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Seeking Balance in a Pandemic (Part I)

Currently, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread around the world, influencing world leaders to take measures which have caused both healthcare and economic crises. The following suggestions can help you find balance in your life so you can think clearly and cope rationally with this pandemic.

Calm yourself.  Practice centering and mindfulness exercises. Relax your body and calm your emotions.   Simple deep breathing with long, slow breaths and progressive relaxation techniques can help.  Meditative prayers and prayers of surrender can help, along with petitionary prayers.  (John 14:27)

Grieve as needed.  Losses come in many forms, and awareness of our grief can help us work through it and find the comfort and resolution we need over time.  Acceptance of your emotional experience, maintaining healthy memories, forgiveness where needed, and talking it out with a supportive person, all have their place when grieving.  (II Corinthians 1:2-5)

Renew your mind. Develop healthy thinking.  Hold on to hope. Avoid “awfulizing”, where we focus on how awful things are, taking our minds off those things for which we can be grateful.  Avoid “learned helplessness” where we get stuck feeling vulnerable and helpless, rather than understanding what reasonable action steps we can take.  This is not a time for blaming and being judgmental of ourselves or others, but rather for showing grace and working toward healthy solutions.  Maintain an appropriate sense of humor, in spite of the grief that comes at times like this.  (Romans 12:1-2)

Solve problems creatively.  Engage your reasoning and critical thinking abilities.  List problems separately, so you can take the time to brainstorm creative solutions for each more fully.  Be proactive, recognizing the power you do have to act.  Develop and work the plans you develop addressing each problem identified. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Mays Landing, NJ who now does teletherapy for clients in New Jersey. 

Seeking Balance to Maintain Hope (Part 3)

“Hope is faith waiting for tomorrow”, as John Ortberg wrote in Faith and Doubt. At present, the world is waiting for creative scientists to develop tests, treatments, and even preventative vaccines for a virus that is causing world-wide turmoil.  The church is expectantly waiting for the return of Christ hoping for a revival of faith in the world. 

Meditate on Rom.8:18-25     

Embrace a positive mindset.  Whatever negative experiences we are going through, an optimistic mindset can help us see the positive parts of our lives as well.  Hope can lead to gratitude and happiness. Samuel Johnson wrote “Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords.”

Meditate on II Thessalonians 2:16-17; Romans 15:13; Jeremiah 29:11

Seek models of hope.  Healthy relationships with others who are optimistic in their approach to life can influence you toward a more hopeful attitude.  Hope is contagious.  Build those relationships.

Meditate on I Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Hebrews 12:1-3

Professional help. If you find yourself stuck in a mindset with no hope, seek professional help from clergy or a mental health professional.  They can help you identify unhealthy thought patterns resulting in low self-esteem, unresolved grief issues, and chronic depression, among other things. 

Meditate on Proverbs 11:14; Ephesians 4:11-13;; Proverbs 24:5-6 

Ronald S. Newman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in Mays Landing, NJ who now does teletherapy in NJ.  He can be reached by phone at:  609-567-9022. Hammonton Gazette has first rights to publish, May 2020.

Photo by cru.org

Seeking Balance to Maintain Hope (Part 2)

The Hope score on Dr. Seligman’s Learned Optimism test, he indicated, was the most important score of all.  As Seligman went on to explain, we can learn to be more hopeful.  We can learn to think in optimistic ways.  Helen Keller famously said “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.”     

Meditate on:  Hebrews 6:17-19

Set goals.  The hopeful mind embraces goals and the plans necessary to achieve them.  These require a visionary future, even as you think realistically about the present.  Be ambitious, hoping for the best.    

Meditate on Ezra 1 & 6; Nehemiah 1 – 6

Define your own future.  You are responsible for your own choices in life, and hope embraces that power and choice of direction in life.  Your past does not determine your future.  You do.  You are not a pawn of fate.   

Meditate on Ezekiel 34:7-9;  Rom. 8:12-17;  10:8-13

Smile frequently.  Tune in to every opportunity to pass on a smile to others.  This will help you connect with them, even during circumstances that seem to pull people further apart.  Smiling is difficult with a facemask on, but even your eyes can smile.  ☺

Meditate on Philippians 4:4;  Mark 10:13 -16;  I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Improve yourself.  Life brings opportunities for growth through the difficulties we experience.  As you recognize these opportunities, you’ll be shocked how quickly growth can come forward.

Meditate on James 1:2-5;  II Timothy 3:16-17;  I Thessalonians 5:12-14

Seeking Balance to Maintain Hope (Part 1)

Hope has been called an anchor of the soul, because anchors provide stability to help us survive the storms of life.  We all need hope, and the losses and challenges many have experienced due to COVID-19 are creating new storms for most of us.  

What follows are some tips to help in times like these:

Accept positive pessimism.  This is rationally approaching the possible things that could go wrong, and then planning how you would deal with each option in a calm and thoughtful manner.  It is not getting stuck in fearful thinking, catastrophic thought processes or a helpless mindset, but rather planning for positive action steps.    

Meditate on Acts 27:14-44

Reinforce your courage.  Courage is not the absence of fear, but is discovered in the overcoming of it.  It is facing a world full of difficulties, and tackling the problems one by one in a manner that believes you will find victory with God’s help, if you show persistence.  

Meditate on II Samuel 23:8-39

Seek solutions.  Avoid getting stuck focusing on problems and fears of the future, but instead, embrace the idea that solutions are available for those who seek them.  Learn to be assertive about exploring God’s gift to you of creative options.  Think outside the box.

Meditate on Judges 7 & 8

Photo credit: cornerstoneofhope.org

Seeking Balance in Overcoming Procrastination (Part 3)

This is the final part of Seeking Balance in Overcoming Procrastination.

Strengthen your self-concept.  Let go of your past mistakes and regrets along with your inner critic. Instead, feed the positive voice in your head that recognizes your potential. This includes acting with confidence that you can learn and develop your abilities to accomplish your goals. 

“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13

Explore your deeper motives.  Is there any passive-aggressive aspect to your procrastination, such as delaying action that someone else wants you to do?  Or do you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities?  Are you afraid of success?  How deep is your fear of failure?  All of these things can be explored even more effectively with the help of a close friend, family member, or even a professional counselor.

“Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.” Romans 12:16-17

Evaluate your relationships.  Are you in need of learning healthy assertive communication skills?  Your relationships will suffer if procrastination is due to passive-aggressive  behavior or your fears prevent you from doing a project that is important to your spouse. Thinking about the benefits of making healthy choices that reduce procrastinating behaviors can have added relational benefits.  For example, “my wife will be excited when I finish this project.”

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.  Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.” Matt. 5:23-25

In the end, you want to avoid being the subject of this anonymously authored poem.

“Mr. Meant-To has a comrade, And his name is Didn’t Do. Have you ever chanced to meet them? Did they ever call on you? These two fellows live together, In the house of Never-Win, And I’m told that it is haunted, By the ghost of Might-Have-Been.”

Ideas from Dr. Frank Bruno in “Psychological Symptoms” contributed to this article.

Originally written for the Hammonton Gazette, June 2016.

Seeking Balance in Overcoming Procrastination (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Seeking Balance in Overcoming Procrastination.

Set smaller goals.  These smaller tasks can be done one by one, eventually reaching the target of your highest goal.   Link rewards to these smaller goals for added power.  For example, a student may reward himself with ten minutes of a video game after each homework assignment rather than trying to do homework for five courses at one sitting.

“The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.” Prov. 16:9

Avoid rationalization.   Procrastination often comes with excuses to defend our non-action.  Take responsibility and focus on the task at hand.

“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside;
I will be killed in the streets!'”  Prov. 22:13

Resist labeling yourself.   Labels can make you feel helpless like a victim. “Procrastinator,” “lazy,” “do-nothing,” are labels worth removing from your vocabulary. 

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,  namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  II Cor. 5:16-21

Change unhealthy thought patterns.  Increase your awareness of how your thoughts in the present contribute to your problematic feelings and behavior in this area.  For example, if you repeatedly return to thinking pessimistically that “I cannot read such a long book” or “I will never finish this project,” it will undermine your potential achievements.  Instead, adapt an “I can if I choose to do so” attitude.

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Phil. 4:8

Next Week we will conclude Seeking Balance in Overcoming Procrastination.

Seeking Balance in Overcoming Procrastination (Part 1)

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Edward Young, 18th Century English Poet and Playwright

People delay completing tasks and assignments, put off reaching for a goal, and postpone facing the challenge of new opportunities.  When this is a serious problem, you can call it “the tomorrow syndrome.”  This can have serious consequences to our happiness and relationships with others.

Here are some principles that may help you overcome your own tendency to procrastinate without driving yourself crazy with striving for perfection.

Face the anxiety.  The desire to reduce anxiety is often at the root of procrastination.  Accept and challenge the anxiety, rather than taking the path of least resistance by avoiding it.

“so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:6

Act, don’t talk.  Action can help you overcome your anxieties.  Taking action often can be done before you overthink and over-prepare for a project which can delay you. Talking too much about a goal sometimes can hinder you from actually doing it.  You can get addicted to the “dream” but secretly fear the reality. 

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;  for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25

Take a task-oriented approach.   Often people are time-focused, thinking about when they will do something.  Instead, make the goal the completion of a particular task.  For example, instead of planning to read that long desired book like “Atlas Shrugged” for one hour each day, plan to read until you complete simply one or two chapters at a time.

“for He says, ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you,
And on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation'”  II Cor. 6:2

Next Week we will continue with Seeking Balance on Overcoming Procrastination.

Seeking Balance in Managing Depression (Part 3)

This is the final part of Seeking Balance in Managing Depression.

Build a healthy support system.  This may involve setting boundaries on others who are toxic and do more harm to you than good.  Since “no man is an island”, we do need other people in our lives.  Building healthy relationships is essential in overcoming depression.  Overcome any tendency to be passive-aggressive or hostile and remain friendly with those who are your true support system.

“and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Avoid spiritualizing the problem.  Many people of faith beat up on themselves for not having enough faith, or praying enough, or doing some other spiritual discipline or exercise.  This only makes the depression worse.  Focus on the emphasis of grace in your faith-tradition and seek strength to deal with the areas of life where different choices can help you.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Get medical tests.  In some cases, depression is due to medical conditions which precipitate depression and must be ruled out.  This is particularly true when there is no clear situational explanation for the depression.  Adrenal insufficiency, diabetes, thyroid problems, Lyme disease, anemia, sleep apnea, and lupus are just a few examples.  Ask your family MD. 

“Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding;” Proverbs 2:2

“As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they were going, they were cleansed.” Luke 17:12-14

Get professional help.    There is no shame in obtaining help from a professional who has studied depression and understands its dynamics.  They can help with various approaches to breaking free from its clutches.  Different areas of focus in counseling may be working through the grief of past losses, identifying and addressing unhealthy thought processes, and building healthy communication patterns with others. To augment the benefits of psychotherapy, medication can be of help to some people.    

“Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” Proverbs 11:14

Seeking Balance in Managing Depression (Part 2)

This is a continuation of Seeking Balance in Managing Depression.

Activate yourself.  Resist the temptation to become more passive.  Find those “baby steps” that can keep you doing activities you used to find meaningful.  Believe that you have the power to do this, even when you do not feel like doing anything.  Ideally, increasing exercise in your life and eating in a healthy manner can be part of this “activation”. 

“I passed by the field of the sluggard And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; Its surface was covered with nettles, And its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked and received instruction. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest,’ Then your poverty will come as a robber And your want like an armed man.” Proverbs 24:30-34

Hold on to hope.  Develop a belief and confidence that your emotional state is temporary, not permanent.  This hopeful attitude can be nurtured.  This can be done through meditating on stories of hope, or perhaps movies that used to stimulate a good feeling in you.  Or consider other people who have wrestled with depression and come out victorious.  You can too.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

Avoid depressing stimuli.  Put aside tragic movies or depressing stories.  Stop replaying your own depressing stories in your mind, unless it is for the purpose of finding a healthier way of looking at the situation.  Does alcohol (a depressant) or substance abuse pull you further into a depressive mindset?  Find help to break free from these chains that keep you down in the valley.

“For wisdom will enter your heart
And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
Discretion will guard you,
Understanding will watch over you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things;” Proverbs 2:10-12

“Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.” Proverbs 23:20-21

Next week we will finish with part 3 of Seeking Balance in Managing Depression.

Seeking Balance in Managing Depression (Part 1)

Depression is every-man’s illness.  People experience a loss of interest or enjoyment in life, lack of energy, social withdrawal, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts (Biblical examples include Job in Job 3:24-26, 6:2-3, 7:7, 9:25, 10:1, 16:16, 17:13-16; and David in Psalms 6:6-7, 38:6-8, 102:4-5).  The causes may be varied, including various losses in one’s life, trauma in a person’s past, unhealthy family relationships, or even genetic and generational predispositions.     

The following suggestions are meant to inspire you toward successful coping approaches that will help you climb out of those dark valleys which life may push you into.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

Treat yourself with compassion.  Self-hate is often your enemy.  Seek to show yourself the compassion you would show someone else going through a similar struggle. 

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” Colossians 3:12

Tone down your inner critic.  Related to the above suggestion, this involves tuning in to what your critical inner voice is saying, then turning down the volume.  Simultaneously, you can tune in to the “positive coach” in your head and turn that volume up. 

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Resist guilt and shame.  Actually, accept their existence in your life, but resist dwelling on these emotions.  Instead, let go of the root causes of these feelings and focus on what is more important and of value to you. Forgiveness of others and yourself can help you make healthy changes in your behavior that can keep you moving forward.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Next week we will continue Seeking Balance in Managing Depression.