Emotional Health•Healing • 9 minutes to read
I’ve known this about myself for a long time. When one area of my life is not going well, it affects everything else. When I’m struggling physically, it has a way of casting a shadow on my spiritual health. When I’m struggling spiritually, feeling distant or bothered with God about something, it puts a damper on my physical and mental health. As I’ve learned, it’s all connected.
So why would I expect it to be any different in my pursuit of emotional health?
Part of this thinking comes from trying to control my feelings. Not only control my feelings, but eliminate my feelings. For many years, I tried to bury my feelings through denial and distraction. In an effort to stifle my feelings, I would pour myself into my walk with the Lord. Or, I would ignore or bypass my feelings with learning and education.
While none of these pursuits are wrong—strengthening my relationship with God and wanting to learn—my intent was wrong. Intentionally trying to suppress my emotions because I had never learned how to process my feelings in a healthy way. Emotions felt scary, undependable, useless, and out of control. In all of this, I was doing myself a disservice, not recognizing the strength that comes from being complete and whole.
What I didn’t understand was, by keeping my feelings separate and isolated it kept me in a place of continued brokenness. Even if I experienced growth in one area (or so I thought), I wasn’t really functioning at full capacity. I was unknowingly limiting myself and my potential to change and grow.
What you practice grows stronger. All of us have the capacity to change. Science proves it. No matter what your past, no matter what your current circumstances, it is never too late to rewire your brain for greater calm, clarity, and joy.Shauna Shapiro
If I want to develop a stronger brain, one that is more efficient and healthy—even emotionally strong—then I need to be intentional about what I’m practicing.
Here are five practices I’ve learned to help change my brain and behaviors for better health.
Mindfulness focuses on having an awareness and acceptance of our thoughts, feelings, and body. It helps us pay more attention to what’s going on inside us at any given moment. And, since mindfulness is all about our internal awareness, it helps us respond to ourselves in a kind and compassionate way, without judgment.
One of the hardest things about developing mindfulness is: it requires spending time with ourselves and getting to know ourselves. At first, we might not know where to start.
While I tend to process my world from a more “left-brain” analytical perspective, getting to know myself through mindfulness has been useful. It has helped me recognize areas where I’m emotionally sensitive: my spouse and kids, parents, and siblings are at the top of this list. So now, when they have something going on in their lives or we have tension in our relationship, I handle it much better.
If I attempt to ignore or push aside my feelings, they only get louder. They consume my mind; eventually, showing up in a negative way. This is not healthy for me or the people around me.
When I allow myself to sit with any uncomfortable or negative feelings and make sense of them—even taking time to process how I’m feeling with my spouse or a trusted friend—I’m more likely to communicate and stay engaged in the relationship in a healthy way. This is good for my emotional and relational health.
2. Healthy Control
Have you ever heard of locus of control? This psychological concept (developed by Julian Rotter) suggests that an individual’s ability to control the outcome of their behaviors stems from either an internal or external locus of control.
For example, someone with an internal locus of control believes their abilities and motivation are internal. They take responsibility for their successes and failures; not letting their failures overwhelm them, but learning from their failures.
Someone with an external locus of control believes that what happens to them and around them is the result of outside forces. It’s due to external factors that are beyond their control. They tend to lack motivation and feel powerless when facing difficult situations.
I know this might sound like psychobabble, but hear me out.
If my worldview is shaped from an external locus of control then I take no responsibility for my behaviors. Everything happens to me and I have no control over the outcome. This makes me more dependent on others to meet my needs and can contribute to unhealthy relationship dynamics.
If my worldview is shaped from an internal locus of control then I’m responsible for my behaviors. When something happens, I’m in control of my thoughts, feelings, attitude, and actions. I make choices that keep me motivated and engaged in the world around me. This also makes me less dependent on others to meet my needs, but allows me to invest in relationships with healthy expectations.
Here’s the other piece to this: I believe the Holy Spirit dwells in me and guides the decisions I make. It is through this internal relationship with my heavenly Father that I recognize who really controls my life. When I trust and depend on Him to meet my needs, I experience calm, clarity, and joy.
When I practice healthy control, it strengthens my spiritual, emotional, and mental health.
3. A Growth Mindset
This idea of mindset was originally focused on academic learning. Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues wanted to understand why some students persevered through challenges and others were devastated by it. They identified two types of mindset: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.
Someone with a fixed mindset views their abilities, intelligence, and talents as things that are fixed. Nothing they do will ever improve or change this, so why try. When faced with challenges or potential setbacks, they feel stuck and defeated.
Someone with a growth mindset views their abilities, intelligence, and talents as things that can continually improve. When faced with challenges or potential setbacks, they keep moving forward; looking for new ways to learn and grow through the experience.
The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.Dr. Carol Dweck
Having a growth mindset comes from recognizing that our brain can change! As long as we continue to put new healthy habits in place—even when it comes to our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes—we can rewire our brain for health.
In many ways, this is where the enemy tries to defeat me. He wants my past failures or pain points to define me. He doesn’t want me to have a growth mindset, especially when it comes to my healing. If he can convince me that my past experiences are fixed and I can’t move past them, then I will feel defeated and useless for the kingdom of God.
But, if I cling to Romans 12:2 (which is all about having a growth mindset), and trust God’s ability to transform me into the person He created me to be, then I will be more equipped to handle life’s challenges. Practicing a growth mindset benefits my spiritual and emotional health.
When another person is going through a painful experience or suffering in some way, we are quick to respond to them with care, kindness, and understanding. Without hesitation, we offer grace and compassion to them. But, when this happens to us—when we are struggling with life and circumstances—we are far less likely to show ourselves this same level of compassion. Why is this?
For me, when I’m having a difficult time or struggling in some area, I don’t have any compassion for myself. Instead of talking nice to myself, like I would if I were consoling a close friend, I beat up myself with words. My negative self-talk becomes the only thing I hear. This becomes toxic to my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
I’ve had to learn what self-compassion looks like. In the same way I would respond to my kids when they were going through a tough time, this is one way I’ve learned to show myself compassion.
When my kids were little and fell down and got hurt, I would tell them, “I’m sorry you fell down. This might hurt for a while, but I’ll be here with you.”
When my kids got a bad grade in school, I would tell them, “You’re not your grade. Together, I’m sure we can figure out a better way.”
Even when reeling from a broken heart, I would tell them, “I’m sorry you’re hurting right now. I know God has the perfect person for you; someone who will love you for you.”
Part of learning self-compassion has come from recognizing we all make mistakes. We all fail. We all experience times of physical and emotional pain. We all suffer to some extent. This is part of the human experience. And, when we share in these experiences with others, we have the opportunity to show them love and compassion.
It’s taken hundreds of interactions with people I love for me to learn self-compassion. Don’t get me wrong, I still have days when my critical self-talk and self-judgment invade my thoughts, but as I practice self-compassion, it stabilizes my emotional and mental health.
Resiliency refers to our ability to bounce back from the effects of a negative or stressful experience. It’s about creating consistent healthy behaviors throughout our daily lives, which enable us to cope with crisis situations and recover more quickly.
It might seem strange, but having consistent self-care practices builds resiliency. When we make self-care a priority—getting good sleep, eating well, exercising consistently, spending time in community, and more—it’s proactive. It helps protect our mind and body from experiencing the long-term, negative effects of a crisis situation.
When I’m diligent and practice self-care on a regular basis, it makes me more resilient; equipping me to handle stress or crisis when it occurs. This is good for my overall health.
Through my years spent in personal and group counseling, Pure Desire groups, and other types of Bible study or community groups, it has shaped my view of what health should look like. I now know, it needs to be from a holistic perspective. Making sure to incorporate practices to pursue physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health will help me become my best self.
This doesn’t happen overnight; but through a deliberate and intentional plan. Every day, taking it one step further. Like recognizing when I’m attempting to sidestep an uncomfortable emotion—instead, allowing myself to feel it and make sense of it, and learning a little more about myself in the process.
As I continue to practice these things, my brain grows stronger. I am being proactive and protecting myself from potential harm when life goes sideways. And at some point, it will.
The more I can do today to reinforce a healthy mindset, the better equipped I will be for whatever crisis I face in the future.
What things are you practicing to strengthen your brain and behaviors for better health?
The views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and do not reflect an official position of Pure Desire Ministries, except where expressly stated.