Category Archives: Worry/Anxiety

The Forgotten Part

The overwhelming majority of clients in my clinical practice are black women. Often they come in with similar stories. They have forgotten how to enjoy their lives, or they have a sense that they are simply not sure what they are doing with themselves. Many times they report feeling completely overwhelmed, having sleepless nights, feeling stressed out at work, and feeling disconnected in relationships. While they certainly wouldn’t think of themselves as having anxiety or depression, many of these women struggle with symptoms of these disorders on a daily basis. They have been socialized to push through; to keep going no matter what happens; to be whatever is needed for their families. The danger of this for so many women is that they might tend to lose themselves in the process of caring for others. For more information on this experience, sometimes called strong black woman syndrome , come see my previous post.

One of the standard questions I ask in an initial meeting with a client is simple:

What do you do for fun?

It pains me to say how difficult this question is for some people to answer. Sometimes, people actually laugh out loud! Sometimes they roll their eyes or shake their heads. Sometimes, they look down and tears fall down their cheeks. It’s a simple question, but it’s a quick way to assess whether or not a person is attending to themselves and their own needs. Sometimes, we become so caught up in all the things we SHOULD be doing, that we have difficulty maintaining balance in our lives. For me, ultimately, this is an issue of priorities. When we make decisions about what becomes important in our lives, our attention and behaviors are directed toward those things. So, the simple question is: Are you a priority in your own life?

Recently, my devotional time led me to Matthew 11: 28-30. It’s a familiar passage:

“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” (GNT)

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a church, you’ve probably heard this passage. It is usually presented as a message of hope for the weary and overwhelmed. It’s a favorite! But this time, when I read it, something struck me. The first verse talks about God giving us rest. Then, the next verse talks about taking God’s yoke up. If you’re not familiar with that term, it typically refers to a wooden structure that is used to attach work animals to a cart or other vehicle of some kind so that they can pull it. So, God is going to give me rest….by giving me something to pull? (Insert puzzled face here)

Then, it hit me: God gives us rest when we are freed from heavy loads that we have no business carrying! The invitation to rest is not an invitation to an existence that is free from responsibility- that’s not realistic. It’s an invitation to carrying the loads God assigns to us and putting down the ones we have decided to pick up along the way, that perhaps were’t even ours to carry. This rest is an invitation to put down the unimportant, burdensome responsibilities of life, and pick up only the things that matter. This rest is an invitation to make good choices about how we commit ourselves.

Many of us could benefit from heeding this wonderful invitation. How many things are you doing just because you feel like you SHOULD be doing them, or because if you stop, someone will be upset with you. Have you stopped to ask yourself if there is purpose and fulfillment in those things? Have you prayed about whether God is calling you to these activities? And, here’s the critical question: What parts of yourself have you forgotten in the process?

Have you forgotten to laugh and play?

Have you forgotten to connect with dear friends?

Have you forgotten how to actually enjoy your family in an effort to “take care of them”?

Have you forgotten to take care of your body?

Have you forgotten to spend meaningful time with God?

Have you forgotten to ask for what you need or to make space for rest and rejuvenation?

I want to issue a challenge: Take a look at the forgotten part! Do an inventory and answer honestly whether there are pieces of you that you have lost in the process of living your life. If the answer is yes, that’s ok, because God’s promise is clear: “Come to me, all you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” Let God reorganize your priorities and your life. Get the rest you need! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Knowing the Signs

A big part of the way we care for ourselves is to simply pay attention. One of the consequences of the frenzied pace that many of us run at is that we do a lot of things, but we don’t necessarily do those things in ways that allow us to be fully present.  Think about your typical day- how much of it is on autopilot? Probably a significant amount. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it might mean that we are less able to recognize when something is “off” with us. As a general practice, its important to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Doing this allows us to have awareness of how we are doing, and if we need to make some changes in order to be well. Maybe you find yourself “going through the motions” from time to time. If so, keep reading!

Take the time to do a full inventory. For some folks, the easiest place to start is the body. Take a moment and mentally scan your body from head to toe: does anything hurt, feel tight, tingly, or out of line? Have you recently been having an increase in headaches, stomach pains, digestive issues, or trouble sleeping? I often tell my clients that our bodies have a way of telling on us. While cognitively we might be able to push through, our bodies often reveal the stress we are carrying around and not managing. Why is this the case? It’s physiology. Our bodies respond to physical, interpersonal, and emotional stress by secreting a chemical called cortisol. Cortisol is GREAT for managing physical stressors: it temporarily grants us keener vision, greater strength, speed to run, and the ability to ignore typical human needs like hunger, thirst, and sleep. That’s why we see stories of parents lifting wrecked cars to save their children, and people not realizing they’ve been burned as they run from a burning building after saving someone. However, most of our stressors are not physical in nature. And the same chemical that helps us to respond most efficiently to physical threats poses great dangers to our internal organs and bodily processes when exposure is prolonged. As a consequence, our bodies simply “tell on us” when we are under a lot of stress.  So, don’t ignore physical symptoms– they might be a sign it’s time to make a change!

Mentally, have you been feeling lost, unorganized, or distracted? Do you have difficulty making decisions or keeping up with basic tasks? Do you find it takes you longer to complete things or that you are generally unproductive? Emotionally, have you had a short fuse lately? Do you feel sad, frustrated, or overwhelmed? Have you been worrying a lot, or feel like your thoughts are racing so fast it’s hard for you to keep up with them? Any one of these experiences could clue you in that something is off. When we are overwhelmed, we are less able to manage our emotions and there is less stability in our thought lives. Trying to juggle too many responsibilities at one time often leaves us unable to do anything well; you know the saying: “Jack of all trades, ace of none”.

Spiritually, people might feel unfocused and disconnected. There is a sense of dryness or a lack of excitement or energy. You might feel hopeless or helpless, wondering how to move forward. You might be feeling that God has forgotten about you or lack a sense of direction.

I have a simple message for you: don’t ignore the signs! When you start to feel off kilter, it is not simply a time to press through. Keep going, but you may need to do so with caution. A while ago, I provided some steps on how to manage crisis situations in the Stop, Drop, and Roll post. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, check there first! If you don’t feel your situation is as dire, or if you’ve already read the post mentioned above, here are some suggestions.

First; prioritize and refocus your activities. This could be a process you complete with daily tasks, or with longer term goals in your life. Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower developed a simple system for making efficient decisions in wartime. He looked at tasks in terms of two intersecting dimensions: Importance and Urgency. Categorizing tasks in this way helps you to figure out how to make decisions between competing responsibilities and demands.

– task that are both important and urgent should go to the top of your list. You need to deal with these right away!

– tasks that are important but not urgent can become long term goals. You might be able to break these into some smaller tasks that can be more easily managed.

– tasks that are urgent, but not important require you to make a critical decision about whether this task is something that you need to complete at all. Is it your job to do? Will not doing it result in a crisis? Can the deadline pass, with the task left undone, without anything terrible happening?

– tasks that are neither urgent nor important……need I say more? Let it GO!

Second, develop a plan of action. Break large goals into smaller goals with clear deadlines. Ask for help if you need to. Do an inventory of the resources you need to be successful.

Third, pick one or two self-care practices to engage in. They can be simple: taking a walk every couple of hours, connecting with a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, spending some time reading a book or doing an activity you love, etc. Often, self-care is the first thing to go when we’re feeling overwhelmed. But it’s important to keep these practices going! If you don’t engage in self-care, eventually you will run out of steam and you won’t be able to get anything done. It’s important to take care of you.

Hopefully, this helps as all to pay attention to ourselves and take good care of US. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

 

What Therapy is Not

Last month, I tried to convince you to go to therapy. Call me biased, but I truly believe it can be helpful when you engage in the process. However, I also know that we are often bombarded with media portrayals of therapy and therapists that can give lots of wrong information about what actually happens during the process. Hopefully, I answered some of your beginning questions in my previous post; this time, I want to talk about what therapy is NOT.

1. Therapy is not a quick fix: Sometimes, people have the expectation that after one session of therapy, you will feel better. Though you may experience some relief simply from getting things off your chest, your problems are not likely to be resolved after just one session. It takes time to build skills and strategies that will help you work toward your goals. Be patient and trust the process. Most therapists will check in periodically to ensure that you feel you are still working toward your goals and making progress. I often have people ask me how many sessions I think they will need- this is a really hard question to answer because people are so different and have different needs. It might be helpful to just acknowledge that you can’t be sure exactly how many sessions you will need, but you can pay attention to your symptoms and notice when you are starting to feel better.

2. Therapy is not done to you. Your therapist does not have a magic wand or fairy dust. Therapy doesn’t happen “at” you. In order for it to work, you have to put time, energy, and interest into the process. For some people, that might mean homework, reflecting during the time you are not in session, and practicing new skills. Your therapist can’t fix you! Their job is to provide you with some perspective and resources to live the life you desire. Your job is to put in the work, enact the skills and focus on the strategies provided to reach your goals.

3. Therapy is not boot camp. Your therapist doesn’t set a goal of seeing how many times they can make you cry in an hour. It is not our intention to make you feel bad. We don’t want to push you beyond what you are capable of. However, negative feelings can sometimes be a part of the process. Our job is to be there as support, help you to understand and explore what you are feeling, and hold you accountable to the goals you’ve set for yourself. Sometimes, that means you won’t like what we say, but you should always have the sense that you can trust your therapist’s intentions are in the right place.

4. Therapy is not a friendship. The best therapeutic relationships are ones where there is a deep sense of mutual care and respect between therapist and client. However, they should not be confused with friendships. Therapy is a professional relationship where the focus is on you and your needs. That means there should be certain boundaries in place: therapists don’t share about their lives the way a friend would; we don’t spend time with clients or talk extensively outside of the time spent in therapy; we don’t take on people as clients if we interact with them socially in other circles. There is a reason for this: therapy should be a protected space and you should feel free to share anything and everything about your life. If you interact with your therapist in other ways, it could complicate the safety of the relationship. This does not mean that you don’t care about your therapist and they don’t care about you- it just means that there are rules for keeping the relationship healthy.

5. Therapy is not a cure all. Sometimes, people feel completely better after going to therapy. For others, there might be a longer term diagnosis that does not totally go away. For those folks, the goal is to build skills so that they can manage their symptoms and live a happier, healthier life. Because we are humans, we have symptoms- sometimes we might feel anxious, sad, overwhelmed, or frustrated. The goal is not always to get to a place where you have no symptoms at all. Sometimes, the goal is to get to the place where those symptoms don’t take over your life or stop you doing the things you want to do.

So, hopefully this helps you to manage your expectations. Therapy is a wonderful experience, and it can be a little different when you try it for the first time. If you are ready to start the process, go to http://www.PsychologyToday.com to get started.

Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!

So you think you want to go to therapy?

One of the things I intentionally do is talk about therapy and how helpful it can be. In faith communities and especially in black faith communities, mental illness and it’s treatment are still highly stigmatized. We tend to try to pray away our emotional concerns, or go to pastors and other faith leaders for a quick fix. While these are good steps, some issues also require the attention of a professional. So how do you know when it’s time to seek out a professional? Here’s a list of signs it might be time:
– if you’ve been tired, sad, nervous, overwhelmed, or “off” for more than a couple weeks and nothing seems to help
-if you notice you have difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach issues, or problems with concentration that can’t be explained
– if you are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled in your relationships
– if you are having difficulty managing the different tasks in your life
– if you have frequent crying spells, find your self lashing out at others, or have noticed an increase in substance use in an attempt to cope

These are just a few; the reasons I hear most often. But I should probably provide a disclaimer here: I THINK EVERYONE SHOULD GO TO THERAPY. Everyone. EVERYONE! Whether your concerns are mild, moderate, or severe, therapy can be helpful for you. One of the great gifts of therapy is that it is an invitation to take a brief hiatus from the hustle and bustle of your life and dedicate an hour of time totally to yourself. You get the opportunity to sit with a person who cares about you, but who won’t share their opinions, tell your business, or insert their own desires in the way they provide support. I can’t think of another place in life where all those things come together. It’s a peculiar and wonderful space! Yet, I understand how scary it is to enter a room with a stranger and bare your soul in such a way. So, I honor that it is a big decision and thought it might be helpful to demystify the process.

First, do some introspective work.

Why do you want to go to therapy? What do you want to get out of it? Ask yourself: If I woke up tomorrow and things were all better, what would be different? What would be the signs that my life had taken a shift?

Your answer to this question is the beginning of your goals for counseling. It’s ok if it’s not crystal clear, but it’s important to have at least a sense of where you want to go. Once you have at least a vague goal in mind, it’s time to begin to search for a therapist. Some logistical questions to consider:

– if you have health insurance, does it cover mental health (behavioral health)? Do you have a deductible that requires out of pocket payments before sessions will be covered? How much is your copay per session? Call your insurance company (or check online) for a list of therapists who accept your insurance. This gives you a place to start.

– if you don’t have insurance, how much can you afford to pay? Frequency of therapy is variable- you can go weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, depending on what you need and how much you can afford.

– what characteristics of a therapist would help you to feel ready? Similarities in gender, race, or religious affiliation? Maybe you can check with a pastor or a friend to ask for a referral

-Do your research: Just like dating, or finding the right furniture, or buying a new car, it’s helpful to get some information before you make a decision. One of my favorite websites is PsychologyToday.com because you can search by a myriad of characteristics and specialty areas, as well as insurance provider. In addition, you can hear, in the therapist’s own words, what they believe about therapy and how they like to help people get better.

Once you decide on a therapist, take a deep breath, and give them a call. You may have to call multiple people- sometimes people aren’t accepting new patients, or maybe your schedules don’t align. That’s ok! Keep making calls until you find someone. Most clinicians will be happy to answer a couple of questions over the phone- how the process will go, what the first session will be like, how you can pay, or something of the sort.

At your first appointment, you will have paperwork to fill out, just like when you go to your medical doctor. Give yourself a few extra minutes to get all that done and arrive a little early to your appoinment. Generally the first session is focused on information gathering- there will be LOTS of questions- your therapist is just trying to get to know you! They may take notes, or have some papers they go through as you explain what’s going on with you. The goal is to get a good picture of how you’re functioning right now and where you want to go. This is also an opportunity for you to ask questions about how the process will go, how your therapist does treatment, and what you should expect. At the beginning, you and the therapist are getting to know each other and getting comfortable with each other. The role of a client will be different than any other relationship you’ve had, because you won’t really know a lot about your therapist. While this may seem odd at first, it’s actually a good thing, because it keeps the sessions focused on you!

A note: At the beginning (and often throughout the process), therapy can bring up a lot of emotions. It’s normal for you to feel nervous, sad, or overwhelmed. We therapists have a special tool for if those feelings come up: TISSUES!! We are not scared of your emotions, you will not be “too much” for us, and we can handle it. That’s why we went to school! Remind yourself that discomfort can be a part of the process, and that it can produce change if you stick with it.

Therapy can be scary, but working with the right therapist is so worth it! If you’ve been wondering about it or considering a visit, take the plunge and make the call! It is a great step to take for you and your mental health. You deserve it!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Stop, Drop, and Roll

Have you ever had one of those days? One of those days? When it seems like before you can even get yourself together for the day, everything is crumbling around you? I have too. They are a part of life, but that doesn’t make them enjoyable, and often, they don’t feel manageable when we are right in the thick of it. Not too long ago, I had one of those days. By 9am, I was ready to crawl back into bed, and wait for the day to be over. But, that wasn’t an option- I had things to do that day, so I had to get myself together. In the midst of my almost melt-down, three words came to me- Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Does that phrase sound familiar? When I was in elementary school, that was the fire safety motto- Stop Drop, and Roll. The idea was if you were to ever catch fire, these three actions were the quickest and safest way to minimize damage to yourself, and protect the safety of others. So, let’s see if we can make this work for a day that feels like it’s about to explode:

First, Stop and Center. Most of us have emotional, cognitive, and physical signs that we are feeling overwhelmed, but we often ignore those signs and try to press through. Instead, when you start to notice those signs ramping up, stop and center yourself. “Centering” can look different for all of us. Sometimes it’s a quiet prayer, a few deep breaths, a phone call to a friend, or maybe taking a walk to get a quick break. Whatever will help you to stop and calm down, do that.

Second, Drop What is Unnecessary.  When you are feeling on edge, you simply are not capable of doing everything. Often, if you try, you find that you make mistakes, don’t fully complete tasks, or aren’t invested the way you would want to. So, rather than try to do more than you are able, go into problem solving mode. What can wait until tomorrow, or maybe even next week? Rate the tasks you need to complete in terms of urgency and importance. Those things which are both urgent and important probably need to be done today. In most cases, everything else can wait until another day and you are in a better space.

Third, Roll with the punches. There is a term in psychotherapy training called “rolling with resistance.” It basically means that as clinicians, we don’t try to force people to do or talk about things when they aren’t ready to. This has become a strategy that I try to hold on to in my “real life” too. Sometimes, you can’t fix everything and you just have to roll with it. Sometimes, the project you’re working on won’t be perfect. Sometimes, you can’t make that friend not be upset at you. Sometimes, you just have to acknowledge that you are not at your best, but you will do what you can. Develop an idea of what “good enough” is, and let that be ok every once in a while. Allow yourself to have an off day. Remember that this day is only one day in the grand scheme of things. Even when things go wrong, you still have something to be thankful for!

So, next time you’re having one of those days, remember these three simple steps. Stop, Drop, and Roll! Trouble and frustration may knock you down, but they don’t have to take you out. Thanks for reading, and make well choices!

 

Hope in a Horrible World

The past few weeks I have felt really overwhelmed and frustrated by the horrible things happening in our world. It seems like every couple of days, there is a great tragedy that leaves is reeling, and utterly helpless. It’s not too difficult to find yourself spiraling into despair after watching the news. And, if you’re someone who has a predisposition toward anxiety and/or depression, times like these can be even more trying. Life events might seem to confirm your suspicions that the world is a terrible place, bad things happen all the time, or that things will never be ok. I understand, and I’ve been there too. But I also think it’s important for us to find ways to hold on to our hope in this scary world. So, here are some suggestions:

  1. Manage how much time you spend devouring bad news. One of our natural tendencies when bad things happen is to read/watch everything we can about it. We live in a culture where the mainstream media will remind us of a tragedy constantly for the several days after it happens, and our 24-hour way of being in the world makes it so we have access to horror at all times. Here’s a tip- just because you have access to it, doesn’t mean you should take it in. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a break! Maybe that means skipping the news one day, or giving yourself a two hour break from Facebook; you are the best judge. I’ll add to this that we live in a world where are online conversations can become inhumane and demoralizing very quickly- some of us would do better to not try to have conversations about controversial topics through a faceless medium. The detachment of having an actual person there can lead people to be insensitive and downright cruel in their commentary. You can make a choice about whether conversations like these will be helpful or harmful to you.
  2. Hold on to things you know to be true. A helpful reminder during times like these is that while some things may be going poorly, all things aren’t. Spend some time reflecting on the good in your life- friends, family, job, whatever those things are for you. Remind yourself of things that are going well- for you and in the world. All is not lost. Remembering things that are good can help balance our sadness about the bad.
  3. Do something! Often, tragedies leave us feeling helpless and if there is nothing we can do. In many cases, this isn’t actually true. For instance, after a hate crime, you might engage in activities that help educate people about discrimination or racism. After a natural disaster, you might volunteer your time to help those who have been gravely affected by it. Maybe your action is simply to try to engage in meaningful conversation about what happened. Maybe you will seek to advocate about a related issue to your elected representative. Again, the choices is yours, but actions can help us to feel as though we are doing more than simply letting the world act on us and whip up around.
  4. Remember God’s Promises. This is not the obligatory <insert churchy phrase here.> In fact, I think some of those things can be more harmful than helpful. For more on this, check out this article: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/june/5-dumb-things-christians-must-stop-saying-when-evil-strikes.html. When I say remember God’s promises, what I mean is that it can be helpful to focus on God’s ability to move in the midst of and in spite of tragedy. It can be helpful to remind ourselves that awful events aren’t necessarily God reigning down wrath and fury. Sometimes, bad things are simply a bad person electing to do a bad thing. What I remind myself is, “I don’t know why this happened, but I trust that God is bigger than this mess”. Sometimes, I simply have to stop trying to understand, and focus on what is right in front of me. Sometimes, I have to acknowledge that what happened was a senseless act, and I may not ever understand WHY it happened, but trust God to help me grow through it. Even when I feel confused and frustrated, my ultimate goal is peace that will allow me to keep going. Remember these words:

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

“And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

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.” Romans 8:28

It’s not easy. But we can get through it. Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Savoring the Sweetness in Suffering

Suffering sucks. It just does. There’s no way around it. Sometimes our natural inclination is just to put our heads down and wait for the hard times to be over. The idea is that if we bury our heads, we can get through it. It’s true that we can get through it that way, but it may not be the best way. What if, instead of just waiting for the bad times to be over, you lifted your head and tried to figure out what you can learn during the hard times?

This would be a different stance for many of us, and it would have to be a conscious choice on a daily basis. It would mean taking a moment to dig in to the suffering, to explore it and see what else can be gleaned. But just imagine what you could get out of it!

You might learn some things about life. You might learn that life keeps going, even if it seems that you will be perpetually stuck in the frustrating place you’re in. You might learn, if you look closely, that it’s never all good or bad. Even in the darkest and most frustrating days, there are rays of hope and light. You might learn that those little things are things to be cherished, and that they can make the suffering more manageable.

You might also learns some things about yourself. You might learn how strong you are. You might learn how resourceful you are. You might even learn about some of your relationships (good things and not so good things). You could learn that you have some virtues you didn’t know you possessed.

The bottom line is that suffering presents us with a unique opportunity: groan or grow. Which do you choose? We’ve already been promised that God will never put more on us than we can bear- that means, we will survive whatever the obstacle is right now. Just keep going! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

I spend a lot of time in my clinical work encouraging people to critically evaluate their thoughts. For many of us, this may seem like a new idea, but it’s a really important thing to consider. Often, our emotions, actions, and reactions, are based upon what we think about a situation. This is natural. The problem is, we have irrational thoughts! While some folks might certainly be more prone to these irrational thoughts than others, we all have them. It’s natural to have irrational thoughts. However, we run into danger when we make major decisions about relationships, ourselves, or our work based on things that end up not actually being true. Here’s an example:

The other day, I called a friend and left a message asking her to call me back. She didn’t call me back that night, or the day after, or the day after. She didn’t even send me a message saying she had gotten my call and was busy. Nothing. This was unusual for her, and lots of ideas ran through my head- maybe she was hurt and something was wrong, maybe she was mad at me for something I didn’t know I had done, or maybe she was just really busy. What if, I had decided to believe the thought about her being angry with me? I could be worried, scared, maybe try to call her a few more times and try to talk to her so we could work things out. Maybe I’d spend a whole day upset that there might be a rift between me and a close friend. The reality was, she thought she called me back, and then forgot- a product of busyness.

If I had focused on the negative (wrong!) thoughts I had twirling around in my head, I could have potentially spent a couple days upset and worried about something that didn’t even exist. I’m sure a  lot of us have been in the position. We get worried and stressed about something that turns out to be not at all what we anticipated. This isn’t something we can change overnight, but it’s definitely worth the time and energy to ask yourself:

Is there a chance I’m overreacting here? Are there any other plausible explanations for what’s going on?

If you can answer “yes” to either of these questions, give yourself some time before reacting. Ask some more questions, and get some more information. Take care of yourself by choosing the thought that will save you some  emotional turmoil and stress! There will be enough times when you’re actually upset for a legitimate reason– don’t give yourself more trouble than you need. Irrational thoughts are often fuel for anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. They can cause damage at work, problems in relationships, and negatively impact self-esteem. We can’t stop them from happening, but we can limit their impact.

So, the bottom line is, Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

The Power in Powerlessness

I was having a conversation with a colleague recently about the powerlessness I sometimes feel in the face of recent world events; widespread racism, genocide, civil wars, terrorism, the list goes on. If I’m not careful, I can easily become overwhelmed and dejected about the state of the world. What often happens is that in these moments we do nothing, and we feel badly.

Even more destructive is when this feeling happens in the course of our every day lives. When we feel that we can do nothing to impact the state of affairs in our lives it can leave us feeling depressed, hopeless, and dejected. Often when people are depressed, they feel that life happens “at” them, that they have no say in what occurs, and therefore shouldn’t put forth the effort to do things differently. First, I think it’s important to note that this is not always the case. Sometimes, there are changes you can make that can positively impact your life. If you feel as though you’ve lost touch with your social support system, reach out to a friend via email, text, or phone call. If you aren’t getting your needs met in a relationship, make sure you have made those needs known. If you are holding a grudge, work to forgive. If you find yourself feeling stuck, ask yourself:

Have I really tried everything I can to make this situation different?

Sometimes, the answer to that question is yes. Sometimes, you have made every move you can make, and things are still aren’t going your way. In this situation, I’d like to suggest that the “right amount”of powerless can actually be liberating. Confession time: I’m a control freak. It’s better than it was, but it’s still not where it could be (I’m sure my husband can attest to this!). In my perfect world, my 5 year plan in a color-coded spreadsheet would unfold in a perfectly synchronized manner. Over the course of my life, I have learned over and over again that this is just not the way the world works. We make plans, and then things change. Sometimes even our most carefully orchestrated plans fall to pieces before our eyes. Here’s where the liberating powerlessness comes in: our plans are limited by our human nature. I can only make plans about things that I can see, hear, experience, or imagine. God, on the other hand, sees everything and knows everything. So God’s plans for us have the capacity to be bigger and better, more complex, more fulfilling, than anything we can create for ourselves. Check out these promises:

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.- Proverbs 19:21

The power in powerlessness is that we open ourselves up to the awesomeness that is a life orchestrated by the Creator. If we do this, we can have the audacity to believe that we can conquer life, even if we don’t understand every step in the process. This I know for sure: we can accomplish more with God than we can alone. A part of this walk is that as we relinquish our own power, God’s power can be fully shone. There’s a reason “I Surrender All” is one of the most popular hymns in the church. I looked up the lyrics to the song online, and found this last verse:

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

The “sacred fame” is the power in powerlessness. When we stop trying to control the whole world, we can actually enjoy it. There can be a comfort in knowing that we have done all we can do, and things are out of our control. It gives us a chance to acknowledge our vulnerability, our limitations, and our humanness. It also gives us a chance to seek comfort in the omnipotence of God and the perfectness of God’s plan for our lives. Surrender is a process. Once we admit we don’t know it all, we can give ourselves permission to need help. Once we admit we need help, we can get help! It’s not simple, but it is rewarding.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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A while ago, I was in the car listening to the radio and the Yolanda Adams song “Through the Storm” came on. The song starts out with these words:

The storms of life will blow
They’re sure to come and go
They meet us all at a time
When I’m calm and doing fine

But the Captain of my soul
He’s always on board
He rocks me in His arms
While riding through the storm

A few days later, my pastor preached a sermon about the importance of praising God in the valley. He said that sometimes the valley is a training ground, and sometimes our valley places are where we will stay. Sometimes the valley is to humble us because we have lost sight of God’s presence and power in our lives. My favorite point was that even though the valley can be dark and lonely, you can still grow! We need to have the wisdom and relationship with God to understand which of these situations best fits us. For those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety from time to time, it’s hard to believe the valley has a purpose other than to bring us suffering and make us feel separate from God. I want to suggest that during the valley times, we should seek after God even more fervently – even (especially!) when we don’t feel like it. For a long time, one of my favorite scriptures has been Psalm 42:1.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God! – Psalm 42:1

It wasn’t until recently that I did some more research and realized that the rest of the Psalm is David crying out to God in a moment of depression. What I thought was an exclamation of joyful praise is actually a desperate cry for God in a dark moment. Imagine how our lives would change if in the moments when we feel most frustrated with God, we cry out to the one that we need just like we need water to survive! For some of us, that may be a hard  thing to imagine, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be rewarding.

Here’s what I know: where ever you are, God is there too. My dad used to tell me God has three possible answers to our prayers: yes, no, and wait. Sometimes when we don’t get the answer that we want, we get mad and want to jump ship. We want to “lean to our own understanding” and do things in the way that makes sense to us. The truth is that God doesn’t promise us that there will be no storms, but there are promises all over the Bible that we will never be abandoned. This really hit home for me as I was preparing for a workshop on the spiritual components of depression. You can’t turn too many pages without finding a scripture that reiterates God’s commitment to be with us every step of the way. For every doubt and question we have while we struggle, God has an answer! Here are just a few:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145: 14)

Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55: 22)

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

These are just the beginning. Even when it doesn’t look right or feel right you are not alone. My challenge to you is to keep trusting through the storm! You might be in the middle of it right now, but it gets better. Trust that even in the valley, even in the dark times, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  Keep trusting. Keep going. God is with you every step  of the way.

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!