By Amber Ginter, Crosswalk.com
Growing up, I was often taught that someone always has it worse. It didn't matter if my three goldfish died in one week, my half-brothers overdosed three times, or I got screamed at half a dozen minutes; I was taught to look on the bright side.
- At least I have food.
- At least I have water.
- At least I have shelter, even if that haven wasn't always a place I desired to call home.
While this is undoubtedly true, and I believe God wants us to be thankful for what we have, this mindset set me up for failure and repressed emotions early on. The more we focus on others, the more we are typically able to rejoice and look on the bright side. This is a good thing. It's the nature of Thanksgiving, and because it forces us to look beyond ourselves, it's highly effective. But when it comes at the expense of ignoring what we are going through, our invalidated experiences only fester.
The Problem with Invalidated Experiences
When I was in college, I broke my foot during dance class. It was unexpected, excruciating and changed the trajectory of my life for the next 6 to 8 months. People constantly asked me, "What happened," "How long will you be in a cast," and "How do you get around"? Their questions were genuine concerns about my healing process. But not once did someone tell me, "Your broken foot isn't that bad," or "So and so broke their leg, so you should be thankful it's only your foot."
My point is this: While it's imperative to maintain a spirit of thanks and gratitude, it's also essential to validate and reflect on the experiences you go through (especially the hard and ugly ones you may often try to force down or ignore). And if I could give my younger self advice, I would tell her to do these two things:
- Listen well.
- Manage your symptoms often.
1. Listen well (to your body and its needs).
As Christians, we're often taught to ignore our needs. After all, Jesus spent most of His time serving and saving others. But the thing we often forget about Jesus and don't like to broadcast is that He could only care for others well because He also cared for Himself. Why else would He often be found praying alone in the wilderness or taking naps on boats? Jesus knew how to love God and others, but He could only do this by caring for Himself first.
Listen to your body physically.
If we want to support our Mental Health practically, this means listening to our body physically. Attention to things like nutrition, sleep, exercise, bloodwork, and concerning health issues, for example, is good to be aware of. I firmly believe that because I ignored what I experienced as a teenager, my physical health began to crumble as a young adult. It's not coincidental that my mental and physical health began to deteriorate when I graduated college. Our bodies keep score and can only hold so much trauma before they reach a breaking point. This is why taking steps to listen to our bodies is important. We must be willing to heal physically by getting appropriate check-ups, attending to medical concerns or issues, and caring for ourselves. We must also learn to listen to ourselves mentally, which is often even more challenging.
Listen to your body mentally.
Listening to your body mentally is something I often ignored as a teenager and still have trouble listening to today. After nearly a decade of suffering, two of my closest friends convinced me to seek Christian counseling. Despite my denial, I knew they were right. For years I invested in journaling, praying, reading my Bible, and involving myself in volunteer services, which are all great things. I can't tell you how crucial it's to seek God amid the healing we may need mentally or physically. But if we ignore the resources He's blessed us with beyond these things, we're only hurting ourselves. I've learned how to connect my faith and mental health through counseling using tools and resources. Things like deep breathing, breath prayers, re-framing, Cognitive Behavioral Talk Therapy, and processing are skills I never would've learned independently.
While you might be tempted to say, "That all sounds nice, Amber, but I don't have time," let me encourage you with this: I've been going to counseling for nearly four years, and that 1 hour a week has been one of the most significant investments of my life. I won't lie to you and tell you it's always easy. I'm also not going to tell you it won't take time, patience, and hard work because it will. But caring for our minds is something we must make a priority. And as you learn and grow, you develop tools in the toolbelt you can pull out anytime you need them. Investing in journaling, deep breathing, and seeking out a counselor are worth the time and effort. And please don't be afraid to seek medical attention and medication if needed. Again, these are all tools and resources the good Lord has blessed us with. Don't let anyone shame you into thinking they aren't.
Listen to your body spiritually.
I am a Christian writer, so this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning how to listen to your body spiritually. As a teenager, this was something I thought I did well. Because even though I ignored my physical or mental needs, I was praying, reading my Bible, attending Church, and getting involved with serving others. But you can do all the "right" things and still be far from God. Listening to your body spiritually means telling God what you are going through without a filter. It means coming to Him on your knees with your head hung low, not avoiding Him because you're embarrassed by your imperfections or boasting of your good deeds like a Pharisee. It also means not forsaking your Temple and Spirit. If we want to take steps to heal our mental health, it must include God and the resources He's blessed us with. Plugging into a solid Church, meeting Godly friends, and engaging in prayer/Scripture reading are tremendous and necessary assets to add to our daily routines.
While attuning to my physical, mental, and spiritual needs as a teenager could have prevented further pain and injury as a young adult, I need to tell you that listening well isn't everything. One can listen well and still have an injury. You can go to the doctor, take medication, meditate, go to counseling, and pray to God, but still have scars of suffering. And that's okay. This is why it's incredibly important to manage your symptoms often.
2. Manage Your Symptoms Often
While I was a mastermind at ignoring my symptoms as a teenager, I became almost obsessed as an adult. Because when you start listening to your physical, mental, and spiritual needs after ignoring them for over a decade, it's hard not to. So, I started thinking everything would be better if I just prayed more, meditated more, went to more counseling sessions, or tried harder. I often asked myself why I wasn't fixed yet. But I was missing something: Mental Health isn't a bone you can heal. It's a condition you learn to manage.
If your goal with listening to your body in any way, shape, or form is "How can I make this go away for good," I won't be the first to tell you it probably won't happen. Yes, our God is good and can heal, but what happens while we're still waiting on that healing? With any health issue, it's important to prioritize by monitoring how you think, feel, and act. For myself, this meant calling out the deep seeded belief that I needed to "do" more to heal myself. Because the reality is even if I do more, I may suffer from anxiety and depression for the rest of my life. The goal of these tips isn't to permanently erase your struggles. It's to help you manage them well. And we can't do that if we're ignoring them or shaming ourselves for our progress (or lack thereof).
Mental Health recovery isn't a one-size fits all solution. It takes time. It takes adaptation. And it takes realizing that sometimes what worked yesterday for our anxiety or depression might not work today. We are incredibly compMental Health recovery isn't a one-size fits all solution. It takes time. It takes adaptation. And it takes realizing that sometimes what worked yesterday for our anxiety or depression might not work today. We are incredibly complex and dynamic creatures hand-crafted in the image of God, so why should we try to limit how we can heal? lex and dynamic creatures hand-crafted in the image of God, so why should we try to limit how we can heal? These two steps are just a few of the tools I've collected in my tool bag over the years. They aren't prescriptive, magic potions sure to heal your every issue. But they are resources worth looking into. And as you learn to listen well and manage your symptoms often, know I'm standing beside you, cheering you on along the way.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Milko
Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.
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