Healthy minds and healthy bodies

COVID-19Mental Health

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Ronnie Convery examines the practical steps we can take to keep our lives in balance, not neglecting mind or matter, as we enter a new version of “normal” after lockdown in many parts of the world.

As human beings we are a complex fusion of body and soul, mind and matter, and we can never be truly “well” if one or other of these elements of our life is “unwell”.

We find it hard to maintain a perfect balance in life … some of us focus obsessively on the health of the body while abandoning the life of the spirit, whereas others are so absorbed in the life of prayer, meditation and reflection that they look down on physical health with disdain.

Both imbalances are wrong. The traditional Christian understanding of human nature places great emphasis on both the dignity of the body and that of the soul – we need to care for both!

The COVID pandemic made that harder.

The loss of access to organised liturgy has constituted a period of spiritual starvation for many people of faith, while the inability to move freely and to exercise, not to mention the serious danger of infection, has led to obvious problems with physical health.

As we enter a new normal it would be good to carry out an inventory of body and spirit, to ensure that we are doing what is needed to nurture both sides of our nature and staying in equilibrium.

First the spiritual …

Am I at peace?  If not, what is bothering me?  Is it fear and anxiety? If so, what is it about?  

Can I pinpoint the issues which rob me of serenity? If so, I should do so. Name them. Write them down. Bring them to my prayer or meditation… 

Do I dedicate time to silence? To reflection and relaxation?  Do I give my spiritual lungs space to breathe?

Do I spend some time each day in the presence of my God?  Can I organise myself enough to set aside a place and time to be alone with God?  (Physical space matters. Times matter. Be practical in things of the spirit!) 

When I am there, words are not necessary but can help … If you are a believer, a short act of the presence of God is useful to position yourself in the right frame of mind and heart … “My Lord and my God, I firmly believe that you are here. That you see me and that you hear me. I adore you with profound reverence. I ask you to make this time fruitful…”

Then there is the physical …

The challenge is to take back control of a situation that risks dominating our lives. We cannot cure COVID 19 but we can act decisively to choose a healthy lifestyle during and following the pandemic.

Firstly that means avoiding infection … hand hygiene, avoiding crowds, face masks when indoors in public spaces, keeping a sensible distance and staying at home if unwell… the mantra is well-known to us all by now.

But avoiding infection is not enough. We need to care for our bodies actively during and after the emergency and that means having a plan of physical life as well as spiritual life.

Eat well. The golden rules about maximising intake of fruit and vegetables are as valid now as ever.  As summer fruits fill the shelves why not try new flavours of goodness? Online recipes cost nothing to download … 

Next, be careful about the drink! 

It’s easy to slip into a glass of wine at lunch and another one or two at night if we don’t have to get up to work in the morning.  Be attentive! Alcohol in moderation can be a pleasant enrichment in life, but when it becomes a necessity it imprisons us. Don’t let that happen.

Exercise is also essential … one of the few positives of the COVID emergency is that people took the Government “permission” early in the emergency to have an hour of exercise outdoors almost as an “instruction” to do so. Never have parks or walkways been busier than in recent months as people walked, ran or cycled with almost a sense of public service.

Don’t lose that habit as the lockdown lifts. Aim for 10,000 steps a day – your smartphone or watch will help you count. Don’t make a tragedy of it if you can’t manage one day or if the thought of going out in the rain is just too much! But keep up the habit; it’s one of the few treasures we can take from this collective experience of danger.

The Roman poet Juvenal in his “Satire” spoke of the need to pray for a “mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body.  

He didn’t know much about Coronavirus but he knew a lot about the human condition. His advice is as relevant today as it was almost 2000 years ago when it was written…


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