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Mental Health Q&A: What Are Some Practical Things To Do To Help Anxiety?

August 13, 2021

Mental Health is something that is so important for everyone, incredibly Christians. Unfortunately for many, when they reach out for help, they get a quick answer of “pray it away”, and don’t receive much support after that.

Dana Ward has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and has been practicing since 2011. She currently works with adolescents, adults, families and couples specializing in areas of depression, anxiety, relationships, and life transitions. Prior to becoming a therapist, she worked on staff at various churches working in both youth and worship ministries. She’s passionate about the intersection of faith and mental health and bringing the conversation into the Church.

She’s here to answer your questions:

Question: I’ve gotten to the point where I know I need to go to a therapist and I think I found a great one.   Do you have any actual physical things I can do when my depression or anxiety gets really bad in the meantime?

Dana: While you’re waiting for your sessions, you can start some of your own Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Some helpful strategies are identifying which type of “stinkin’ thinking” is influencing your thoughts and then reframing according to the type. Journal these thoughts so you can see patterns in the negative thinking and also how to turn the thinking around.

Another great tool for anxiety is to put the anxious thought “on trial”. 1. Identify the thought. 2. Make a list for the prosecution (evidence for the thought) and defense (evidence against the thought). It’s important that you come up with facts. Imagine it’s a court of law. You wouldn’t be able to say, “I feel like she’s guilty”. Then based on the evidence, how would the judge rule? Deep breathing, grounding activities that put you back in your body and meditation apps like Insight Timer and the Calm app are also helpful. Also, check in on sleep, nutrition, and movement levels. We are spiritual, emotional, and physical beings. A holistic approach is most effective.

Question: My husband has a long history of depression and anxiety. He has a therapist and medication, but those only do so much. I sometimes get exhausted by thinking about and monitoring his mental health, and then I feel guilty about getting frustrated. Any advice on being a “caregiver” for a spouse with mental health struggles?

Dana: Being a caregiver can be extremely exhausting. You are the closest, see them more than anyone else, and care for your loved one deeply. Have you ever attended any of his therapy sessions? That can sometimes be helpful to walk through what day to day can look like.

Discussing what things are most helpful to him as well as what isn’t working for you. If you can release some of the responsibility for his mental health back to him, maybe he can pick it up.  Also, maybe it would be helpful for you to have someone to talk to. A therapist of your own can help you offload some of the frustration in a way that honors your husband’s privacy and the reality of your struggle.

Question: I was raised being told that men shouldn’t show emotion. I know that’s not true, but I still struggle with emotion, and tend to be numb. how do I break past this?

Dana: I’m sure many men can resonate with your question. Many in our culture and other cultures have been taught that the only “acceptable” emotion men can show is anger. Joseph wept and kissed his brothers after they were reunited and they asked for forgiveness. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died. 

Think of your emotions as a signal. They can be a traffic light telling you to stop or a gas light coming on in your car indicating you better stop for gas soon. Listen to them as a guide for something you may need. Then, check them out logically. Yes, I am lonely. I should call my friend and see if he wants to play a round of golf or grab a coffee. 

Also, maybe start with engaging with emotions in a positive way. What do you feel when you smell a beautiful flower, pet a cute dog or hike a majestic mountain? Emotions are a powerful gift and serve a great purpose.

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