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
Stewarding Your Body
Emotions are both cognitive and physical realities. Emotions occur both in our immaterial mind (i.e., that little voice in our head) and our material bodies (i.e., both in our brain and the rest of our bodies). How you care for your physical body will either greatly assist or greatly hinder your battle with depression-anxiety.
1. Reduce Caffeine:
Stimulants and anxiety do not get along. In addition to increasing psychomotor agitation (creating a sense of unrest and fidgety-ness), caffeine is acidic which leads to inflammation (body discomfort that agitates depressive-anxious tendencies) and dehydration (interferes with proper brain and body functioning, which can be a trigger for anxiety and depression).
Depression and disrupted sleep patterns do not get along. Caffeine also disrupts the REM and non-REM sleep balance; so even if you are able to sleep with significant caffeine consumption, the quality of that sleep may be diminished.
For these reasons, the greater your struggle with depression-anxiety the more it is recommended that you limit your caffeine consumption.
2. Regulate Sleep:
One of the most under-emphasized influences upon brain chemistry is sleep. We struggle to regulate our emotions when we do not sleep well, in large part, because sleep is when the energy stores of our brain are restored. We “feel tired” because our brain has not had its glucose levels restored.
Also, the reality testing region of the brain is restored when we sleep. This is why we become more irrational the longer we go without sleep. When a large part of our battle with depression-anxiety involves weighing the significance of events or the probability of negative thoughts, a weakening of our reality testing ability is a major disadvantage.
A third influence of sleep upon depression-anxiety, one having little to do with neuro-chemistry, is that sleep is a primary contributor to our sense of rhythm in life. When we struggle with uncertainty (a common feature of depression-anxiety) returning a sense of rhythm to life can be an important stabilizing factor.
If regulating sleep is a struggle for you consider the following:
- Believe that sleep is intended as a good gift from God and do not feel guilty for resting.
- Pray that God would give you restful sleep and believe He wants you to have it.
- Memorize a passage of Scripture related to hope and repeat it slowly as you lay down to sleep.
- Play soft music or nature sounds to help prevent your mind from thinking while trying to sleep.
- Reduce the level of caffeine and sugar in your diet, especially after the noon hour.
- Avoid daytime naps so that your sleep is in concentrated blocks; the physiological benefits of sleep are less when we break our sleep into smaller units.
- Establish a bed time routine to help habituate your body towards sleep.
- Take a warm bath to relax your body.
- Try muscle relaxation or stretching exercises about an hour before going to bed.
- Establish a deep slow breathing pattern that simulates sleep breathing.
- Talk with a medical professional about the possibility of a sleep aid.
3. Balanced Diet:
A second of the most under-emphasized influences upon brain chemistry is our diet. You cannot give your body the wrong raw materials and expect it to produce neurological balance any more than you can give a chef bad ingredients and expect him to produce a good meal.
Beyond being the building blocks of physical health and neurological balance, a healthy diet is often the first step towards good self-care. People who take the time to consider how they are fueling their body typically begin to have a better self-image. Neglect of one’s diet is an easy way to reinforce a negative self-image.
The implication is that a healthy diet combats depression-anxiety both neuro-chemically and via self-perception.
4. Increase Exercise: A third of the most under-emphasized influences upon brain chemistry is our exercise, especially cardiovascular exercise. The increased blood flow, lactic acid in the muscles, and metabolism stimulation (among other factors) of exercise all contribute to the chemical regulation of the body.
Similar to improving one’s diet, exercise also has the psychological benefit of being an emotional investment in one’s self-care. Exercise is evidence that you are caring for yourself and usually results in improvements in energy and appearance, both of which make it easier to enjoy your body.
“One study showed that exercise—three sessions of aerobic activity each week—worked about as well as medication when it came to reducing the symptoms of depression. In addition, research concluded that after one year, people who exercised were much less likely to relapse than people who took medicine… moderate aerobic workouts, done three to five times weekly, cut mild to moderate depression symptoms nearly in half (p. 130).” Wayne Cordiero in Leading on Empty
“Moderate physical exercise helps to expel unhelpful chemicals from our system and stimulate the production of helpful chemicals. Outdoor exercise has the added benefit of the sun’s healing rays (p. 71-72).” David Murray in Christians Get Depressed Too
What are some steps you can take to increase the physical activity level of your life? If you have health concerns, please consult with your physician before implementing these activities.
This technique may sound odd. But, particularly for anxiety, deep breathing can have a significant impact upon your emotions. One area that the body monitors to determine its sense of safety is the temperature of the nasal cavity. When the nasal cavity is hot, it triggers the stress response. When it cools the body turns off the stress response.
Think of the athlete who begins to breathe through his mouth as he runs. This causes his nasal cavity to heat up and triggers the adrenal system; part of the flight-fight stress response. Adrenaline provides an energy boost and intensifies his emotional state (hence the reactivity at many sporting events).
This is one reason many people feel relaxed when they smoke cigarettes even though nicotine is a stimulant. The calming power of the breathing required to rhythmically inhale a cigarette is more powerful than the medical agent in cigarettes are energizing. Awkwardly, this means many smokers are as addicted to breathing as they are nicotine; especially if their primary appeal to smoking is relaxation.
When you feel anxiety mounting it is recommend that you take a few deep breaths in through your nose (drawing in cool air) and out through your mouth (exhaling the warmer air away from you nose). This will cool the nasal cavity. It does not extract adrenaline already released, but prevents the release of additional adrenaline. In this sense, it is the emotional equivalent of taking your foot off the gas pedal of your car more than stepping on the brakes.
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.