This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Personal Responsibility Paradigm” seminar. This portion is one element from “STEP 6: RESTRUCTURE MY LIFE to rely on God’s grace and Word to transform my life.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit bradhambrick.com/events
This chapter is a buffet. If you consider every strategy presented to be an assignment, this chapter will overwhelm you. As you read, select those strategies that best fit your life circumstances, the dynamics of your struggle, and your personality. If you are working through this material with a friend or counselor, invite them to suggest which strategies they believe would have the largest impact.
To help you select a balanced set of strategies we have divided this chapter into six sections. Some of this material will be crystalizing and making more actionable what you have already learned. Other parts will be fresh applications of the gospel-truths we have been building upon.
- Immediate Negative Emotion Response Plan
- Stewarding Your Body
- Extended Negative Emotion Response Plan
- Life Management
- Pursuit of Joy Plan
- Strategic Spiritual Disciplines
Immediate Negative Emotion Response Plan
Starting well is the first part of finishing well. What you have learned about yourself and your depressive-anxious experience should allow you to identify the onset of these unpleasant emotions earlier in their development. Knowing the thought patterns and triggers that undergird them should allow you to begin combatting these emotions before they gain significant momentum in your mind and heart.
The approaches below are meant to provide key elements of an immediate negative emotion response plan.
1. Refuse to Beat Yourself Up:
Shame exacerbates depression-anxiety. Even if your depression-anxiety is rooted in sin, there is hope. Even if your struggle with depression-anxiety has been long, it does not need to define you. Shame is a form of emotional surrender.
Simple statements like “my emotions are not my identity” and “my emotions do not determine my value” can create the emotional freedom to embrace the hope and grace God offers. The hymn “Before the Throne of God Above” captures the essence of this strategy.
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Whatever guilt or shame your sin merited was absorbed by Christ on the cross. Your battle against depression-anxiety rooted in sin begins with accepting this gift and living in the freedom it provides.
Read Galatians 5:1-2. One significant purpose of Christ’s death on our behalf was to purchase this type of emotional freedom for us. Too often we feel like it “honors” God to punish ourselves for our sin. This is the equivalent of thinking it honors someone giving you a gift card to your favorite restaurant by fasting. You honor Christ by embracing the emotional freedom from shame he intended to give in order to live more of the life he intended for you to live.
2. Restate and Reframe the Question:
We live and die by the questions we ask. We use questions to explore our world, so our questions necessarily move us in particular directions.
What are the questions that your depression-anxiety most naturally wants to ask?
What are the unhealthy or doubting assumptions embedded in these questions?
Which of these questions best replaces or counters your natural questions?
- What is my next step of obedience? (instead of looking at everything that needs to be done)
- What will God do next? (reminding yourself to include God’s involvement in your expectations)
- What parts of this situation am I responsible for and what parts must I trust God or someone else to fulfill? (avoiding the all-or-nothing trap with personal responsibility)
How would your experience of depression-anxiety be different if these were the first questions you asked?
Read Psalm 42. Notice that in verse 5 the psalmist examines and challenges the questions behind his emotions. Notice that in verses 9 through 11 this dialogue continues as he wrestles with false thoughts and the truths that should (but had not yet) replaced them. Notice that Scripture invites this kind of in-process dialogue with God as we run to him with our doubts and fears. It is much easier to change and reframe our questions when we are not ashamed to allow God to be part of the conversation.
3. Run to God; Not Away from Hope:
The most significant thing about any emotions is where it leads you; towards or away from God. The inability to emotionally rest often reveals that we are running from something. The ultimate component of any “negative emotion reaction plan” is – where will you run when you experience anxiety-depression? If you know you can run to a safe place, this is great protection against panic-despair.
“Faith is the refusal to panic (p. 143).” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression
This is another way of saying – pray. But too often prayer is viewed as a mere good deed in a hopeless situation instead of a refuge in the midst of an onslaught of an already defeated enemy. In the former, prayer is the epitome of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. In the latter, prayer is two things: (a) God’s tender availability in the midst of a real struggle, and (b) our reminder that we engage this struggle with real assurance.
Read Psalm 46. Notice that the context of God being a refuge in the presence of trouble (v. 1). In the rest of the psalm many different descriptions of anxiety-depression provoking circumstances are listed. God asks us to focus on his presence with us (v. 7) and says one of the fruits / gifts of his presence is the ability to be still (v. 11). When you face anxiety-depression train yourself so that your first instinct is to run towards God.
Often people struggle to run towards God in these circumstances because they doubt his character. They wonder if God is really “for them.” These two conversation excerpts from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom capture elements of God’s character. The context of these conversations is her father, Casper Ten Boom, comforting Corrie as she faced bullying in school and then the possibility of dying during the Nazi oppression in World War II.
“’Father, what is sexsin?’ He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor. ‘Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?’ he said. ‘It’s too heavy,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.’ And I was satisfied. More than satisfied – wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions. For now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.” Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place
“I burst into tears, ‘I need you!’ I sobbed. ‘You can’t die! You can’t!’ ‘Corrie,’ he began gently. ‘When you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?’ ‘Why, just before we get on the train.’ ‘Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need – just in time.’” Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place
OVERCOMING DEPRESSION-ANXIETY: A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY PARADIGM
Date: Saturday October 18
Time: 4:00 to 7:30 pm
Location: The Summit Church, Brier Creek South Venue
Address: 2415-107 Presidential Drive; Durham, NC 27703
For the various counseling options available from this material visit www.summitrdu.com/counseling.