How to be positive and optimistic in the face of the unknown, Wenceslao Vial

Coronavirus: mental and spiritual health care

How to be positive and optimistic in the face of the unknown

Updated while waiting for a third winter: Will there be a new wave of coronaviruses? 

Uncertainty remains: Will a third or fourth or fifth... wave arrive? Will vaccination against new viral strains be effective? 

Vaccines are confirmed to reduce infections and severity .


The key to maintaining mental health is a proper, positive attitude. 

"Please get out of the house and I'll pay the fine." After days or weeks of confinement, maybe some of us thought or said something similar... "left the group," you read in WhatsApp messages from time to time. Prolonged contact with the same people, feelings of fear, insecurity, boredom, etc. All these make us more irritable. Maybe, getting some sleep has even become a challenge and everything seems hazy.

It is estimated that millions of people will need specialized psychological help after these months. In this sense, there are greater risks for solitary elderly people, those with a history of mental illness, frontline health workers, people with learning disabilities, the poorest because of job insecurity and financial difficulties, prisoners, homeless people and refugees who tend to be socially marginalized.

Their morale will be vulnerable to ups and downs, not only those who are in economic dire straits towards the end of the month, but also those who have secured financial resources. All families are vulnerable during periods of insecurity and confinement, even the British royal family for that matter, as seen in an interview with Prince William and Catherine, together with their three young children. Like so many parents, they have to entertain and teach their children; they are overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the future, the health of their relatives, with whom they only manage to interact with through the internet, etc.

A mother wrote to me: "two of my children who are studying medicine have to stay in the emergency room and live outside the house, for fear of infecting me and my husband. Their brothers, sisters and I live in anguish. The tone of the mood and basic emotions are altered and begin to be more negative: fear infects the whole heart, provoking sadness, disgust, insecurity, frustration, shame, despair and anger. It is also contagious for it spreads to the outside world, generating family and social conflict and unrest. This negativity in emotions is an important psychological alarm for a person.

These alarms can paralyze or turn itself into a fire. The most frequent symptom is anxiety, which is generated by fear of the unknown and can lead to more intense panic attacks. The current situation amplifies it, since the virus is a known but invisible cause.

"Did I put the right amount of chlorine?", another concerned lady asked me. The abundant news, the hand washing tips, the masks that have to be removed in a non-intuitive way, and many other preventive measures generate the decompensation of obsessive diseases. That is to say, those who suffer from these diseases see how their anxiety is stimulated in the face of routine behaviors they were trying to cope with: "I have no choice but to wash my hands every time I touch something," said a patient with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

We all experienced certain degree of anxiety and obsession. The fear of being infected without knowing it and transmitting the disease to those whom you love has deprived many of hours of sleep. Who has not experienced thoughts as these crossing their minds: "my head hurts a bit, my chest is a bit tight, I don't feel well... am I sick?

Another consequence is an exaggerated sadness or depression. It is starting to seem like nothing makes sense. If we have been touched more closely by a loved one's illness or death, the sense of loss intensifies and may trigger a torrent of negative emotions.

Periods of inactivity and confinement also increases the risk of escaping through artificial utopias of addiction, in the hope of diminishing anxiety, sadness and feeling overwhelmed. There is yearning for a fleeting euphoria. Some people succumb to drugs -whose distribution thrives despite city lockdown- alcohol abuse, compulsive gambling and pornography.

Faced with this bleak landscape, it is important to think what a Christian's reaction should be? As often happens, we are confronted with the chiaroscuro of faith. And, challenged by the mystery of suffering, we at least unveil our emotional dimension. It is time to repeat, as I heard Pope Francis say: "Lord, I do not understand it, but I trust in you”. And ask like a child: "Increase my faith". In this way we can acquire a greater abandonment and acceptance of God's will.

With this supernatural premise, there are also a number of measures that could help either to prevent harmful emotional reactions or to suffer from them. Likewise, there are means of strengthening our psychophysiological and spiritual resilience and well-being. I will sum them up into ABCs, comprising the three dimensions of the psychological world.

  • because anxiety, obsessiveness and depression are an imbalance of emotionality, it is worth getting to know the emotional world more deeply: it is not enough to know that I am very sad, or very scared, or very nervous, or very happy... but it is necessary to get to the why, how I should react, and whether this is good or bad; in this way, we do not live with a stranger inside us;
  • the first practical recommendation, on which the World Health Organization also insists (see message of March 18, 2020), is to be open to others and to maintain good and healthy interpersonal relationships, through contact with friends and family, with the telephone or with digital resources;
  • it also helps to know that you are a member of a community, feel confident in your abilities and supported by others;
  • fostering the good humor of a child of God who lives the past, present and future with the serenity of being in His hands;
  • strive to emphasize the positive in all circumstances;
  • not using alcohol, tobacco or drugs to deal with negative emotions;
  • communicate one's emotions: talk to someone about what one feels; write a diary of one's emotions in two columns: in the first, describe what happens to us and why; in the second, what we could do in that circumstance;
  • try to have fun and enjoy everything, from putting the washing machine on, to making a new desert with aubergine and honey for the first time, to teaching religion to a five-year-old kid...


  • deepen in the teachings of Christ that are rich in practical examples, and feel his presence, even though many cannot receive him in the Eucharist: resort to spiritual communion and devote time to prayer, o dialogue with God in silence;
  • a healthy diet and good hydration: in the elderly the feeling of thirst diminishes and they must be reminded to drink;
  • keep busy with hobbies, learn to play an instrument, paint, read, watch good movies, fix the house, take care of pets, or clean the aquarium. Finally!
  • "doing nothing" is harmful; real tastes or pleasures take away the harshness of life and drive away bad thoughts and clumsy actions;
  • promoting physical activity: walking, gymnastics, running on a treadmill or exercise bike; setting up a table tennis table on any board, or a pediment in an empty room....;
  • if possible, sunbathe, without sunscreen, for at least 20 minutes (increases vitamin D 3, which is an important factor for immunity); and breathe fresh air;
  • encourage calm, resort to mindfulnes or the "consciousness focused on what is important", which for a Christian is also the practice of presence of God, do what I have to do out of love, concentrate, be serene and relaxed; know some relaxation exercises;
  • have a daily schedule or activity plan that includes being concerned about others.


  • take precautions against contagion by consulting reliable sources of information;
  • reduce the time spent on news that causes stress,
  • know how to silence overly alarmist messages or those that abound in conspiracy theories;
  • taking some time off from certain social networks or at least not being so worried about likes;
  • continue to train in subjects of study, trade or profession: aspiring to go deeper to serve better;
  • enlighten the intelligence: these are good times to go deeper into philosophy and theology.

It is clear that the coronavirus pandemic made a strong impact on mental health and it will continue to be felt for years to come. But there are also many reasons for hope and prevention. In a future article we will see how the world could change in the wake what happened.

Wenceslao Vial