Mental Health and Faith

“If you would just read your Bible more, you wouldn’t struggle with depression”. This has got to be one of the most frustrating and unhelpful things people hear when they are in the midst of a battle with depression. In fact, this misinformation only makes the issue worse. Now, not only is the person dealing with the normal symptoms of depression or anxiety, they are also dealing with the shame that they aren’t able to be a “good enough Christian” in the midst of the battle.

 

It’s interesting that this feedback isn’t given whenever someone has been diagnosed with cancer or breaks an arm. We don’t tell this person “If you would just pray more you would be healed”. We recommend a doctor we trust or share information about a treatment that has worked for someone we know. For some reason these illnesses are seen as more real than mental health, but this is not the case.

 

Today’s Christian culture has decided that emotional struggle is a mark of spiritual weakness or a lack of faith. But, Scripture tells a completely different story. Job struggled to believe that God can be trusted and wondered if he should have even been born. David said that he can feel his sorrow in his bones whenever he is overwhelmed by his circumstances. Elijah was sure everyone was against him and wanted to give up on moving forward. Isaiah was overcome with grief over the choices the Israelites made, how far they strayed from walking with God, and began to lose hope that they can change. Jonah stored up bitterness towards the Ninevites to the point where he didn’t want God to save them. There is no question that these men struggled with depression or some other form of mental illness. And yet, we call them giants of the faith and look to their stories to model how to have a relationship with God. The truth is we all struggle to believe God perfectly at times. This is part of the Christian faith.

 

If you’ve given this advice before it may be time to think about how you could expand your understanding of the way God works in the midst of struggle. Maybe you could learn to be a listening ear instead of offering advice. Maybe you could offer your prayers instead of telling others to pray more. Maybe you could share the truth of Scripture instead of insisting others read it for themselves. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “ But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, is the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth”. Maybe becoming this kind of friend would grow your own faith.

 

If you’ve received this advice before let me say a big “I’m sorry!”. Please know that God cares for you whether you are depressed or not, anxious or not, struggling or not. He promises not to let our struggle be in vain, so look forward to the ways you will grow and the things you will learn through your struggle. Until then press on in the struggle knowing the struggle doesn’t define you.

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Happiness

With the holidays upon us, the idea of happiness tends to bubble up quickly. Perhaps the question has been under your skin for sometime, “Am I happy?” But with the stress and pressure of family in town, stretching your budget for holiday meals and gifts, and atttending or hosting parties, the question of happiness can become unbearable. We often feel guilty thinking of our own happiness during the holiday season. We view it as our duty to look after others. To feed them, entertain them, love them, and to show them how much we care by buying unique gifts in the hopes of making them happy. But in so doing we forget to focus on our own happiness.

Because we view happiness as duty we find ourselves trapped between loyalty and sacrifice. The duty to make others happy means we live in fear of sacrificing our own happiness. We give and give and yet fear we will get nothing in return. Too quickly, our noble sacrifice becomes selfserving and works to create the opposite of happiness. Now, if we choose to view happiness as utility rather than duty we are freed from the trap of loyalty. John Stuart Mill tells us that utility is a measure of happiness as value. Thus as our actions promote happiness they will create utility and value. The focus is no longer on our happiness nor the sacrifice of our happiness for others. It is focused on the increase of utility, of actions that promote happiness. 

Our friends at headspace have a great video to help your actions focus on the happiness of others. Enjoy the video and think about how your actions can promote the most happiness this holiday season. Let yourself go from the trap of loyalty and responsibility and be freed to find the most happiness possible.

 https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vFL5NVkn-CY

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Why is self-esteem and body-image important?

What is the difference between self-esteem and body-image? 

Self Esteem: all about how much you feel you are worth and how much you feel other people value you. 

Body Image: all about how you view your physical self, including whether you feel you are attractive and whether others like your looks. 

For many people body-image can be closely linked to self-esteem, which is why it is important to focus on addressing both when discussing a healthy self.  

Ways to improve self-esteem:

1. Identify healthy vs unhealthy responses:  “Hey, I’m human” vs. “I’m such a loser”

2. Appreciate things you like about yourself: It often seems socially unacceptable to appreciate things about ourselves. Once we can state out loud what we like, we can begin to take ownership and find confidence in knowing that there are aspects ourselves that we genuinely like. 

3. Maintain healthy lifestyle: It is truly amazing how sleep, regular exercise, and healthy eating can set your mind up for success. 

Knowing what makes you happy and how to meet your goals can help you feel capable, strong, and in control of your life.

Ways to improve body image:

1. Recognize your body is your own: Your body is unique and remembering that YOU get to identify aspects of yourself that you can realistically change and what you cannot. 

2. Use negative thought stop: When you hear yourself negatively commenting on your own body- tell yourself to stop and try to identify one positive thing you like about your body.

3. Try doing a power pose: (Arms straight up in the air, Arms at hips/Superman pose) Research shows that how we communicate with our bodies determines our level of confidence. Studies have proven that just by “power posing” for two minutes, your testosterone levels increase and your cortisol levels decrease. Our body is so powerful that we can convince ourselves that we are confident. Imagine how that can translate to how we feel about our self esteem and our bodies? If you allow yourself to use the power of your body, your mind will reap the benefits. 

 Confidence, healthy body-image, healthy self -steem does not come overnight. It takes a lot of endurance and practice, just like anything else, but if we are confident in what we can do daily, imagine the improvements you’ll see simply on how you view yourself.

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This is Us Season 3 Episode 5 - “Strong” People Have Emotions Too

While the episode is titled “Toby” and we learn a lot about his background and childhood, Beth is also highlighted as a point of interest. Characters that were once seen as supporting roles to the Big Three are making their way to center stage. Both Beth and Toby have been seen as the anchor in their relationships. Toby has been Kate’s number one fan and helped her through her weight loss journey, conflict with her mom, and a miscarriage. Similarly, Beth has had to be the “strong one” as Randall has suffered from anxiety attacks and feeling lost as he searched from his father and where he belongs. 

These people exist in our daily lives as well. These are the people you are convinced can weather any storm, always have an encouraging word to share, and are always there to help. Sometimes we forget that these people have emotions too. Sometimes they forget they have emotions too. I’m glad we have gotten to see a more human version of both Toby and Beth. 

Often, people like Toby and Beth hide behind this helper role. They probably don’t realize they do this, but they feel most strong and alive when they take care of others. Instead of confronting their own emotions they would rather help others deal with the rough patches in life. For a while this role is a great bandaid to their own hurts, but eventually a bump in the road catches up to them. Sometimes, because of the role they have created for themselves and the way they have portrayed themselves to others for so long they find it even more difficult to reach out for help. We saw Toby frantically trying to get in contact with his doctor when he has finally realized that he can’t handle his depression on his own anymore. Beth has a very hard time opening up to Randall about losing her job and comes to the difficult realization that she has not processed her emotions in the middle of an interview. 

No one is immune. We all feel. The sooner we can accept this truth the better because then we can let our emotions do their jobs. When we let ourselves grieve, hurt, fear, celebrate, or get mad these emotions give us direction on where to go next and then start to dissipate. If we ignore them they create tension inside of us. So whether we are more of a Kate that enjoys being taken care of and finds herself stuck in her sadness or more of a Toby that loves taking care of others and ignoring his own emotions - we all have work to do in feeling. 

Some Things to Consider:

1. Do you know someone who appears to always have it together emotionally? How can you communicate to them that you are a safe place to share how they are really feeling?

2. Are you one who likes to keep their emotions tucked away and focus on others? How might you challenge yourself to share your emotions with someone and let go of the “strong one” role? 

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One Mindfulness

Have you ever spent your day on autopilot? Paying attentionto nothing in particular? Folks often doone activity(like driving a car)while their mind is focused on another. Scary, right? We think we can do more by doing two or more things at a time. In reality,it is quite the contrary.  When you allow your mind to befocused on one thing at a time, you will get more done. Sometimes we must quickly changefrom one activity to another. The key is to concentrate fully on the activity at hand.

Have you ever washed dishes while cooking? What about eating a meal while you are checking your email or watching TV? That isthe complete opposite of one mindfulness. When you eat, eat. When you play, play. Do each task as itcomes with your full attention!

By focusing all our senses, thoughts, and behaviors on a single task, we will be more effective.

One last reminder about one mindfulness! BREATHE! Webreathe all of the time so we must be really good at it! Actually, we are horrible breathers. We take narrowbreaths, rarely filling our lungs.  Taking a deep breath involves focusingon filling your lungs with air and slowly exhaling. Full, deep breaths bring oxygen toyour cells. Tryit and notice how it affects your energy level and ability to focus.

One mindfulness is important to becoming and staying emotionally healthy. Ready….Take a deep breath Set…focus on one thing……Go!

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Living in Today, Pt 3: Simple Tools for Staying in Today

As I shared in my previous posts, future tripping and past tripping easily send thoughts and emotions spiraling downhill, but thankfully there are simple tools that can be used to leverage your thoughts out of the rut and get you back into today. 

 

  1. De-escalate.If emotions are escalated, start with engaging in a grounding or mindfulness exercise, such as bringing your attention to what your five sense are experiencing in the moment or turning on a song you like and listen intently to a particular instrument or harmony. 

  2. Pursue self-awareness.Oftentimes, we get so sucked into our internal worlds that we don’t even realize that we are reliving something in the past or trying to predict our future. It is important to be aware of the situations in your life that trigger you and pull you out of the present. Ask yourself, “When did my thoughts start to detour from the present?”

  3. Examine your thoughts.When you feel yourself beginning to experience an intense emotion, pause in that moment to put a microscope to your thoughts. If you’re not at a point in your day when you can take a time-out, acknowledge to yourself that you are emotionally activated and make a mental note to circle back later in the day to inspect your thoughts. Look for thought distortions that may be skewing your perspective, such as black-and-white thinking, overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, catastrophizing or “should”ing. Some thoughts have a more powerful influence over your emotions and mood; make sure to give those thoughts due attention. Writing in a journal can be particularly helpful when dissecting thoughts.

  4. Rethink. Once you are able to identify your thought distortions, the thoughts must be realigned with reality and truth. Look at the facts of your situation and prepare a few objective, true, and rational counter thoughts to combat each distorted thought. For instance, if someone doesn’t respond to a text within a few hours you may think, “That is so rude. I cannot believe they are giving me the cold shoulder and ignoring me.” or “Oh no, they must be mad at me because I couldn’t help out with…” Notice that conclusions are being jumped to and replace it with something like, “People get busy. They may have read my texts and forgot to respond. I’ll follow up with them in a couple days.” Write down your new thoughts and keep them readily available so that, when those pesky distortions start replaying, you can redirect them more quickly and effectively. 

  5. Be persistent.Automatic, negative thoughts and thought distortions are deeply ingrained patterns of thinking that develop over years, even decades, so be patient with yourself and persistent in your practice. Change takes time and consistency. In the beginning, you will find that your mind quickly returns to the default pathways, like water following a well-worn passage. But over time, intentionally revising thoughts will forge alternate grooves through which you thoughts can flow. 

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Values Pt. 2

How do I identify my values and figure out what is important to me in my life? First that is a big question and one that people can spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. Also, keep in mind that values, once discovered, are not set in stone. Your priorities and values can change especially throughout life. What is important to you as a single college student may not be important to at 40 years old with a spouse and 2 kids! Also they can change through experiences. Something you thought you wanted to pursue and was really important to you, you may find out it wasn’t and that is ok, it is a part of life. People are also at different stages in discovering their values and that is also ok, try not to compare yourself to others. Some people knew they wanted to be a doctor and help others since high school. Others are still trying to figure out their direction in college. It is important to not only identify your values but reevaluate them throughout your life. 

There are some questions you can ask yourself to help you to begin discovering your values. 

  1. What issues get you the most fired up when you talk about them, or hear others talking about? Why do those issues affect you in this way?

  2. Think of 2 people you really respect. What characteristics do you admire in them and why?

  3. Think of a moment in your life that was really satisfying or fulfilling for you. What was that moment and what made you feel that way about it?

  4. Jump ahead to the end of your life. What are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical? What are the things you have hope you accomplished through out your life?

Now look over your responses. Do any themes emerge? What principles, beliefs or ideas stand out most in your answers? These are likely some of your personal values.

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This Is Us - Season 3 Episode 4 - Superman

The Vietnam setting of this episode really made for a different feel compared to other episodes. The dynamics between Jack and his brother (Nick), mother, and father help explain the guilt we saw Jack experience in past episodes. I have high hopes that we will get to see a realistic depiction of the impacts of war on Jack’s generation in episodes to come. 

We got to meet a more human version of Jack’s dad, before he was plagued by the effects of addiction. We also met Jack’s grandfather and light was shown on an even longer lineage of struggling with alcohol. 

But the episode’s most important scene takes place just after Nick is born. As Jack’s family takes a peek at the new baby while at the hospital, Jack’s dad explains the role of a big brother. He tells Jack that it is his job to watch out for his little brother in life, no matter what. A healthy adult would know there are limits to this job. We can’t be Superman for someone. We can’t control other’s action or always be present to rescue others from their situations. But when a child hears this sort of expectation, they take it very literally. 

In Jack’s case, this promise weighed heavily on him as a kid and well into adulthood. That’s why we see Jack enroll in the military just to go check on his little brother. That’s why we see him struggle so deeply with guilt over his brother’s death. That’s why Jack took the role of man of the house when his dad dropped the responsibility. Ultimately, it was this Superman complex that caused him to run back into a burning house to save a dog.

Unrealistic expectations for ourselves to be Superman/woman may gain us a lot of friends, make us appear sacrificial, and often put us in the role of hero but these expectations also get in the way. They often keep us from showing up in the everyday roles and responsibilities that are ours to carry - the jobs that aren’t as dramatic or noteworthy. In the end, the need to be superhuman leads us to hurt those we swore to protect.

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Suicidal Ideation

What is suicidal ideation? 

It means wanting to take your own life or thinking about suicide. 

Many different factors can contribute to suicidal ideation. Often these thoughts hit when you are in despairand out of control of your life. It might feel like you haveno meaning or purpose. Relationship problems, trauma, substance use, a crisis of some sort, pressure at work, a physical health issue, or financial difficultiescan all be contributors. 

There are a variety of risk factors for suicidal ideation and suicide, such as:

  • Attempted suicide in the past

  • Mental health disorder

  • Hopeless, isolated, and/or lonely

  • Gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender

  • Chronic physical illness like cancer, diabetes, or a terminal disease

  • Family history of suicide

  • Drug or alcohol abuse disorder

  • Childhood abuse or trauma

Warning signs that you or a loved one are thinking about or contemplating suicide include:

  • Isolating fromloved ones

  • Feeling hopeless or trapped

  • Talking about death or suicide

  • Giving away possessions

  • An increase in substance use or abuse

  • Increased mood swings, anger, rage, and/or irritability

  • Engaging in risk-taking behavior

  • Gathering themeans to kill yourself, such as medication, drugs, or a firearm

  • Acting as if you're saying goodbye to people

Seek treatment and/or callor text a suicide hotlineif you are your loved one is experiencing suicide ideation.

                            National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line - 741741

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Living in Today, Pt 2: The Dilemma of Past Tripping

It can happen anytime and anywhere. Something in your surroundings stimulates a familiar feeling, stirs up a memory settled deep in the depths of your past, or sifts to the surface reminders of a secret stuffed down as far as your strength could muster. And you go back; Your mind winds back down the road of regrets to the day, the hour, the moment just before something went awry. 

Then you relive it. 

Maybe you hear the unexpected words of someone you trusted ricochet in your mind.

Or feel your heart dropping all over again as you remember how the life-changing news washed over you.

Or maybe your face flushes as shame and humiliation resurfaces.

Or anger begins to boil up from within again. 

Or perhaps you yearn with sadness and longing for the ways thing used to be.

Suddenly, your whole day has shifted its course. You spend your morning and evening drives replaying the scenario in your mind—imagining what you could have done or said differently to change the outcome, beating yourself for up for not handling the situation differently, or holding imaginary arguments with someone who should have handled things differently. 

By the time you get to work or get home you’re exhausted from racking your mind only to find out what you already know—no amount of ruminating can undo the past or bring it back to the present. You find yourself stuck, unable to move forward because you want to go back to redo or undo what is done.

It’s a painful place to live. Letting our minds piddle in the past pulls us back into our hurts and regrets, where heartache and resentment regain footing and reemerge. While learning and growth can certainly come from excavating past experiences and mistakes, letting the mind free fall into the past usually lands your thoughts spinning their wheels in the ditch. Taking control of a mind gone rogue can be challenging; however, being able to redirect the mind back to the present helps maintain a healthy mental and emotional state. 

 

Up next from Lauren:

Part 3. Simple Tools for Staying in Today

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