As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to share with you an article from our 2021 magazine by Dr. Brooke Keels, Mercy’s Senior Director of Counseling & Program Strategy. In this article, she gives insight into the importance of our spiritual and mental health, and how they are uniquely connected to one another.
We are spirit, soul, and body (Thessalonians 5:23). All three demand our attention, and if one of them becomes imbalanced, there can be an issue in all three areas. Our spiritual and mental health are uniquely connected. For example, negative thoughts left unchecked can become negative beliefs, and these negative beliefs are the lens that we use to view our overall experience in this world, including God and other people. Reflecting on the past year, I am sure you can think of many instances of stressors, traumas, or just overall negative experiences. What you will find is when we allow the negative ideas and beliefs, we attach to different negative experiences to go unchecked, they can leave us feeling isolated, powerless, and vulnerable. These intrusive thoughts will trigger corresponding emotions of anxiety, depression, foreboding, fear, etc. If we hold onto negative thoughts and emotions, a negative belief system is formed, which begins to impair your personal and professional relationships as well as your relationship with God.
You have probably heard someone say, “Don’t trust your emotions!” Or maybe you have heard/read/used some version of the quote by John Seymour, “Emotions make excellent servants, but tyrannical [terrible] masters.” While these are not incorrect thoughts, the message being communicated is incomplete. The takeaway tends to be that emotions are bad, unnecessary, or unimportant. The truth is emotions are essential. By giving us emotions, God has given us a great gauge to check in on ourselves. When we struggle emotionally, we should see it as our gauge indicating something is out of balance in our lives. Without this, we could get too far down the road without correcting the situation. Just as when we get an infection in our physical body, our pain sensors send a signal to our brain saying, “Hey, something’s wrong here that needs attention!” If attention isn’t given, then the infection can lead to more severe circumstances. It’s the same with our emotions. When deep sadness, depression, or anxiety manifests, our emotions are telling us that something with our mental health needs attention. Instead of disqualifying our emotions by viewing them as something to ignore until they go away, or something to not be trusted, we should instead be careful to use them for the purpose they were intended – as a powerful tool in the fight to have victory in our lives. When you recognize your emotions have turned negative, consider what you have been focusing your thoughts on. Try to recognize if there are negative thought patterns that have crept into your mind. If so, then take action in shutting those patterns down.
One of the most important principles we teach at Mercy is that to be effective in staying mentally and spiritually healthy, you must go to the root of the problem. Over the years, I have counseled many individuals with incredible trauma in their lives. What I have found to be the best predictor of a healthy outcome, more than the severity of trauma, are the thoughts and beliefs the individual attaches to the trauma. If someone is assaulted, the event itself is difficult to deal with, but the intrusive thoughts of “I’m not safe,” “No one will protect me,” “People cannot be trusted,” can continue long after the event and cause serious issues. Not many would argue that our thoughts direct our emotions; however, I don’t know how often we think about the implications of this truth. If we become depressed or anxious about an event, the first question to ask is “What am I thinking and believing about the event?”
An overused but underutilized verse in the bible is Philippians 4:8 “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Many of us are very familiar with this verse, but I actually believe the verse that follows is the key. Philippians 4:9 says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” It’s the “put into practice” part of this instruction that we can have a difficult time with. Using God’s word is a proactive exercise. I believe we often suffer from clumsy thinking. We allow any thought(s) floating around to come into our minds and dictate our emotions. Feelings of depression, despair, anxiety, and foreboding can be difficult to escape, especially if we feel helpless to change them. During times of a pandemic, social unrest, and political uncertainty, intentionality is required to protect your mind from the influx of negativity.
We know that thought patterns literally change the physiology of the brain. When we continually think a certain way, neural pathways form grooves in the brain that optimize the brains efficiency. If you have the tendency to think about negative things, then your brain’s physiology changes to optimize the ability to think negatively. This is why it’s so important to think correctly and do so proactively. Paul urges us to “Take every thought captive.” Can you see the proactive nature of this verse? It’s an imperative sentence, and Paul is giving a strong command. “Take” is the operative active word, which means there will be a fight! If you are in a negative thought life, it will take work to change your brain’s physiology. The good news is that you can change it. If we proactively take every thought captive and replace these thoughts with good, true, positive ones, we create new neural pathways that are refined to think in positive ways.
We have to be purposeful with our thoughts, especially in times of external and internal stress. The only way to win the fight is to consistently fill our minds with good things, not just resist the bad, but replace it with God’s truth. The most effective way to fill your mind with good things is through proclaiming God’s word. When spoken, God’s word has tremendous power in the spiritual world, but even in the physical world, when we speak something positive over and over, these words fire many areas of the brain and eventually God’s word is deposited into long-term memory, becoming a permanent part of our brain’s physiology. An example in God’s word of this principle is found in Joel 3. Here God stirs the warriors of Israel to action after many years of captivity in a foreign land saying, “Prepare for war!” How does God instruct them to prepare for war? He says in verse 10, “Let the weak say ‘I am strong!’” I would assume that after many years of Israel being away from their land, culture, family, and religion, they did not feel strong, but God’s instructions for them in their weakened state was to proclaim, “I am strong!” Here we see the principle clearly: Proclamation preceded manifestation. Like the Israelites, we need to use this principle. We need to find those verses that combat our poor thinking in a specific way. I have worked with people who have a foreboding feeling surrounding their lives, an ever-present feeling something negative is going to happen to them or their loved ones. If hope is an expectation that good is going to happen, foreboding is the opposite of hope. Unchecked feelings of foreboding can lead to debilitating anxiety or fear, which manifests many ways throughout the day. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” For someone who struggles with the opposite of hope, proclaiming this verse proclaims the opposite of a foreboding spirit. It places God in His rightful place, in charge of the day, and with Him in charge there is good coming, and we can rejoice throughout the day!
Presently, we are enduring an incredible increase of negativity in our world. In my lifetime, there has never been a deeper sense of fear, anxiety, and foreboding affecting people who never expected to deal with these issues. With the now keen awareness of uncertainty being continuously circulated, I believe this is an incredible opportunity to apply these principles. While we are praying for our country and world, we have a chance to put into practice what the Bible teaches us and build ourselves in the Lord. It is imperative to be intentional about what we are letting into our minds. We should proclaim the promise of God. When our emotions are signaling something is wrong, we should use it to take the necessary actions to get the help we need. I have provided a few resources to help you begin identifying the negative belief patterns and replace them with truth. I believe deeply as you apply these principles, we, as people of God, can be a more effective light for people to see in this present darkness.
Mercy Multiplied exists to provide opportunities for all to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and life-transforming power. We offer multiple programs and resources online and onsite designed to equip people to live free and stay free in Christ. For more information about the services we offer, click here.