I am joining up with some awesome people today on Instagram spreading awareness and hope for mental health problems in the church. You can click on #thereishoperightnow to see the campaign, or get more information on my account @whitneygothra. My pastor’s wife recently spoke on this topic, and I asked her if I could share her notes with you all today.
Faythe Gill is an amazing, authentic, powerful woman of God, and I would know because she is my mom! She has been in the ministry all of her life and is the pastor’s wife at Medora Pentecostal Church. She has prayed countless hours over the content you are about to read, and I know it will be a blessing to you!
Anxiety and Depression
After many years of people suffering in silence, it has become trendy to talk about mental health. Some universities now have safe spaces for those who need to process their feelings. Many workplaces now offer mental health days. Social media is full of memes about mental health. But while all of these things address mental health, none of them offer an answer. Going to a special room, taking a day off work, reading a meme – while these things may feel safe or be enjoyable or entertaining for the moment, none of them give a person the tools needed to deal with true anxiety or depression.
Anxiety and depression are very real. Men and women of all ages deal with these issues. Even Christians.
It’s not about how spiritual you are. Anxiety and depression begin in the brain. The brain is an organ of the body just like the heart or the gallbladder. One isn’t less spiritual for having an issue with depression or anxiety caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, just as one isn’t less spiritual for having an issue with their heart or gallbladder.
Identify the Battle
When dealing with these issues, I believe it is imperative that we first identify the battle. Is this natural or spiritual in nature? Because those are two very different battles. And we use very different weapons to fight them.
We are living in a wicked generation. Sometimes what we call stress is a spiritual battle. The nature of the battle determines the nature of the strategy. We must know what weapons to use.
Depression and anxiety are signals, not identities. It is a signal that something is not right and needs to be addressed. They are signals that a person needs help. And that help can come in many forms.
For many years there has been a stigma attached to anxiety and depression. We need to take the stigma and fear away by talking about it. I’m concerned that we have too many precious people who suffer in silence because of the stigma associated with these issues.
How do we remove the stigma? By talking about it! People say that the generations before us didn’t deal with these issues; however, Solomon said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” The generations who came before us dealt with anxiety and depression. There are examples in the Bible of people who dealt with these issues as well, so it’s nothing new. It may surprise us to learn of people around us who have dealt with anxiety or depression.
I encourage anyone who has conquered one of these issues or who is successfully fighting to speak up. Tell your story! Share your testimony! There is strength in unity. You will be a blessing and encouragement to someone else who is struggling and you will receive strength when others know your story.
Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. You might feel anxious when you have a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. Those are temporary feelings – when the issue is resolved, the anxiety dissipates. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.
This type of anxiety causes the person to have feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reaches a peak quickly. In fact, serious anxiety can lead to a panic attack that often mirrors a heart attack.
This type of anxiety can interfere with daily activities, is difficult to control, is out of proportion to the actual danger, and can last a long time.
Again, this is not “I’m nervous about my driving test.” This is a serious problem with anxiety that does not resolve itself.
Steps to Deal with Anxiety
1. Recognize and confront the issue
Hiding the issue won’t help. You can’t fix what you aren’t willing to confront.
Ask for prayer. Name the issue. Tell those praying for you, “I’m suffering from anxiety and I need healing.” People aren’t going to be shocked; but they will better know how to pray for you.
Reach out to someone. Don’t go through this alone. Find a trusted friend and let them know what’s going on with you. Allow them into your life. Stay in contact and let them know when you’re struggling.
Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him. Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
2. Know your triggers
Anxiety is rooted in natural situations that become overwhelming. I have a friend that began suffering from anxiety when her first child was born. The feelings began as a concern for the well-being of her child. But they quickly grew into intense feelings of anxiety not in proportion to what was going on with her child.
If you suffer from anxiety, know what triggers those feelings. For some people, it’s crowds or financial concerns or negative thinking. It may even be a person! Learn to recognize your triggers.
3. Leave the situation if possible
Do what you can to avoid the situations that cause you anxiety. If you cannot avoid them, have a coping mechanism planned.
If your job is causing you intense anxiety, find another job. If your finances are causing you to have panic attacks when you think about your future, get a budget, get your spending under control, make a sound financial plan and stick to it! If a family member or friend causes you anxiety, stay away from them.
4. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique
These steps are a way to ground yourself. This takes you out of your head and interrupts the negative thoughts.
- Point out five things you can see (a bird, a chair, anything big or small). Identify them out loud. “I can see a chair.” “I can see Teresa.” “I can see the lights.”
- List four things you can feel. Literally touch four things. Move around and make physical contact.
- Acknowledge three things you hear (external sounds, what is audible in the moment).
- Identify two smells (if necessary, walk around to locate something)
- Name one thing you can taste (gum, a drink)
5. Practice mindful, slow breathing
Relax your breathing. Take in a slow, deep breath through your nose while counting to five. Breath out through your nose, counting to five.
Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Relax your muscles. Close your eyes and focus solely on your toes. Curl them under tightly for a count of five, squeezing the muscles together as hard as you can, then relax. Move to your feet and do the same. Continue up your body all the way to your face.
This exercise will occupy your mind.
6. Take control of your thoughts.
2 Corinthians 10:5
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
God wouldn’t tell us to take every thought captive unless He also gave us the ability to do so. Anxiety will cause a person to imagine a scenario that doesn’t even come close to the truth. Their mind will “run away with them.”
If you have a tendency to think negatively and then spiral into a panic attack, change the way you think. Think on the Word of God. Have scriptures ready that you can refer to when you find yourself thinking negative thoughts about something.
The mind is one of satan’s favorite places to attack. He can’t read your mind, but he can put thoughts there.
Sometimes in these battles, the devil attacks with the truth. (Remember that anxiety is rooted in natural situations.) He did this to Jesus when He was in the wilderness fasting for 40 days. Satan would say, “It is written.” What he was saying was true. Jesus’ response was, “It is also written.” Yes, that’s true, but this is also true.
I am pressed but not crushed. Persecuted but not abandoned. Lonely but not alone.
Fill your mind with the Word of God. A good tip is to research scriptures that apply to your situation and write them down in a notebook. When you have anxious thoughts, refer to those scriptures. Read them aloud. Pray them. Repeat them over and over.
If you’re with someone who is having a panic attack:
1. Be calm and patient
Your calm demeanor can be a model for your friend and let them know everything’s okay. Don’t be condescending – don’t tell them, “just relax, you’re fine” or “there’s nothing to worry about” – just be present. Sit with them. Let them know they are not alone.
2. Ask them if they’ve had a panic attack before.
If they have, they will recognize this for what it is. If they haven’t and they don’t think they’re having one now, call 911 or get them to the ER. Panic attacks can look like heart attacks.
3. Ask them what they think might help.
Don’t assume you know what’s best for them. They may be able to tell you exactly what to do.
4. Take them through the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.
5. Have them breathe slowly while you count to five for each inhale and exhale
6. Take them through the muscle tightening exercise
7. Pray with them – speak God’s Word over them.
Take dominion over the situation and speak peace to them.
Depression negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act.
There are different forms and causes of depression.
Depression can be:
- a side effect of medicine
- a side effect of illness
- caused by exhaustion
- brought on by stress
- the result of a great loss
- a chemical imbalance in the brain
- a lack of serotonin in the body
- a sign of a disconnect from God – lack of prayer, fasting
- spiritual warfare – an attack of satan
Steps to Deal with Depression
1. Recognize and confront the issue
Hiding it won’t help. Reach out to someone. Don’t go through depression alone. Everyone needs a friend who can speak into their life. Someone who knows you well and can properly assess your well-being.
Elijah was a prophet of God. He called fire down from heaven. And then he outran Ahab’s chariot when the rain began. What a supernatural anointing must have been on him. But then the anointing for that task lifted, and Jezebel attacked him personally. She told him she was going to kill him.
So a tired, weary, fearful Elijah ran into the wilderness, found a Juniper tree and asked God to kill him.
The Bible tells us that an angel of the Lord baked him a cake and brought him some water. Elijah ate, took a nap, woke up and ate again and then went in the strength of that meat 40 days and 40 nights.
Sometimes what we perceive as depression may very well be overwhelming exhaustion. We may need to withdraw for a time of rest.
The Lord will anoint us for various tasks and we can go to some extreme measures while under that anointing. But when the anointing lifts, our flesh may be worn out and weary. We’re not depressed; we’re tired. We don’t need medical attention; we need a nap and a snack.
A friend can tell us that. A friend can help us see another side to our issue. Sometimes when we are in the thick of a problem, we can’t see clearly. A Godly friend can come alongside us and say, “Here’s another way to look at that problem.” Or, “I think you need to get away for a few days.” Or, “I think you need to seek medical help for this problem.”
We also need the help of our Pastor and Pastor’s Wife. Everyone needs a Pastor. They can pray with you, help assess the issue, and direct you to further help if needed.
2. Examine yourself
Is there sin in my life? (Living in constant condemnation will bring depression)
Is there destructive behavior in my life?
- am I getting enough rest?
- am I eating a healthy diet?
- am I spending enough time outside?
- am I exercising enough?
- how are my finances?
- are my relationships healthy?
- what am I filling my mind with?
- what music am I listening to?
- what material am I reading?
- what media am I watching?
Some things are consequences of our actions. We can’t fill our minds and bodies with junk and then ask God to heal us. He’s given us the power to take care of some things on our own.
3. Seek God
Matthew 11:28-30 – Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The word rest in verse 28 means: to cease from any labour in order to recover and collect strength. This is physical rest.
The word rest in verst 29 is a different word that means: blessed tranquility of soul. This is a spiritual rest.
When we seek God, He will give us rest both physically and spiritually.
He says, “Learn of me.” When we come to Jesus, we learn a better way. Some things we go through is consequences of bad choices, or it may be that we have a skewed perspective of a situation. But when we bring our issue – our source of depression – to God, when we learn of Him, we learn a better way.
4. Use the Word of God
Some depression is actually spiritual warfare. When depression is caused by spiritual warfare, we must go to battle with the Word of God.
Some tips for filling your environment with the Word of God:
- Fill your heart with Scripture. Say it aloud, say it often. Read it, pray it, quote it, write it.
- Be an intentional worshipper.
- Make a list of the miracles and blessings God has given you. Spend time every day thanking Him for them.
- Fill your home with music. (I have a playlist entitled Atmosphere for this very purpose.)
- Listen to the Bible. (You Version is a free app for this.)
- Sing aloud.
My favorite song to sing in times like this is:
“Holy Spirit, You are welcome here.”
Where? In the midst of my chaos. In the midst of my depression.
In the midst of my suffering. In the midst of my mess.
God isn’t afraid of my mess.
“Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere.”
God isn’t afraid of my mess.
“Your glory, God, is what my heart longs for,”
Welcome Him into your midst. Because anything He touches is changed.
“to be overcome by Your presence, Lord.”
5. Get busy
Bouts of depression will cause you to want to sleep the day away. To withdraw from everything and everybody. Get busy! Have a schedule. This shifts your focus and gives you something to occupy your mind.
6. Understand that life is full of seasons
Not all sadness is depression. Grief is not depression. Grief is grief. Sometimes we will feel feelings of sadness and grief, and that is appropriate. Sometimes in life that we must grieve to heal. Never feel shame for feeling emotions.
Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus even when He knew He was about to raise him from the dead. Why? It was appropriate to weep. Don’t feel shame for feeling what is natural. Christianity does not forbid or do away with our natural affections.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 – But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others which have no hope.
Paul is saying that we sorrow WITH hope. Joy is not the absence of sorrow. Joy is knowing that “weeping endureth for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Joy says, ‘I’m crying tonight, but I’ll be okay tomorrow”.
Sorrow is grief. Grief is not depression.
Seek Professional Help
If you struggle with depression and you have done these things and you are still struggling, you need to seek professional help. You have a medical problem. It is appropriate to seek medical help for a medical problem.
As Christians, when we are faced with a medical problem, we pray and ask God for healing. Sometimes we are healed and sometimes we seek medical help. The same goes for depression.
Natural problems can be fixed through spiritual measures – you can worship your way through some hard times, you can pray your way out of depression, God can touch you and heal you, the Divine can heal the natural, but you cannot fix Spiritual problems through natural measures.
If your depression is a spiritual problem, all the medicine in the world will not help you. We MUST properly identify the problem.
That’s why the correct diagnosis is so important. That’s why it’s so important to go through the steps we’ve listed. Make sure this is not a spiritual problem. If your depression is a Spiritual problem, all the medicine in the world will not help you. But if you’ve addressed those things, and it’s not a spiritual problem, then it’s a natural (physical) problem. Seek help.
If the depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, until those chemicals are regulated, all the encouragement in the world of “think happy thoughts” or “you just need to power through” won’t help. It’s a physical problem.
Professional and Spiritual help can work hand-in-hand. They do not have to contradict each other. You may seek professional help and continue to pray for healing. Ask your Pastor to recommend a professional to you.
There is HOPE!
You are not alone. There are people willing to help you. Please reach out to them. Talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to your Pastor.
Speak up. Share your story. Allow your experience to help someone else. Let’s break the silence and destroy the stigma.