If you are a Christian, you have undoubtedly heard that a key part of following Jesus and honoring God is rejecting selfishness and embracing the joy of serving and loving others. These are fundamental, Scripture-based truths of the Christian walk and are part of “putting on Christ” (Romans 13:14). However, there are many Christians who think that focusing on the self in any capacity, including personal mental health, is a form of selfishness. Rejecting the sin of selfishness and opening ourselves up to true service and love is a beautiful, freeing, and God-honoring process, so please do not hear me say that we should not be fighting this particular sin. My goal in this article is to suggest that caring for yourself (in a way that honors God) is not selfish and that living selflessly does not mean you have to neglect your mental well-being.
It seems like in the Christian community, we focus on fighting the sin of selfishness but we neglect to clarify a very important fact: not all time spent working on and focusing on the self is selfish. Consider the following verse:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).
It is easy to look at this verse and glean that we are to only look out for others, but something we often miss is that first phrase - “Let each of you not look not only to his own interests…”. These words imply that we are to be caring for ourselves as well as others.
Let’s also consider the second greatest commandment - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. This command can originally be found in the Old Testament, but Jesus reiterates it here in Matthew 22 when he is asked which commandment is the greatest. As you may remember, He replies that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love others. And, how does He say we should love others? As we love ourselves.
I have talked to believers who say that they feel like it’s sinful for them to focus on their own “stuff” (be it emotions, thoughts, struggles, past experiences, etc.) and that they need to instead look outside of themselves and just focus on serving others. (Again, I am not saying these are bad things to do). However, what often happens is they neglect their mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional needs and run themselves ragged trying to meet everyone else’s needs. Service and care of others becomes a chore, another thing on the “to-do list”, rather than something born of genuine love and goodwill.
The point I am trying to make is that you can’t pour water from an empty pitcher. If you are “empty” due to issues such as unaddressed mental illness, unchecked emotions, undealt with relational wounds, or whatever it may be, your ability to love your neighbor will be hindered. This is where looking to our own interests and biblically loving ourselves comes into play. I believe that biblically loving ourselves means that we agree with God on who He says we are, and we treat ourselves in a way that honors Him and reflects His care for us. And when we do so, we are able to extend the same to others.
So, Christian, pursuing your mental health is not selfish. It honors that Lord when we agree with Him and walk into the healing that He so freely offers us. This increases our capacity to love Him and love others, filling up our pitchers so that we can pour into our family, friends, and community in a way that spreads the hope of Christ.
Let’s talk more about self-regulation! Why, you ask? Because self-regulation is KEY in living with intention and purpose, and I’d almost guarantee that most of us want to live intentional and purposeful lives. In the last post, we defined self-regulation and talked about why it’s important, and this week we are going to put some self-regulation strategies into practice! If you missed last week’s post, scroll down and give it a read before moving on.
When we talk about self-regulation, many people think that we’re talking about relaxation. However, we can’t just think about self-regulation as mere relaxation. Dr. Eric Gentry, one of the world’s leading experts in post-traumatic stress states, “Self-regulation is relaxation, but relaxation is rarely self-regulation.” In other words, relaxation is only a part of self-regulation.
Don’t get me wrong - deep relaxation is wonderful and has great health benefits! But, if you are in the middle of a stressful meeting at work or you are cleaning up the Cheerios your toddler has thrown all of the kitchen (for the fourth time in the last hour), there’s not an opportunity for you to go take a long relaxing bath, get a massage, or do an hour of yoga. The good news is… There are strategies that you can use (that take as little as 30 seconds to regulate your body and mind while you are fully engaged in your everyday activities.
Before I give you the practical strategies, it is important to keep in mind the two components of self-regulation:
There are many ways to practice the acute relaxation component of self-regulation, and as Dr. Gentry puts it, “The right way is your way.” The overall goal that you are trying to achieve is muscle relaxation. If you are in a relaxed body, you restore regulation and regain optimal brain functioning. Here are two quick self-regulation strategies that you can incorporate in your life today:
If you are looking for more guidance and support in the area of stress management and self-regulation, therapy might be a good option for you. Our therapists are not only trained in helping you find practical ways to manage stress, but also in helping you find the hope and healing that you may be needing. If you’re considering beginning therapy, give us a call today. We would love to help you find the right therapist for you and your needs.
It’s well known that emotional intelligence is key to thriving in today’s society, with self-regulation being one of its vital components. The ability to regulate ourselves amidst chaotic or difficult circumstances is an invaluable skill that can help us thrive no matter what we face. When we talk about self-regulation, it’s important to define what it means to be dysregulated. When we are dysregulated, our emotions (often emotions such as anger, fear, sadness) are out of control and we feel unable to calm down - or regulate - ourselves back to a calm state.
When you’re dysregulated, your sympathetic nervous system (what you may recall as “fight, flight, or freeze”) is in charge. When your body is in this response mode, the part of your brain that helps you reason, focus, and interact well with others has diminished functioning. You also find yourself more irritable, reactive, and overwhelmed rather than calm and centered. Now, your sympathetic nervous system is important and vital to survival, but it’s not meant to be in charge all the time. Your parasympathetic nervous system (known as “rest and digest”) is built to be in control. When it’s activated, your body is calm and you are able to reason and think clearly.
If you’re tracking so far, you’ve probably concluded that self-regulation is how we return to parasympathetic-dominance from sympathetic-dominance. In other words, self-regulation is the process in which we return to a calm state when we are feeling out of control. So, how does this happen? Over the years, researchers have proposed and developed methods of what they call “bottom-up” regulation. I won’t get too scientific, but essentially bottom-up regulation is being aware of your body and its sensations (whether that’s tightness, pain, tension, heart rate, the breath) and using that awareness to return to a state of calm.
Returning to calm, to parasympathetic-dominance, allows us to be more intentional, less reactive, and better connected. It gives us space in between what happens to us and how we react - space to think and choose rather than act on impulse. Next week on the blog, we’ll discuss specific strategies for bottom-up self regulation that you can put into practice right away, so stay tuned!
Empathy. You’ve heard the word, but do you really know what it means? Counselors are deeply familiar with this word, however, it’s a concept that’s misunderstood by so many (myself included in my pre-graduate school days). Why is this? Well, we often think that empathy is synonymous with sympathy, however there is very important distinction between the two - a distinction that can be the difference in whether or not we connect or disconnect from each other.
Renowned author Brene Brown states that “empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection”. But wait! I thought sympathy was a good thing! Let’s dig a little deeper into the semantics of these two words and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Empathy involves identifying with another’s emotional pain, placing oneself in another’s position to gain understanding, and the willingness to “just be” with another. Mirriam-Webser defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another”.
So, how is this different from sympathy? Sympathy is feeling sorry for another without attempting to understand or identify with another’s pain. It can also look like trying to "lighten the mood" or "find the silver lining", which comes across as dismissing another’s pain rather than listening and acknowledging it.
Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar, proposed four attributes of empathy that can give us more clarity as to what empathy looks and sounds like:
Am I saying that we should never give feedback or speak truth to our loved ones? By no means. However, the moment when your friend is sharing their raw emotions and struggles with you is often not the best time for giving advice. Rather, these are the moments that they just need to feel heard, connected, and acknowledged.
There are many hurting people in our world, and now more than ever do we need to grow in empathy. Notice I said grow in empathy. Although empathy may come more naturally to some, empathy is a skill that can be practiced and developed. What does this look like? Brene Brown suggests:
“I’m so stressed”
“My anxiety is really bad right now”
“This is really stressing me out”
“I can’t control my anxiety”
“I have so much stress in my life”
These are phrases we hear as counselors all the time, and I assume you hear and/or say these phrases often in your own life. We often hear the words “stress” and “anxiety” used interchangeably, but have you ever stopped to think about what these words actually mean? They sound similar -- and they are to a degree -- but the clinical definitions of them show them to be two different experiences.
Let’s start with some definitions:
These definitions teach us an important and often overlooked fact - stress is not what happens to us, but rather how we react to what is happening to us. Undergoing stress most often results from external events/stressors rather than internal experiences. So for example, the sweaty palms, shaky hands, fast heartbeat, stomach discomfort, and anxious thoughts that come and go in relation to what’s going on in your life are probably related to your experience of stress rather than chronic anxiety.
On the other hand, if you are regularly experiencing these symptoms and can’t always identify an external trigger, then perhaps there is something more going on than just stress. While stress is typically a short term experience that dissipates when the stressor has been removed, anxiety is internal and ongoing.
Now that we’ve defined what stress and anxiety are, maybe you’re thinking,
“Yep, that sounds like me” or
“Now, I’m stressed that I might have anxiety!”
Here’s the thing -- stress is normal. It’s a process designed by God to help us be productive and stay safe. Many scholars even say that a little bit of stress is good for you! Think about it -- let’s say a bear is chasing you, and you need to escape. It’s an AMAZING thing that the appropriate hormones are released so that you can all of a sudden be faster and stronger to run away!
But, let’s be real. Most of us aren’t needing all of that adrenaline and cortisol so that we can escape from a hungry bear on a daily basis. In modern society, we are faced with stressors like an upcoming job interview or caring for a sick loved one. Stressors in our fast-paced world seem to come without end, and we usually face not one but many stressors at a time. The result is that we go about our days in a chronic state of stress response, which ends up harming us more than it helps us.
Fortunately, stress can be managed with the right strategies and a little bit of work. Here are a few research-based practices that can help you take on the stressors in your life with confidence:
As for anxiety, it can also be managed and treated with the right kind of help. The stress management strategies listed above can be very effective in coping with anxiety, however seeking professional help is always the best option. Anxiety disorders have different roots, and it’s important for a licensed clinician to perform assessments to help determine appropriate treatment. Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different, and meeting with a trained therapist can open the door to finding the best treatment plan for you.
At Bethel Haven, we are primarily offering TeleMental Health services during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to promote the safety of our staff as well as our clients. Even though sessions are not taking place in the office, we are still taking new clients at this time and would love to support you as you combat stress and anxiety and work to stay well mentally, emotionally, and spiritually! If you feel that the time is right for you to start seeing a therapist, give us a call!
stig·ma (noun) “a mark of stain or discredit"
are often still viewed as “dangerous”, “bad”, or just “different”. These attitudes lead to a myriad of problems for individuals with mental disorders (diagnosed or undiagnosed), including:
-decreased likelihood of seeking help
-rejection by friends, family, community
-the list goes on…
At Bethel Haven, we seek to destigmatize mental illness in our community by providing a safe space for clients to share their struggles and work toward wellness. We believe that there is no shame in struggling with your mental health, and we want our clients (and community!) to know that they are not alone in their struggle. The media often portrays mental illness as something uncommon, scary, and shameful, however this could not be further from the truth! Statistics and research tell us that almost half of the population in the U.S. will experience a mental illness at some point in life. Think about it--one out of every two people that you know has, had, or will have a mental health disorder in his or her lifetime. If this is true, then mental illness is much more common and relatable than we are led to believe.
"At Bethel Haven, we seek to destigmatize mental illness in our community by providing a safe space for clients to share their struggles and work toward wellness."
As a Christian counselor, I believe that the enemy of your soul wants to convince you that you are alone in your suffering. He wants to instill in you that no one else struggles in the same way you do, and that there’s something uniquely “wrong” with you. In the area of mental illness, I think this can be especially true. The enemy wants you to sink your teeth into the lie that you have to face mental health issues on your own. He wants you to believe that you must remain in the darkness of isolation. However, when you bring your fears, your shame, and yes, even your mental illness into the light of safe community and welcomed vulnerability, you will begin to walk in freedom. What is hidden has power, so bringing your struggle into the light destroys the hold of shame--including the shame that results from stigma.
As a therapist, I find it immensely fulfilling when clients reject the shame they once felt regarding their diagnoses and begin to advocate for themselves and others with mental illness. Have you been hiding your mental illness? Do you find yourself afraid to open up to anyone about your diagnosis? Perhaps, you have opened up before, and been met with disdain, disbelief, and discrimination. If this is the case, my heart hurts for you. I am so sorry that stigma has harmed you. Please know…
There is no real shame in your diagnosis.
You are not alone.
You are valuable and loved.
You are worthy of care.
If you feel ready to seek counseling at this time, give us a call to see if one of our counselors is a good fit for you! We are currently offering counseling services via TeleMental Health during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure the health and safety of our staff and clients.
Like anyone else with a social media account, I have been seeing a lot of people sharing the things they have been doing during the pandemic. Some have been learning new things, others have been taking up new hobbies, and some people have been reaching out to someone different every day. It’s kind of exhausting to think about.
When we post on social media, we like to share the pretty side of things. With my work with my clients, I have seen something else. We are all feeling pressure to be productive, even while we are feeling like we have less energy than ever before, and we’re being hard on ourselves for not using this time the way we feel we “should” be.
Do you find yourself wondering why you’ve been feeling unmotivated even though you have more time on your hands? You’re stressed. Whether you’re still working or not, whether you’re caring for a family or not, and whether you’ve been personally affected by Coronavirus or not, you’re stressed.
I know you’ve heard it already, but we are experiencing “unprecedented times.” What this means for our brains is that they are working overtime to try and understand what’s going on and how we are going to adjust. Every day the news says something different, we hear new numbers, and we have to make changes to our expectations about what life is going to look like for the foreseeable future. This takes a lot of mental effort and energy that we might otherwise have devoted to other tasks.
During this pandemic, a lot of us have been experiencing a constant state of fight or flight. We know there is a threat to our livelihood and we don’t know what to do about it. So we remain in this limbo stage as we wait to see what is going to happen next.
When we are this stressed for such an extended period of time, it takes a real toll on our brains and bodies. When we are anxious, upset, or worried about something, our bodies release a stress hormone called Cortisol. Usually, this is a short-lived experience, and the cortisol helps us know that there is a threat so we can solve the problem quickly. What looks different right now is that we’ve been stressed out for almost 2 months. When we are exposed to cortisol at such levels for such a lengthy amount of time, it can result in symptoms like anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep problems, and memory and concentration impairment, as shared in this article by the Mayo Clinic.
Do you feel drained? Do you feel less motivated? Are you having trouble paying attention to things? Are you feeling anxious or trying to numb certain feelings by zoning out, spending all your free time watching Netflix? Are you having trouble sleeping or getting more headaches? These are symptoms of extended stress.
The bottom line here is that your body is doing what it knows to do in order to cope with all the uncertainty we're experiencing. Being upset with yourself for not being as productive as you used to be is going to feed the cycle. So I’m going to invite you to try something else.
Give yourself some compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Treat yourself with grace. You’re going through something tough and that last thing you need is to beat yourself up for how you’re handling it. The next time you catch yourself thinking negatively about your response to this crisis, try to pause and thank your body for taking care of you.
It’s doing its best.
So are you.
As you may already know, the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month - a month in which we hope to:
Help. [verb] make it easier for (someone) to do something by offering one’s services or resources. At Bethel Haven, we provide help in numerous ways. One way we help our community is by making quality counseling services easy to access and afford. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on the generosity of donors to help us provide counseling services on a sliding scale. What does this look like as far as numbers go? 65% of our clients pay less than half of what it costs to provide our services. This is an unbelievable blessing to many of our clients who might not have been able to receive counseling services otherwise.
Hope. [noun] desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment. Don’t we all need an extra dose of hope these days? Sometimes life can feel so bleak that it seems like it will never get any better. Bethel Haven counselors seek to be holders and givers of hope for our clients when they find themselves in these hard places. We hold hope for our clients when they feel stuck and hopeless and have no strength to believe. We also seek to give hope through care, compassion, and effective, research based treatments and practices. Our counselors are not here to give you mere advice, but rather we do our best to help you see the good, make peace with the bad, and take hold of a hope-filled future.
Healing. [verb] to become free from injury or disease, to return to a sound state, to make well again, to restore to health. This is the heart of Bethel Haven—we want to see our community made well and restored to mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The world we live in is broken, therefore people experience brokenness. Brokenness exists in individuals, families, marriages, friendships, workplaces, and the community. Our counselors are dedicated to facilitating our clients’ paths from brokenness to healing, to being restored to health.
How can you be involved? For starters, pray. Pray for our leadership, our counselors, and our clients. Pray for God to provide the funds we need to continue our ministry of bringing help, hope, and healing. You can also give. As mentioned above, Bethel Haven would not be able to exist without the generosity of our community. For more information on how to get involved in this way, check out our Haven of Hearts.
Reach out if you need us. Do you feel stuck? Do you feel the weight of the brokenness in and around you? Do you find maintaining your mental, emotional, and spiritual to be a difficult task? Give us a call, and start your own journey to help, hope, and healing!
Click the image below to hear our very own Taylor Mason, AMFT, APC on The Jules Show! Taylor talks about coping with feelings of loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.
Most, if not all, of us are practicing #socialdistancing by now, and many of us have been in our homes for weeks. Even as a primarily introverted person, I find myself feeling “cooped up” and longing to get out and see friends, visit stores, etc. Today, I’d like to share some tips to promote your mental health and to help you enjoy being home as we work together to #flattenthecurve and protect our vulnerable populations.
Remember, we are all in this together! Even though there is physical distance between us, we can still choose togetherness. Are you struggling to find peace and purpose during this time? Do you feel overwhelmed by fear and anxiety? Whatever your struggle may be, know that you have a resource in Bethel Haven. Our counselors are trained to offer TeleMental Health (see previous post), and we can provide counseling right to you wherever you are. Give us a call if this seems like a good fit for you! 706-310-9046
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing