“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov. 17:22)
The causes of depression are multiple; the means of treatment for depression must be as well. We often are given to hope that one thing – the proverbial “silver bullet” – will slay the dark foe called depression that assails us.
In the previous post, I wrote about the value of medication. Consider it one of the practical helps that should be seriously examined and employed. Here are a few more helps.
Laughter/Good Humor: The one who battles depression often is the one who has not laughed fully or regularly in quite some time. This darkness of spirit may cover them like a heavy blanket, pressing in on the mind and the emotions. Laughter, hearty laughter, lifts body, mind and emotions. The pursuit of good comedy and great friends among whom laughter is guaranteed is a wonderful gift.
Silence/Solitude/Quiet: A hurried mind and heart are troubling to the soul. Setting aside time every day where all interruptions are removed – so you can sit, pray, meditate on Scripture and listen to God – are essential. In those quiet moments, God often speaks with great clarity providing great comfort. Keep a journal and write down what God impresses upon you.
Structure Your Day/Week: Research has shown that our unique disposition and wiring means some of us work best in the morning, others at night. It also has shown that we need regular breaks, changes of place and pace. A stretch of desk work may need to be limited; you likely can’t do back-to-back-to-back meetings with people. Your energy levels and clarity of mind will vary by time of day and week. Monday may need to be a “no people” study and recovery day. Wednesday may be the day you have all your meetings. You’ll definitely need a day off. Experiment with your day and week to discover what works best for you. Once you find a rhythm that works well and allows you to pastor most effectively, commit to it fully.
Accepting Your Limits: “You can’t do what you used to do.” These words from my counselor stung, but I knew they were true. Decades earlier, I could fight through fatigue, failures and frustrations in ministry and keep going—all the while still making progress. But like an aging NFL player, the years of battering have taken their toll, requiring me to “play” differently. As pastors, we need to learn to do ministry at a pace that glorifies God and is good for us and to those whom we minister. Over time, that pace changes. Accept that as a gift from God.
Exercise: Stress builds in your body, physically and chemically. Regular exercise helps you clear the tension and the toxins, which impact your mind and emotions. You don’t have to become a CrossFit warrior or marathon runner. Regular aerobic exercise of 30-40 minutes per day is a good place to begin. I enjoy and have found it very helpful to take “power” walks in the late afternoon just before dinner.
Healthy Sleep: Some telltale signs of depression are abnormal sleep patterns. Some are led to immediately go to bed after a difficult day or distressing incident, sleeping hours on end. Others may find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep – often waking early in the morning. Developing a healthy sleep schedule and creating the right environment (good mattress, cool temperature, blackout shades) go a long way in helping you get the right amount of rest.
Healthy Diet: Often when I’m experiencing a depressive episode I am drawn to comfort foods high in unhealthy sugars and carbs. The thinking goes something like this; “I’ve had a ______ day, I need to reward myself with ______________.” Eating poorly makes you feel poorly, which compounds the physical conditions caused by stress, creating cloudiness of mind and emotions. Clean eating matters. Find a diet that focuses on organic produce and protein and is low in carbs and sugars.
Retreats/Relocation: Getting away from your context is important. Whether it is a regular vacation or simple weekend getaway, a change of place often can lead to a change in perspective. Trade your contexts: If you are in the city, get outside of it; if you are in a rural area, go to the city. Experience a different environment.
Regular Non-Agenda Community: Being in the ministry means you always have your “pastor” hat on when you are with people. Most of your face-to-face interactions with others could be ministry related. It’s healthy to have a circle of friends who just know you and relate to you as you, not the pastor of a church.
In your self-care of your own depression, you may not need all these, but you will need more than one. The gospel tells us that in Christ we have been given all things and Jesus, through whom and for whom all things were created, gives us these good gifts as we seek to follow Him.
If you struggle with depression, it’s important to talk about it with those you trust, professionals who can help and those who have experienced it personally.
Originally published Nov. 12, 2015
Published February 9, 2022