Tools to fight back
There is a very good chance that everyone that reads this is suffering from either a physical or mental illness. We now live in a world where almost everybody knows someone who is either physically or mentally ill. In the western world, it is estimated that approximately 50% of people are suffering from mental illnesses such as Clinical Depression, Hyper-anxiety and Bipolar Disorder, to name a few. These conditions are, in a very real sense, a disability and they can lead to extreme loneliness, self-harm, and even suicide. Even those who are fortunate enough to escape these debilitating, parallelizing illnesses are feeling the stresses of modern life, and often feel overwhelmed by the task of just surviving or fitting in.
The good news is that there are ways to deal with these illnesses and anxieties and, the methods are mostly free and available to most people.
I have compiled this simple guide from study, life-experience and practise. I have felt the very real benefits of this simple routine, for several years now. It is a simple list of positive steps that can be taken to regain some balance, composure, health and peace in this chaotic world we live in. The formula is based on two sources of knowledge and guidance - Science and Scripture. Some are obvious and well known yet, still take some effort and dedication, other elements in the list are not well known and may surprise some people.
I am not a doctor or a mental health specialist. But I do have much knowledge and experience in subjects relevant to mental and physical health. Furthermore, all of the recommendations on the list are positive and non-harmful. As a long-term sufferer of Chronic Clinical Depression myself, I know too well that this condition is unlikely to be cured in our lifetime but, it can definitely be eased and controlled by certain behaviour, diet and routines.
Just as it takes a long time exposed to trauma or stress for Depression to set in, it takes time to experience relief from it. However, physical and mental improvements can be felt in just weeks, if a person sticks to the life formula outlined here. So here are the areas and methods, in no particular order of importance;
The “Father of medicine” Hippocrates, once wrote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Science validates this principle, ever more so as nutritionists learn more about the things we eat. There is a strong connection between the foods that we ingest and our health, both physical and mental. New medical evidence has revealed that our bodies are being slowly stripped of essential microbes and nutrients by such things as pollution, medications and stresses. Furthermore, excesses of fat, sugar protein and calcium can inhibit the body's ability to heal itself and function normally. To optimize health and feel naturally good, we need to consume regular plentiful amounts of natural foods which contain all the essential nutrients we need to stay alive and healthy. Science has proven, beyond any doubt, that the best diet for a human being is one which contains an abundance of fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and grains. If we eat as much of these as possible our health will improve drastically. Of particular benefit to those suffering from depression are most nuts, including Brazil and almond. It is wise to avoid foods that are rich in fat, sugar or salt.
Originally, God gave humans all plants to sustain them “Here I have given to you every seed-bearing plant that is on the entire earth and every tree with seed-bearing fruit. Let them serve as food for you. To everything moving on the earth in which there is life, I have given all green vegetation for food.” The Bible also speaks of plants as “For the curing of the nations.” Although this is meant firstly in a spiritual sense, there is no doubt that plants contain many healing properties, as science has now verified.
Overindulgence in food and drink is a major problem in society these days, leading to chronic bad health and premature death. The Bible warns us “Do not be among those who drink too much wine, among those who gorge themselves on meat.” Why? “Because a glutton and a drunkard will come to poverty.”
The Bible does not condemn drinking alcohol, despite many church leaders claiming otherwise (please see my article “Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?”), but it does warn against drunkenness.
On this subject the Bible warns “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness?Who has quarrels? Who has complaints? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has bleary eyes? Those lingering long over wine.”
When I worked in a Nursing home, my Area Manager informed me that most of the residents suffering from Dementia were heavy drinkers throughout their lives.
* Hydration (Water)
It has been estimated that 75% of people are constantly dehydrated. Considering that our body is made of 60% water, this can have a significant effect on our normal day to day functions and health. The water in our bodies is reduced by, among other things, caffeine, alcohol and salt. Problems with a lack of water can include poor memory, anxiety and fatigue. It is absolutely essential to drink at least a litre of pure water a day, probably more. I personally have switched to drinking only natural spring water because I have done my own studies on tap water and found that it can (depending on area and water company), contain solubles and chemicals, including antibiotic residues and Oestrogen (a hormone). Wherever you get your water from, be sure to drink enough everyday. This will boost the body's functions, immune system and mental state. No wonder the Bible describes it as the “Water of life.”
Imagine what would happen if a garden and it's trees were deprived of water over a long period of time. The Bible says “For you will become like a big tree with withering leaves, and like a garden without water.” Just as such a garden would wither and lose it's colour and shape, so do we, when we are dehydrated.
* Exercise and stretching
Exercise is very good for us. It promotes healthy tissue and organs, invigorates the brain cells, and creates a general feeling of well being inside. We do not have to go to a gym or jog 5 miles to obtain the benefits of exercise. Simply walking, skipping or crouching will be enough to promote health. Of course, it is good to get a lot of exercise but it should not become an obsession. Science has shown that, like many things, there is a certain level of exercise that is beneficial but, after that, it has a negligible impact. It is also very important to stretch thoroughly before engaging in any exercise. Stretching is very good for the body, ensuring blood flow and muscle cohesion. It is notable that all animals stretch regularly.
The Bible speaks of “Bodily training being beneficial.”
A friend of mine once said, ‘If you can’t find time to exercise, you’d better find time to be sick.’
* Fresh air
Though this sounds trivial, it is in fact an essential part of being a human being. We are air-dependent beings. When we stay in enclosed, artificial environments too long, the air we breath becomes stale and contaminated with chemicals and dust. It is vital to get a regular supply of fresh air, outside. When in natural surroundings like parks or seaside areas, it is a good, healthy practise to breath deeply to get the lungs working properly and the blood flowing around the body. Even when indoors, it is very wise and beneficial to have at least one window open to ensure air circulation. During the Crimean war, the famous nurse Florence Nightingale, implemented several changes to the hospitals under her care. One of the simple changes she brought in was to have windows open as often as possible. The result was an astounding change in patient mortality and well being. Today it is common practise in many hospitals to have open windows where possible.
It has been estimated that about 75% of people in the western world are deficient of Vitamin D, which is vital for good health. One of the major impacts of this deficiency is Depression. To obtain vitamin D, a person does not have to be out in direct sunlight. Even on light cloudy days, vitamin C can still be absorbed. So try and step outside and enjoy the light as often as possible, though being cautious not to get sunburned. It is important to note that vitamin D cannot penetrate through windows.
It is possible, especially in western countries, that most people do not get enough sleep and that many are chronically sleep-deprived. A lack of proper sleep can affect our mental and physical health. It is very important to point out that all of the previously mentioned aspects of health will have an impact on a person' sleep pattern. A brain that has enough sleep is generally focused, active and positive. Sleep deprivation causes irritability, lack of concentration and general fatigue. It is wise to avoid drinking too much liquid before bedtime, especially caffeine drinks like coffee. It is also wise to avoid stimulating activities like sport or intense study, just before sleep as these can keep the mind from closing down.
The Bible tells us that “Better is a handful of rest than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind.” Those who work long hours need long amounts of sleep.
* Alone time
It has become a vital need in the modern world for a person to have a time of solitude and quiet. When our senses are constantly on alert, in company or surrounded by noise, the body undergoes stresses and strains that take their toll both mentally and physically. It is good practise to schedule or find some time each day to just sit quietly on our own, to gather our thoughts and let our senses rest. This can help a busy person to get through the day. A particularly beneficial place to be alone is among nature, a park, hills or near the seas. The natural sounds of the earth are therapeutic for the human mind.
Jesus himself often sought solitude, in places of nature, to recover and to pray. He also advised his Apostles “Come, you yourselves, privately into an isolated place and rest up a little.”
The Bible makes the connection between calmness and health when it says that “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organ.” In this stressful world, our heart and mind can be damaged by constant pressure. This makes it essential to find the time to rest and gather our thoughts.
* Positive input (Association and spiritual)
Our minds behave in a similar way to our bodies, namely that, they are affected by what goes into them. If a person eats lots of junk food and little healthy food, they will feel bad and get sick. Similarly, if we feed our mind on junk, negative thoughts, sounds and images, our mind will feel poor and we will suffer mentally. For those who suffer from mental illness, it is very wise to avoid programmes, books, films and music that contain negative, aggressive imagery and sounds. It is good practice for the mind to regularly expose our minds to positive entertainment and thinking, light music, comedy, uplifting ideas etc. A lady I know became obsessed with real life crime dramas, to the point where she became afraid to sleep at night or leave her home.
It is also important for our mental state to carefully select the company that we keep. Studies have shown that peer pressure is very powerful and can influence people to behave in ways they would not normally do. Those we know can heavily influence our thinking, with or without intention. We should avoid too much association with people who are negative, selfish, aggressive or who practise self-destructive habits like drugs, drunkenness and high risk activities. The Bible confirms this truth when it warns “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character,” and “A little leaven (yeast) ferments the whole lump.” To emphasise the importance of this matter, imagine being asked to drink from a a gallon of water. As you go to drink, you are told that there is a just a tiny drip of poison in the water. Would you continue to drink? We should seek the company of positive people who are considerate and focused and who are interested in our welfare, not just their own.
One beautiful description of the things that are good for the human mind is the scripture which reads; “Whatever things are true, whatever things are of serious concern, whatever things are righteous, whatever things are chaste, whatever things are lovable, whatever things are well-spoken-of, whatever things are virtuous, and whatever things are praiseworthy, continue considering these things. The things that you learned as well as accepted and heard and saw in connection with me, practice these, and the God of peace will be with you.”
One other point about association, is that too much alcohol may bring a temporary relief from negative feelings but, in time it will only make things worse. Alcohol is a depressant that alters the thought processes. It goes without saying that drugs are extremely hazardous for anyone, especially those suffering from mental health. Some people have sought relief in Marijuana, being told that it is a sedative and can ease the mind and body but, this is untrue and this drug has many side effects including psychosis and paranoia. I have personally witnessed many of my friends and family succumb to this drug, becoming weak, paranoid and out of touch. Many of them go on to hard drugs. Several people I have known have died from overdose.
Humans have many wants and desires but only a few actual needs. One need that is often overlooked is highlighted by the words of Jesus Christ. He said “Happy (or blessed) are those conscious of their spiritual need.” Jesus was not talking about meditation, chanting or repetitious praying of mantras, but of a close relationship, a need, for God in our lives. Jesus assured us that we should not “Be anxious for the next day.” He went so far as to say “Keep on seeking FIRST God's kingdom, and all these other things (necessities of life) will be freely added.” Millions of people, including myself and my family, have found this promise to be true and reliable.
The Bible offers comfort and hope for all, particularly the depressed among us when it says;
“God gives power to the tired one, and full might to those lacking strength
Boys will tire out and grow weary, and young men will stumble and fall
But those hoping in God will regain power
They will soar on wings like eagles
They will run and not grow weary
They will walk and not tire out.”
It has been medically proven that helping others, being kind, is good for us mentally. Ask yourself this question – Do you get more pleasure in receiving a gift, or giving a gift and watching the person open it? Jesus confirmed that “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.”
Whether working for charity, helping a neighbour or just being kind to people, we benefit, emotionally, and physically.
If the previous steps are taken, the result will be a calmer mind, a healthier body, a more productive life, fewer illnesses and a measure of peace not easily found in this world. What do you have to lose by trying this formula, apart from your Depression and poor health?
Whether by these steps, or any other, pass your successes on to others, recommend the lifestyle that has benefited you, and you will find real satisfaction and joy from seeing the impact on other's lives.
And the end result of living in harmony with a healthy lifestyle and close relationship with God is “The peace of God, that excels all thought, will guard your heart and your mind.”
I wish you health, peace and happiness.