“Have you ever heard the expression ‘If you want to get things done, ask someone who’s busy’?” a friend asked in a recent conversation about balance. Our small group of ladies smiled collectively. We all dealt with caring for family or workplace commitments, serving in the church and community, and trying to do it all well.
The world says, “Pamper yourself and take care of your own needs.” God’s Word tells us to serve others. How do we serve without burning out, and take care of ourselves without being selfish? How do we merge kingdom values with being mentally and emotionally healthy?
This subject feels intimidating to write about because it’s something I often feel like I don’t have answers for. My husband would tell you I’m a project-loving person, and I often over commit myself. Mental and physical health has become very personal to me in the past year thanks to a ruptured disc which caused a domino reaction of pain, sleeplessness, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. While thankful for healing, I have had to become much more intentional about staying healthy.
I don’t have the answers for the balancing act everyone faces, but I do know that the Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5 ESV) While our brains know God will make a way for us to do all He wants us to accomplish, our time and emotions can get so caught up in the daily and mundane that we find ourselves running on empty.
Here are just a few of the things I’ve been learning in the past year. I hope these will be helpful to you as well in trying to find God’s to-do list for you and maintain your sanity!
Identify unnecessary drains. Necessary, everyday tasks can be draining. There are some responsibilities we cannot get away from. But, sometimes the things we go to for comfort when we’re feeling down and overwhelmed can backfire. While it can be okay to seek methods of escape from the daily monotony, we have to make sure the escapes are replenishing us instead of seeping the life from our souls.
One of the biggest drains I’ve had to look at is social media. Social media can be uplifting and a good way to connect with people, but it can also be a discontentment trap. Studies have shown that social media has a negative impact on emotional health, particularly in women.
Taking steps to limit the draining aspects can be really helpful. I’ve chosen to delete the Facebook app on my iPad (I don’t have a smartphone), go on periodic social media fasts, and focus on spending more time with people in the real world. I’ve kept the Facebook Messenger because it’s a great way to get in touch with people, and I can still access Facebook through a browser. I’ve found that the more steps I have to go through to get to social media, the more control I can have over it.
Ask yourself why you’re doing the things you’re doing. Are you trying to measure up to others’ expectations of you? Are cultural norms putting pressure on you? Have you taken time to ask God if this thing (no matter how small) should be on your to do list for the day?
We each come from slightly or majorly different cultures. Trying to live up to expectations of the families we come from, our churches, and American culture can be extremely stressful. We don’t have to do everything like our moms did, like our wealthy neighbor, or like that amazing lady on Pinterest.
Take care of your body. What we eat and our activity level can have a huge impact on our emotional well being. For example, people who eat more Omega 3 rich foods have lower rates of depression. We all have days we just don’t feel like we have time to eat, so keeping healthy quick snacks like nuts on hand is really helpful.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce depression and anxiety. During certain seasons of life, this can look big and impossible. But, if you have a baby or toddler, you’re lifting weights every day! Combining exercise with your children’s needs can maximize your time. I enjoy taking walks with individual children, because it gives us one-on-one bonding and physical activity as a bonus.
Learn how to say “no” gracefully or give a partial yes. We are trained early on that we need to say “yes” when our parents ask us to do something. Saying no makes us feel like we’re failing.
A former U.S. first lady revealed that she planned her children’s school activities, dates with her husband, and family time before she scheduled her work activities. Scheduling the important stuff first gave her the freedom to say no to engagements that would have prevented her from being there for her husband and family. Too often, we plan the work and activities first, and then our family (and even God) gets the leftover spaces.
You might have to practice statements like, “I am not able to give that task the time or attention it deserves” or “That won’t fit into my schedule for that week.” A partial “yes” could mean saying, “I’ll be glad to do that, but it would look more doable if someone else could help me.”
Find moments of rest. What feeds your spirit and refreshes you? Maybe going to women’s conference will give you the boost you need (hint, hint!). But what if you’re in a place where that’s not even an option? Maybe you’re caring for an elderly parent or a special needs child, and don’t have a lot of family around to help out. Maybe you live far from your church family, and spending time with other women is just plain difficult. In that situation, a podcast, radio program, or audiobook you can listen to while working can replenish you. Stopping to sit at Jesus’ feet in the middle of your messy house or hectic day can change you from grumpy to grateful.
Take a few minutes to soak in the beauty of a simple flower, an ice-coated branch, a child’s giggle, or a chirping bird. Listen to beautiful and encouraging music. Find time for a hobby, and you get bonus points if it’s something you can do with your husband or children!
Know when you need help. It’s hard to humble ourselves and ask for help. It’s tough to admit we can’t do it all. If the stress you are living under is affecting you physically or emotionally to the point that it interferes with your normal functioning and prevents you from doing what you need to do, it’s time to do something about it. Whether that involves a caring friend, a doctor, or a trained counselor, early intervention is always best.
The brain is the most complex and important organ of our body, and can affect or be affected by other parts of the body. And it needs just as much care as our heart or lungs, even though it’s harder to detect when something’s wrong with it. Sometimes depression shows up as extreme fatigue and unexplained pain or anxiety presents itself with a racing heart and hot flashes.
Share your story. Along with asking for help, sharing your story is incredibly powerful! It’s scary to admit your struggles, but it can be so encouraging to realize you are not alone. I had no idea how much being open about my anxiety and depression would pave the way for others to share their mental health battles with me. I get goosebumps when I think about how God has used the most terrible time of my life to help and encourage others going through similar things!
Give yourself something to look forward to. Did you know that thinking about something exciting you’re anticipating is actually good for your brain? What we think about can actually change our brain chemistry. Planning a hike with friends or a date night with a husband is like spinach for your mental health!
As Christians, we have something even better to look forward to than any of those things. “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
I had a teacher in Bible school who encouraged us to think about heaven every day when we woke up. Thinking about heaven is good for our mental health and our spiritual health. Keeping an eternal perspective in the middle of the mundane will enable us to see and snatch the small assignments God sends our way. Don’t lose hope—God is preparing you for glory!
Bio: Elaine is still trying to still trying to find the best way of juggling her roles of being a busy doctor’s wife and mom to four energetic children, helping out with a local girls’ club, and being a very part-time wedding photographer. She is passionate about the importance of simple conversations about mental health in overcoming stigmas and misunderstandings in Anabaptist circles. Photographing the world around her, quilting, and reading are just some of the ways she finds refreshment in stressful times. For now, she is working on accepting her limits and imperfections and looking forward to achieving ultimate perfection someday—in Heaven! Oh, and she’s also very excited about photographing Refresh (especially the food and decor), and spending time with other women.