It is no secret depression, anxiety, and fear are rampant in our culture and those in the church are just as likely to deal with these same things. There are three categories of tools to work through these issues, spiritual, practical, and clinical.
We encourage those in tough places to doctors and therapists for the clinical relief that may be need. We preach the condemnation-free grace of Jesus and empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the spiritual. And we seek healthy patterns of life when it comes to the practical.
So we find strategies to process our feelings and emotions, the thoughts we find consuming us.
To that end I just finished “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff. It is a stirring reflection on the current state of our culture full of anecdotal and statistical data.
Presented in the book as one practical (and clinical) approach to healthier thinking is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is what they say: “Cognitive behavioral therapists treat trauma patients by exposing them to the things they find upsetting (at first in small ways, such as imagining them or looking at pictures), activating their fear, and helping them habituate (grow accustomed) to the stimuli. In fact, the reactivation of anxiety is so important to recovery that some therapists advise their patients to avoid using antianxiety medication while undertaking exposure therapy.”
In the appendix of the book they give some steps to CBT that I thought were worth sharing.
“1. When you are feeling anxious, depressed, or otherwise distressed, take a moment to write down what you are feeling.
2. Write down your level of distress. (For example, you could score it on a scale of 1 to 100.)
3. Write down what happened and what your automatic thoughts were when you felt the pang of anxiety or despair. (For example, “Someone I was interested in canceled our date. I said to myself, ‘This always happens. No one will ever want to go out with me. I’m a total loser.’”)
4. Look at the categories of distorted automatic thoughts below, and ask yourself: Is this thought a cognitive distortion? Write down the cognitive distortions you notice. (For example, looking at the automatic thoughts in number 3 above, you might write, “personalizing, overgeneralizing, labeling, and catastrophizing.”)
5. Look at the evidence for and against your thought.
6. Ask yourself what someone might say who disagreed with you. Is there any merit in that opinion?
7. Consider again what happened, and reevaluate the situation without the cognitive distortions.
8. Write down your new thoughts and feelings. (For example, “I am sad and disappointed that a date I was excited about got canceled.”)
9. Write down again, using the same scale as before, how anxious, depressed, or otherwise distressed you feel.”
Chances are once we do this the scale will be lower and we will be finding relief.
The key is to keep pressing on. Find the places you need someone to stand with you, where you need help, and keep going.