A Mental Health Testimony: 2 Ways To Combat Stress
Hey Yugenites. I want to talk a bit about mental health today.
*Disclaimer* I am not a mental health professional, and everything you are about to read is what I’ve gleaned from my own personal experience and research. If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, please seek advice from a mental health practitioner.
Pain: The Problem
The unfortunate reality of our modern world is that it is filled with pain and suffering.
First, we find that this is true at the macro level. The entire world is dealing with a pandemic the likes of which no living person has ever seen. There is mass poverty, inequality, religious persecution, and countless lives unnecessarily lost each day through the wars that continue to plague mankind.
Endemically, we find that it is true in our own country. Despite great progress in many areas, we fight against the currents of racial injustice, stark political divisions, and economic uncertainty.
Finally, at the personal level, we find it is true in our daily lives. We strive and struggle to make ends meet. We have problems in our marriages and with our kids. The worst conflicts that we experience are had with the ones we love the most.
Stress: The Result
All of these factors - the macro, the endemic, and the personal...they create a weight on each of us. That weight is stress.
We all feel stressed at times. It’s OK to feel stressed. But it’s important to understand stress, so that you can fight it. Yes, I believe that stress is something to be combatted. But it can't be fought through a sheer act of will or might. It requires a tactful surrender in order to beat it.
Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
First, let’s break stress down. Though it manifests in various physical forms in the body (fatigue, aches and pains, an elevated heart rate, etc.), stress typically originates from our thoughts as they relate to the circumstances that we are going through. There are two categories of thought that cause stress: Anxiety and Rumination.
Anxiety here simply refers to ‘worrying thoughts’ about things that have not come to pass (typically, something in the future). We worry about the future of our jobs, how we’ll manage to pay the bills, our kids’ college tuition, a social event we don’t really want to attend, the second outbreak of COVID-19, and much more. Anxious thoughts are normal and can be healthy in certain contexts. But anxiety becomes a disorder when our worry begins to interfere with the way we live our lives.
Rumination, on the other hand, is to worry about something that has already happened (something in the past). Excessive rumination can lead to depression for many people. On a personal side note: I struggled with this greatly from the ages of about 16-24. If anyone reading this does as well, please don’t hesitate to reach out, and I would be more than happy to share my experiences with you.
Please note that in both of these cases, the things we worry about are out of our control. We cannot impact the future by worrying about today. And we cannot change the past, because it is done. And yet, these two categories of thought persist in our minds, and are the principle causes of stress in our lives.
So, how do we combat stress? It starts with awareness. Simply becoming aware of our anxiety and rumination is the first step to stress reduction. Once we become aware of it, we can step outside of it, reason with ourselves, and overcome it.
There are two practical exercises that I want to share with you, both of which have been enormously helpful for me in stress reduction. They are Meditation, and Prayer.
Meditation is the practice of training your mental capacity for attention and awareness. The most popular type of meditation currently, in western culture, is Mindfulness Meditation. This typically involves attempting to focus your attention on an object, usually the breath, for a fixed period of time. 10 minutes, once or twice per day, is a good starting place.
The practice goes something like this: close your eyes, focus on the physical feeling of your breath, note the distractions that cause your attention to waver, and come back to the breath, over and over. Through this exercise, one benefit is that you will become more and more aware of your thought patterns - including your anxieties and ruminations.
In addition to increased awareness of anxiety and rumination, meditation will help you to deal with these thoughts. Meditation helps develop the recognition that you can choose how you respond to stressful thoughts when they arise. This is known as “non-reactivity”. By realizing that it is truly OK to have negative thoughts, you can remain calm, respond with self-kindness and rationality, and watch as your stress diminishes.
The Calm App is a great resource for guided meditations to get started. I highly recommend this practice for anyone reading!
I hope you’ll indulge me as I share a bit about my inner life. This is not something I am accustomed to doing, so I appreciate your open mind.
I was raised in the Catholic Church, but in my mid-teens, drifted away from a life of faith. I classified myself as an Agnostic from the time I was about 17 - 24. I was fairly convinced that science precluded the need for religion in my life. Faith seemed to me a cowardly copout; an escape from the realities of a cold and harsh world.
I thought myself enlightened. And yet, my worldview left me deeply unsatisfied and depressed.
It wasn’t until I met a woman, named Paige, that I began to understand that faith did not require a sacrifice of rational intelligence. Confusing though it seemed, I came to understand that a personal relationship with God was an attainable reality, not a figment of one’s imagination. And finally, I understood the source of my deep sense of dissatisfaction.
A few years later, I married that woman, but not before giving my life to Christ. Though I never imagined writing those words in earnest, I feel compelled to today.
“As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
I tell you this story primarily because I can’t honestly speak about mental health or my own battle with depression without mentioning God. I also tell it because I believe that honest prayer is the single best way to combat stress, and I genuinely hope this helps somebody.
Through prayer, we lift up our concerns to a God who cares intimately about our every problem, and who has exactly what we are looking for.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
If you are not a Christian, I don’t mean to offend you at all. I only mean to share something that I’ve found to be the answer to every mental health problem I have faced in my life. I encourage you to try talking to God. Even if you aren’t sure He’s there. That’s how I started. And I’m glad, no, joyful, that I did.
Thank you, earnestly, for reading. As always, you can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time…
Charlie from Yugenite