Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Four Practical Steps to Fight Depression

Depression Series: Four Ways the Church Can Come Alongside the Weary Sojourner, United Together in Christ, and Hope in God.

I’ve labored, as you can read above, to lay a theological foundation for dealing with depression. I’m not one who believes taking medicine for depression is wrong--for some it’s necessary. I’ve also stayed away from making medical pronouncements because I’m not a doctor or the son of a doctor. If you need medical help, get it!

On the flip side, those who think biblical counseling (gospeling) is unnecessary when helping someone with depression argue, “If depression is a medical issue, why do we need biblical counseling? You wouldn’t counseling someone who had cancer because of their disease.” It’s certainly true we wouldn’t treat the cancer as sin (although cancer does fit into the gospel story as a result of the fall), we would certainly re-double the gospel foundation for our fellow believer by rallying around them, visiting them, encouraging them, and listening to them.  It’s interesting to note, The American Cancer Society writes “Although available research has not supported claims that spirituality or prayer can cure cancer or any other disease, spiritual well-being is linked to better quality of life in people with cancer.”

Those who have cancer and have a strong faith have a better quality of life because of their strong faith. That’s why I’ve been writing about depression. We need to get Christian psychologists and biblical counselors on the same side. A strong understanding of the gospel story will and can only help those battling depression, even if in some cases the depression’s root cause is medical.

With all of that said and after laying all of the biblical foundation above, I want to share with you some simple steps I took as the Spirit worked in my life which helped lessen the effects of depression for me.

Exercise and Eat Healthy

It seems so simple but exercising and eating healthy make a huge difference for me. I feel less sad and more motivated to do other important activities when I’m honoring God with my body. Lest you think how you treat your body is merely a temporal concern let me remind you that the gospel story starts with creation. God forms a man out of the dust and says what he’s made is "good." Your body is good. Take care of it. Also, the gospel story ends with the resurrection and a brand new body. One day you won't have to worry about sickness, pain, and suffering. You'll have a perfect body and will take care of it perfectly. Don’t ignore your responsibility to start doing this the best you can now.

Create A Simple Lists of Tasks

The biggest mistake you can make is creating a overly complicated list. Start small with two or three items. Ask for help if necessary. Complete the task and repeat. For me it started with raking my yard. I had failed as the man of my house to take care of simple maintenance items which started with the yard.  After raking the leaves, I started to work on another project--creating a garden bed. I finished that. Creating a list of tast isn’t merely a physical task. It’s a physical task but it’s spiritual too. We were created to have dominion and to work. We are reflecting God when we do so.

Cut Out Mindless Entertainment and Re-focus Your Time

I also made a BIG changes to my entertainment habits. When depressed, I found myself in front of the TV for hours and hours on end. Never changing out of PJs. Barely moving. Never thinking much. Hardly engaging with anything around me. Sound depressing? Well that’s because it is.

Re-focus some of your time on your family. Plan fun activities you enjoy or your spouse enjoys or your kids enjoy. Watching someone else delight in something will help re-train yourself to enjoy God and life as well.

Spend time with God expressing your dependence on him and also asking him to reveal himself more fully to you. Ask him to work in ways only he can in your life so that he might receive the glory. Tell him how you feel when you’re feeling depressed and don’t be afraid. Finally, ask him for hope in Jesus Christ.

I can’t overemphasize this enough. Soak yourself in Scripture. Set aside uninterrupted time to read Scripture. Find friends who will read along with you and discuss what you’re reading. If you have a smartphone listen to Scripture as you do chores, drive, or have spare time. Allow it to seep into every area of your life.

Helping Others
You might be struggling with depression, but, as I said previously, someone else is struggling with something else. They may have cancer. They may have experienced lost. They might be struggling financially. You have resources, abilities, and gifts you can use to help others. Find someone you can invest in and do so. Make this time about helping them. Use the creativity bestowed upon you by God to serve others for His glory.

Sharing Your Story

Last, but certainly not least, share your story with others. I cannot tell you how freeing it is for those you love--family, friends, and church--to know you struggle with depression. Tell them how it impacts you. Tell them what triggers it. Ask them to pray for you. Ask them to keep you accountable. Also, expect some uncomfortable conversations. You might find someone who has no history with depression and just doesn’t get it. Be patient and answer even the absurd questions.

Let me give you an example from my own life. My depression grew in the soil of anxiety. I feared not having control. Not having those I loved close. I refused to trust God which allowed fear and sadness to grow in the garden of my heart. Because that went unchecked, my first major bout with depression when married was triggered in part by my sinful response to the first time my wife and daughter left for a week to visit her family. I had never made the connection before but I then realized I was vulnerable when my family was away.

I needed accountability. Someone to tell me, “Trust God. Stop acting like you can take care of your family better than He can.” For the first few years after having my major breakdown, I stayed with other family when my wife traveled with our kids to visit her family and I couldn’t join them. First, just to have daily encouragement to trust God and honestly because my depression also led to other sins. I needed the structure and accountability. Also, guys from my church were great about fellowshipping with me and preaching the gospel to me. By God’s grace I had no problems while they were gone. I missed my wife and kids but I was refreshed spiritually when they returned. This was possible because I dared to tell the people who surrounded me what I struggled with and they rallyed around me.

Lo and behold, I’m writing this post while my wife and daughters are out of town (I’ll be joining them in Kansas this Saturday). I’ve had such great support that this time alone has been a refreshing time for me to spend time with God. Never doubt the power of the gospel to change. I don’t doubt that this happened because of the Spirit working in my heart.

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