Wednesday, August 23, 2017

26 Tips for Dealing with Depression/Anxiety (Short Version)

            Some people want the short version (13 pages instead of 33, or click here if you want the long version).  Just the headlines.  The main points.  Well, here they are :

            In no particular order (well, kind of), here are some of the things I have tried and learned when dealing with depression and anxiety as a Christian:


1.  Clearly identify what you feel and why (if you can).  And pray about it all honestly.  Get real with yourself and with the Lord.  And let your pain draw you closer to the Lord, purify your trust in Him, and mature your faith.

            You don’t have to fix it all.  You don’t have to know what to do.  You don’t have to do it all on your own.  You are not alone in your trials and your pain.  He is always waiting for us to cry out to Him, to include Him in our trials, in our need, in our pain, to let Him into the broken parts of our heart so that He can heal them.  But you have to be honest.  To open up the doors that you have closed off in your heart.  (And remember that we are all human.  And humans hurt.  And that's normal.  You are normal.)   

            Be real.  Be raw.  Be honest.  That’s a major part of humility.

            But holding in all the pain, trying to independently and responsibly and nobly shoulder the burdens yourself, trying hard to impress God and others by being a strong, confident, polished, proper, “good Christian” are enemies of humility, of authenticity, of a genuine relationship with the Lord.  (Trust me, I did that for years, thinking that it’s what “good Christians” did.  And it exhausted me and crushed me.)

            Be real.  Be raw.  Be honest.  He knows it all anyway - how much we can’t do it on our own, how broken we are, how far we’ve strayed, how much we need Him.  He’s just waiting for us to realize it, too, and to invite Him in to help us.  (And if it's possible, talk to a trusted friend or pastor or counselor.  Bottling things up does a lot of damage.)  If you can identify the source of what's bothering you, pray and ask God what He wants you to do about it. 

            Also, when it comes to dealing with anxiety or depression or fear or whatever, I have found it helpful to make a verbal “trade” with Him by pray honestly like this: “Lord, I am really feeling anxious and weak right now.  I don’t know what to do and I’m scared.  And so right now, I ask that You would take this anxiety and fear from me and give me Your peace and joy instead.  Please, You do the worrying for me; I can’t do it anymore.” 

            Make a trade with Him, out loud.  His peace for your fear.  Tell Him what’s hurting and broken, and ask Him for the help you need – the wisdom, peace, comfort, guidance, strength, joy, etc.  Let your first words when you wake up be "Lord, I need You today!" 

        Blunt, raw, unpolished honesty is sometimes the most healing, helpful way to pray.

            Psalm 34:17-18:  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

            James 4:8:  “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

            Psalm 86:1-6:  “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.  Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.  You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you.  Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.”

            Psalm 51:17:  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”




2.  Journal your journey.

            Get a notebook for your prayers, requests, answers to prayer, lessons learned, and any good that’s come out of the bad times and out of the “unanswered prayers.”  And when you are tempted to panic, review the verses and the ways God has answered prayers before and the new requests that you have left in His hands.  Remind yourself that you have already given this new concern to Him and trust that He has heard you and that He will answer in His time and in His way.

            [Additionally, if you want, make a prayer closet, a war room.  For a simple plan, click here.  Make it a time to reflect on verses and on God's character, to praise Him for whatever you can praise Him for, to intercede for others, to lay your requests before Him, and to spend time quietly listening to Him.  Write it all out in a notebook or on a master list.  Be deliberate about this prayer time.  It is so true that we are in the midst of a spiritual war.  Yet how little we are aware of it or live like it.]




3.  As part of prayer, ask Him if there is anything you need to do to make things right or better, to be obedient, or to get right with Him. 

            He will reveal what He wants you to do … if you will listen and commit to being obedient.  (And if you are resistant to being obedient or are afraid of what He might ask of you, ask Him why.  Search your heart.  Your spiritual life will suffer until you get right with Him.)  Be willing to wait on Him, to do what He asks you to do, and to NOT do what He hasn’t asked you to do.

          His job is to straighten out the path and to work it all together for good. 

          Your job is to be obedient and to “be still and know that He is God.”  

            Proverbs 3:5-6:  “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

            Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”



4.  Sometimes silence is the best – the only - prayer we can pray.

            Honestly, there might be times when you can’t pray.  I call it a time of “Job silence” - when he [Job] fell on the ground in silence for seven days, unable to talk, too stunned by all the tragedies that just happened. 

            There are times for that - times when words are not enough or when they are too much, and all we have the strength to do is throw ourselves in God’s arms and sob.  To fall down at His feet, exhausted, hurting, too broken to say anything. 

            And that’s okay.  (Just don't get stuck there!) 

            Sometimes silence – heart-breaking, confused, distraught silence, when we are lying helpless at the feet of God, when all we can pray is “God!  Oh, God!” – is the purest form of prayer and praise. 

            Sometimes the most real prayers are the ones we pray with tears in our eyes and words that won’t come.

            It’s in the silence that we learn to “be” with God, to feel His presence more, to listen more, to stop trying so hard in our own strength and to just fall on Him.  Let the silence teach you to “be,” instead of “do.”  Let it teach you to listen, instead of talk.  Let it teach you to rely on Him, instead of on yourself. 

            Let it teach you that He is God and you are not, and that it’s okay.  

            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)

            “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”  (Ecc. 5:2)



5.  When you can’t find words to pray, let the words of others be your prayer.  And surround yourself with godly music.

            During last summer when I broke really bad and when I couldn’t pray at all, I found immense comfort in two things:  letting a friend and my husband pray for me because I didn’t have enough strength or hope to pray for myself … and letting the words of some good Christian music be my prayers.  (Click on the links to the songs in the right side-bar.)  When I didn’t have the words for prayer, I leaned on the words of others, even just repeating the Lord’s Prayer word for word or reading the Psalms or surrounding myself with inspiring, godly music. 

            When you are going through the really hard times, listen daily to some uplifting Christian music.  (Or make a habit of listening to an especially uplifting song during your most vulnerable time of day, such as right when you wake up or are going to sleep.  And when your mind starts going to dark places, recall this song, hum it, even if you can't listen to it.)  Fill your heart, mind, and home with inspiring, godly music.  I believe this is crucial because music oftentimes sets the tone for our thoughts. 

            And I believe that godly music helps protect us and our faith.  Demons are attracted to negativity and discouragement and anxiety and fear, etc.  And if we give ourselves over to those negative things, we give them “open doors” and “welcome mats” and will be more vulnerable to attack.  But filling our homes and minds with godly music is repulsive to them and it will keep them back more, protecting us more from attack and giving us time to gather our strength.

            You don’t believe me?

            “Whenever the [evil spirit sent by God to torment him] came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play.  Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.”  (1 Samuel 16:23) 

            There is power – good or bad – in the music we listen to, in what we fill our minds with.   

            Philippians 4:8:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - is anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.”

            Proverbs 4:23:  “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”



6.  Pray for spiritual protection.

            I believe that an angel’s job is to be God’s messenger and to minister to Christians and to fight on our behalf and God’s behalf.  I do not believe that we can order them around, but I do believe that we can ask God to send them to help us in the battle.  And so I make it a habit – especially when I am feeling weak and scared and vulnerable – to pray that God sends His heavenly angels to surround me and my family, to protect us from evil, to put a hedge of protection around us and to keep the demons away.  (It may also be helpful and/or necessary to say something like this out loud:  "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you [demons] to leave."  For more on my views on demonic/angelic activity, read a previous post “Repost of ‘Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God’.”)                



7.  Pray Scripture back to God

            Another thing to try when you don’t have any words of your own is to pray Scripture back to God.  Take the promises that He has given us in His Word and pray them to Him, telling Him which promises you are grabbing onto and trusting Him to fulfill, and reminding yourself of His faithfulness.

            An example:

          Prayer for when Anxiety Strikes

            Psalm 55:22:  “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”

            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

            John 14:27:  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

            Lord, You say that we can present to You all of our concerns and needs.  You say that You will never let us fall, that You will sustain us, and that we will be filled with Your peace, if we are praying with thanksgiving.  Well, I am pouring out my fears and doubts and concerns right now to You.  I am acknowledging how weak I am and that I need You.  I am casting my cares on You because they are too heavy for me.  They are too much for me to handle and I need Your help.  I need to put them in Your hands and let go of them because the weight is crushing me. 

            And I thank You for all of Your faithfulness in the past, how You have always helped me through the hard times and have never left me alone.  I thank You that You can carry the things I can’t, that You can pick up the pieces I drop, that You can see the big picture when I don’t. 

            Now Lord, please, I need Your peace, the kind of peace that protects my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.  I feel scared and vulnerable and fragile and so broken.  I have no peace of my own.  I need Yours, please.  Thank You for being a God that truly cares about us and that won’t leave us alone in our pain.  Thank You for being faithful.  Thank You for being there, even if no one else is.    


            [There are more prayers in the long version of this post, right before this one.  Now find your own verses and put them into prayers and pray them out loud.  It helps your soul in a deep, supernatural, mysterious way.]



8.  Read your Bible.

            Learn more about the big picture, instead of just focusing on the concerns of life right now.  Learn about who God is and who we are, about how He deals with us and responds to us and loves us and forgives us.  Memorize Scripture and write it around your house so that you can recall it during a moment of need, when you sense an attack from the enemy or when your mind starts going to dark places.  Learn biblical truths – about God’s love and faithfulness and grace and all-sufficiency and forgiveness - so that you can preach these truths back to yourself, so that you can counter the attacks of the enemy and of your own broken mind.   

            When we are in pain, we tend to get tunnel-vision, to view God only through the lens of our pain and our confusion about why He’s not getting us out of the pain.  But He is so much bigger than that.  And we cannot base our view of Him on what is going on in our particular circumstances right now or on how He answers (or doesn’t answer) our prayers. 

            Life and faith and God are so much bigger than that.  Immerse yourself in the Word, with the intention of getting to know God better, not just trying to get what you want from Him or figuring out what else you can do to please Him enough so that He will finally give you want you want.



9.  Use your sword!

            If there is one thing I have been learning as I have faced the spiritual battles of depression and anxiety, it’s this:  I NEED GOD’S WORD!

            I used to see God’s Word as a good guidebook for life.  And, yes, it is that.  And, yes, it is a history lesson and a prophecy of things to come and God’s message of love, redemption, and salvation. 

            But it is still more than all that. 

            Ephesians 6:17 identifies the Word as the “sword of the Spirit.”  Along with prayer, it is the only offensive weapon we have in the spiritual battle.  The other pieces of “armor” (read Ephesians 6) are defensive, meant to help us resist the attacks of Satan.  But prayer and the Word (and the Holy Spirit) are meant to help us advance against him, to strike back. 

            In Matthew 4, when Jesus was being tempted in the desert, He used only the Word to fight against Satan.  That is quite a picture of the power of Scripture and our need for using it in spiritual battles.  If Jesus Himself needed it and relied on it, how could we think that we can get along without it?  That we can battle against Satan in our own power and wisdom?

            We need the Word.  Especially during the trials and heartache and darkness and confusion.  Especially when it feels like God is far away and like He has left us to do battle on our own (which will happen at some point, usually when the internal battle is the fiercest).  Especially when we have been beat down and we are out of strength and on our faces, unable to get up and deal with one more attack.

            As I have been fighting the difficult spiritual battles of anxiety and depression over the years, I am beginning to understand the incredible need to use Scripture as the sword that it is, as a weapon against evil.  I am learning the value of memorizing Scripture, of posting verses around the house, of praying Scripture back to God, of reminding Him of the promises He has made and leaning on them and asking Him to fulfill them now, and of recalling Scripture during times of trial and need and weakness.  (And honestly, in battles with anxiety and depression, every day is a time of trial and need and weakness.)  Even just saying a well-chosen verse out loud can help tremendously.

            We ourselves cannot defeat Satan.  But prayer can.  And God’s Word can.  And we need to get serious about using it as the weapon is it, not just as another book for our shelf. 

            [But remember that Satan knows Scripture, too.  Far better than we do.  And he will do all he can to twist it, to use it against us, and to give us only half-truths.  He did this to Adam and Eve and Jesus.  So we need to immerse ourselves in Scripture, to absorb it, to live in it, and to study it carefully so that we are not misled.] 

            Scripture (and prayer) is our greatest weapon against evil.  Take it up.  Turn it inside and out, until you know it deeply.  Carry it around daily – in your hand, mind, and heart – until it becomes a part of you.  Put verses up in your house where you can see them, and repeat them out loud whenever you need to.  And lean hard on the Word when you find yourself in a discouraging trial, facing fear and heartache and temptations and what feels like God’s silence.



            [Even if you can’t find the verses you want, write out statements that you know are true or ones that you need to tell yourself – such as “God is always with me and I matter to Him … He can help me do anything … I will be okay because God gives me strength … I am thankful for today, today is a blessing, and I will notice the good things today, etc.” 


            Oftentimes, we make problems for ourselves because of the things we tell ourselves over and over again, such as “I hope I don’t wake up feeling anxious in the morning.  I’m afraid I’m going to lose it.  What if I wake up anxious?”  And then guess what happens?  You wake up anxious.   


            Or you tell yourself “I hate being in crowds of people.  No one ever talks to me.  What if no one talks to me and I have to stand there alone all night?”  And what happens?  No one approaches you – not because they don’t want to talk to you but because you exude uncomfortableness and that makes them feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

            Write out the things you need to be telling yourself, instead of the unhelpful things you usually tell yourself.  And read them every day if you need to.  Our words have a lot of power, especially over our mind and outlook.  And it takes time and effort to break the cycle of negative, self-fulfilling thoughts.  Who do you want to be?  How do you want to live?  What truths do you want to live by?  Write it all out.  And start living it.]  



10.  Make your own Psalm.

            When I couldn’t find my own words to pray, I also found it helpful to create my own Psalm.  I read through the Psalms and marked a couple verses from each one, and then I compiled them into my own Psalm and read it when I needed encouragement.   

            Or if you don’t want to do the Psalms, just compile whatever verses mean the most to you.  Or do a Bible study with others.  Maybe give the Bible Study that I wrote a try with a friend, over at https://ironsharpensironbiblestudy.blogspot.com. 

            The point is to get outside of your own head and your tunnel-vision and your problems and to get into God’s Word, into more about who He really is and how He really works.  The more you learn about who He really is, the more faith and trust you will have in Him to be a “Big Enough God” who can handle your concerns.



11.  Consider your answers to these questions (see if any help you in your struggle with depression or anxiety):

            Do I really trust God?  Does my anxiety stem from not trusting Him or not trusting me

            Do I feel like everything rests on me, like I have to be strong enough or smart enough or good enough?  Am I relying on myself, refusing to “need” Him, or refusing to be humbly broken before Him and reliant on Him? 

            Do I believe He is in control and can handle my concerns?  Am I exhausting myself trying to handle it all on my own?  Am I trying to deal with things in my own strength and wisdom and timing?  Do I think I can do better than Him?

            Do I think He’s good and faithful only when I am getting my way and life goes as I want it to?

            What is my faith resting on?

            Am I feeling trapped by something in life?  Helpless?  Hopeless?  What is making me feel trapped, helpless, or hopeless right now?  What does God want me to do about it (pray about it)?

            Am I running to something or away from something?  Am, I relying on or pursuing anything other than God?  What does God want me to do about it?

            Where am I feeling stuck?  Pray it over to God and ask His help in getting unstuck.

            Am I blaming God for other people's mistakes and the ways they let me down?  (Remember that God has given us all the right to do right or wrong.  If other people choose to do wrong, it's not His fault.  And it's not that He doesn't care.  It's just that they had the right to choose how they wanted to act.  And they - we all - will be held accountable for our choices.)

            How do I feel about myself?  What kinds of negative things am I constantly telling myself?  (Pray them over to God and ask Him to show you what He really thinks of you.  And read the Bible for what it says about His love for us.)

            What are my idols?  What am I striving for?  What am I working for too much – attention, praise, earthly success, security, money?  How does my focus need to change so that I am working for the things that matter and putting God first?  Am I willing to work for an “audience of One,” to work to please God alone and not be concerned about what others think or what earthly rewards it brings or what I can get out of it?

            What are my goals in life?  Where does “bringing God glory” and being obedient and working for His Kingdom and righteousness come in on that list?  What does my life – the things I spend my time and money and effort on - say about what my goals are?

            What are my true needs?  And which of my “needs” are simply great, big wants?  Which needs do I need to stop pursuing, to set aside, to allow God to change or fulfill as He sees fit?

            How much time am I willing to give to worry and to thinking about all the ways I fail and the things I fear and the “what ifs” and to be upset by what I don’t have?  Especially when all that worry and ruminating does no good anyway but only makes me more anxious or depressed?  When will I hand all these concerns over to the Lord and trust Him to handle them far better than I can?  (Write out your prayer requests and the things you have handed over to Him, and review it regularly and write down any answers or insights along the way.)

            If my circumstances never change, can I be okay with that?  Will I cling to Him or turn my back on Him?  Can I praise Him anyway?

            What can I learn from the trial?  How can it be used for good, for me or for others?

            What other questions should I be asking myself?  (Pray about this and watch for answers.)

       


12.  Be gracious toward yourself!

            You make sense.  You are not a hopeless mess.  You are human.  And humans hurt.  Humans break sometimes.  And we all need compassion and grace and understanding and love and forgiveness – for ourselves and for others. 

            So do not feel abnormal, like there is something wrong with you.  We are all broken in some way.  (It’s just that some people don’t know it yet.)  None of us really knows what we are doing in life.  (Although some won’t admit it.)  We are all just trying to make it through as best we can.  So you are in good company – in the company of many other hurting, broken, clueless, weak, needy people.  The very people that God holds closest. 

            Psalm 34:17-18:  “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” 

            And remember that it takes time.  Don't think there's something wrong with you if you can't "get it together" as quickly as others think you should.  Give yourself time to grieve, to heal, to grow, to wallow at the feet of God if you need to.  He's got you, and He won't let go of you, no matter how long the process takes. 

            And another thing:  Suicide is not an option!  Drill this truth into your head.  Repeat it out loud.  "Suicide is not an option."  Find reasons for why it's not an option, why you need to live.  Don't daydream about ways to "end the pain."  Suicide is not an option!  (If you find yourself flirting with the idea of suicide, tell someone you love or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.)   



13.  Simplify!  And go slow!  And learn to “be still.”

            Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”

            When the stress hits hard and you are losing your ability to stand, simplify everything.  Your schedule, your responsibilities, your possessions, maybe even your relationships.  Say “no” to things, and don’t feel guilty about it.  And do not worry about what anyone else thinks or what their expectations are of you, just do the very simplest things that you need to do each day.  Wake up, make food, hug your family, pray, read your Bible, and give yourself permission to slow down and rest. 

            Above all, quiet your spirit before the Lord.  Learn to simply “be still” before Him, knowing that He is God and that you don’t have to be.  He can handle what you can’t.  He can fix what is broken.  He can carry you when you don’t have the strength to stand anymore.   

            When you get to a bad point - when you feel like retreating from life and like you can barely stand – slow waaaayyyy down and do nothing more than those super-simple daily things.  And consider it a victory.  A huge victory.  A step in the right direction.   



14.  Stay away from toxic things.

            As part of simplifying, stay away from the things that drain you, stress you, kill your soul.  When you are badly broken, Satan loves to pile it on.  And piling it on when we are already feeling fragile can “kill” us.  We can’t always stop the bad things from happening, but we can cut out many negative things.  

            Stay away from the news for awhile.  Stay away from social media if it discourages you or makes you jealous or pulls you away from reality too much or tempts you to be negative toward people.  Stay away from toxic people who suck your time and energy, who cause you stress and destroy your self-esteem and ruin your joy and take, take, take without ever giving back.  Cut out your own negative, toxic thoughts.  (This is easier said than done, of course.  But if you can, take a vacation from all the bad things you think about yourself.  What good has ever come from it anyway?  If you need to, write them down when they pop into your head, to dismantle later.  Or pray them over to God and ask Him to help you see yourself the way He does.  But refuse to dwell on them for now.  You need a break from the negative beatings you give yourself … before they destroy you.)  

            When we are broken really bad, we may need to take some drastic steps to cut negative things out of our lives.  Don’t feel bad about it.  Don’t feel guilty.  Your responsibility is to the Lord and to yourself and to your family.  Do what you need to do for you, to help you heal and make you want to live again. 



15.  Know your triggers and the times when you are most vulnerable.

            What things or thoughts will inevitably send you into depression or anxiety?  Which events, objects, people, times of day, memories, etc. trigger those negative feelings in you?  Figuring this out allows you to take control of your thoughts and feelings instead of having them take control of you.  It helps protect you from being blindsided by them.  You’ll know what starts them and when you are at your most vulnerable, and so you can be prepared for it and take precautions against it, if possible. 

            For example, at night when I am lying in bed is when my mind races the most with the things that I feel I am failing at, with all the worries I have about life and health and my family, with all the negative things I have ever thought about myself and others and the world, and with how much I just want Jesus to come back again and end it all.  And so I know to not trust my thoughts at that time.  In fact, I have “banned” myself from thinking about deep things at night.

            If I have a real problem or concern, it will still be there in the morning.  So I don’t need to work myself up at night over it - when can’t I solve it or do anything about it or even think clearly anyway.  And so I put it off until the next day because I know that I will be thinking better and clearer then, after I have had my coffee and done my Bible reading.  (If you need to, pray at night that the Lord helps your mind sort it out and that He guides you into wisdom, even as you sleep.  Your body might be asleep, but your mind isn’t.) 

            I have often found that problems and concerns have a way of getting resolved satisfactorily even when I haven’t spent the night anxiously dwelling on it, wringing my hands and working myself into a frenzy over it.

            We need to rest at times.  But God never does.  He’ll watch out for us while we take the break we need.


    

16.  Take care of yourself!

            Do what you need to do to care for yourself, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.  And if that means counseling or medication or taking a vacation or spending time alone or cutting off contact with people that make things worse, then do it.  And don’t feel that you have to please anyone else or to explain/justify yourself to the nay-sayers and doubters and “holier-than-thou-ers.”  Ask God in prayer what you need to do and not do right now.  And then follow through with it.  

            (Although, if you are married, try to make sure to “stay on the same team” as your spouse and to include them and work through it with them, if it is safe and proper to do so.  You don’t want your efforts to heal to destroy your relationship with your spouse.)


            [If you want counseling but don’t want to go to a counselor, then try “counseling” with a friend or by yourself.  Ask a wise, mature friend to meet with you and act like she’s a counselor.  Ask her to ask the questions that she thinks you need to hear and to give whatever insights and advice she thinks of.  Or be your own counselor.  We did this in graduate school (where I got a degree in Counseling Psychology).  Get a notebook and play the role of counselor and counselee.  Write the conversation out, asking yourself the questions that need to get asked and answering them honestly.  It’s illuminating.  But pray first and ask God to guide the “conversation.”] 

       


17.  Get outside of your house and outside of your head.  Do something relaxing and soul-refreshing.  Give yourself a goal, a project.  Look for ways to help others. 

            There is a time for hiding … and then comes a time for getting back out there.  For engaging in the world.  Don’t sit all alone at home in the dark all the time.  Open your curtains and let the light in.  Take a walk.  Go to the store.  Start a new hobby.  Give yourself a task or project to complete.  Smile at others and say “Hi.”  Do not close yourself off from the world; it will only make you feel less human and more helpless and hopeless. 

            You need to remember that there is still life going on outside your door and that there is much good out there and much good that you can do in the world.  In fact, some of the best “good” you can do is to use your pain to help others.  So do not close yourself off from the world.  Find ways to engage, to be constructively active, to find the beauty out there, to reach out, to help others and to let them help you.











 


 I like to take pictures of my garden and post them at https://heathersgardenandhome.blogspot.com
It's relaxing and reminds me of God's creativity, goodness, and providence. 



18.  Hold things loosely.

            I’ve learned that it’s really stressful to try to hold onto everything tightly, to maintain careful control over everything, feeling like I need to manage everything and to do it all just right. 

            But our job is not to “do it all” or to “control life and hold the future.”  Our job is just to do the daily jobs that He gives us, faithfully, for His glory, trusting that He will work it all out and guide us to where we need to be and use it for our good and for His glory.  

            He doesn’t need us to know what to do; He just needs us to need Him.  And knowing this will help us loosen our grip on everything.  It helps us put down the responsibilities and the burdens that were never ours to carry in the first place.   

            And hold your possessions loosely.  They do not define you.  They do not complete you or make you important.  They are things that will burn up in the end or that can be taken from you in an instant, in one random natural disaster.  (My heart and my prayers are with Texas right now.)  Find your worth in the Lord.  Build up your treasures in eternity.  Work for the things that really matter and that will last. 

            If you keep eternity in mind, if you judge your “success” and “value” according to eternal standards, you might not get so upset about the “lack of…” and the seeming “failures.” 

            I think someday we will be surprised to see who the true successes are.  I think some of the greatest successes in the world’s eyes are actually great failures in God’s eyes.  And some of the greatest failures in the world’s eyes are actually great successes in God’s eyes.  

            I guess the key is, Whose eyes are we looking through?  By whose standards are we judging “success”?  What are we working for?  Eternity and God’s Kingdom?  Or earthly rewards and pleasures?

          Don’t trade heavenly treasures for earthly pleasures!



19.  Forgive.

            Bitterness is a poison (and we can throw in there “jealousy, pride, self-loathing, fear, and all other things that need to be worked through,” too).  And it will slowly destroy our relationship with others and with God, our faith, our emotional health, and our physical well-being.

            If you catch yourself dwelling on all the ways life has been unfair or with uneasy, joyless feelings, pray and ask God to reveal if there is any heart attitude that you need to deal with and ask forgiveness for.  Is there anyone you need to forgive?  Any grudge you need to let go of?  Any wrong that you need to place in the Lord’s hands, for Him to deal with?  Any heartbreak that you haven’t dealt with yet?  Anything you are beating yourself up about?  Anything you need to confess?  Any idol you are chasing after or clinging to?  Anything you need to “forgive” God for, something that you are angry with Him about and need to face up to? 

            Sometimes, the best way to heal and to deal with pain is to forgive, to let go of bitterness, to ask forgiveness, to make the first move, to forgive ourselves, to accept God’s forgiveness and “go and sin no more,” and to remember that He is God and we are not.   



20.  Cry when you need to.  Distract yourself if you have to.

              For months after my panic attack last summer, I would wake up nearly daily with anxiety.  I felt very fragile.  Very vulnerable.  I could feel this buzzing of anxiety in my brain.  And I was always afraid that it would suddenly overcome me and I would lose control of my mind and begin panicking and end up in the hospital. 

            And of course, our natural response to that fear is to do our best to control ourselves, to try to manage our emotions and to keep ourselves together.  (Exhausting!)

            But one day, instead of trying to hold myself together, I began to cry.  To sob.  I was just so exhausted.  And when I was done, I felt better.  More relaxed.  And I realized that sometimes that anxious feeling is really just a need to cry that has been building inside of me.  And I didn’t even need a clear, obvious reason to cry.  I just needed to cry.  To vent it out.

            And so I made myself a mixed CD of the City Harmonic songs that spoke the most to me, that always made me tear up, that always gave me a little hope.  I labeled it “When Anxiety Strikes” and I listened to it whenever I felt the buzzing in my brain.  And inevitably, it would make me cry (in a good way) and I would feel a little better.

            And on other mornings, it helped to distract myself with light-hearted shows on TV.  If I woke up with the feeling of anxiety, I would turn on a show that didn’t have any bad stories or heavy drama, which in my case happened to be Green Acres (reruns on TV) or my 7th Heaven DVDs – simple shows that are relaxing to an anxious mind.  And I would watch it for about an hour, until the anxiety subsided and I had built up the energy to tackle the tasks of the day.



21.  Decide that you are too tired to be anxious.

        The last time that I felt a panic attack coming on and was afraid that I would lose it, I found myself saying, “No!  I can’t do it!  I don’t have the energy to be anxious.  I am too tired.  Lord, You panic for me.  You worry about the worries that threaten me.  Because I am too tired to deal with it all.” 

            And so I decided to not panic, to not pick up that burden that day.  I was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to be anxious. 

            And oddly enough, that simple decision really helped that day.  The anxiety subsided.  And it hasn’t come on that strongly ever since.  (Although, it does still hit me from time to time in lesser degrees.  It’s still a battle.)



22.  Lighten up.  Decide that it’s time to stop crying.

        You know how I said earlier that sometimes we need to cry, especially when it comes to anxiety.  Well, sometimes, when all you’ve been doing is crying, it’s time to decide that you’ve cried enough.  Decide that it’s time to stop crying and to start living life.  

            Sometimes, continuing to cry about the same thing happens because we are letting our minds dwell on that thing over and over again.  And we need to “take our thoughts captive” and begin turning our focus to other things.  We need to hand the thoughts over to God, replace them with biblical thinking, get God’s view of the situation, and choose to move forward and let God handle the things that discourage us. 

            A therapeutic tip: Schedule a time to think about the “bad things” and cry.  Maybe once a day for ten minutes or once a week for an hour.  So when the bad thoughts pop up and you feel like crying again, remind yourself that you have a scheduled “cry time” at 8:00 a.m. every Monday morning for an hour.  And write it down – the schedule and the things that pop in your mind throughout the day that you want to think about during that time.  This can be helpful because it lets your mind rest in between the scheduled times and it gives it some relief knowing that you don’t have to stuff it down forever, that you will eventually let it come out again if it needs to come out.

            And in between “cry times,” lighten up about whatever you can lighten up about.  Find things to laugh about.  Not everything is that dark every day unless you let it be that way.  Find the bright spots, the things that make you smile. 

          When the problems seem so big and overwhelming, narrow your focus down to one simple thing.  Enjoy one tiny moment!  Marvel at one tiny wonder!  There is still beauty and goodness and delight in the itty-bitty and mundane things that we overlook every day! 



23.  Sing.  A lot.

            I have learned that it is important to sing - out loud - throughout the day to some fun music, to some praise music, or for no reason at all.  Just sing.  Even when you don’t want to.        

            If you can keep singing, no matter what life hands you, then you are going to be okay. 

            And if you are really feeling brave ... dance too.  Dance around your living room or kitchen, all by yourself.   

             [I wonder if there is a connection between singing praises to God and the help He gives us in difficult circumstances and times of need.  “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against [their enemies]…” (2 Chronicles 20:22)  As the people praised Him – even before He answered their prayers and resolved their difficulties – as they praised Him, He set about the defeat their enemies.  How many times do we exhaust ourselves trying to defeat our “enemies” when we really should have just been singing praises to God for being the God that He is, for being big enough and strong enough to defeat our enemies for us?]



24.  Count your own blessings, not someone else’s.  And be thankful for the things that haven’t happened.

            Part of dealing with the trials and the pain is to count our own blessings, not the blessings that others get, which only makes us bitter.  And when we are so focused on our own pain, it’s hard to remember that others have pain, too.  Sometimes way worse than we do.  And I think it’s important to also remember to be thankful for the bad things that haven’t happened to you, the trials that you’ve been spared from.  The newspaper headlines that didn’t have your name in them. 

            There are so many things that could’ve happened to me or my family but that haven’t.  And thinking of all the things we have been spared from makes me thankful for my trials and my pain.  Because I know it could be so much worse.

            If you take the blessings in your life for granted, all you are left with is the pain.  One helpful thing to do is to start a notebook where you keep a running list of the blessings that God has given you (read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts).  Basic things like enough food to eat or strength to lift heavy things or legs to walk.  Simple, overlooked things like a pretty sunset or an interesting rock you found on a walk or a goldfinch at your birdfeeder.  Or more “hidden blessings,” the silver linings on the storm clouds, the few roses among the many thorns - things like the fact that you hug your children every day because you were never hugged as a child or that you have one friend you can confide in when everything goes bad or maybe how someone else found a little encouragement through your painful story.

            (And can I recommend one more “list” idea:  Don’t write a list of things you want to accomplish.  Write a list of things you already have accomplished, the life things, the daily things, the trials you’ve overcome, the characteristics you like in yourself, the values you are proud of, the things you have made, the ways you’ve helped others, the legacies you are passing onto your kids, etc.  If all we look at are the things we haven’t accomplish but want to, we might get discouraged and overwhelmed.  Instead, start a list of what you’ve already done and see how far you’ve come in life.)         

            Maybe set a goal for yourself, such as writing down 10 blessings a day.  And bring some paper and a pen with you wherever you go so you can write things down when they are fresh in your mind.  The harder discouragement strikes and the more trials there are, the more deliberate we have to be about looking for the good.        

            Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

            Notice that “with thanksgiving” is part of what helps us find that “peace in God,” even in the face of the things that make us anxious.  Do not forget the “thanksgiving” part.  It is critical to the health of your faith and your mind.

            Be careful which thoughts you allow into your head.  Your thoughts will affect your feelings.  Your feelings will affect your outlook and how you view God and yourself.  When negative thoughts or self-condemning thoughts plague you, pray them over to God.  Ask His help in seeing the truth.  In fact, write out the negative thoughts that bother you and then write God's truth next to it, the truth you want to live.  And review it often.



25.  Learn to praise Him in the pain and to trust that He walks through it with you and will bring some good out of it.    

            I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again…

            I think that praising God – even in the pain - protects us.  It makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of the Evil One and protects our hearts, minds, and faith more.

            Praising Him is not an act of our feelings.  It’s an act of the will.  We can praise Him – give Him honor and glory – even when we don’t feel like it.  Even when we are hurting.  We praise Him by telling Him that we trust Him, regardless of our circumstances.  We praise Him by thanking Him for His gifts.  We praise Him by including Him in our concerns, by running to Him, by calling Him “Father” even when life isn’t what we want it to be, by trusting that He is listening and that He cares and that He will answer our prayers (in His time and in His way).  We praise Him by being obedient, even when we don’t want to be.    

            And when we can’t think of anything else to praise Him for, we can praise Him for promising to work all things out for good. 

            Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

            We can praise Him for the blessings that come from the pain.  We can praise Him that He holds everything in His hands, that nothing that happens to us happens without His knowledge and consent, that He allows whatever He does because He knows how it can be used for good, that He sees the big picture when we can’t, that He gives us the strength to face the hard times, that He cries with us when we hurt, that He holds us when we ache, that He carries us when we can’t stand anymore, and that eventually He will make all things right again.

          If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either.  If we won’t follow Him in the hard times – if we turn our backs on Him when the going gets tough or when we don’t get what we want – then we were never really following Him to begin with.  

            The genuineness of our faith isn’t tested and proved by how well we handle the successes, how many earthly “blessings” we have, how much we serve at church, or how polished our words and prayers are.  The genuineness of our faith is tested and proved by how well we shoulder the crosses He places on our backs, how well we handle the trials and if we continue to follow Him even when times are hard and our hearts hurt. 

            It is in the struggle and the longing and the pain that I have learned just how sufficient God’s grace is, even if life still hurts.  I have learned that God truly is enough, because nothing else in life really satisfies.  Nothing else in life is that firm of a foundation.  I have learned to keep my eyes on and to work for eternity, because this life holds very little for me and it will all pass away soon.  I have learned that God is so much greater and more mysterious than I ever imagined, and I’m learning to be okay with that . . . because that’s what makes Him the God that He is and not a god of my own imagination (which would be no god at all).  I have learned to sense pain in others and to desire to speak a word of encouragement or eternal hope to them, because I know how a broken heart and broken spirit feels.  And I know that these trials are building something in my spirit and my faith that will come to fruition and fullness in eternity.  And so I can bear with them for now.  For they are temporary.  And they are building a character and faith and trust that will reap rewards in eternity.

            And so I can call them “blessings in disguise” and thank Him for the good He brought out of the pain.

            James 1:2-4:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

          2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all,  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

            Faith that is based on getting what we want is not really faith at all.

            (For a guidebook to help you discover any hindrances in your faith, go to my blog "Through the Furnace: Your Sweetly Broken Journey".)


26.  If don’t know God, what are you waiting for?  How bad does life have to get before you will turn to Him?

            If you don’t know what a relationship with Jesus is and why it matters, check out my post “Starting Your Own Relationship with Jesus Christ (and Why We Need Him)”.  But if you already know that it’s something you want to do, then simply pray to Him out loud, tell Him that you believe in Him and that you need Him and that you are giving your life to Him.  Pray a prayer such as this:


            Dear God,

            I admit that I am a sinner and that I have been living life apart from You.  But I don’t want to do that anymore.  I want to spend eternity with You.  And so today, I am turning to You.  I am choosing to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I believe that He came here and died for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, proving that He is God.  I ask for forgiveness for my sins, and I choose today to make Him Lord of my life.  I open up my heart to You and ask You to fill it with Your Holy Spirit, so that I can live the rest of my life for You.  Thank You for Your sacrifice for me, and thank You that because of it, I can spend eternity with You.  In Jesus’ name,  Amen 


            Or if you can’t pray that much, simply pray “I need You, Lord.  I need You.”


            If you chose to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, tell someone about it.  Telling others is an outward testimony about what has gone on in your heart and it helps to cement your decision to turn to God.  And get a Bible and start reading, and find a good, Bible-believing church so that you can grow alongside other believers.  And welcome to the Family!

 Do you have any tips for dealing with anxiety or depression?  Things that have helped or didn't help?  What advice or encouragement can you share?

                                                - Heather K (Joshua 24:15, Psalm 46:10)  

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