Coping in Crisis:Five Ways to Maintain Mental Health
No one wants to have mental health issues, but the truth is that life can be painful and difficult at times. As humans, we can and do break. For the overwhelming majority of us, mental health struggles aren’t a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Sooner or later most of us will hit a period when our normal coping mechanisms no longer suffice. This can stem from a specific incident or be the result of an accumulation of things that have become too great for us to manage any longer. And sometimes our biochemistry simply breaks with no trigger.
While we can’t control how or when this will happen, we can control how we respond when it does. Here are five things that can help us cope and maintain good mental health during a time of difficulty:
Studies are increasingly finding that there is a strong connection between fatigue and mental illness. The pace of our lives and the pressures we feel from constant obligations are a perfect recipe for depression and anxiety. Even if fatigue is not the cause of faltering mental health, it certainly isn’t the cure.
Rest is a gift from God, in fact, the very first gift He gave. As it says in Genesis, “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” (Gen 2:2-3). Unfortunately, this first gift of God is a gift we have learned to ignore. Even when we take a day off from our everyday obligations, we don’t use this time to rest. We use it to scramble to finish the things we weren’t able to get done because of the other obligations consuming us.
Make God’s first gift a priority. Getting at least eight hours of sleep each night is a simple way to improve mental health and your mood. Taking a weekly Sabbath, a day of rest, will go even further to steady our minds and our souls.
Finding time each day for silence and to quiet the mind is a practice that can help tremendously. This quiet time allows us to detach from everyday obligations and pressures. It centers us and enables us to catch our breath both emotionally and spiritually. There are numerous ways to achieve this quiet: sitting in silence, taking a walk alone, or turning off our phones and radio during a drive are just a few.
The Bible is clear that God meets us in stillness and in quiet. Moses met God alone in the desert (Exodus 3). Elijah found God in the quiet of a gentle breeze and a still small voice (1 Kings 19). The Psalms encourage us to be still and know that I Am God (Psalm 46:10). Even Jesus, the most mentally and emotionally healthy person who ever lived, would withdraw to quiet places to be alone and silent with the Father (Luke 5:16). This alone tells us the importance of quiet.
Each of us is unique in our own issues and brokenness. We live among others who are also dealing with their own issues and brokenness. That makes for a lot of issues and a lot of brokenness!
Some people view mental health challenges as weakness, but the truth is that the care of our minds and our souls is no different than the care of our bodies. We are able to deal with many of the day-to-day scrapes and cuts on our own, but we also don’t hesitate to go to a doctor or hospital for a more serious injury. In the same way, we are often able to deal well with many of the day-to-day emotional and mental challenges we face, but sometimes our needs require the care of a professional.
Licensed counselors are trained to help people unpack and deal with the emotional baggage we all carry so that we can either put it down or learn how to best carry it.
When we are hurting, it is very easy to turn inwards and become absorbed with the things we’re dealing with. Dealing with our hurt is necessary, but it can’t be all we do.
Serving others forces us to focus outward and to put the needs of others before our own for at least a little while (Phil. 2:1-4). This break from worrying about ourselves helps us put our own needs and problems into perspective. Serving also moves us into community and reminds us that we are not alone (Gal. 6:9-10). Often the best medicine and therapy we can give ourselves is to meet the needs of others. This can be volunteering in a group, taking the time to ask how a friend is feeling, or performing small random acts of kindness. There are so many ways that we can step away from our own issues and make a difference in the lives of others.
Create a Community of Healthy Relationships
Isolation is destructive. While intermittent practices of solitude can be extremely beneficial for our mental health, primary isolation from others amplifies our problems by moving us into extreme self-focus. When we cut ourselves off from others, we leave ourselves alone in our depression, anxiety, and trauma, which can keep us from seeing anything other than our pain and difficulties.
A support network of safe, stable people who care for our well-being can provide access to outside truth into our pain and difficulties. These voices can give us clarity, keep us grounded, provide perspective, and deliver hope and courage.
It’s important to make sure that the people in your circle are beneficial and not detrimental to your mental health. These should be healthy relationships with people you care about and who care about you. Here are a few characteristics of healthy relationships:
In healthy relationships, you will feel heard.
In healthy relationships, you will hear the truth spoken in love.
In healthy relationships, you will be encouraged and supported.
In healthy relationships, you will be gently called out if you try to shift responsibility for your problems to others.
In healthy relationships, gossip or talking poorly about others is discouraged.
In healthy relationships, you will be invited into the lives of others and into the activity of the community.
There are many more characteristics of healthy relationships, but those mentioned above are key indicators that can help you begin to determine if a relationship is beneficial or detrimental. When we’re in a community of healthy relationships, we come away from it feeling more alive and more hopeful – even when what we hear is difficult. If the communities you are in aren’t bringing you to life, chances are it’s time for a change in who you surround yourself with.
Although these maintenance tips can’t prevent us from experiencing breakdowns in mental health, each of these suggestions can make it easier to cope when it inevitably happens. The positive side of mental health issues is the very real opportunity for personal, spiritual, relational, and emotional growth as we deal with them. If we approach our mental wellness in healthy ways, we can take advantage of these opportunities and see new life spring forth from the ashes.
Dana Timothy Peterson, PsyD Dr. Dana Peterson is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. A former active-duty Navy Clinical Psychologist, he is currently the Chief of a Well-Being Services organization for the Department of Defense, overseeing all mental health treatment,...
Carolyn Hunsicker, LCPC Carolyn Hunsicker is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) and a National Board Certified Counselor (NCC) in both Maryland and South Carolina. She has completed Gottman couples counseling Level III. Prior to opening True View...
Cheryl Durgin Cheryl Durgin is a volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as well as a trained facilitator of their family education program, and a licensed volunteer with the International Fellowship of Chaplains, ministering in areas of...
Suzie Lawyer, LCPC Suzie Lawyer is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and an Internationally Credentialed Sandtray Therapist (ICST). She specializes in providing a refreshingly real...
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