Three of my kids hid in their room, afraid to come out. While I sobbed on the floor, my oldest — ten years old at the time — tried comforting me, even prayed over my slackened body. Sadly, the weight of debt, insecurities and the fear of living in the middle of a cancer cluster pressed me further into the ground. I’d already battled cancer twice and couldn’t imagine any way out of our circumstances.
Each of us has something that pushes our mental deflate button, whether it’s unforgiven sin from someone we’ve tried to reconcile with, effects of divorce, lies we believe about ourselves or life’s uncertainty. Once we locate specific worrisome areas, we can move forward with releasing, adapting and overcoming.
2. Eliminate mood-altering substances.
You may be surprised to find that sleep-aids, alcohol, barbiturates, beta-blockers, anti-anxiety medication, acne medication, prescription pain killers and many other prescription pills are depressants. They drive us further down into the depths of despair. If you’re already struggling, avoid them at all costs. If medication is the culprit, contact your healthcare provider and let them know your emotional unease.
Drugs alter our brain chemicals. That’s why the anxiety temporarily subsides, pain diminishes and sleep comes easily. But we can only trick our brains for so long. The alter ego to that false state becomes the enemy of our mind. Drugs may be necessary for many conditions, but if getting out of bed seems unthinkable and suicidal thoughts consume your mind, seek professional assistance immediately.
Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. A chemical imbalance isn’t your fault. Take action to free your mind.
Our health affects our livelihoods, and hormonal imbalances play a big role in our happiness. A regular checkup from a primary care physician may unveil medical maladies which cause depression. The following are a sampling of such ailments: thyroid disease, stroke, brain tumors, heart problems, multiple sclerosis and chronic illness.
Medicinenet.com estimates that, “Up to one-third of individuals with a serious medical condition experience symptoms of depression.”
Living with a medical condition is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome. Knowing our limits doesn’t negate our ability to prevail. Using disease as an excuse will only trap us further. Take knowledge from both your physician and the “great physician” to sort out your situation.
4. Avoid negativity.
From office gossips to the unrelenting friend who does nothing but speak her pain, flee. Find upbeat peers to surround yourself with. An unstable state is difficult enough to carry alone. Someone else’s burden may put you too far under. For a season, until you’re well, surround yourself with hope-filled people.
Don’t discount the negativity streaming through your radio or television, either. Turn it off and download podcasts from Tim Hawkins, Andy Stanley, Ken Davis, Zig Ziglar — anything with a positive message.
5. Get Moving.
Wash the car, scrub a floor, fix that old project you don’t want to touch.
There’s satisfaction in finishing a task. And if our hands are busy, this helps distract the mind. When we’re down, we want to sleep, watch TV and isolate ourselves. When we’re moving, the blood flows quickly, energizing our bodies. While working, listen to upbeat music. I’m a huge fan of Christian dance music because I can’t possibly sit with the tempo surging. See for yourself. Try listening to “Live it Up” by Group 1 Crew without moving around – it’s impossible!
In the book, The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs, author Stephen Ilard wrote, “Researchers have compared aerobic exercise and Zoloft head to head in the treatment of depression. Even at a low ‘dose’ of exercise – thirty minutes of brisk walking three times a week – patients who worked out did just as well as those who took the medication. Strikingly, though, the patients on Zoloft were about three times more likely than exercisers to become depressed again over a ten-month follow-up period.”
It takes momentum to gain momentum. Start with a walk around the block. Energized endorphins work wonders on our emotional states.
6. Don’t discount spiritual warfare.
Our enemy deeply desires to see us beaten and unusable for the kingdom. He enjoys whispering lies, especially when he sees the mental and physical affects.
When unhealthy thoughts enter the mind, find something to thank God for. Replace those negative thoughts with a positive because the two cannot coexist simultaneously. The Bible teaches this principle in Philippians 4:8, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Praise is a sacrifice (Hebrews 13:15). When we’re down, wallowing is easier. But that spirit of fear creeping in is not from the Lord. Surrender those thoughts with thanks for your children, job, friends, church, food in the fridge — any positive aspect of your life.
This step seems impossible, especially when it requires uncoiling from the couch. But, when we help others, we’re not thinking about our situation.
Hebrews 13:16 tells us to “do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” God is pleased with the sacrifice of praise and service. What’s amazing is that these two acts directly affect our mood.
Visit an assisted-living facility, rock babies in the church nursery, mow a neighbor’s lawn, make a meal for someone newly diagnosed, then sit and talk with them. It’s a beautiful distraction, and you might just reach out to someone battling your condition.
8. Surrender to God.
As we continue with the theme of sacrifice and serving, we reach surrender. The toughest act of all is giving every ounce of self to God.
The most effective way to conquer adversity is to hand our problems back to Christ. Once we stop focusing inwardly, nitpicking our misfortunes, and releasing the mental anguish, a subtle shift in thinking occurs. The stuff of life will forever disable us if we allow it. We either completely trust that God is in control of our health, finances, job — or spend endless hours worrying, which I found never changed my circumstances, but only consumed my thoughts.
A technique that psychologists recommend to cleanse the mind is writing out your apprehensions. As Christians, we typically do this by writing our prayer requests. Here’s a fabulous fact, though. There are over 3,000 promises from God in His Word. Instead of praying the problem, pray His promises.
Rather than asking God to take away my debt, I thanked Him for meeting all of my needs (Philippians 4:19). Instead of asking if He heard my prayers, I thanked Him for listening, knowing He would answer (Jeremiah 33:3). When we pray God’s promises rather than our problems, we flip our mindset, change our thinking and praise Him all at the same time. For more inspiration, Google the phrase, “Praying God’s promises.”
The Lord promises He is with the brokenhearted. He will rescue those crushed in spirit when we reach out to Him (Psalm 34:18).
A Way Out
What pulled me out of the shadow? Flushing a popular sleep aid I used in combating insomnia, seeking financial counsel which required drastic lifestyle changes, jogging, relocating to a new area and, lastly, repeating, “In Christ there is no condemnation,” (Romans 8:1). Any time those pesky voices of guilt cluttered my brain from past mistakes, I spoke Romans 8:1 over and over.
God isn’t wielding a bat ready to swing when we mess up, and He will never shun us when we face darkness. Like a father, He desires to protect, love and raise us to maturity. But when chemicals alter our moods, bills consume our thoughts and we focus so much on self — we leave little room for dependency on Him.
God wastes nothing. He uses every trial to draw us closer to Him.
One final note – Depression should always be monitored by a licensed physician. Only you, your doctor and the God decide the path. For some who are battling suicidal thoughts, that may include jumpstarting with medication. Seek help, but remember, “In Christ there is no condemnation.”
Dabney Hedegard has survived nine life-threatening illnesses. She can be reached www.dabneyland.com