I recently spoke with a counselor about the pressure the pandemic has brought to bear; his practice has ministered to more than 30,000 people since COVID. Working remotely, fewer family gatherings, less time with our various community groups combined with death and fear have been harrowing and traumatic circumstances to everyone. The positive has been that the open conversation about our mental health and emotional well-being has been destigmatized. What was once spoken about in a private, inner circle-only conversation is on all the newsstands and airways with global celebrities such as Olympian Simon Biles and Michael Phelps speaking out.
The science of thought
Dr. Caroline Leaf studied whether the mind can change the brain. The mind is separate from the brain, but the mind influences the brain. The brain is an organ like our heart; it operates automatically, but our brain is neuroplastic; our thoughts can change it. Thoughts in our brain form on our neurons and look like trees. Due to brain imaging technology, we can now see that healthy thought versus unhealthy thought can change our brain, but it must be stimulated. So, the more you direct your mind, the more it changes the brain.
The brain is subservient to what we do with our mind. The brain responds to how the mind is functioning. Our choice is to either direct our mind to positive or negative thoughts. When we apply disciplined, deep, focused thinking with repeated effort, we will cause learning to take place with the capacity to mold our brains. The mind is what changes the brain; our thoughts change our minds. We can’t control many events and circumstances that happen to us, but we can choose our reaction.
So what does this have to do with our mental health and emotional well-being? Boosting our “happiness” means cultivating thought patterns. How do we do that?
Wisdom as old as time
- The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen suggests keeping a record of happy memories, also known as a gratitude journal. This keeps us focused on positive things and trains our brains to do the same.
- God Says: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).
“This is the Day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).
“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (Psalm 107:8-9).
“But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
“To you, oh God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and power” (Daniel 2:23).
- Maintaining in-person relationships is good for our physical health. A 2017 study found that a lack of social connectedness carried a risk comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Rangan Chatterjee, author of The Stress Solution, encourages physical touch because the nerve fibers in our skin’s touch receptors go to our emotional brain, lowering stress.
- God Says: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him’” (Genesis 2:18).
“Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
- Slumber and wellbeing are connected. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker found that brain scans showed participants with a night of sleep deprivation had amygdalae (where we process our emotions) that were 60% more reactive to emotionally negative stimuli than when having a regular 7-9 hours of sleep.
- God says: “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh Day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest” (Exodus 34:21).
“‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and…’” (Matthew 6:31).
Care for others
- Emma Seppala, science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and author of The Happiness Track, found that more compassionate and generous people are happier and healthier and may even live longer than those who aren’t.
- God says: “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:4).
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15).
“We who are strong ought to bear with the shortcomings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1).
- Christopher Willard, PsyD, an expert, finds that meditation can grow new connections in your brain, such as the prefrontal cortex.
- God says: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
Seek counsel or therapy
- Since the pandemic, the request and need for therapy have escalated. There’s no shame in seeing someone to help us process our thoughts, feelings and help us reframe our thinking. We all need someone to “talk” to.
- God says: “Pray in the Spirit at all times, with every kind of prayer and petition. To this end, stay alert with all perseverance in your prayers for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
The great news is that the Good News is still the Good News. God knew how He created us and what was best for us. Regardless of our beliefs, truth is truth. Living a life based on biblical precepts is good for us as individuals, for our marriages and families, in our workplaces and our communities. Sooner or later, science always catches up to God’s Word.
Live the Life South Florida exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education, beginning in middle school through senior adults. We are educators, coaches and pastoral counselors. If you’re looking for a clinical counselor or therapist, we are blessed to have many in the South Florida community. We’d be honored to provide you a list of highly qualified and reputable individuals. Visit livethelifesoflo.org