Mental Health Pt. 3
Thought Management and the Beauty of Sabbath
Before we dive in to more fantastic information and practical application, I want to make one thing clear. You don’t have to tackle your mental health alone. Not only is God’s Spirit and Word available to us, but it’s important to truthfully engage with trustworthy friends and family. We must value relationships as a physical resource for good health. One relationship that may be bountifully valuable is a mental health professional. Talking with a professional therapist is a great addition to prayer, healthy habits, and cultivating strong relationships. It’s time to begin investing in a relationship with a mental health professional if:
You feel as if you’re “stuck” and not moving forward in life
Your internal dialogue is continuously negative
You feel hopeless or meaningless to the point of considering ending your life
The Spirit of God can absolutely work through a mental health professional, and the stigma of “not having enough faith” in response to someone seeking help needs to end. Our thoughts, as explained in Part 2 of this series, are absolutely capable of change. This is because our thoughts exist as physical neurons within our brain. When we purposely think of something, the thought is brought into our consciousness. This means that the thought, rather, the neurons are malleable and capable of change.
Taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) is a physical process. Our thoughts need to be managed and we are the manager. Every situation we are in, whether positive or negative, is processed through our senses and analysed in our brain. The prefrontal cortex analyses the incoming information then the information is sent to the limbic region of the brain (amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus). The limbic brain is also called the “emotional brain,” and that’s because the limbic system assigns emotions to the provided sensory information. The correlating emotion (freeze, fly, or flight) will then carry out necessary body functions. Those physical body responses happen when the assigned emotion is sent from the emotional brain back up to the prefrontal cortex.
If someone jumps out from behind a door and scares you, you have very little control over your response. However, our thoughts and emotional responses can be managed. The brain loves patterns and small amounts of serotonin are released when the brain discovers a pattern and can routinely fire neurons instead of formulating new connections. The more a pattern is repeated the stronger the neural connection, which is why habits, addiction, and negative thoughts are so hard to break. It’s hard, but not impossible. Bringing a thought into our consciousness is like putting it on a potter’s wheel. The thought can stay as it is or it has the chance to change structure. It takes 21 days for the proteins of ‘thoughts’ to be changed, and 63 days for potential energy to reach actualization of autonomic response.
Let’s say you have the bad habit of calling yourself ‘stupid.’ Everytime you make a small mistake, your senses perceive the situation and your limbic systems assigns the emotions of embarrassment, failure, and fear. Those emotions are identified by your consciousness as being stupid. To change that automatic response, you first must own the bad habit and determine that it’s not the response you want to have. Purposefully identifying your bad habit, thinking about it, makes it changeable. Now, replace it with the opposite - “I’m human, capable of making mistakes and growing from those mistakes.” Now everytime you make a mistake and you think ‘i’m stupid” make the conscious effort to re-shape that thought. It will take 63 days of intentional thought to create an automatic response.
Hopefully, this information is comforting, but, for some, it may seem overwhelming. Stress, trauma, and years of bad habits can leave us overrun by negativity. Salvation is described as the “helmet” within the Armor of God. Salvation offers us protection within our mindsets. Healing takes time, and God is aware of that healing process because He created it! While we make conscious efforts to be healthy, the truth of God’s Word and Christ’s Salvation protects our minds. “Contemplating God actually reduces stress, which in turn prevents the deterioration of dendrites (neurons) and increases neuroplasticity,” says neuroscientist Andrew Newberg.
Salvation allows our brain to keep working at renewal. God is not ignorant of our struggles or the limitations of our physical reality. He also did not create us to bypass His Word when it comes to healing. This is why the Apostle Paul writes, ‘taking thoughts captive to obey Christ.” Mental Health, perfect and abundant health, is equivalent to obeying the Word of God. Perfectly obeying the entirety of scripture by controlling our every thought and emotion is daunting. Honestly, it makes me want to run for the hills. In Exodus 16:29, the Lord gives the Israelites a Sabbath - a day of atonement or redemption; ‘This is the day, you sit still and let me be God. This is the day you remember how I brought you out of Egypt. This is the day you simply receive from me and witness my saving power.’
Sabbath (atonement) gives us access to true rest. Rest from striving to be perfect, rest from worrying about if we are good enough, and rest from placing all the weight of our health solely on ourselves. Jesus, in Matthew 12:8, calls Himself ‘Lord of the Sabbath,’ meaning Jesus has all earthly authority over the outworking of God’s redemption. So those in Christ, receiving Salvation through faith in Jesus, have peace in knowing that no effort to take thoughts ‘captive to obey Christ’ is done in vain. We have the responsibility of consciously managing our thoughts (Deuteronomy 30:19), but we press on to know Christ because that is mature and healthy thinking (Philippians 3:10-15).
This article was adapted from A Joy Unequaled. All Rights Reserved.
Mind Aglow: Scientists Watch Thoughts Form in the Brain by Scientific American, 2016
Molecules of Emotion by Caroline Pert, Ph.D.
Get More Power from Your Brain by Eileen Pease
Think, Learn, Succeed by Dr. Caroline Leaf