media - "Reading In December" • Denise Jans - "When visiting hte cubes home in Rotterdam, i saw this beautifull game standing in the middle of a square and couldnt help to take a picture of it." • Debby Hudson - "Children’s books"