This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Personal Responsibility Paradigm” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 6: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events
This chapter is a buffet. If you consider every strategy presented to be an assignment, this chapter will overwhelm you. As you read, select those strategies that best fit your life circumstances, the dynamics of your struggle, and your personality. If you are working through this material with a friend or counselor, invite them to suggest which strategies they believe would have the largest impact.
To help you select a balanced set of strategies we have divided this chapter into six sections. Some of this material will be crystalizing and making more actionable what you have already learned. Other parts will be fresh applications of the gospel-truths we have been building upon.
- Immediate Negative Emotion Response Plan
- Stewarding Your Body
- Extended Negative Emotion Response Plan
- Life Management
- Pursuit of Joy Plan
- Strategic Spiritual Disciplines
Extended Negative Emotion Response Plan
If we began with the “first aid” version of a negative emotion response plan, then this is the “emotional hygiene” version of that plan. There are some things that we do immediately to fix a situation in or moving towards crisis: first aid. There are other things we do to manage situations that have a propensity to become unpleasant: hygiene.
1. Listen to Your Emotions with Doubt:
Hopefully, this is what you’ve been doing since you began this study. Too often we feel threatened by unpleasant emotions, especially when they’ve become chronic, and we try to eliminate them altogether. When we are unable to do this we feel like a failure (shame) and have a heightened sense of alarm that our emotions will be perpetually out of control.
The reality is we will never live without the experience of depression-anxiety. As we’ve illustrated several times, there are advantages to these emotions we should not want to eradicate. Begin the process of listening to your emotions by being able to make the simple statement:
- “I am experiencing depression-anxiety. I wonder what it means and what I will learn about God, myself, and others in the process of responding to this experience in a healthy way.”
Read through your journal entries you began in chapter three. It is often easier to listen objectively to old anxiety-depression than it is to fresh experiences. As you listen to previous experiences, it will help you get to know the newer experiences.
As you listen to your emotions, be careful not to accept everything you hear as “true.” Your emotional experience is “real” but not everything it declares about you, the future, God, or others is “true.” Think about it; how often have your emotions made false predictions and proclamations. Stated differently, if your emotions were a friend giving you financial advice would you put your money where their mouth is?
This disposition of doubt allows you to create some distance from your emotions. You can begin to decide what messages from your emotions are valid and which ones are distorted. You begin to live as if there is a “you” that transcends your emotions; which is an incredibly liberating mindset.
If this kind of thinking is hard for you, then it is recommended that you review steps four and six in the suffering-paradigm materials on depression-anxiety. These deal with the “stories” that often build around our experience of depression-anxiety and how we allow the gospel to become the larger narrative that re-contextualizes these experiences.
Read Psalm 31:9-15. Notice how honest the psalmist is. He is in distress to the point that his soul and body are exhausted (v. 9). This has been a chronic, long-term struggle for the psalmist (v. 10). Whether it is accurate or only his perception we cannot be sure, but the psalmist perceives that his entire social life is wrecked by this struggle (v. 11-13). Yet he is able to doubt the messages of his fear enough to let a new narrative emerge; one where God is trustworthy and guiding his life (v. 14-15). Balancing of emotional authenticity (listening) and emotional freedom (with doubt) is what we’ve sought to accomplish with this technique for battling anxiety-depression.
2. But Don’t Over Analyze:
Don’t get caught trying to “crack the code” in every instance of or journal entry about depression-anxiety. Too often when we engage counseling literature we treat our struggles as if they are riddles to be solved instead of experiences to be lived through and learned from. So, if as you listen to your emotions you do not get a profound insight, that is okay.
In most instances of listening to your emotions, you will simply gain enough distance from them to discern what is good, doubt what is destructive, and choose what is wise. If that much happens, then your experience with that episode of depression-anxiety was an incredible success. God rejoices over you, and you’re becoming more of the person he designed you to be.
If every reflection resulted in an epiphany, you would be exhausted. If we have too many game-changer moments in our life, then we never get to play that “game of life” well. Be content to live wisely in response to each episode of depression-anxiety and trust that God will reveal any big-picture changes that need to occur when you are ready to enact them.
Read Ephesians 5:15-17. Notice how non-impressive the “will of the Lord” is in this passage. Examine your day-to-day life (v. 15). Make the best use of your time (v. 16). Don’t do foolish stuff (v. 17). There are times when God clearly does not want us to over think what it means to please him. A large part of living in the will of God is trusting God to reveal the things we need to know/change/do when we are ready for them.
3. Practice the Opposite:
Emotions have reflexes that contribute to their survival. Impatience fixates on the awaited event in a way that makes patience harder. Jealousy becomes controlling in a way that makes the freedom of the other person arouse more suspicion. Anger recalls every past offense and, thereby, fuels its own fire.
So ask yourself these questions, “What are my depressive-anxious reflexes? What are things that I naturally do when I feel anxious-depressed that make these emotions a more permanent part of my mood?”
Now ask yourself these questions, “What are the opposite reactions to the things I just wrote? How could I make my life less hospitable for depression-anxiety once I begin to experience these emotions?”
If you view this as a mere behavioral intervention, it will seem juvenile; as if you are trying to psych yourself out with reverse psychology. Instead, realize that emotions have behavioral residue as much as they have chemical compositions. If we are going to alleviate the presence of an undesired emotion, we need to combat it at every level – personal beliefs, brain chemistry, and behavioral residue.
Read Ephesians 4:20-32. Notice the three-part change pattern in this passage: put-off (v. 22), put-on (v. 24), and thinking change (v. 23). The following verses apply this pattern to lying (v. 25), anger (v. 26-27), stealing (v. 28), degrading speech (v. 29-30), and bitterness (v. 31-32). Review your notes above and summarize what you learned using these three questions.
- What depression-anxious reactions do I need to “put off”?
- What are the corresponding “put on’s” that would be necessary to replace them?
- What key beliefs or aspects of personal identity would need to change to solidify these changes?
4. Don’t Be a Perfectionist:
Perfectionism may be the best recipe for getting stuck in a perpetual cycle of depression-anxiety. Pressure to be perfect stirs anxiety. Looming, inevitable failure saps all hope and leads to depression. Unless you give up and settle for being “average” then the only option is to get up and repeat the cycle again.
One implication of this is that you will not combat depression-anxiety perfectly and you need to be okay with that. There will be skills you learn that you forget to use or use clumsily. There will be truths you learn and only see their relevance in hindsight. These are pivotal moments in the change process, because you will either get frustrated with yourself and be stalled by shame or embrace God’s grace for these moments and continue to grow.
In order to jettison a perfectionistic mindset consider the following approaches.
- Set Attainable Goals – Do your goals leave any room for you to exceed your expectations? If not, then your goal-setting approach only leaves you the options of “doing the expected” or “failure.” When maximum effort and full potential are needed for mere contentment, then you’re not living an emotionally sustainable life.
- Set Reasonable Time Limits – Sometimes it is not what we expect of ourselves, but how quickly we expect it that emotionally damns ourselves. Impatience rather than grandiosity becomes the unhealthy fuel of our perfectionism. How much margin do you allot for in your learning curve when you set goals?
- Accept Doing “Good Enough” – Is “okay” a four-letter-word in your vocabulary? If everything you do has to be excellent, there will not be enough time or energy for things like family, friendship, or a personal relationship with God. You need a long list of things for which you can be content doing “good enough.”
- Stop Black-and-White Thinking – If, in your mind, the equivalent of “not excellent” is “awful,” then you are likely an emotionally self-abusive person. There needs to be more degrees on your performance thermometer than two – incredible and deplorable.
- Find Joy in the Journey – A good parent enjoys watching their child grow; the stumbling steps of a toddler, the broken words of an elementary student learning to read, the fear of a first job interview, the clumsiness with which they cling to a newborn are all precious to a good parent. We need to delight in the process of our own growth in the same way a good parent and God the Father delights in ours.
- Find Worth in God – Ultimately, perfectionism is about finding our worth in our performance. That is an emotional economy that always goes bankrupt. When we forget that we are loved because of whose we are (God’s) instead of what we do, our entire emotional world goes into upheaval.
Read Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, and 25. Notice how God describes his work of creation – simply “good.” God was not competing with anyone, so he did not feel compelled to use words like “better,” “best,” or “ultimate.” We see in this the contentment of God. It did not hamper his creative excellence, but it allowed him to enjoy the process of creating. We are called to be like God; which means we learn to be content in our pursuit of godliness (I Tim. 6:6). We rely on God’s grace in the process of change and rest in his grace as that change occurs.
OVERCOMING DEPRESSION-ANXIETY: A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PARADIGM
Date: Saturday October 18
Time: 4:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.