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  • Writer's pictureRachael Nitz

Fighting Back Against Depression

What is depression?

I would argue that nearly everyone experiences some form of depression throughout their life. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the US and affects 8% of the population when we are talking about Clinical depression.

DSM-V describes clinical depression
symptoms of depression

Clinical depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest and it affects how you feel, think, and behave. That is a condensed version of the diagnosis, but, as I said, I feel most people have experienced at least short-term depression at some point in their lives such as feeling sad and like you don’t want to do anything.

What can we do, as Christians to combat this. There is an assumption in Christianity that being a Christian means no longer having those kinds of thoughts. So, what can we do when that mood strikes?

What does the bible say about depression? I am not asking what religion says about it because I think that is a big reason we are here because religion has tried to change it and distort it. Matthew 11:28-30 says,

“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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I view that as meaning there is hope for those who suffer from depression. Let's look into that a bit more.


How is depression depicted in the Bible? Where is the biblical representation of depression?

  • In Numbers 11:10-16, Moses is “troubled” by the wailing of his people and pleads with God as to why he gave him this responsibility and rambled through his burdens and how heavy it feels for him.

  • David laments over his transgressions in Psalm 51 and in Psalm 32:1-5 he describes what it was like when he kept his pain silent and didn’t turn to the lord. He described his bones wasting away and groaning all day long. He described feeling a heavy weight on him day and night.

  • Elijah prayed that God would take his life because he felt he had had enough of it in 1 Kings 19.

  • What can’t be said about the state of Job’s mental health?

  • Jonah also prayed to have his life taken by God because of his circumstances.

  • Psalm 73 is a description of struggles.


So, if these larger-than-life Old Testament icons can suffer from depression and still find their way to God and be redeemed, remembered, and revered then I would call myself lucky to have a similar fate.

Challenging depression using the Bible can be accomplished in 3 steps
The Bible challenges depression

The Bible gives us tools to combat and fight depression. It tells us that the grace of God in Jesus is the sum of all hope. This sentiment is sprinkled all throughout the New Testament. See just about anything in Colossians, 1 Timothy 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, Hebrews 10:27 and so many more.

We have joy in salvation given to us by Jesus Christ because he died for our sins and to redeem us. And loving others shouldn’t be a surprise to any of you because Jesus told us in Matthew 22:36-40 that the greatest command was to love God and love others. How do we apply these to challenging our depression?


CBT and Your Depression

The most common and most effective form of treatment for depression is Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive stands for our thoughts while behavioral is about our actions. Maybe that doesn’t make much sense when we think about depression being a feeling but let me explain.

            Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are deeply connected. Our thoughts are things our mind tells us, stories which create our feelings. Our feelings refer to the physiological changes that occur as a result of our emotion which create our behavior. Our behavior is the things we do and the things we don’t do which reinforce our thoughts. And the cycle starts all over again.

What this tells us is that if we are acting a way we don’t want to act, working backward to identify our thoughts (our cognition) can be the key to acting differently and ultimately becoming someone new. This is where the devil’s schemes really come to play because I would argue that when we examine those initial negative thoughts we are going to find one that he planted for us that spiraled out of our control. Afterall, he is the king of lies and deception and is good at what he does. Which then reinforces the fact that we need to examine our thoughts to change everything else. 2 Corinthians 10:5 echoes this sentiment and says,

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

If we take control of our thoughts, we can change everything!

three cycles contributing to depression
Cycles of depression

            There are 3 main cycles when we think of depression which include how depression relates to negative thoughts, low activities, and the people we come in contact with. Each cycle also interacts with each other and a new cycle is created.

           


How do our thoughts affect our moods?

Your mind is like a professional storyteller that just never stops telling stories.  We call these stories thoughts. Some thoughts may be true but most of them are opinions, judgements, beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, fantasies, ideas, concepts, models, interpretations, or evaluations. Bottom line is this…thoughts are not facts! They are reflections of the way you see the world. Nothing more. Nothing less. When we buy into or believe these thoughts we start to have problems. Romans 12:2 says,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

He never intended for us to get sucked into our thoughts but actually told us to look toward him, to find our hope in Him instead of in worldly things.

            Certain types of thoughts can increase or decrease the chances of you being depressed. If we chose to think of thoughts as “things” we can more easily identify which ones are not serving us and change them. Paul had a solution for us in Philippians 4:8,

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—thing about such things.”

He didn’t say “whatever your mind tells you or whatever is harsh, whatever is hurtful, whatever is dark.” He told us to focus on the things that are excellent and praiseworthy. Again, set our thoughts on God and the hope he brings us. Our thoughts can and will play tricks on us and can have a real effect on our bodies and our mind.

           Ultimately, to improve your thinking means focusing on the hope we have in God and the joy we have been given through salvation. When we look for what the bible has to say on healthy thinking, I could provide numerous verses for you so I’ve decided to leave you with just one here. Proverbs 17:22 says,

“...a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

I want to emphasize something here quickly. This proverb says a “cheerful heart is good medicine” which implies that the person is sick to begin with. This also means they are finding reasons to be cheerful even when their circumstances don’t warrant it. Interesting…

You can increase your better mood thoughts through focusing on good thoughts, taking notice of the good you do, taking a mental break, finding things to look forward to or listing the positives about yourself and life. This one is my personal favorites and can also be called “gratitude.” Science has shown the effects of a daily gratitude practice is far reaching even with non-Christians. And it doesn’t take much, only 5 minutes a day. If you missed it, you can check out the blog I wrote all about gratitude and it's benefits here.

You can also focus on decreasing your bad mood thoughts by thought stopping, scheduling yourself some worry time, making fun of your problems through over exaggeration, evaluating all possible outcomes, and questioning your own thoughts. Other techniques you could use include challenging negative thoughts using cognitive distortions and the ABCD method. (If you are interested in having me walk through these topics in a follow-up blog, please leave me a comment and let me know because it's a lot to add to what is already here).


How do our activities affect our mood?

Activities and mood cycle
Activities and mood cycle

            We’ve looked at how our thoughts affect our mood, now let's look at how our activities affect our mood. This is another never-ending cycle in which you stop doing things because of your depression which only makes you more depressed and you stop doing more things which brings you back to not wanting to do things and on and on it goes. I mentioned Romans 12:2 earlier but let’s look at what precedes that verse with Romans 12:1-2,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-–his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

Did you catch that? It says to offer your body as a living sacrifice. Instead of allowing depression to take control of your body and force you to stop doing things, treat it like the temple it is and use it to worship God. Sometimes it will feel like you are forcing yourself but remind yourself that it is because you know you need it. Just like our analogy of being sick and needing a hospital, sometimes when you are sick you have to force yourself to take your medicine, force yourself to eat, force yourself to get fresh air because, if you don’t, it will be so much worse.

            The solution is to step outside of this cycle and sometimes that may mean doing something you don’t want to do just because you know it will help you. I cannot tell you how many times I hear from people that "nothing sounds fun or interesting" or they just "don’t feel like it" and so they do nothing. THAT DOESN’T HELP YOU! I like to suggest a jar with sheets of paper and activities you normally like to do that are pleasant, rewarding, meaningful, inspiring, relaxing, etc. Then, when you are feeling depressed and like you can't make a decision on what to do you simply pull a slip of paper out and do whatever is on it. And you remind yourself that you do it to get over this quicker.

You can also make plans, set goals for yourself, and take control of your life. You do not have to allow depression to rule your life. You have the power to change it. And maybe think about what you would ask of your friend if they were in this situation. Would you leave them there to sit in their depression or help them up?


How does time with others affect our mood?

            We’ve covered negative thoughts and activities in relation to your mood, now let’s look at how time with others affects your mood. Just like the last two, this is also another never-ending cycle… until you choose to end it. When depressed, people tend to have less contact with others, feel uncomfortable around people, talk less, express likes and dislikes less, and feel an increased sensitivity to being ignored, criticized, or rejected. And all of this then leads to spending less and less time with others.

Social support is important
Social support is important

            But having social support is important. The stronger the support of the people around you, the better you can face tough situations. If you have a small support system, make it bigger and if it's already a good size, spend time maintaining it. I hate using the word "tribe" but if it gets the point across.. Build your damn tribe and if you don’t know where to start, start here! Because, as we mentioned in the beginning, the Bible tells us that challenging depression is through loving God AND loving others. How are you loving others if you never spend time with others?

            I don’t know a lot of people who enjoy meeting new people with the intention of making them their friends. To me, that connotation makes me feel that I have an ulterior motive. What if instead you join a group that is doing something you already enjoy? I love Facebook’s events and will look for things that interest me and go there. Here’s why this is a good idea: you are more likely to be in a better mood and friendlier when you do something you enjoy. And even if you don’t end up making a new friend this time, you still got to do something you enjoy and it puts less pressure on yourself to meet other people. And this way, you already have something in common. The Bible has surprisingly a lot to say on the matter of friendships. Psalms 133:1 says,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says,

“Therefor encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

But my personal favorite is Hebrews 10:24-25,

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Why are people important to your mood?

  • They help you have rewarding experiences.

  • They can support your values and who you want to be.

  • They can provide companionship and stability.

  • They can reflect the image of yourself that you find most important.

  • They can be a sounding board when your negative thoughts start to spiral and a voice of reason in dark times.

  • And most importantly, God tells us we aren’t meant to live isolated.


We were created for fellowship with others. This has been evident since God created Eve to give Adam comfort and said in Genesis 2:18,

“it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

There is no good way to end a blog like this but here goes…

         God has sent us many tools to help with our depression. He never said we wouldn’t have depression but that doesn't mean He wants us to stay there. It is up to you to take control of your depression through the knowledge and comfort of God. He’s got you! He’s got tools for you to use. He’s giving you tools to use. But it is still up to you to use them. He gave us the Bible and in it He told us challenging depression is about remembering we have hope in God, we have joy in salvation, and we should love God and love others.

If I have any advice I really hope you take, it’s this: Don’t just collect this information and file it away in your head and pull it out when others you encounter are depressed. Put it into practice. These things don't work through osmosis; it takes an active effort and actively using these tools to help your own depression.

If you need clarity on anything I shared here, reach out! I would love to chat more with you about it and answer questions.

 

Much love & blessings,

Rachael


sending you love from across the web!
Much love & blessings

 

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