John and Leanna Wheeler, of Santa Maria

John and Leanna Wheeler, of Santa Maria, have used their faith to help them cope with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and their work as registered nurses.

When COVID-19 first hit, registered nurses John and Leanna Wheeler of Santa Maria did not know how dangerous it would turn out to be. Before long, they saw “people dying everywhere.”

Many medical workers like the Wheelers are exhausted from working through the pandemic. With variants straining short-staffed facilities across the country, some on the front lines are experiencing added physical, mental and emotional stress.

The Wheelers have seen and felt the effects of COVID-19 up close — first at work, and later at home. John contracted the virus late last year while working in the ICU. Shortly thereafter, one of the Wheelers’ daughters also tested positive for the virus. They have both since recovered.

The effects of the pandemic reach beyond the physical. As the global pandemic worsened, Leanna’s anxiety began sapping her of the motivation she once had for activities she enjoyed, such as exercise. “The stress was almost paralyzing,” she said.

Despite the stress-inducing situations they have had to deal with, the Wheelers do more than just cope with their current trials; they maintain a positive view of what the future holds based on their faith.

John and his family appreciate the time they spend attending religious meetings via Zoom. “The encouragement we get is more important now than it’s ever been,” John said.

American psychological and psychiatric associations, while not advocating or endorsing any specific religion, acknowledge the role spirituality and religious faith can play in coping with distress and trauma.

Lawrence Onoda, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Mission Hills, noted some ways spirituality can help, including giving people “a positive hope and meaning toward life, comfort by looking for answers and strength from a higher power, and a collective shared experience of support and community.”

“My spiritual routine has really helped me,” Leanna said. John finds the Bible’s promise regarding the end of all pain, suffering and death particularly comforting.

The Wheelers’ friends look out for their emotional needs and reach out to see how their family is doing. “It makes a huge difference that they notice,” said Leanna. “That support is essential.”

The Wheelers also combat pandemic anxiety during their commute to work by listening to recordings of the Bible, Bible-based articles and faith-strengthening music they access on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This story was contributed by the Jehovah's Witnesses of the United States of America.

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