May is mental health awareness month. This is pretty important to me; for a long time, I have dealt with anxiety as well as had people close to me really struggle with mental health. It’s not a thing I take lightly, and with all of us in a more isolated setting, this could not be a more important topic to talk about. We are all built for relationship, so, the physical distancing that is needing to happen has been a struggle for many people. I’ve seen way too many folks spending all their time on Facebook and getting sucked in to this “doomer” mindset. We’re scared, we’re in the midst of something that has never happened in our lifetimes, and we are putting our faith in all the wrong places.
Self-care is a more recent concept that is misinterpreted often. Self-care isn’t buying things you can’t afford, ignoring your needs by tuning out of life, or over-indulging on the regular. It is however, making sure you are taking care of your mental health in ways that build you up and feed your soul. Jesus says we need to love others like we love ourselves, which means you need to also take care of yourself. Being in the church world, it’s often viewed as a good thing when someone in leadership continually give and give, but the thing is, you can only give so much without feeding yourself. Trust me, I learned this and have gotten flak from it.
One of the most important things I’ve learned on my mental health journey is this:
Investing in my relationship with Jesus comes before everything.
I love people, but when it comes down to it, I can’t make you have a relationship with Jesus. I need to first pour into myself. This means reading scripture, setting aside time to pray and listen to God, and reflect in worship. I’m not perfect at this, but it is my ultimate aim. When I was pastoring at my last church I realized that I need to be careful that I feed myself and not only try to feed others. This is the reason I would have a cut off after youth nights, I can’t have you emotionally dump all night at me. I have my phone set to do not disturb at 9, I set aside time for dates and intentional moments with my wife, I choose to set limits on my screen time to help my focus.
It’s not easy, and this idea is often equated to the starving baker. A baker continues to make food for others, but is sacrificing their own time to feed themselves, so they starve. Leaders love to talk about this, but like it when they have people under them not follow this. Did that cut a little deep? Good. It’s important to feed yourself, as well as make sure the people you lead aren’t starving either.
The second thing I’ve learned when it comes to taking care of your mental health:
Invest in things that feed your joy.
This isn’t the bursts of happiness that fade, it’s the things in life that really energize you. I struggle with anxiety, so sometimes that means I need to be by myself and write words no one will read. Take time to read, paint, and have fun. Find true joy that gives you life. Not unhealthy vices, but things that God has wired into you that allow you to love yourself well.
This is going to means time not having your phone (sans capturing photos of course), not spiraling over the things you can’t control, and trusting that God will lead you in the midst of all your seasons.
I thought it was important to talk about this. Mental health for many of us is probably not great in this season. There is hope. There is always hope. I love you and want you to take care of yourself. A lot of things are cancelled. A walk or run outside is not cancelled. A good book is not cancelled. That sketchbook waiting to be used is not cancelled. And most importantly, your relationship with God is not cancelled. Put your phone down, stop being quick to anger, drink some water, and take care of who God made you to be.
When I write on topics like anxiety and depression, I know how dark life can seem. I know that you feel alone and hurt, but there is hope. There is always someone there for you and I never want you to feel like you have no other option. If you are feeling suicidal thoughts, I want you to call this number 1-800-273-8255
There is always hope, and your life has value. You are so worth loving.
About the Author: Joshua Thomas is a writer by day and superhero by night. When he’s not writing and crimefighting, you can find him reading a good book, sipping warm tea, taking pictures, or dreaming. The young writer doesn’t fully know what he’s doing, but is enjoying the journey of it all. You can tweet memes at him on Twitter @joshua_thomas__ or follow his hipster photos and Jack Kerouac musings on Instagram @joshua_thomas__