Those who live in the west seem to have everything–the latest and best of everything. Whether its the advantages of technology or the advances of medicine, there’s nothing we lack. Yet, the reality remains that despite having everything, we tend to be the most unhappy, probing around lost in our thoughts, and not knowing what can fill the void inside that we all have (and eventually find exists at some point in our lives). We grapple to have a life with meaning–but if that meaning evades us, we may find ourselves endlessly unhappy, and worse, even stuck in an overwhelming rut of depression.
It’s been said that when a person suffers depression, even the things we love lose all interest. This can include people we love. It can include our career, ministry, and things that excited us in the past such as a side business or hobby. This is a scary place to be for any of us. But, we must not give up the fight; there are ways to overcome.
Depression is determined by several factors: one’s medical circumstances, one’s situational setting, and one’s spiritual underpinnings. In this article, I hope to give tips that have helped me; maybe they will also help you.
For many, depression seems to be inherited–passed down from generations past. For others, it comes as a result of a great loss–a loved one dying, for example. It can come as result of a loss of purpose when a person reaches a certain age, or when perceived goals have not been met. And then there’s the spiritual aspect–if such exists. I believe spirituality is vital for the fighter of depression, just as it is for an alcoholic. And I believe a healthy, deliberate focus on the Risen One is essential.
In this article, I will present seven ways to combat depression in our lives.
First, an Active Strategy is Needed!
From this point onward, I will use a dragon as a means to describe depression.
What kind of dragon is the one you are facing?
Has it seemingly bedded down with you for the last few years or from as early as you can remember–almost like a curse? Has it appeared at the same time that a business failed or a loved one died? Does it appear at certain times of the day or month? Does it smother your head with a numbing darkness after you do certain things related to diet, sleeping habits, unhealthy vices or entertainment, or dealing with certain people in your life?
As with any enemy, we must know our enemy to have a grip on beating that enemy. To do this, I encourage you to begin writing down in a notebook or on your phone the characteristics of your dragon, and to journal your journey. This will help to reveal clues on how to beat the dragon in your daily life. It may also give you the foresight to know when you are most vulnerable–and perhaps sidestep the beast’s attack altogether.
There are factors in our life that may be inviting the beast to appear. This could be down to things you allow into your life: the things you watch for entertainment; the foods you eat or do not eat; the amount of sleep you give yourself; the amount of time you spend in a darkened environment; the amount of exercise you have inserted into your life; and the amount or lack of good spiritual habits. If you start to understand the triggers for the dragon to appear, you can allow changes that will give you an advantage.
Second, Share With Someone You Trust.
Isolation is the devil’s best weapon against God’s people. His goal is to separate you from the herd so you are vulnerable and unable to protect yourself. Whether you share with a family member, best friend, or pastor, make sure to find that avenue to express and get out in the open what you are struggling with. As my Nanna used to say, it’s not a sin to struggle. But if you struggle alone, that is dangerous. The dragon hates openness and light. Put light on your battle which will lessen by half the burden you’re carrying. Do this on a regular basis. It’s okay to be weak. It’s not okay to bottle things inside and hope things will improve. You’ve heard that three strands is not easily broken? Find three outlets to share about your struggle. Ask those three persons if you can meet once a month. It doesn’t mean that those three persons will necessarily give you the answers to defeat the dragon; but they will simply be available to share your burden and help support you.
Third, Pinpoint Things That Delight Your Soul.
A counter to the jabs of the enemy, even a dragon, is to find a way to do things that delight your soul. What am I talking about here? I’m talking about things that make you feel truly alive. It doesn’t have to be something that breaks the bank, either. For me, I love to go to a little cafe that doesn’t actually look that great from the outside, but the cottage pie there is the best (and is homemade!). That really delights me. Or maybe its giving yourself permission to have a massage, or to go to a favorite park and walk in the bright sunshine.
One note of caution here: you may not “feel” like going out, or you may have many excuses not to do that thing that delights your soul. I say this: overstep that feeling and just go. Force yourself to get outside, or go to that favorite restaurant, or visit that neighbor, or go to the park, or get that massage or facial cleansing. And this also includes going to your place of worship. You may not go because of the travel, because of the fears, and because of this or that–endless excuses. But push yourself to go and be with the people of God. (This point links back to the isolation part above!)
Fourth, Avoid Pitfalls.
Once you’ve identified your dragon and his characteristics, it’s important to map out your steps so you don’t fall into the dragon’s traps. This may take some time to understand, but once you recognize that a certain person’s words (now or in the past) echo within you that you’re “no good” or “useless”, you’ll be able to raise the shield of faith to those fire attacks and stop them before they can burn a single hair on your body. You’ll replace those echoes with echoes of a good kind: what He says about you and to you from the Scriptures, the Bible!
There may be other things happening in your life that will make you vulnerable. For example, if I get less than five hours sleep, I will tend to be more on edge, more prone to depressive thoughts/feelings. Then, too, your diet. A lazy diet is the same as fattening your dragon–giving him permission to grow bigger and overwhelm you. Too much salt, too much processed food, too much junk food, too much alcohol, too much sweets–eating too much of these things will make us vulnerable. Cut them from your daily routine. Find a way to have a good, balanced meals.
If your dragon exists due to a medical imbalance within you, then I encourage you to do all of the above correctly and see how your situation improves after one month. Perhaps, with oversight from your doctor, you will be able to take a medicine that’s less potent, has less side effects. You might even be able to come off drugs because you’ve slain the dragon with His help and taking care of the practical necessities.
Fifth, Use Worship as a Means to Advance in Your Spiritual Life-and Daily Life
I once felt the Lord impressing on me the importance of worship in fighting against any foe–whether temptation, depression (ofttimes these two are linked), or fear about the future. I’m talking about worship that is more than just on the surface. I’m talking about a worship that is a love affair with the One. Through the Holy Spirit, we must be drenched by His love and He must be drenched by our love for Him.
This is my belief, but if depression can be felt, than it is vitally important you allow worship in your life to also be felt!
In ancient times, armies were heralded by musicians which lifted morale, courage, and unity among the troops. As children of God, we need to know that any advancement in our lives must be accompanied with not just music, but deep and heartfelt worship. This could be as simple a thing as singing an old hymn or joining in on a great worship ballad on a video channel. This requires a proactive stance of worship until it is experienced (not just surfacey or intellectual).
Included in this should be a natural, supernatural manner of conversation with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Prayer, as loaded as that word is, simply means to make conversation with the One. It should be an unloading of your heart–whatever’s in it. It should be you being honest–speaking from the core of who you are about your own struggles, your own fears, your own needs. But remember to read and meditate on His Word so you get the balance and weight of His thoughts and honest words in you. This, too, is of utmost importance!
One note here. If you have no strength to pray or worship or read the Word, recognize that even your non-verbal expressions can be valid. The Lord collects your tears, and you need to know He is present no matter how you feel.
Sixth, Pay It Forward As a Way of Life
This links with my fifth point because if you practice this in your life, you will actually be performing a worship that is actually more profound to God than just singing a deep-felt song. Everything has its place so make sure to do all you can vertically to God, and horizontally to people around you (which is as a direct worship to the One).
Whether it is once a day, or five times a day, find a way to bless another person. It should be done spontaneously, and without causing you to suffer hardship. (You might even begin to hear the Lord speaking to you as you practice this in your daily life.) The idea is to bless another or others at least once a day. The power of these acts cannot be discounted. It may be something as simple as paying for another person’s shop, or visiting and giving a flower from your flowerbed to a neighbor. It may be something bigger like buying a neighbor something you know they need or have been struggling without. The feel-good factor will be powerful.
Seventh, Watch Funny Cat or Dog Videos
What I mean is for you to spend time watching videos that are positive or uplifting. Watch whatever causes you to break out in laughter–whether about pets, infants, or wedding dance fails. This could be the best five minutes of your day! Find a laugh and feel its effect on you–because as the Scriptures say, laughter is as medicine for the soul! Watch until the tears stream down your cheeks. Defeating a dragon takes strategy–and dragons hate laughter. And remember, you may not feel like searching for a video, but push yourself and just do it.
Depression is described as a dragon in this article because it can be a huge, dangerous beast that can sap the strength, joy, and life right out of you. But with some strategy and pushing yourself beyond what you feel, you can override and overcome.
As I wrote the other day, the extremes of joy and depression are real. But while it may feel that we’re not able to control the onset of depression, I believe there is a lot at our disposal to slay the dragon, one day at a time, or at least to keep him a safe distance from you.
And remember that the Lord is alive and knows you in your frailty. He will not abandon you nor ignore you. Be active to pursue Him, to worship Him, to pay your generosity forward to others (especially strangers), and you’ll slowly erode the beast’s hold on your life. Your battles will one day be a strong testimony. God is with you!
-Sean Elliot Russell
Please share this article with someone you know who’s struggling. Or send the article as a means to say to a friend or family member, this article is about me. And I really need your help. Can I share with you what’s been happening?