Question: The Ground War Against Depression and Anxiety

Facingfugue asked:
Hello! Your posts are a blessing. I see that you come from an area of knowledge in the psychology area as well spirituality . I have been struggling with anxiety attacks for the past two years. Do you have any advice coming from a perspective of a Christian as well? I have been doing C.B therapy but it really is not helping a lot. I used to be very depressed because it made me feel helpless, but Christ has been my refuge and HE has been my joy. The anxiety has been much harder to work out though

Thank you for your kind words!  I’m not sure I’m too knowledgeable about psychology but it does interest me a lot.

I’ve also suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. There was a suicide attempt in 2004 and I have cut myself before. CB therapy (Cognitive Behavioral) can be good for pointing out certain patterns and schemas, but may not be as helpful for treatment as you already know. 

Both therapy and the church can be really bad at handling depression.  Some people stuff it with drugs and others will say it’s “all in your head, get over it.”  Those who do not go through depression have no idea how debilitating it really is. 

There’s probably no formula/advice/plan I could give that’s 100% effective, but I can try to help from experience.  I’m also assuming that you already highly value prayer, reading the Bible, relying on the Holy Spirit, and attending church.  Medicine is also totally appropriate. That’s all the air warfare; here’s the ground war.

1) Be as honest as possible. Without being a victim about it, let people know what’s going on. Tell somebody. I made the mistake of hiding it too often.  Not that you want to announce it with trumpets, but even one or two close friends or your pastor should know when you’re feeling depressed or anxious. Some people will definitely be uncomfortable and ungracious, but then those people aren’t the ones who get you anyway.

2) Find something to do. Everyone will suggest this but it really works.  Depression and anxiety usually come about from the same variables: isolation, reflection, discouragement, or idle time.  Even if we can’t always control our feelings, we can control our actions and environment.  When I feel that fog of depression sinking in or the panic-anxiety rat chewing up my stomach, I’ll usually go for a walk, open a book, call a friend, or watch a stand-up comedy routine on YouTube. 

The hardest part is the first few minutes because honestly, depressed people tend to drown in self-pity and stay there.  The idea that we could actually do something to stop the pity-machine can be strange and bizarre and too easy. We can be weirdly comfortable in our depressed, dramatic mood swings. You’ll almost have to force yourself into action and allow some happiness to break in. 

We also want to be careful that this doesn’t become “displacement behavior.” Some of us will run to other things like it’s our god, and others can run to harmful things like overeating, casual sex, cutting, or hours of mindless internet.  When in doubt, go to a public place in full view of strangers.  Or if you don’t have a car, step outside and explore your house and the outdoors.

3) Push the truth no matter how you feel.  Inside the sneaky gears of depression and anxiety are a pile of lies that simply don’t exist in reality.  We become “false prophets” to ourselves.  We predict a future that most likely won’t happen.  There is a stream of emotional nonsense that we always look back on and say, “Why did I even feel that way? So ridiculous.” But during the nonsense it can be overwhelmingly real. Inside that battle, hold onto the kernel of truth buried under all those lies. Call the lies by name and patiently embrace the truth.  It’s like looking through a stormy sky and remembering there’s a sun up there.

Anxiety means that God isn’t in control.  Is He in control?  He is.  Depression means things will not get better.  Does God work all things together for our good? Maybe not the way we would like and maybe not immediately, but you can stamp Romans 8:28 all over that. Separate the truth and the lies.  Discard the lies, push the truth.

4) Continual counseling and community. Seek help and seek people.  It’s the most obvious truth in Psalm 42.  In depression and anxiety that’s sometimes the last thing we want to do, but it is the crucial step in overcoming.  Counseling doesn’t just come from paid professionals.  It can be with a mature Christian friend, an elderly pastor, even your parents.  At the right time at the right spot, I would hear the exact encouragement I needed in the least likely place with the least likely person.  Sometimes I talked with them over the next few weeks or months; other times it was just that one time that got me through.  And many times, there were not even words.  Just being there.  Presence is powerful.

Our fear is usually that “I don’t want to use someone” or “Waste someone’s time” or “Look so needy.” That’s understandable, and even commendable.  But God has put a countless number of people around us everywhere.  A little here, a little there, with all sorts of personalities.  If I find myself going to the same person too long for counseling, I’m probably entering into a symbiotic-leeching-idolatry with them so I try to mix it up. 

One day when I’m married, I know that I can’t weigh down my wife with 100% of all my emotional gravity — she can’t possibly fulfill the entire force of that need.  So while we shouldn’t be afraid to seek help, it’s good to seek help in various places to gain fresh insight and renewed energy.

5) Do what you’re made to do. God doesn’t make mistakes.  Each of us is uniquely wired to do something for the glory of God.  If I tell you, “Don’t be depressed,” then you might get over that but you’ll just be standing around.  Find your niche, your calling, your abilities and talents and individual God-given weirdness. Cultivate that gift and use it wisely. If you can get on that, eventually you’ll be skipping a lot of the other stuff to get over depression because your mind will have rewired to something else entirely.

Within your calling, you’ll also meet people who have been buried under the same emotional lies.  You get to counsel them.  When I’ve spoken to people who suffer from all sorts of psychological issues, it helps me to understand mine as well.  When I encourage them, I’m forced to speak the truth through their lies, and every time the truth is always opened up for me. But above all you’ll be helping someone. Your struggle could save a life.

God has wired us in such a way that when we help people, we intuitively understand this is part of our purpose and it fuels us for further work.  There’s a momentum in following Jesus, a sort of wonderful freedom that allows — gasp! — actual joy.  Soon we all learn that “overcoming depression/anxiety/addiction/anger/lust/negativity” is like a microcosm inside the larger macrocosm of giving all the glory to God.  Life is much less about overcoming than it is about living for the One who makes overcoming possible.

Originally posted on my Tumblr.

3 thoughts on “Question: The Ground War Against Depression and Anxiety

  1. thank you for your post. there is a life and purpose in my life. All the pain I endured, the abuse, the torture, the suffering – my story can help someone else. Even if it is just to let them know they are not alone. God bless you.


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