Why Dream Worlds Always Disappoint

I WANT TO DREAM…

of a life, of a world…

where I’m free from the bondage of mental illness.

There, I’m free from my limitations, and the world is mine. My energy is limitless; nothing overwhelms me. Whatever I put my mind to, I can do.

Dream World image

I have dreamed of this world since I was a little girl.

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The Best Natural and Spiritual Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

The love of my life suffers with anxiety and depression.

If you have ever experienced them, you know suffer is the right word. And often, you don’t know why you’re suffering.

Dawn occasionally experiences physical pain or crawling skin. Sometimes she can’t focus. She cries a lot. Sometimes life overwhelms her. She may struggle to make decisions. Sometimes she can’t quiet the voices of guilt or irrational fears.

And yet, she’s the bravest person I know. She never quits. She always hopes, trusts, loves, perseveres, and serves. She is a joy to live with.

How does she do it? How does she manage her depression year after year, day-in and day-out, usually without medication?

The answer is that she’s developed her own “medicine cabinet” of natural and spiritual ways to manage her anxiety and depression.

If you’re beginning to sink into depression for the first time, whether situational or chemical, if you’re anxious and scared and can’t understand why you feel this way, if you just don’t know what to do and you want to avoid meds…

Here’s a glimpse inside the medicine cabinet of one who suffers like you. Dawn and I both hope you find light at the end of the tunnel, but until then, here’s twelve proven ways to help you survive the darkness.

[Please note that appropriate medication is sometimes the best and necessary strategy. Dawn was on medication from 2002-2003 and we often talk about the possibility of needing it again.]

1. Get Outside

Look around at all God has made, city, suburb or country. Open your senses to the physical world and let a bit of wonder flicker in your mind. Natural settings are most wonder-inspiring, so if you live in a city try to find a park.

2. Drink Water

You need it to survive in the best of times. How much more in the worst? Drink lots of water, and let it be the main thing you drink—much more than dairy, coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol. How much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is: you could probably use a glass of water right now. Your mind and heart will thank you.

3. Exercise Daily

Seriously. Exercise is your secret weapon for boosting your mood. Do light exercise like a brisk walk (not a mosey) for 20-30 minutes every day. Three days a week substitute a more challenging work out for at least 30 minutes.

4. Keep Routine

Use whatever tools you like to create a simple routine for your days and nights. This will give you a sense of control and predictability to combat the chaos in your head. Try calendar appointments, or a to-do list, or learn to say “no” graciously.

5. Eat Protein

Protein is a natural mood stabilizer and is available naturally in quinoa, beans, legumes, tofu, eggs, dairy, nuts, and meat. Protein is most effective for your mind and body when you eat a little at every meal. If you are fighting depression it’s extra important to get protein with breakfast.

6. Avoid Stimulants

Be careful about sugars and caffeine; they really mess with your brain chemistry. Pay attention to how they affect you, when, to what extent. You may need to find a substitute for that late night pan of brownies and morning cup o’ joe.

7. Sleep Enough

Not too much. Not too little. Either extreme can leave you foggy and affect your mood. Be as consistent as possible with bedtime and rising time (aka, create a routine).

8. Get Support

You need someone who “gets you.” You need someone you can trust with how you feel: a counselor; a spouse, a friend; a support group; anyone who will be supportive and non-judgmental. Don’t let embarrassment rob you of the wonderful help it can be just to tell someone how you feel.

9. Pursue a Hobby

Do stuff. Stay active. There is such satisfaction in performing simple tasks like knitting or gardening. What about playing an instrument? Getting involved in a sports league? Joining a book club? Any brain-engaging hobby will do, and group hobbies like joining a community band or a basketball league have the added benefit of combining #8 and #9.

10. Limit TV

You want your brain engaged. TV puts your brain in a passive mode and isolates you at the same time. This isn’t helpful for your depression, no matter how good the escape feels at the moment. It’s especially important to not let late-night TV disrupt your routine (#4) and sleep (#7). Here’s how we tame our TV viewing.

11. Meditate on Scripture

Christian meditation is simply focused thinking about what God has said to us in the Bible. If the Bible is unfamiliar to you, here’s tips on how to get started reading the Bible. Three specific kinds of promises God gives to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, can be very helpful when you are suffering with depression:

❯ Promises related to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of suffering. (for example: Isaiah 43:1-3)

❯ Promises related to finding meaning and purpose in the midst of suffering. (for example: Romans 8:26-30)

❯ Promises related to the hope of eternal deliverance from suffering. (for example: Romans 8:18)

12. Study Theology

Dawn says this has been huge for her, and I can say the same. Nothing anchors your mind like a deeper apprehension of the greatness of God. Even Bible authors meditated on the greatness of God during their difficult times (for example: Psalm 77:11-13).

Get good books on the nature and work of God and the person and work of Christ. Try studying the Westminster or Heidelberg confessions of faith and catechisms. For a modern and accessible resource, try the New City Catechism online or for iPad (Read my review). When you understand the chief end of man (Westminster Q1), or your only hope in life and in death (Heidelberg/New City Q1), you will see the reason for an everlasting hope.

That’s 12 of the best natural and spiritual ways we know to manage anxiety and depression. I know you want a cure, a fix. But, I’m afraid sometimes managing is the best that can be achieved in our average lives. (Dawn knows all about that.)

But remember, God is great! Oh, how that makes a difference if you belong to Him.

If you don’t yet see how that makes a difference, let me encourage you to think more about what it must mean to belong to a loving, sovereign, wise, completely involved and invested heavenly Father. It means you have a reason to live, because He has a reason for you to live, forever.

Other Resources

❯ Your Anxiety Is Not a Sin (on AnneMarieMiller.com)

Ten Natural Depression Treatments (on WebMD)

❯ Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression (on HelpGuide.org)

❯ Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (on Amazon.com)


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[image courtesy of flickr]

Why God Gave Me Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder is the label psychologists give you if your natural fight-or-flight response keeps going out of whack.

And it’s part of the package God gave me when He created me. Call it a thorn, if you like.

(I realize that’s a controversial statement that begs for explanation, but for now I’ll just refer you to Isaiah 45:7 and John 9:2-3.)

If you were to come face-to-face with an emergency, you would experience an immediate, physiological reaction: your adrenaline increases; your heart pumps harder and faster; you are prepared for action, or escape. But the 6 million American adults like me who suffer from Panic Disorder experience this even when there’s no threat. When we do, it’s called having a panic attack, and they’re terrifying.

Imagine the hyper-emotional, hyper-physical response you would experience if you were racing to rescue a drowning child, except there is no drowning child. That’s what a panic attack feels like. I’ve lived with them all my life. My first was when I was eight. I had gone to bed. The house grew quiet. And I panicked because I thought Jesus had come to take my family to heaven, and left me behind. Alone. Forever.

Panic attacks hit me two different ways.

The Rush

They usually come on fast and furiously intense. The sensations peak in a matter of seconds. They’re most often nocturnal, which means I’m jerked awake in the middle of the night already in the throws of a full-on panic. I have to work really hard to convince myself there’s no danger, but my mind is obsessed with the worst imaginable things: a vague sense or doom, or fear of having a heart attack, or worse, fear of God abandoning me. Sometimes I wake Lon up to have him pray for me.

The Wave

The other type of panic attack I experience is slower to rise, not as intense, but lasts much longer. I usually experience this during the day, but it can happen at night, too. One night I awoke awash in adrenaline. Panic came like crashing waves surrounding me, smothering me, and carrying me out to sea.

I knew I needed to move, to get up out of bed and work the adrenaline out of my system. I was already exhausted from fighting depression all day, but got up and began pacing the hallway just outside our bedroom. In the darkness, I felt so deeply alone and frightened.

The Pacing

As I did my half-walk, half-run up and down that hallway, I forced myself to worship God. And as I did, I gradually realized I wasn’t alone. Jesus was walking the hall with me, pacing with me. Did the anxiety go away? Did worship give my mind and body peace for the rest of the night? No. In fact, I was up twice more that night, wearing a path in our carpet.

But so was Jesus, who “never sleeps and never slumbers”. His presence kept my heart from hopelessness. His promise worked its way through my sleep-deprived mind and anxious heart.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For our light affliction, which is momentary, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) At that moment, the waves of panic and despair felt anything but light and momentary. But God gave me faith to cling tenaciously to that promise. He is working His glory in me! His promise embraces me, freeing me from despair, and bringing meaning and purpose to my suffering.

It’s over my cold sea of need that the sun rises most warmly.

The Purpose

I look back on that night with quiet awe and gratitude. I’ve learned both from Scripture and hard experience that God uses what He hates to accomplish what He loves in His children’s lives. In me, He uses the Panic Disorder He hates (and I hate) to deepen the worship and trust He loves.

Reader, it is hard, but this is the way God works in us. My struggles, and yours, reveal the depth of our need and the greatness of God to work His glory in and through us.

May we ever grow to worship and trust Him, even in all that He hates, and allows anyway.

God truly is great, even when life isn’t.