Category Archives: Worry/Anxiety

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!

 

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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!

The Power of Relationship

I recently came across an article describing a Baylor University study on the effects of prayer on mental health outcomes. They found that the extent to which people experience positive outcomes from prayer is related to their perception of their relationship with God. People who had a secure attachment  (my words, not theirs) with God were more likely to experience positive outcomes than those who didn’t. “Secure attachment” is a psychological term that describes a care giving relationship where one expects (counts on, believes in) support and protection from the other. This term is often used to describe parental relationships but can be used for other types of relationships at well. So, the bottom line was that people who didn’t believe God would be there in times of need, didn’t feel better when they prayed regularly. Well that makes perfect sense! How many of us pray about something, all the time working on a “plan B” because we don’t really trust that God will act in our situation. We take our burdens to the altar, and then pick them right back up after the “amen.”   I’m guilty of this too, so no accusation here. During these times, doubt and uncertainty (and maybe control issues!) get in the way of our faith walk.  This pattern causes us stress and distress and it doesn’t match God’s promises to us. Stress is the cause of so many of the mental and emotional challenges we face. As a believer, not trusting your relationship with God can lead to loneliness, hopelessness,  anxiety, and depression. None of us wants to feel that we are in it alone.

You know that best friend that you can tell anything to and you know will always be there for you? That’s the kind of relationship God desires with you- and guess what- it’s reciprocal! Imagine what would happen if you actually STOPPED stressing about the stuff you prayed about. Now that’s freedom! That is also the Power of Relationship. When you trust the promise of God’s protection and provision,  you are free to do what you’ve been called to do without the burden of worldly stressors. Here’s a reminder of what we’ve been promised:

Matthew 6:25- Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

Psalm 55:2- Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.

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

Hebrews 13:5b- God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

1 John 5:14-15- Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

Here’s the bottom line- relationship is essential! We can’t truly live in the promises if we aren’t close to the One who makes them!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!