Emotions often get a bad rap. From being considered “too emotional” to being perceived as weak for showing emotions, emotions are often misunderstood, but they are necessary for developing a sense of safety and trust in light of what may happen around us and to us. After all, God created us with a full range of emotions to help us navigate life and experience its fullness. It is when any emotion becomes overpowering, oppressive, or obstinate that we will want to examine if the emotion is, indeed, no longer helpful, but instead has become harmful.
Let’s start with fear. Think of fear as your own internal security alert system. Fear can be a very helpful emotion to guide us away from danger. Fear can be a helper to make us feel more secure, but it should not linger. If fear lingers for too long, then we may need to change our environment (perhaps, it is perpetually unsafe, and I need to find a safer place), or we need to examine our lingering fears. An over-abundance of fear often leads us to experience irrational thoughts and behaviors. I’m not talking about fear associated with phobias such as fear of flying, fear of spiders, etc. These are concrete fears that we can address, if we so choose. The fear I am referring to here is the abstract and subversive fears that sneak their way into our way of thinking and believing: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the future. Often, we are not even aware that fear has crept into our life.
If you have found your mood tempered by dark clouds of worry or anxiety, take some time to let the light in, and explore if these concerns are rooted in fear. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach aimed at challenging and changing destructive or harmful thoughts and behaviors, and it is a useful approach in emotional regulation for emotions such as fear. Use a journal and take your time to work through the following questions:
After you have explored your fears through journaling about them, you may find it helpful to begin confronting your fears by using the following acronym that I created to help counseling clients address persistent fears:
Find the facts about your fear
Explore options about your fear
Acknowledge your identity despite your fear
Respond, rather than react to your fear
First, finding the facts about your fear means discerning the truthfulness of your fear. Is the fear based on fact, or is it based on your perception? Sometimes our perception is different from reality, so finding the facts may help to diffuse the fear. Exploring the options about your fear is to really think about what you can do about the fear. Maybe you need to set a boundary with someone, or confront challenges, or process through experiences that have caused fear. Depending on the severity of the fear, it may be advisable to explore these options with a mental health professional. Third, acknowledging who you are despite the fear: you are accepted, redeemed, set apart, a life with purpose and value. And last, responding to your fear means setting aside time to think about what is best for you and those you care about. Responding means I have control of my emotion, reacting means my emotion has control of me. Time is the differentiator that allows us to respond rather than react.
Hopefully, these suggestions will help with addressing your fears using a therapeutic approach. Next blog, I will offer faith-based approaches for managing fear. Until then, remember that the only person you can change is yourself.
Next blog: Light in the Dark – Surrendering Fear
Many of us are in the depths of winter when daylight lasts for only 9-10 hours a day. And, many of those days are veiled with grey clouds, eclipsing the sun, so natural light seems even more scarce. The effect of diminished sunlight on the human body can increase anxiety and depression as Serotonin, a significant hormone, needs sunlight to help balance our emotional responses. Some of us may even suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mood disorder related to seasonal changes. Bottom line: we need light to flourish.
As much as we need physical light, we also need spiritual light for growing our faith, inspiring hope, and building resilience. For many years, my life verse has been John 1: 5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (NLT). There is a light that is forever present, and always accessible: the light that was present before the world was ever created, and that light is Jesus, the Messiah. During really difficult and dark times in my life when I have felt overcome by sorrow, when circumstances made me feel hopeless, when my irrational perceptions left me crouched in fear, the image of Jesus as my Light is what often rescued me from my own dark despair. And, when I daily decide to let the light of Jesus shine brighter than the world around me, it is well with my heart, mind, and soul. But make no mistake, it is a daily practice to choose to walk in the light because dark clouds will inevitably try to obscure my light.
Perhaps, you have felt a bit more of the darkness in recent days. Has the darkness made you feel fearful? Grieved? Angry? Anxious? Over the next five weeks, I invite you to follow my blog as I will discuss overpowering emotions, and how these emotions can be our own dark clouds that overshadow the light. Follow along for both psycho-therapeutic interventions, and Biblical insight for regulating our emotions. In striving for a daily practice of accepting more light, our goal should be to know the light that exists around me, within me, and that shines out through me.
I recognize that for some of you, a daily practice of seeking more hopeful light may seem like a nice idea, but it doesn’t seem like enough for you. I understand that feeling. Some have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), or you may have significant and debilitating trauma responses associated with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), or the exhausting rituals of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and many other issues. These are real struggles that may always be present in your life to various degrees. If this is the case for you, I recommend that you seek a mental health professional to help you work toward better outcomes. And, I invite you, too, to keep seeking for the light, though you may be weary. Find comfort for the journey in the light of Jesus.
Next blog: Light in the Dark – Part 2 (Managing Fear)