What if we viewed mental health like fitness, and approached how we shore up our minds the same way we take care of our bodies?
This article is part of a fall wellness series RELEVANT is producing in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.
Just as a personal trainer encourages you to target specific areas of growth, we’ve gathered a group of seven mental health “trainers” to help coach you on various ways you can be more mentally strong this year, in all areas of your life.
Whether it’s finances bringing you down, a worry over the future or a more personal struggle, stronger mental health means taking the right first step. Each of our expert trainers are hand-picked to address a specific area of need. This isn’t a catch-all, but it could be the right first step for you.
But first: No matter what change you want to make, have grace with yourself. Part of mental health is being able to engage with the process of growth without coming down on yourself for not already being at the finish line. This may take some work, and that’s OK. You can do this.
REDUCE YOUR ANXIETY
TRAINER: SARAH MAE, AUTHOR OF THE COMPLICATED HEART
1. Source your worries. “Look for the weed that leads to the deeper root. The weed is your anxiety-filled reaction to something, and the root is where [you] learned to have that reaction. What’s making you anxious, angry or depressed? Start there.”
2. Try this 15-minute worship playlist. “When negative voices enter my mind, I put on worship music. Here are my go-to songs: ‘I Will Never Leave You Alone’ by Paul Zach (featuring Liz Vice), ‘Give Me a Song’ by Will Reagan, ‘Take Back’ by Will Reagan and ‘Simple Gospel (Live)’ by United Pursuit.”
3. Find a comfortable counselor. “Ask yourself some questions about what’s the most important trait in a mental health professional for you: ‘Who will I be most comfortable with? Someone conservative, someone less conservative? A lay person, or someone with a higher education level?’ If you meet with someone and it’s not a good fit, it’s OK to find someone else.”
4. Share the truth. “Telling the truth is always empowering. Is it hard and vulnerable? Yes! But telling the truth helps us build relationships where people can really know us, and this is when we experience real love from others.”
FIND FINANCIAL PEACE OF MIND
TRAINER: CALLIE BRIESE, EXTERNAL RELATIONS DIRECTOR, THRIVENT
1. Start paying yourself. “When you’re budgeting, commit a recurring payment to a personal savings account. You can use this fund depending on your needs: emergency savings, money for a vacation or a way to help prepare for retirement. If possible, have this money automatically withdrawn from your paycheck so you don’t miss it.”
2. For advice, turn to Proverbs. “Proverbs 11:24 says, ‘The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.’ If we manage money in a way that is only self-serving, we will become lonely and isolated. But if we manage money in a generous way—planning for the future and sharing our treasure with others—we flourish personally and in community with each other.”
REINFORCE YOUR FAITH
TRAINER: BARNABAS PIPER, AUTHOR OF THE CURIOUS CHRISTIAN
1. Write Scripture by hand. “Writing does something to imprint words on my mind and heart in a deeper way. It slows me down and focuses my mind so I have to look at each letter of the truths God has given me. I use a journal and notecards. Either allows me to revisit the passages and cling to them.”
2. Don’t skip Ecclesiastes. “For hurting people, loud praises and bright optimism can often seem overwhelming or unrealistic, but Ecclesiastes speaks to us in our unhappiness and reminds us that while so much of this life is ‘vanity of vanities,’ there is a true God we can trust in no matter what. The book’s blunt reality reframes expectations, wipes away false hopes and leaves us with perspective on what we can expect from this life and from God.”
3. Memorize this prayer. “‘I believe; help my unbelief.’ This short prayer from Mark 9 is an expression of clinging to God and acknowledging He is worthy of trust. It is an expression of need and a cry for help. Jesus will help our unbelief and give us what we need to have hope in Him.”
If you meet with [a mental health professional] and it’s not a good fit, it’s OK to find someone else.
BUILD STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS
TRAINER: BARBARA BROWN TAYLOR , EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AUTHOR , PROFESSOR
1. Mandate in-person connection. “Decide how often you will enter into physical contact with other people (Once a week? Every two weeks?) and make a list of [activities] on paper slips—going for a walk with a neighbor, inviting a friend to coffee, volunteering. Put the slips in a mason jar, and every week pull a slip from the jar. Then do what’s on the slip— no excuses!”
2. Understand the powers at play. “When a congregation is at war over the color of the carpet, that’s not about interior decorating; it’s about who feels powerful and who doesn’t. It’s easier to criticize than create, which is why knee-jerk criticism is such a cheap shot. A community that wants to stay healthy will cultivate generosity, humility and unselfishness.”
3. Know when you’ve made a true connection. “Is there give-and-take in your conversations? Are you able to be silent together for short periods of time without feeling anxious? Are you able to make each other laugh? Have you found ways to play together as well as work on your relationship? When you’re in conflict with one another, are you able to own up to your role in the upset? These are good signs you are in a nurturing relationship.”
EMPOWER YOURSELF AT WORK
TRAINER: CARLY FIORINA, CEO AND AUTHOR OF FIND YOUR WAY.
1. Tie your goals to a purpose, not a plan. “Following a plan is always going to be a disappointment. If your ambition is for impact, reward or challenge, you can grow your ambition with each new job or title.”
2. Create circles of feedback. “Institute meetings and gather groups of people with no particular agenda and no reporting relationship to yourself. Talk to them and ask questions and create a safe environment where you actually want to know the answers.”
3. Stop failing, start making mistakes. “The term ‘failure’ is problematic because it looms large for people, but mistake-making is part of life. After a mistake, pause. Ask what you would do differently, and learn the lesson.”
ACCEPT YOUR BODY
TRAINER: NICOLE MORGAN, CHRISTIAN FAT-ACCEPTANCE ADVOCATE AND AUTHOR OF FAT AND FAITHFUL
1. Consider all bodies. “When you can see the goodness of every single body in the world, it will make the journey to loving your own body smoother. Pay attention to your neighbors and push back when someone makes a fat joke or says something racist or xenophobic.”
2. Find support on social media— really! “Look for body-positive hashtags like #AllBodiesAreGoodBodies or #FatAcceptance and find accounts by people who show up in their marginalized bodies and live life with purpose and intent. You can find body positive influences within specific genres as well. I enjoy hiking, and was thrilled to discover #UnlikelyHikers.”
3. Be intentional about seeing yourself. “Look at yourself in the mirror in various states of dress. Let yourself smile next to friends or family in pictures. Stand in front of oceans and monuments and let someone snap the picture. Don’t delete it. Keep it on your phone or post it on Instagram without apology. Courage breeds courage. We are facing down the lie that our bodies are not worth being seen.”
TRAINER: BECCA STEVENS, AUTHOR OF LOVE HEALS
1. Find peace inside your routine. “Improving our minds and hearts after trauma is not a quick fix, so we need to take small daily steps that offer us peace, and do those things consistently. It could be exercise, taking up a creative art form, prayer, cooking or making lists. Find changes that encourage healthy living.”
2. Go to the pros. “If your vision has gone blurry, you need a doctor to get glasses. So when your life is unmanageable as it is, seek professional help! [For mental health], some resources to explore include the sexual assault center in your community, the 12 step rooms of AA, a guide to licensed mental health professionals or your pastor.”
3. Repeat this prayer. “Most gentle and merciful Creator, your love was with me over the hard and holy ground I have walked. I pray to feel that love surround me today, so I never forget its healing power. Amen.”
Tyler Daswick is a senior writer at Relevant. Follow him on Twitter @tylerdaswick.