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Overcome Anxiety and Depression
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Bob Phillips's new book, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression: Practical Tools to Help You Deal with Negative Emotions, 2007).
There’s no shortage of troubling circumstances in life that can make you feel anxious and depressed. Whether you’re anxious about the future or depressed about the past, your negative emotions will prevent you from living the healthy life God wants you to enjoy right now.
Here’s how you can overcome anxiety and depression:
Give up the illusion of control. Understand that both anxiety and depression stem from attempts to control either the future (through worrying) or the past (by trying to change what has already happened). Realize that all such attempts are futile and a complete waste of your time and energy. Acknowledge that only God has the power to control the future and bring transformation out of what happened in the past.
Let your emotions lead you to ask questions. Realize that negative emotions are meant to alert you to danger. Rather than ignoring the anxiety and depression you feel, face your feelings and ask: “What’s going on?”, “How do I feel about it?” and “Do I want to change?”
Turn worries into prayers. Whenever an anxious thought enters your mind, decide that instead of worrying about it, you’ll pray about it. Pray as often as you think about whatever is troubling you. Know that, unlike worry, prayer actually accomplishes something positive.
Discipline your mind. Pay attention to what you’re choosing to think about. Rather than dwelling on your troubles, decide to think about what’s true, good, right, pure, beautiful, and praiseworthy. Read and meditate on Scripture often to saturate your mind with the right kinds of thoughts. Pray for the Holy Spirit to renew your mind every day.
Don’t blame illness when the problem is poor choices. Know that most of the anxiety or depression people experience isn’t due to mental illness in the medical sense, but is due instead to emotional pain caused by poor choices they’ve made. Be honest with yourself about what choices you may have made that have contributed to your anxiety or depression. Consider such potential causes as: broken and conflicted relationships; unspoken, unfulfilled, or unrealistic expectations of life; guilt over not doing what you should do; disobedience; lack of exercise; poor diet or overeating; too much television; not accepting responsibility; prolonged sleep loss; faulty reasoning; emptiness and loneliness; lack of meaning and purpose; alienation and separation; buildup of various stressful events; the death of a loved one; the inability to adjust to and accept hurtful experiences; the unwillingness to let go of the past and forgive others; and a low self-image or high standards of perfection. Pray for the courage you need to face your problems instead of running from them. Know that once you take responsibility for your own attitudes and actions, you’ll start to grow in maturity, which will lead to healing.
Exercise discernment when considering medication. Don’t just take medication for your anxiety or depression without considering alternatives. Understand that you don’t need medication unless you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, which is a relatively rare condition. Know that drugs can have serious side effects, and that they never provide a magic cure. Pray for the wisdom to discern emotional distress from a true medical condition.
Consider what circumstances may be causing your feelings. Ask yourself whether or not your anxiety or depression is tied to some circumstance in your life, such as: losing your job, recently retiring, experiencing financial losses, being involved in an accident, committing some criminal act, being violated by some criminal act, having marital problems, facing an important decision, having troubles with in-laws, having your home or possessions destroyed by a natural disaster, having a conflict you need to deal with but are afraid to face, or losing a loved one through a broken relationship or a death. Recognize how any of these events may have contributed to your feelings. In prayer, give your troubling circumstances to God and trust Him to handle them according to what’s best.
Check out physical symptoms that may be tied to your feelings. Ask yourself whether or not your anxiety or depression is tied to some symptoms, like: trouble sleeping, difficulty breathing, stomach disorders, diarrhea or constipation, headaches, twitching, or shaking. Be sure to visit a doctor to check out any of these symptoms.
Let go of what you can’t change, and change what you can. Recognize the difference between what you can’t change (facts of life in our fallen world) and what you can (problems you can solve). Stop trying to change what’s beyond your control; instead, pray about it all and trust it to God. But do whatever you can to solve problems in your life. If you’re worried about a lack of money to pay your bills, cut back on unnecessary purchases and work harder to bring in extra income. If you’re anxious about the quality of your relationship with someone, work to become more loving and giving, and devote more time and energy to that relationship. Direct your energy away from anxiety and depression and toward solutions to your problems. Don’t just think about it or talk about it; actually take action toward solutions and enjoy seeing the progress you make.
Look for the meaning in your suffering. Ask God to show you how you can grow as a person from your suffering, and how you can use what you’ve learned to help others who are suffering in similar ways. Ask yourself: “How do I feel about what is happening to me?”, “How can I get some help?”, “How can I learn from this?”, “How can I make positive changes in my situation?” and “How can I change my attitude?”
Pray for the right perspective. Ask God to give you His perspective on the relationships and situations in your life that are troubling you. Correct your vision so you can see them with accuracy. Know that doing so will help you to think straight, which will lead to better choices, and then to a better life.
Forget about suicide. If you’re thinking about committing suicide, talk with someone you trust right away and get those thoughts out of your mind. Realize that, if you were to commit suicide, it would cause great harm to everyone who loves you. Know that God offers you real hope. Turn to Him and trust that your life will get better.
Make time for rest and relaxation. Be sure to get plenty of sleep each night, since sleep heals the emotional and physical stress that can cause anxiety and depression. Remember that, according to many studies, at least seven hours of sleep each night is best. Practice deep breathing to help reduce tension. Exercise regularly; doing so will release hormones in your body that help your mood. Regularly engage in some activities that relax you, such as: watching a movie, reading a book, talking with friends, listening to music, taking a leisurely walk, going on a picnic, soaking in a hot tub or warm bath, playing sports, sitting in the sun, taking a nap, reading and meditating on the Bible, and writing to family and friends.
Change the way you talk to yourself. Reclaim your mind from negative thoughts you regularly tell yourself, and start talking to yourself through your thoughts in positive ways. Whenever a negative thought enters your mind, shock yourself into stopping it (such as yelling out loud or in your mind, or snapping a large rubber band that you wear around your wrist). Then replace each negative thought with a positive thought. Or, write your negative thoughts down as they occur to you, and refuse to think about them until a brief, designated time each day. Know that as you change your thoughts, your feelings will also change. Pay attention to your appearance and make an effort to look good; when you look better, you’ll feel better about yourself. Set goals for where you would like to be in your thinking, emotions, and behavior in the next three months, year, and five years. Stop procrastinating about things you have to do; once you finish them, you’ll feel better about yourself. Learn how to face the pain you’ll inevitably encounter in our fallen world, and grow through it. Believe that, with God’s help, you can make significant progress.
Tap into the power of forgiveness. Realize that your anxiety or depression may be caused in part by guilt over something you did that was wrong, or something you didn’t do that you should have done. If so, seek forgiveness from God and the people you’ve hurt. Take responsibility for your own thoughts, words, and behaviors. Express regret and remorse for them. Repent by deciding to go in a completely different direction in the future. Make restitution for all damages incurred, as best as you can. Enjoy the clear conscience of knowing you’ve done your best. Then reconcile with the people you’ve hurt if they’re still alive and willing to restore their relationships with you.
Draw strength from Scripture. Read, study, and meditate on the Bible every day. Let its truths refresh your soul, and remind you of God’s great love for you and unlimited power to help you.
Adapted from Overcoming Anxiety and Depression: Practical Tools to Help You Deal with Negative Emotions, copyright 2007 by Bob Phillips. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Or., www.harvesthousepublisherscom.
Bob Phillips, master compiler of inspirational verses, Scripture references, and quotes on the lighter, humorous side of life, has written a hundred books with combined sales of more than 9 million copies. Bob also serves as director-at-large for Hume Lake Christian Camps and is a licensed family counselor in California.