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

Six Biblical Principles for Eating Disorders & Unhealthy Food Relationships

vectorstock_3710686We live in a nation that is obsessed with image. Unless you live in a remote area without television, internet or places to shop, you are bombarded every day with images of photoshopped people that society pressures you to look like. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder in the United States and every 62 minutes one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder (ANAD). Even those of us without a diagnosed eating disorder struggle with an unhealthy view of food and our bodies. I honestly cannot think of a time when I did not think about losing weight before taking a beach vacation…okay, maybe when I was pregnant.

There are many excellent therapies for eating disorders but I believe true success cannot happen without spiritual integration. Many people with eating disorders struggle with poor self-image and a negative view of God. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or a poor relationship with food and self-image, here are some helpful biblical principles to help transform thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

  1. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NIV). The word of God has the ability to create positive thoughts and a healthy identity, which is countercultural to a world that stresses the importance of perfection.
  2. Romans 10:17 says, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (NIV). Having faith in God and hope that life can be different is an important part of creating change. Scripture has the ability to develop one’s faith and provide hope for the future.
  3. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (NIV). This is a difficult concept for many people who have felt rejected by their parents. Joshua 1:5 says, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (NIV). God is a loving father who will never reject us or abandon us like people do.
  4. Isaiah 55:8-9 teaches that people’s thoughts are not God’s thoughts and that his thoughts are higher than ours. People with an unhealthy relationship with food always have poor views of themselves. God’s thoughts of us are opposite of the lies we believe about ourselves. In fact, each day that God created something in the universe, he used the words “it was good” or “it was so” to describe that particular creation (Genesis 1:3-25). It wasn’t until God created mankind that he used the words “it was VERY good” to describe his creation (Genesis 1:31). We are God’s delight and were specifically made so that he could love us.
  5. Feelings of shame and dishonest behavior are common in those with eating disorders. Both of these are displayed in the book of Genesis when Adam and Eve sinned for the first time (Genesis 3). The first thing Adam and Eve felt was shame. This feeling caused them to cover their bodies and fear God. When God asked what they did, both were dishonest and shifted blame to someone else. Knowing that people in the bible had the same struggles we do can help normalize the feelings and behaviors of those with eating disorders.
  6. Lastly, recovery from eating disorders should involve recognizing one’s gravity of sin and the need for atonement (McRay et al., 2016). Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (NIV). This truth allows people to understand that when they acknowledge their sin, God removes it and brings them back into relationship with him. When people begin to see themselves as forgiven and accepted, they can let go of shame and be confident in their spiritual connection to the Father. That loving connection is essential for true recovery.

References

ANAD Your Future is Worth Fighting For. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Retrieved from http://anad.org

McRay, B.W., Yarhouse, M.A. & Butman, R. (2016). Modern psychologies: A comprehensive Christian appraisal(2ndEd.). Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.