Christian Life, Mental Health

Loneliness… The Health Epidemic

Did you know that loneliness can cause physical, mental and emotional health problems? When we think about the causes of health problems, not too many of us would ever think that lack of connection with people could be the culprit. We live in an age of technology that allows us to be connected to thousands of people at any moment of the day, but we are more disconnected from people than ever before. In 1980, 20 percent of Americans reported feeling lonely and today that percentage is more than double (Brown, 2017).

When I think about seasons of my life when I experienced a significant struggle, loneliness was often at the center of that struggle. After my daughter was born, I silently struggled with postpartum depression. My days were spent at home, caring for an infant, with little interaction outside of my home. When I lived in Northern Virginia, I couldn’t seem to make deep connections with people. Most of the people my age were still single, yet I was married with two elementary-aged children. Those who had elementary-aged kids were nearly two decades older than me and they didn’t reciprocate my invites for coffee and get-togethers. I constantly cried and thought about running away, while confused about what was causing my sorrow. Then I became lead pastor of a church and was met with a new form of loneliness. I couldn’t technically be friends with parishioners and people in the community weren’t too comfortable being friends with a religious leader. This new role did not leave me with too many people to turn to, who could understand what I was feeling.

My ability to connect with people who get me has changed my life. As a therapist and pastor, I have surrounded myself with people in my field, who understand what it is like to live out those two roles. I am naturally an introvert but having alone time is very different than experiencing loneliness. I have made it a priority to grab a cup of coffee or tea with a friend, plan a girls’ trip every once in a while, and regularly chat with long-distance friends on apps that allow me to have a face to face connection.

We are created to be connected with one another and not in a superficial, social media connection. Loneliness leads to lethargy, while connection leads to contentment. Have you been feeling fatigue with no medical explanation for it? Loneliness could be at the root of your ability to feel emotionally, mentally, or physically healthy. If this is you, make a commitment to yourself to do whatever it takes to find someone to connect to. There are many creative ways to make this happen but many of us need a little inspiration sometimes. You aren’t alone in this struggle! Send me a message if you need some help to come up with a plan, or talk with a relative or acquaintance who does this well. You are worth it!

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

 

 

Reference

Brown, B. (2017). Braving the wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone. New York: Random House.

 

Mental Health

Root Canals and Mental Health… Who Knew They Were Connected?

Blog_root problemsAt the age of 12, I began to feel shooting pain in one of my right bottom molars whenever I chewed. After visiting my dentist, he was not able to identify the source of pain and assumed there was a small crack. He placed a filling in the tooth and sent me on my way. A few months after that procedure, I landed myself back into the dentist’s chair and received a larger filling to replace the first one. Neither procedure did anything to resolve the pain and I resorted to chewing on the opposite side of my mouth for the next 11 years.

At the age of 23, I decided to go to a new dentist, hoping he could fix my tooth. That dentist informed me that the old filling was too large to replace and my tooth really needed a crown. Can you guess what happened? I got a crown on that pesky tooth and once again, it did nothing to resolve my pain. Five years later, I found a new dentist who told me that I needed a root canal. He performed the procedure and for the first time in almost 16 years, I was able to chew on the right side of my mouth. The root canal cleaned out the pulp, disinfected the tooth and root system, and removed the source of pain.

For the past 10 years I have been able to chew on both sides of my mouth, pain free. In fact, I forgot all about this tooth problem until I was in a recent session with a client. The memory of my tooth helped me explain how, much like a tooth needing a root canal, people live for years with emotional and mental pain, without cleaning out the root from where the pain originates. Many people even spend a lot of money on things to relieve the pain, to no avail.

Anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, addiction, fear, relationship issues and many other mental health problems all have a root source. Experts in the field of trauma will tell you that even auto-immune diseases can be linked to unprocessed traumas.

Many people live for years with daily anxiety and have no idea where it comes from and how to get rid of it. Many seek therapy, learn techniques to replace thoughts and behaviors, and find ways to cope but somehow, they always cycle back with similar struggles. I believe the reason why this happens is that people fail to address the root of their problems in order to live pain-free in the present.

Hebrews 12:15 talks about a bitter root growing up and defiling many. When the Apostle Paul wrote this to the Hebrews, he was referring to a person being idolatrous and his sin affecting more than just himself. This same concept can be used for any person who has an unaddressed root issue. A person may have constant anxiety around a boss or authority because he or she had a parent that expected perfection or was explosive when the child made mistakes. Another person may have an unhealthy relationship with food because she was called “thunder thighs” in the seventh grade. Another person tries to control everything his spouse does because he was abandoned by a parent at the age of seven.

Maybe you identify with one of these examples or maybe your story is a little different. The point is, sometime in your life, something embedded into your brain’s memory network which now tells your body, mind and emotions how to react and function. If this is you, I encourage you to examine what that might be, ask God to reveal it to you, find a therapist or a pastor who knows how to help, and clean it out so you can experience a full life in the present and future.

If you are serious about therapy for your issue, I highly recommend EMDR therapy. It is an empirically established modality that is perfect for overcoming small and big traumas. I am trained in EMDR and use it with my own clients.

Feel free to send me an email if you have any questions about this topic or therapy.

Christian Life, Mental Health

Choose Peace Over Progress

peaceoverprogressLast summer, I decided to expedite the process of finishing my master’s degree by taking three classes in eight weeks. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but it ruined me! I used the excuse that I could recover during the last month of summer. During those eight weeks, I lived with chronic anxiety and fought back tears on a daily basis. I’m embarrassed to admit how crazy I was… I mean, I’m working on a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. Shouldn’t I have it together?

Thinking back over the years, I have a habit of trying to accomplish things at an unhealthy pace, without the proper rest required to maintain sanity. I have also seen many clients who struggle with anxiety and the common theme in their lives is that they don’t know how to rest. When challenged to take a day off or even a couple hours, they can’t even think of what they enjoy doing for pleasure. Many of those people struggle with negative thoughts like, people will think I’m lazy or I need to be productive to be accepted. That couldn’t be any further from the truth.

The truth is, everyone is worthy of investing in themselves through pleasurable activities, being pampered, going on an adventure, taking a vacation, and simply resting. Research shows how detrimental constant multitasking is to our mental and emotional health. Resting and investing in yourself can improve memory, heart health, reduce stress, and keep you at a healthy weight…who doesn’t want that (Seballo, 2014)?

In her book, Breathing Room, Sandra Stanely penned the words, “choose peace over progress.” That’s a powerful statement for a driven person but it’s even more powerful when that person chooses to live by its principle. I know I’m not the only one who needs this reminder. What is it that you need to lay down or quit in order to live a life of peace? When was the last time you rested from work and invested in YOU?

 

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4, NLT).

 

Reference

Seballo, A. (2014, February 12). Health Benefits of Rest. State of Health: Florida Hospital. Retrieved from https://www.floridahospital.com/blog/health-benefits-of-rest