Running After Jesus With Joy

I’ve been having a tough month in terms of mental health. Things are going well in my life but I feel anxious, stressed, and glum.

One of the things I’ve learned is that even with all the tools I have for working through emotionally tough times the things I’m struggling with don’t just go away once you slap a little prayer and therapy on them (at least not all the time). You’ve just got to keep doing things that are healthy for you, allow yourself some time to rest, ask for and give yourself grace when you make mistakes, and keep moving forward. Patience, perseverance, and asking trusted people for help are key to getting through mental health struggles just as they are with any other trials we face.

The Bible talks about our Christian life as running a race. There are times when running this race that people get off track. For example, Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You were running well! Who interfered with you that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you” (Gal. 5:7-10, NET). Usually when the Bible speaks of getting off-track it’s talking about sin. But I think we can also apply part of what Paul says here more broadly–the things that hinder us from running are not coming from the God who calls us to follow Him. They’re coming from an adversary who wants to see us fail; one that we can resist with God’s help.

Image of a girl sitting with her head on her arms by a lake, with this quote: “Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ." the quote is by C.S. Lewis, from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Running Away Isn’t Going to Help

Everyone deals with emotional struggles and mental health issues differently, and those struggles trigger different responses in different people. I tend to withdraw, and I often feel like I want to hide or run away from something. I need to be very careful that this doesn’t make me want to run from God as well.

We’re engaged in spiritual warfare. When we choose to follow Jesus, we’re picking a side in a battle. One of the lies that the enemy tries to tell us is that if you do something God might not like it’s better to run away from Him than run to Him and ask for forgiveness and/or help. Adam and Eve tried hiding in the garden and we’ve been using the same trick ever since. It doesn’t work any better now than it did then.

We human beings are always heading on a path toward either death or life, and it’s far better to run down the path to God rather than the path toward the devil. The only people who should feel like they need to flee God are those that hate him (Psalm 68:1). He’s frightening if you’re setting yourself in opposition to Him, and people who are doing things God hates might feel the need to run when He rises up to take action (Prov. 6:16-19; Is. 59:7). Even then, though He’s astonishingly merciful to people who stop running in the wrong direction and run toward Him instead.

The times when we feel most like running away from God are often the times when we most need to run to Him for help. Whether we’ve actually done something wrong or if we’re beset by groundless fears, heading toward God is the solution. In the first situation we can ask for forgiveness and receive His grace, and in the other we can ask for His peace and receive reassurance.

Image of an eagle flying over a mountain lake, with text from Isaiah 40:31, NET version: "But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without 
growing weary, they walk without getting tired."
Image by Ondřej Šponiar from Pixabay

Running With a Free Heart

God’s people are supposed to do the opposite of what people who hate him or don’t know Him do. Jesus’s sheep run from a stranger’s voice, not taking the risk of being led away from their real shepherd (John 10:4-5). We no longer run alongside people in the world toward “lewdness, lusts, drunken binges, orgies, carousings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3-4, WEB). Many of us used to do those things (and if we didn’t do those we committed other sins) and God forgave us, but now He wants us to flee from sexual immorality, idolatry, and all other evil desires (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:22).

People who follow God know it’s safe to run to Him. We run to God for protection (Ps. 143:9; Prov. 18:10; Jer. 16:19). We run in the straight and narrow path lit by God’s word that keeps our feet from stumbling (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 4:11-12; Matt. 7:13-14). We run to Godly things and “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11, WEB). We run like our Christian life is a marathon that we’ll finish with Jesus running right alongside us.

I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free.

Psalm 119:32, WEB

I don’t think I’d ever noticed this verse before even though I’ve read Psalm 119 countless times. It might be the translation, since the Hebrew more literally reads “for you make wide my heart,” which can be translated as something like “thou shalt enlarge my heart” (KJV) or “you have broadened my understanding” (NIV). I like this “set my heart free” translation, though. It makes me think of running across a sunlit summer meadow laughing and full of joy. That’s the emotional landscape provided by running in the path of God’s commandments. While we’re not guaranteed happiness 100% of the time, we can be full of joy. Having a heart set free accompanies God’s spirit filling us with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23, NET).

Running Well With God’s Help

We can’t do any of this joyful running without God’s help. Our success doesn’t depend on our will to run, but on God’s mercy (Rom. 9:15-16). That’s a reassuring thing, especially when our will doesn’t feel up to the task of getting out of bed in the morning much less fighting an epic spiritual battle. We can’t win this race using our own strength, but we don’t have to. We don’t even need to try; we can just ask Jesus for His strength.

That does not, however, mean we shouldn’t strive to run well. We can’t finish the race without God compassionately setting us on the right path in the first place, but we also won’t win if we sit down and give up. God’s mercy and grace should motivate us to run with endurance toward the goal He sets for us.

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-29, NET

There isn’t just one winner in the race that’s our Christian life, but we should still imitate the high motivation of a runner who wants to achieve victory. Here, Paul highlights the self-control and discipline with which he lives his life because he knows he can’t coast into the kingdom resting on his past accomplishments (Gal. 2:1-2; Phil. 2:15-16). He was highly motivated to stick with this way of life and keep moving forward with Jesus’s strength (2 Cor. 12:7-10; Phil 4:13).

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NET

When struggling with anxiety or other mental and emotional concerns, it helps to remember that our life is a long-term race with ups and downs. We’re not facing anything that faithful people before us haven’t dealt with as well (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 11:1-40). And we’re certainly not dealing with anything that’s too tough for our God. As we run toward Him asking for help, He will strengthen us to get through the tough patches and run the race set before us with resilience and joy.

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Still Struggling Even When Life Is Good? It’s Not Just You

Do you ever feel like everything’s going really, really well in all the parts of your life except inside your head? That’s where I’ve been at for a while now. I started grad school and that’s going really well. I’m teaching and tutoring a wide range of ages and subjects and that’s going really well. I have great relationships with my parents and siblings, I’m getting a new sister next year when my brother gets married, and I have a stable, supportive church family. It’s all fantastic. This is probably the best my life has ever been.

And yet, I keep finding myself sinking into depression and struggling with anxiety. What if all this goes away? Going to grad school was always my back-up plan and if that doesn’t work I don’t have anything in mind to fall back on. I look at what’s going on in the world today, and I don’t really have a lot of confidence that society’s going to remain stable. I tell myself that I’m okay with being 32 and single–that I’m not sure I even want a relationship at this point–but then I feel like I might be lying to myself. So I start worrying, and then I feel guilty for worrying, and then I worry about how my glumness is affecting the people around me. And when people who care about me notice there’s something wrong I struggle to tell them what’s wrong because there’s no good reason for all this worry.

This post isn’t just about me sharing my struggles, though. I’m going to be okay–I’m seeing a counselor again a couple times a month to help get myself back on track with my mental health. My reason for writing today is to get us thinking about how to work through the guilt, shame, and disconnected feeling that can go along with having mental health struggles when everything in life seems to be going well. I often hear people talk about how it’s normal to struggle with depression and anxiety when things in your life aren’t good, or recommendations to focus on the positive and get engaged with your life so those feelings will go away on their own. But what if things are already good, and you are engaged with all the positive things in your life, and you still struggle? That can be “normal” too. Not normal in the sense that it’s a good thing to stay there, but normal in the sense that there are lots of other people struggling with it as well.

Fighting the Battles in our Heads

Some time ago, I wrote a post called “Fighting Something You Can’t See.” I’ve been thinking about that idea recently, and I just went back and read what I wrote three years ago. Near the end of that post, I said, “It’s so hard for me to turn anxiety over to God. In a way, letting go of the thoughts demanding constant attention doesn’t seem safe. … [but] God doesn’t want us to cower in the face of attacks inside our minds. He wants to help us fight back. Casting our anxieties on God frees us to let Him help us fight the real battle behind all the other struggles we face.” Past-me had some wise advice, and I think I need to tell myself this once again.

This idea that God wants us to keep trusting Him during the tough times is also something I’ve been studying recently, sort of by accident. It came up when I was reading Peter’s letters as part of studying for the next post in my new series on the general epistles (you can read my post on James here). Peter spends a lot of time, especially in his first letter, reminding people that confronting trials is a normal part of being a Christian and that the source of those is the adversary, the devil who stalks about like a lion seeing to devour God’s people. Peter is also very clear that, with God’s help, we can resist this adversary.

And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you. Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering. And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him belongs the power forever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-11, NET

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.

2 Peter 1:2-3, NET

God gives us tools for success. He does not promise we won’t face trials or that we will not need to fight battles. Rather, He says He’ll be with us through those things. James and Peter even agree that we can have joy during the challenges and trials we face. That joy comes from us having faith faith and hope that provide context for understanding what we’re going through (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Practical Steps We Can Take

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

It’s all very well to talk about having faith, hope, and joy when we face trials and using the tools God gives us, but how does that work in real life? As I think most Christians who struggle with mental health issues can attest, it’s not like we haven’t tried praying about these things. We know we’re supposed to turn things over to God and stop worrying, but if you’re like me you’re not really sure how to do that.

I’m going to share a few tips now for practical steps that we can take. Some of these work for me already, while others are recommendations that others have shared and which I’m working on trying out. It’s not an exhaustive list, and since we’re all so different they won’t all work for everyone. I hope, though, that you’ll find something here that’s helpful for you or which sparks an idea of something that might help.

  • Practice mindfulness. My dad, sister, and counselor have all stressed this to me recently. It’s not a good idea to live in the fearful “what ifs” of the future. They might not happen at all, and we don’t really have control over them anyways. As Jesus says, “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:34, NET). Being mindful of the present is a conscious choice/effort. It’s part of taking “every thought captive to make it obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NET).
  • Keep the context in mind. When we’re struggling with something inside our minds, we need to remember that we’re not alone and that this is a very real fight. Paul counsels us to remember that “though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds,” including ones inside our own minds (2 Cor. 10:1-5, NET). When you feel like your mind’s under attack or like you’re fighting against something, you’re not going crazy. We are fighting in spiritual battles, and we are not doing it alone. Remind yourself of this, and go to God in prayer. Ask Him to keep His promise to fight alongside you.
  • Sing and praise. One way to counter the dark things inside our minds is to speak light out of our mouths. Did Paul and Silas sing in prison because they were so happy to be there, or because they knew that praise would connect them with God, who is the source of the strength and joy they’d need to get through this? (Acts 16:24-26). I’m not sure, but I’m starting to suspect that it’s not very helpful to try and muster up joy silently when we’re struggling. We need to speak/sing to God whether we feel like it or not, and then the joy may follow that. I know I tend to feel better when I sing and listen to Christian music, but I’ve gotten away from that recently. Today as I write this, I’m listening to a lot of Jean Watson and I find that music very uplifting. I also find Jason Gray’s “Sparrows” very fitting for how I feel right now.
  • Talk with someone. I know it’s tempting to keep everything to yourself and not let people know how much you’re struggling. But the people who love you would rather have you let them know what’s going on and how they can help and support you than to have you struggle on your own. And if you don’t have anyone you can talk with (or even if you do have someone but your struggles are still having a negative impact on your life), I highly encourage you to seek professional counseling. Click here to start searching for therapists in your area.

Those are the four things I’m using right now to try and work through the anxiety and depression that I’ve been dealing with recently. I’d love to hear from anyone else who wants to share their experiences in the comments or who has advice for others going through similar things. What tips do you have for maintaining a focus on God and holding on to joy during times of inner struggle?

Featured image by StockSnap from Pixabay

5 Self-Care Tips for Grad School

I’m getting close to the end of my second semester of grad school. It’s been a great opportunity to learn, to meet new people, to build skills, and to have fun. It’s also stressful. Course loads are different than in undergrad (which was almost 10 years ago for me). On top of that, you’re also teaching (or in my case tutoring), plus working other jobs, and right now you’re navigating all the Covid-19 stuff as well. Plus, there’s often other “life happens” sorts of things going on. By the end of the semester, people look half-zombie.

Everyone deals with stress, regardless of whether or not they’re in grad school, and self-care is something we all need to make time for. That “making time for” part can be particularly tricky, though, when you’re juggling multiple jobs, classes, research projects, and eventually a thesis. With that in mind, here are some of the self-care things that I’ve been doing during my first year of grad school. I hope others will find these tips helpful as well. Share any other tips you have in the comments!

1) Go for walks

This is one of the more time-consuming things on the list, but it’s also one of the ones that’s most helpful. A few times a week, I go walking for about half an hour. Not only does exercise help keep you physically healthy, it also gives you a short break from all the sitting and reading that’s so much a part of grad school. This ticks several boxes on the self-care list: exercise, giving your eyes a rest from studying, and giving your brain a chance to process everything you’ve been learning. You’ll likely find yourself more relaxed and better able to focus after taking a short walk.

2) Keep to some kind of a routine

Routines are a difficult thing to come by when your schedule is changing every semester and may even be different from one day to the next. Keeping something consistent can be a big help in making you feel like you have some control and stability in your life, which can help lower the anxiety that’s often such a big part of grad school. I’ve done this with my morning routine of prayer/Bible study, yoga, shower, and breakfast. You might find that a morning routine works for you, too, or maybe that it’s better to have a bedtime routine, or something that you do over a lunch break to help you re-center and focus.

3) Schedule a weekly reset

Resting one day out of the week has a long history in Christianity. Much of the world (even within churches) has moved away from a Sabbath, but there is still great value in taking God up on His offer of rest. Non-Christians can benefit from this principle as well by scheduling time every week for some more extensive self-care. Schedule something with a friend, do a mini retreat in your home, shut off your phone or email for a day. For me, I eat a nice meal Friday night (since Shabbat goes from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), take a relaxing bath, play a low-stress game or read, then spend Saturday fellowshipping with other believers. After a long week of work, study, and life it’s so nice to be able to spend one day at the end of the week relaxing and resetting before starting it all over again next week.

4) Eat and sleep

Food and sleep are basic human needs, yet for some reason they seem the easiest to forget or push to the side when you’re in school. Dinner? That’s a snack between work and class, then maybe I’ll eat something at 9:00 tonight when I get home. Sleep? is that the thing where you fall into bed after writing like a maniac and hope you pass-out until your alarm goes off? I see the undergrads I work with skipping this self-care, I see my classmates doing it, and I catch myself doing it as well. I’m not as consistent about practicing this self-care tip as I should be, but most of the time I manage to make myself eat 3 meals a day and get 7 hours of sleep (which is what I’ve figured out I need in order to stay healthy and awake). Some of the best things you can do to take care of yourself are to eat as healthy as you can, don’t skip meals, and figure out how much sleep you need then make sure you get it as consistently as possible.

5) Say “no” when you need to

It’s good to say “yes” to a lot of the opportunities that come your way in grad school. But it’s also helpful to know when you need to say “no” and give yourself permission to do that. You’re human, and you can’t be on every committee, go to every conference, or re-adjust your schedule to convenience everyone in your life. If you’re not sure you have time for something, it’s okay to tell someone you need to check your schedule and get back with them, and then say “yes” or “no” depending on what you can realistically fit into your life. It won’t do you any good to take on more projects than you can complete successfully, or to say “yes” to something that’s going to rob so much time from something essential (like eating and sleeping) that you end up getting sick.

Takeaways

Grad school is fun and crazy, and I’m still figuring it out, but I am getting better at making sure I practice the self-care I need in order to stay physically healthy and mentally alert. When I take care of my own needs, then I can be more fully present for the things that I want and need to do, and for the people I want to work with.

Are you thinking about going to grad school? Currently in grad school? Survived grad school and moved on to something new? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Everyone (whether you’ve been to university or not) share your favorite self-care tips in the comments!

Featured image by Tiny Tribes from Pixabay

Extroverts With Social Anxiety: A Rare Sighting?

This article by Katie Tyrrell first appeared on eCounseling.com on February 1, 2021. I love sharing posts about personality and mental health, and I’m so happy to have the chance to share this one about how social anxiety affects extroverts. It reappears here with permission of eCounseling. If you’d like to read an article about introverts and social anxiety, you can click here.

Social anxiety occurs when a person experiences anxiety symptoms in social situations or large groups. It is commonly considered to be an issue for people who are more introverted by nature. An introverted person may be someone who prefers to be alone and stay away from groups. An extrovert is seen as someone who enjoys being around other people and socializing in groups. It would seem obvious that only an introvert would experience social anxiety due to their preference of being alone. But what about extroverts? Do they experience social anxiety? 

Extraversion vs. Intraversion

Extraversion is a personality trait commonly associated with outgoing, social, and loud people. Introversion personality traits are associated with people who are quiet, reserved, and often keeps to themselves. These two concepts are viewed as absolutes in modern society, meaning a person is either an introvert or an extrovert. But is that true?

While there are only two groups for extroverts and introverts, each person has varying characteristics within those categories. Extroversion traits are not universal! People who consider themselves extroverts may have different comfortability in social situations than other extroverts. 

The traits fall along a spectrum from the most outgoing or social person to a very isolated or reserved individual. People tend to lean towards extroversion or introversion and have varying degrees of comfortability in different social situations. It is common that people have tendencies that would be attributed to both extroversion and introversion.

Some facets of extroversion include being sociable, warm, assertive, active, excitement-seeking, and having positive emotionality. Every extrovert’s scores in these facets will vary and are important to note as they account for the differences in extrovert personalities. 

For example, a person may love going out to a party but hate public speaking. This person would likely score high on the sociable and excitement-seeking spectrum but lower on assertiveness. Another extrovert may feel completely at ease in front of a crowd but struggle to make conversation at a party.

One way to evaluate if you lean towards extroversion or introversion is to consider what brings you joy and energizes you. For example, if you prefer to go out for drinks with friends after a hard day at work and enjoy the social life, you may lean towards extroversion. If you prefer to go home and relax on the couch in comfy clothes, you may lean towards introversion. Everyone likely enjoys these activities at different times; however, this simplified example may help you determine which way you lean on the spectrum.

family cooking a meal together

What is Social Anxiety?

Social anxiety is the fear of social situations usually associated with the fear of others’ judgment. Social anxiety disorder often leads to a person’s avoidance of social situations. When social situations are unavoidable, anxiety symptoms such as sweating, heart palpitations, shaking, or shortness of breath may occur. 

Social anxiety is a disorder that develops over time and is thought to result from environmental and genetic factors such as a bad social experience, early childhood trauma or family history of mental health issues. It is typically treated by seeking out a psychotherapist, with CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] believed by many to be among the more effective treatments.

Extroverts with Social Anxiety

So, the question remains, do extroverts struggle with a social anxiety disorder? The answer is yes. Any person, regardless of personality traits, can develop a social anxiety disorder. Extrovert-leaning people tend to be drawn to social interactions more than introvert-leaning people; however, this does not keep them from developing anxiety in social situations.

While extroverts do struggle with social anxiety disorder, they may be less likely to develop social anxiety than introverts. Studies suggest that extroverted individuals are less likely to develop social anxiety disorder if they have high scores in the positive emotionality facet of extroversion. 

Positive emotionality is the tendency towards positive mood states such as happiness, excitement, confidence, and joy. This facet of extroversion is linked to lower levels of social anxiety and depression. Positive emotionality appears to be a protective factor reducing the risk of developing social anxiety.

Interestingly, extroverts tend to have higher positive emotionality levels, meaning they score higher on happiness assessments, positive social relationships, and emotional regulation than introverted individuals. These traits seem to serve as buffers guarding against social anxiety disorder.

How Common is It?

While it may be just as possible for extroverts to develop social anxiety disorders, it appears there are protective factors that extroverts possess more easily than introverted individuals. However, when social anxiety symptoms are present, they may be more debilitating for extroverts as they struggle to engage in the social environment. 

Social anxiety may interfere with the activities and events that bring extroverts pleasure, impacting their mental health more intensely than introverts. An introvert struggling with social anxiety can still engage in the reserved and quiet pastimes that bring them pleasure, despite the social anxiety struggles. 

It is not a rare sight for people with extroversion tendencies to experience a social anxiety disorder, though it is less likely than people with introversion tendencies. It seems more likely for people with introverted tendencies to experience social anxiety disorder exaggerated by their natural tendency for isolation.

About the author: Katie Tyrrell, MS, LPCC, is a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC). She has a passion for healing trauma using body-based somatic therapy. Katie believes that healing trauma and restoring physical and emotional health comes from healing the body and nervous system.

Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Grief, Depression, and Healing through Gaming

I’ve read books that handle the topic of mental health extremely well, such as Eliza and Her Monsters. I’d dare say most of us have seem films or TV series, or read books, that touched us deeply and maybe even pushed us toward personal growth and healing. I’d never experienced that with a game before, though, until playing through Gris over the past couple weeks.

Gris is a single-player adventure game by indie developer Nomada Studio, where you play as “a hopeful young girl lost in her own world, dealing with a painful experience in her life.” The game is a “journey through sorrow,” and you help Gris “navigate her faded reality.” In addition to being the character’s name, gris means “gray” in Spanish and that reflects the gray world where you begin gameplay.

I bought Gris after it came up in my Rhetoric of Gaming class (a special topics course I’m taking during this semester of grad school). I expected to enjoy the game, knowing it has a beautiful soundtrack, stunning animation (it’s gorgeous even on my laptop that’s not designed for gaming), and frustration-free gameplay where you’re challenged by puzzles but not worried about running out of time or dying. I hadn’t expected it to move me to tears so many times or make me want to write about mental health.

I suspect one of the reasons Gris resonated so strongly with me is because of my interest in how people talk about mental health in everyday conversation and various forms of media. As my regular readers know, I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was about 15, and I also lost a close friend to a car accident seven years ago. Gris pulled all those feelings of hurt, sorrow, and sadness up to the surface, punctuated them with moments of beauty and hope, and handled them with great care.

mild spoilers ahead

Grief, Depression, and Healing through Gaming | LikeAnAnchor.com

One of the things that stood out to me in particular about Gris is that they didn’t fall into the trap of oversimplifying grief and depression. It wasn’t a smooth, easy journey out of despair nor was it something that happened in an overly linear fashion. Most people don’t experience depression or grief as a moment of dull, faded, gray in their lives that grows gradually lighter and lighter until finally the world is set right again. It’s more like what happens in Gris as you travel steadily toward something hopeful and light and good, and you still go through cycles when the darkness comes back and seems ready to devour or choke you. But you do get through it, and even though the marks of when you fell apart are still there you are whole again.

end spoilers

I’d go so far as to say that playing Gris has the potential to be a healing experience, particularly for those who’ve struggled with depression and grief. While it’s no substitute for professional counseling and/or personal healing work, Gris is a powerful example of the potential that games–and art in general–have as a positive force in this world.

5 Tips for Coping With Year-End Stress

I probably don’t have to mention that 2020 has been a stressful year. We all know that at this point, and it’s not getting much better for a lot of people. Some have lost their jobs, some are fighting to keep their businesses open, and many are isolated from family during a time of year when they most want to gather together. Struggles with mental health issues like anxiety and depression are rising rapidly–even the CDC admits that social distancing and stay-at-home orders are related to a dramatic increase in mental health challenges, including an increase in the number of people “seriously considering suicide” (Czeisler, M. et al. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” August 14, 2020).

The purpose of this post is not to talk about how stressful 2020 is–we all know first-hand that this is the case. What I want to talk about is ways that we can cope with that stress as the year draws to a close. This is not an exhaustive list of tips for coping with stress. Rather, it’s a collection of ones that I’ve personally found helpful and/or which I’ve known helped other people. I hope you find something in here that is useful for you 🙂

1. Stop Isolating

Depending on your exact situation and government rulings in the location where you live, this recommendation is going to look quite different for different people. Human beings are social creatures–even the most introverted among us does not do well in prolonged isolation. We need positive human interaction to stay sane and healthy. The form those interactions take, though, can vary widely, especially with modern technology.

We often think of socializing something that needs to involve large groups of people, but there’s no reason to limit socializing to big events if you don’t think that’s practical or safe. Getting together with a friend for lunch (in places where restaurants are open) or inviting a couple people over for dinner can just as easily fill your need for socialization. If you’re lucky enough to live in the same house with at least one person that you like, you also have an option for socialization right there. Maybe you plan a day to spend doing something together, like bake a special meal for the two of you as my sister and I did this year for Thanksgiving.

If there are no opportunities for in-person interaction, take advantage of the options that technology offers for video and/or phone calls. My sister, cousin, and I have a Zoom meeting each week to chat and watch Netflix together (right now it’s Star Trek: The Original Series). If you don’t already know someone to meet with, there are groups online that you can join such as virtual book clubs. Whatever method you choose to break out of isolation, the key is to make sure you’re having some kind of positive interaction.

2. Unplug and Take Time

I feel like so often we get wrapped up in following the news, or stressing about whatever it is that most worries us, or pushing ourselves to go non-stop that we just wind ourselves tighter and tighter until something snaps. Before that “snap” happens, why not take a moment to step outside the franticness of modern life and take some time for yourself?

Our culture is fast-paced, and social media algorithms are designed to keep pulling you into ever more extreme versions of whatever it is you’re looking at. But we’re the ones who get to make decisions about what we do with our time, our eyes, our minds, and our feelings. We have the power to step away from all that and choose to do something more productive and less stressful with our time. Read a book, set aside time for prayer and Bible Study, do something creative, or click here and try one of these self-care tips.

You don’t need to hide under a rock and avoid everything going on in the world, but you do need to take time to care for yourself and do things that really matter. The world isn’t going to end if you get off social media for a week or if you ignore the news for a couple days over the weekend. You don’t actually have to listen to or internalize all the fear mongering, division spreading stuff that it’s so easy to find online, on the TV, and on the radio. There are better things we can do with our time. As I write those words, Toby Keith’s song “My List” just popped into my head. It was released as a single in 2002, shortly after a different national disaster, and I think it still has a relevant message today.

3. Breathe and Move

Breathing seems like a very simple thing. We do it automatically all day, every day. Most of us don’t notice or think about our breath unless breathing becomes difficult for some reason. Cultivating a deep, conscious breath practice, though, can be one of the best things we can do for our overall health, especially if it’s paired with some kind of an exercise practice.

My dad has done more research into this than I have, so I’ll share a couple of resources that he likes. He’s an advocate of the Wim Hoff Method and he’s also been recommending the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (please note this is an affiliate link). You might want to check those out if this is a topic that interests you.

My own experiences with deep breathing come through cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga. CBT uses deep breathing as one method for managing anxiety (if you click here, I talk more about that in this post). In yoga, deep breathing is paired with physical movements to strengthen and balance breath, body, and mind. On that note, my favorite YouTube yoga teacher is offering a free 30-days of yoga series starting in January that is focused on conscious breath. Her annual 30 Day of Yoga program has become my favorite way to start a new year. You can click here to learn more or sign up for her 2021 “Breath” series.

Further reading: “Are Yoga and Meditation Okay For Christians?

4. Pick A Theme For Next Year

I won’t spend too much time on this point since I had a whole post on it last week (click here to read that). The basic idea is that you should toss New Year’s Resolutions out the window (they basically just set you up for failure since most of us know we’re not going to stick with them) and instead pick a “theme” or “intention” for the year. Themes are more vague and more adaptable than resolutions, and that means they’re something you’re more likely to stick with. They still push you in a positive direction, though, which is something we always want in personal growth.

Picking a theme like “Year of Health” or seasonal themes like “Winter of Self-Care” and “Spring of Connection” is a great way to set yourself up for a more positive year ahead. And having something to look forward to next year (especially something that we have some measure of control over) can make it easier to cope with end-of-the-year stress right now.

5. Talk with A Counselor

Mental health isn’t something to take lightly. I know from experience that it can be hard to ask for help with something that’s happening inside your own mind. Maybe you don’t think what you’re dealing “bad enough” to justify seeing a counselor, or you worry that you can’t afford to take time and resources away from other things, or you think others will judge you for going into therapy. But it really is okay to get help.

Trying to deal with a mental health issue on your own is rarely a good idea, especially if its become something that impacts your quality of life or overwhelms your thoughts. Please go get proper help from a therapist, counselor, or other psychology/medical professional. Click here to access Psychology Today’s directory of mental health professionals and find a therapist or psychiatrist near you. There are also online options that may be more affordable and/or more accessible, especially given the current situation with COVID-19.

I hope that you all find ways to end this year with peace and hope in your hearts. There are many reasons to be fearful and stressed, but we can still choose to keep living, loving, and hoping.

Featured image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay