The toughest battles that we face in life are the battles of our mind. Intrusive thoughts come dressed up as the truth and our feelings misleadingly validate such thoughts. One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “How do I get rid of these negative thoughts?!”. Our minds are the one thing that we live with day in and day out for the rest of our lives and, subsequently, cannot escape. So what do you do when your trapped by the hell in your own head?
Suicide prevention has become increasing in awareness and one of the things we quickly learn is that people deeply don’t want to end their life, they want to end their pain. They can’t see a way out of escaping their mind other than escaping this world. And as someone who has experience with these thoughts and those struggling with them, I can say there is another side of all of this. However, we play one of the biggest roles in our own recovery. And this recovery consists of the small habits we practice day in and day out that lead to big change.
And maybe you haven’t been having suicidal ruminations but you’ve been bombarded by your thoughts at such a level that you can no longer experience that peace, joy or abundance of life to the full that scriptures promise over and over again. Maybe it’s been an up and down rollercoaster in your head and you’re just trying to find some solid ground to stand on- where you’re finally sure about your faith, about yourself and have some sense of hope for the future.
I promise you, I get it.
Here are 5 reasons this war in your head has been harder for you then it has to be. My hopes are that with this self-awareness we can begin to take the steps we need toward a healthier future.
You’re physically on “E”.
Intrusive thoughts are most lethal when you’re physically too weak to fight them. Whether you’re hungry and depleted, extremely exhausted at late hours of the night or have just had a string of rough days that have had their wear and tear on you- realize you’re in no shape to take on a fight. It’s good to be aware of your own physical levels and begin to attribute it to your mental state because the two are working together.
For example, I know off hand that having ruminations at night in bed when I’m completely worn-out is a set up for defeat (unfortunately that also seems to be the time my brain wants to turn on- but where we’re you when I needed to write that paper?). Therefore, I won’t even entertain some of the thoughts that tempt to lure me into self-pity or an endless cycle of overthinking about things I can’t control. Since I know where my thought patterns lead, I know what rabbit holes not to go down. I’m aware of when I’m in a vulnerable place so I know I need to set certain thoughts aside and potentially explore them when I’m in a better state of mind. Practice setting thought boundaries. It won’t come easy because you’re fighting against automatic thoughts, but with continual practice, it is a redeemable habit. Working with yourself, instead of against yourself, begins with knowing yourself.
You’re fighting alone.
I have to say that this is our greatest downfall. Your biggest issue is not your issues, because many of us have some level deep, dark, and seemingly unredeemable issues. Your issue is that you’re trying to sort your way out of something that is bigger than yourself. It’s how you’re managing it. For some reason we either believe we’re clever enough to work our own way out of these pitfalls or we’re too prideful to risk the judgement of being seen as a deeply flawed human being and risk the help we need.
Listen, if you could snap your fingers and just will yourself on the other side of this mental war it would have already happened. Logically, how can one pull themselves out of a hole that they are themselves inside? Real wisdom is not relying on your own “wisdom”; it’s knowing when it’s time to seek support. Talk to some trusted friends about your battle. Set up that counseling appointment. Join a support group in your church or community. And stay planted around these people to remain grounded so you are anchored should the wind, waves and storms of your mind come crashing down again.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”- Ecclesiastes 4:10 & 12
You’ve been in a spiritual backslide.
Abiding in the spirit and walking hand in hand with God is not just some religious call of duty- it is a relationship that guards our hearts, minds and souls. I can personally attest to the fact that when you begin to step outside of this relationship and try to go forth into life within your own strength, your own agenda, your own path- you are letting go of the same hand that is keeping you.
You stopped submitting your thoughts and will to God’s sovereignty and started taking life into your own hands. Why is this so vital to our mental health? Because the two are connected. This creates a separation from the Spirit that downward spirals toward decay. Remember Romans 8:6, “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Just as the natural laws of gravity deem that what goes up must come down, the natural laws of following the spirit versus the flesh deem whether your spiritual-mental state will go up or down. Submission to God is not God being a cosmic kill-joy. It’s God being our faithful covering through this fallen world.
Much of this can include being plugged back into church, being mindful of how the music or media your listening to is affecting you, and paying attention to some of the company you’ve been keeping that could be contributing to your fallen state.
You’re lacking in self-care.
In proper context, self care is not selfish. It’s the necessity to rest and refuel yourself so you can operate from a place of strength (Click to tweet). It’s refilling your tank. We saw Jesus do this many times when he retreated to be alone and pray. We saw God declare a day of rest and reverence on the seventh day of creation- not because He needed it, but to give an example of how we ought to operate. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
One quote I live by is, “When you’re tired, learn how to rest, not quit”. Make taking care of yourself a priority. Of course not at the extreme expenses of others, but so that you can stand firmly and be a well for others. A regular self-care routine could include: creating work boundaries to finish at appropriate times, setting aside time for rest and reflection, taking time for hobbies you enjoy, etc. We can talk more about these ideas in a later article.
You’re basing truth off of your emotions.
Emotions are a convincing committee. However, they do best to serve as indicators rather than directors. A lot of problems I’ve faced in my emotional life and what I’ve witnessed in the lives of those deeply struggling around me, is that we’re quick to believe everything we feel. We draw assumptions and conclusions based off how we feel. Then we make irreversible decisions based off of what we felt.
If you tend to react to everything you feel as truth without taking the time to weigh and reflect on your thoughts- then you will find yourself on a never ending rollercoaster ride. Self-discipline is your best friend (although not a very easy one to get along with). Psychology on emotional intelligence has shown that those with active meta-cognition tend to succeed better in life. Meta-cognition is the ability to take one mental step higher and think about your thought processing. Become the judge of your own mind and weigh what is healthy to keep and execute what’s got to go. Rememeber, the mind is a wonderful tool, but a terrible master.
Self-awareness is so important because we cannot fix what we don’t confront. And confronting some of these things is honestly a step outside of our comfort zone in the way that we’re used to operating. However, it truly is a matter of life and death of the mind and I hope together we will day in and day out choose life.