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How Can You Beat Depression? Engage Mind, Body and Soul

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We are in our third week of social distancing, and things are getting worse.

Last Monday in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam announced schools would not reopen. While this is the right decision, it is an absolute blow to our collective consciousness that spirals us even further into despair.

COVID-19 is taking a toll. With no end in sight and, at a minimum, seven more weeks of homeschooling and social distancing, depression will inevitably set in.

Old and bad habits will re-form if we are not mindful and take steps to overcome them. So, what can we do?

First, we must offer our sadness to God. We are feeling grief and need to lament.

Complain and even cuss to God if you need to do so; God can handle it. I often think God would prefer it to superficial worship or shallow one-liners.

We have to let our fears, frustrations, anger, resentment and sadness out. Our bodies are not built to carry the weight of grief and stress alone.

Second, we have to come to terms with what is going on in us emotionally and take steps to overcome them.

Nine years ago, I went to see a counselor. My stressors from work-life were spilling over into my personal life, and I was taking it out on those I love.

My counselor’s name was Paul. I remember him telling me this story:

“Barrett, you have 100 receptors pointing out into the world collecting information on how you need to serve and give your time to them; those receptors are telling you what’s wrong with the world – and you’re responding to all 100,” he said.

“This is admirable but here’s the problem. None of those receptors is pointed back to you. You aren’t giving any attention; you’re not even noticing what needs are going unmet in you. Our task together is to try and take just 10 of those receptors and point them back to you.”

This story changed my life. I spent the next counseling session coming up with these ideas to reorient me to listen to my needs: Running. Reading. Writing.

I need to run. It reduces stress and anxiety for me. I do not run far. I just need to break a sweat and get out in nature and be physical with my body.

So much of my stress sticks to my body. From weight gain to muscle spasms to feeling depressed or tight or sore, these feelings sit heavy in my body. Running does not solve my stress, but it helps manage it.

So does reading. Depression sets in for me if I get into unhealthy rhythms of not engaging my imagination. So much of my positive energy flows from good stories and thought-provoking ideas. Reading sparks positive flow for me.

One unhealthy pattern I’ve noticed in myself is I can get into a rhythm of staying up late watching TV.

It’s great to “veg out” watching movies. However, when it is every night and those habits start to replace that stimulus for reading, it actually drains my body.

The mind and body, then, work together to become carriers of stress instead of managers of it.

Reading pulls me out of this funk and gives me balance. So does writing. It is helpful for me to get those thoughts that permeate my mind out on paper. It is stress relieving for me to write.

So, this is what works for me: running, reading and writing. I do not do all three every day, but I am most healthy when I am balancing them.

I did not realize this during counseling, but my list mirrors the ancient rhythms of mind, body and spirit.

This is no accident. God helped me through counseling see a path for how I could return to my true self.

I believe you can find your path too.

So, over the course of the days and weeks ahead, watch for which ones are becoming more deficient and learn to ask yourself why.

There are a million reasons that will keep you from asking this question of yourself. There are a million needs right now in your community, your family, for your kids or parents, and for your neighbors.

We are all searching for the next right thing to do, which is admirable. But let me remind you what Jesus said to his disciples and what counselor Paul said to me: “You can only love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.”

If you are starting to feel depressed, take seriously your need for balance and rhythm. Here are suggestions that may help:

  1. Engage your mind.
  • Learn to take a break from the news
  • Allow yourself limited time on screens
  • Read fiction
  • Work a word search puzzle
  • Play a strategy game or card game by yourself or with your family
  • Online gaming options are great while social distancing
  1. Engage your body.
  • Walk around the house once every hour
  • Go up and down stairs if you have them
  • Drink eight glasses of water per day
  • Augusta Health has great tips for senior adults online for working out at home
  • Plan meals ahead of time so you are eating healthy regularly
  • Count calories just to learn; not to judge
  • Develop an exercise routine you’ve been considering, and do it
  • Get ahead on spring cleaning – deep clean your house, baseboards and all
  • Take a shower and get dressed every single day even if you don’t leave the house (you’ll thank me for this)
  • Get fresh air outside
  1. Engage your spirit.
  • Practice breathing techniques (I’ll be glad to send you some, like box breathing)
  • Do yoga
  • Set a daily rhythm of prayer
  • Practice “Lectio Divina”
  • Google Examen, and do it
  • Go outside barefoot; science shows your blood pressure goes down when your feet are connected to the earth
  • Write notes to people and mail them
  • Call people you love and tell them you do
  • Own your sadness (Don’t be afraid to reach out to me if you need assistance with this)
  • Journal your feelings
  • Write down your dreams
  • Start a Gratitude Journal
  • Set healthy boundaries

My lists are only suggestions. Nobody knows what you need more than you.

So, during this time of social distancing, turn 10 of your receptors back on you. Allow your sadness space to breathe. Listen for what is deficient. Move toward that ancient balance of mind, body and spirit.

It is what Jesus intends for us when he says the Greatest Commandment is “to love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and strength … and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Barrett Owen

J. Barrett Owen is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Waynesboro in Waynesboro, Virginia. He is a member of the EthicsDaily.com / Baptist Center for Ethics board of directors.