Mental Health Coping Skills For Our Churches
As a pastor’s wife and psychotherapist, I see the unique perspectives of two very different worlds. I get to see the Biblical world where the devil is fighting to take our soul, but through accepting in Jesus Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we can be set free. I also get to see the psychological world in which trauma and chemical imbalances effect the way we process and function. What I’m discovering is that these are both very real worlds and they don’t have to be separate. Psychology, as many sciences out there, is just the world’s way to understand God’s creation, us (Proverbs 2:6).
King Saul was tormented by a spirit and became very paranoid (1 Sam 22). Moses, Gideon, and Jeramiah all had insecurities about not being enough. These were real people and God used them despite their mental health.
Mental Health is the well-being of our mind, emotions, and will (soul). 1 Thessalonians 5:23 encourages us to sanctify our whole spirit, soul, and body. Since we are wholistic beings, each part of us effects the other. Most of us will go to the doctor for physical health or to church for spiritual health, but we would never talk to a counselor/therapist for our mental and emotional health. We forget that physical problems can stem from mental health issues such as muscle tension from anxiety or extreme weight loss from depression. Just like the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:26-27) our physical body, our mind (brain) and emotions (heart), cannot be neglected.
Anxiety (Generalized Anxiety) and Depression (Major Depressive Disorder) are the two most common diagnosis that I see in clients. Anxiety symptoms consists of feeling on edge, worrying, insecurities, restlessness, irritability, and paranoia. Depression symptoms consists of decreased motivation, depressed mood, sleep problems, low energy, negative self-view, and suicidal ideation. The words Mental Health, Depression and Anxiety were not found in the bible because they are modern day terms but the symptoms were definitely there. After Queen Jezebel threatened Elijah with death, he ran away to hide and asked to die, isolating himself from everyone in a cave (1 Kings 19). King Saul was tormented by a spirit and became very paranoid (1 Samuel 22). Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah all had insecurities about not being enough. These were real people and God used them despite their mental health.
When we’re continuously focused on ourselves our problems feel ginormous, but when we remember trials Jesus has already gotten us through, our anxiety decreases.
My first goal with clients who struggle with Anxiety or Depression is understanding the root of it. What is the cause and when did it start? Past trauma or hurts in our lives wire our brain to see reality differently. These are lies because they are not the truth of God. In the beginning, these lies were created for survival but now it just keeps us in bondage so we can’t live in freedom. We must find the root of these lies in order to be free. Ask yourself: What lies do I hold onto (Ex. I am not worthy of love)? Then, find out what trauma or hurt you’ve experienced that created that lie (Ex. Mom left me). You can do this by recalling the earliest memory you have attached to the emotion connected to the lie. If this is difficult to recollect, then take some time to sit still and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the memory that is connected to the lie. After this, renounce the lie and ask God to reveal His Truth for you. Hold onto this Truth!
The Bible is full of coping skills that God promises will provide rest for those who come to him (Matthew 11:28). As leaders in the church, the usual advice we give people is to pray, journal and read your Bible more. Why?? Why do these things help us? We’ve all experienced Depression and Anxiety symptoms and have probably developed our own coping skills, over time, to deal with these symptoms so that we can still function on a daily basis. As I learn more and more about mental health coping skills, I see how God has already introduced them to us thousands of years ago.
The Bible teaches us to set our minds on things above and not on ourselves (Colossians 3:2). When we’re continuously focused on ourselves our problems feel ginormous, but when we remember trials Jesus has already gotten us through, our anxiety decreases. Why? Because our brain cannot intently focus on two things at once so by focusing on something logical, you’ll start to step out of your emotional mind. This coping skill is called Wise Mind, and encourages us to use both our Reasonable and Emotion mind in making decisions.
The Bible tells us to take moments out of our day to pray (Philippian 4:6-7). A Moment to Pause is a skill that urges us to stop what we are doing and just observe the present. Self Soothe are tools that involve using all your senses (vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch and movement) to calm yourself. People have Anxiety and Depression when they think too much of the past and future, but to be in the moment calms us. Journaling is a form of Validation. When you journal your thoughts and emotions, you are acknowledging that they exist and this lets you feel and process them. The nature of emotions is that when you allow yourself to feel them, then their intensity in your brain decreases. Contributing is also a valuable skill that encourages you to do something for someone else, and that blesses you in a way that receiving can’t (Acts 20:35).
I continue to see the spiritual battle, even in people who don’t believe it exists (Epheisans 6:12). Opposite action is a skill motivating us to do the opposite of what the Anxiety or Depression is telling us to do, such as getting up out of bed and getting ready for the day even when the depression is telling you to stay in bed. This doesn’t eliminate depression, but you’ll notice it decreasing. By listening to the depression, you are only feeding into its lies and you will only become more depressed after laying in bed all day. Anxiety tells you to isolate yourself, so do the opposite by reaching out to a loved one. The more you isolate; the more anxiety will increase. This is evident during COVID, when teenage clients expressed that they were never anxious about going to school but after being home for so long they’ve became extremely anxious and didn’t want to go back.
How amazing is our God, that He knew what we needed even before we did. I understand that what we don’t know is scary and uncomfortable. It really is and that’s ok. Thoughts and emotions are not always measurable but they’re still a very important part of us. Allow yourself to feel confused, then choose curiosity, seek help, and ask questions. We can only grow when we humbly position ourselves to learn.
Mai Thao (N. Xh. Xeem Tij Thoj)
Mai has been married to XF Steve (Xeem Tij) Thao for 13+ years and has 5 kids, 2 girls and 3 boys. She graduated from Alliance Graduate School of Counseling in New York with a Masters of Marriage and Family Therapy. She currently works full-time as a Therapist at Bridging Hope Counseling and serves alongside her husband at St. Paul Hmong Alliance Church, MN. Mai's passion is to be a part of what God is doing and see people get set free from spiritual, mental, & emotional bondages. She loves to play volleyball with her husband and also enjoys working out, puzzles, and pumpkin spice candles.