Chaplain’s tips for pandemic self care

Par Ryan Melanson,
L’équipe du Trident

Canadians across the country are feeling the stress and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Defence Community is no exception. Members of Formation Halifax are experiencing the crisis in different ways, with some reporting for duty as usual, others teleworking from home, and two ship’s companies sequestered in a local hotel ahead of deployment.

Chaplain LCdr Travis Gardner, USN, prays over an airplane intercom before a flight of Americans leaves Japan, following the country’s earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear incident in 2011.

For everyone, however, life has changed drastically over the last month, and these changes can take a toll on both our mental and physical health. Chaplain LCdr Travis Gardner, USN, has learned from experience that practicing self care is crucially important during times of crisis.

“There’s a lot of things outside of our control now that we’re in this pandemic event,” he said.” 

“But it’s important to think about the things you can control and the things you can be doing for yourself.”

While he’s spent the last three years in Halifax on an exchange program, LCdr Gardner previously found himself in the middle of a number of different crisis situations. He was among the Americans posted to Japan in 2011 when an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown, and the very next year, he was living in New York City when Superstorm Sandy devastated the region. Later, in 2016, he was stationed in Hawaii when a helicopter accident led to the tragic loss of 12 US Marines.

Through his work as a Chaplain in these difficult scenarios, LCdr Gardner learned about the way people respond to stressful and frightening events, and he’s developed a short self-care guide that he now uses frequently in his counselling sessions.

“I’ve developed this over the years because I’ve gone through some pretty crazy situations, and haven’t always handled it as well as I’d like to. There’s been a lot of lessons learned.”

He refers to the document as an oxygen mask, outlining steps that can help people take care of themselves, which in turn will allow them to more effectively help others. This is especially key for military members, whose work ethic and drive to help can sometimes leave little room for self care.

It’s broken up into four categories – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – and includes tips like getting proper amounts of sleep, exercise and hydration, spending time with a personal hobby, not letting emotions bottle up, and for people of faith to continue practicing daily.

“It may sound easy, but it can be a big ask. If we’re able to care for ourselves in all of those areas, the results can be pretty amazing in terms of how well people can cope with difficulty,” LCdr Gardner said.

“There are people who will just focus on helping others until they’re absolutely done in, but if you take care of yourself first, then you can be the best spouse possible, or parent, or worker, or whatever you need to be.”

Like many others, the Halifax Chaplain team is mainly working remotely for the time being, but LCdr Gardner noted that their services are still available for anyone who needs to talk during this difficult time. and the focus doesn’t always need to be on faith. Members can phone 902-721-8660 during daytime hours, or 902-427-7788 during evenings and weekends to get connected.