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I can’t breathe.
I’m going crazy.”
Those were just a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind one cold evening in December after having a panic attack. I intellectually knew they weren’t true but in the midst of my heightened anxiety, I couldn’t shake them. Over the next few months, as I struggled with generalized anxiety disorder, depression, IBS-C, suspected endometriosis, and growing fatigue, there were times I truly began to believe I was losing my mind. These thoughts evidently began to destroy my body, mind, and soul. And that’s why I strongly believe that how and what we think and believe impacts our mental health. The three tips below helped me to improve the thoughts and beliefs of my mental health journey, and it’s my prayer they will help you, too.
What’s In a Thought?
Researchers estimate we have 70,000 thoughts daily (Cleveland Clinic). But what happens when those become harmful or untrue? Many of us give little thought to how what we think can actually lead to what we believe.
Like myself, many young adults suffer from believing things that simply aren’t true. I’m too far gone. I’m going to be anxious forever. I’m hopeless. We know intellectually that they aren’t, but for those who struggle with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, these thoughts play a much larger role.
Most thoughts we have every day are fleeting. They are quick responses to tasks like eating, driving, brushing our teeth, or taking the dogs for a walk. However, thoughts can become beliefs. And this is especially harmful when they become a reality that paralyzes us from seeking help.
What’s In a Belief?
Beliefs are statements or ideas we consider to be true, regardless of their validity (Amen Clinic). And unfortunately, dwelling on untrue thoughts can create dangerous beliefs if we don’t take them captive. When this happens, our mental health is threatened, and those beliefs can harm us. “So why don’t you just stop believing those things?” someone might say. But it’s not that easy. We as humans can’t simply stop believing one thing and start believing another. So what are we to do?
- Give yourself permission to seek help.
One of the biggest things that held me back from seeking help for my thoughts was what I call “The Christian Stigma.” This is the idea that if I was a Christian, then the only way to solve my problems was to pray and read Scripture more. This was extremely damaging to my mental health. Giving myself the okay to talk to others was the first step toward healing.
After talking with those I trusted, I realized my negative thoughts were becoming beliefs. My best friends convinced me to seek counseling, and I’ve never been more grateful. It was my counselor who provided me with the coping skills needed to work on silencing these beliefs (things like reframing my thoughts and deep breathing).
However, seeking guidance from friends and medical staff isn’t enough to heal our minds long-term. Healing also requires God, His Word, and Spirit to help us fight this battle. This means that although His healing may not always look how we think it should, we must not discredit His ability to work all things together for our good.
- Nourish Your Body, Mind, and Soul
The second way to improve your thinking and beliefs is to take a holistic approach to mental health. This includes your body, mind, and soul.
When I started suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, I needed to ensure I was eating, sleeping, and exercising right. Our bodies are Temples created by God, and He wants us to care for them properly.
Aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep a night; eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates; and exercising 3-5 times a week are small steps that can help improve what you think and believe. Taking medication for health concerns may also be necessary, even if it’s a hard and scary pill to swallow (which is a lesson I’m still learning).
Our minds and souls were also created by God, and He wants us to care for them properly too. Tending to our mind and soul means seeing our identities through God’s Word. But this doesn’t just mean reading the Bible and praying more. It means understanding how God’s world works and our own limitations. It means recognizing we cannot fix it all. Yes, we must tap into the power of God’s Word (it is alive and active!), but we must also consider seeking professional Christian counseling, medication, and therapy as needed.
- Acknowledge that this is an ongoing and complex process
While seeking help for our bodies, minds, and souls is so important for our mental health, there is no cure-all. Many things impact our overall health, and thoughts and beliefs are just two of them. Recognizing and acknowledging that healing mental health is a process that involves every part of your body was necessary for my healing. I suspect it will be for you.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul wrestled with a thorn in the flesh. While we don’t know if this was a mental or physical struggle, we do know it was not something easily prayed away. In fact, after praying three times, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9a, New King James Version). Learning to see our problems as opportunities to rely on the Lord can motivate us to get the help we need – and also allow us to help others.
Just One Tool
Mental health is complex, and healing takes time.
Restoring our minds is not a one-time fix, but seeking help, nourishing the whole body, and acknowledging the process are just three tips that may help you to heal. These struggles are not easy, but together, with the Lord, we can take steps for a healthier mind, body, and soul.