It is God’s good plan that I have struggled with depression for most of my adult life. I’m confessing this because I want you to know that I consider myself somewhat of a “pro” when it comes to dealing with chronic depression. Not something I would have chosen to be good at but I trust the one who chose it for me. When I say I’m good at it I don’t mean I’m always victorious in the battle, just that I have been exposed to the battle so many times that I have learned a lot about what helps and what makes it worse.
Maybe you have struggled with chronic depression for years, or, maybe you are new to the club. Either way, today I will share with you some things I have found over the years to be very helpful in managing my own depression and even alleviating some of the pain. My hope is that my struggle will ultimately be a blessing to you today as you search for some relief.
Accept this season
One of the first things you can do to alleviate some of the pain of depression is to move towards accepting it as your current reality. Denying or avoiding it will only make it worse. Getting angry that this is happening to you while others seem to effortlessly breeze through life with a smile won’t help because you may not be in the same season as the person next to you, and that’s OK. Accepting your season is important because you may need to adjust some of your choices and responses accordingly.
This is a hard one. I believe my depression stems from a couple of different medical problems I currently have. So it’s easy to think it’s not my fault because well, it’s not entirely my fault. The truth is no matter how dark or how low depression can get, we still choose how we respond. The choices we make can descend us lower into that darkness or can help us to manage our depression in a God honoring way.
Fight for joy by fighting sin
John Piper said that “Fighting sin is the pursuit of joy.” Sometimes our depression is a direct result of sin and sometimes it’s not. Either way, when we are feeling especially down it’s good to examine ourselves and see where we might be in sin. If there is a sin you are enjoying as part of your lifestyle, it is making your depression worse. It’s stealing your joy every day you continue in it. Are you in a conflict that is making you bitter? Is there a sin issue that God keeps bringing to your mind that you keep putting off? Getting right with God and man will bring you some relief. More importantly, you will be honoring God and showing Christ to those around you.
God is for you
It’s important to remember that while getting rid of sin in your life will often alleviate some of the pain, it will not make God accept you more. Philippians 3:8-9 explains that we are found in Him not because of our own righteousness from the law (our own effort) but from faith that is found through the righteousness of Christ.
If we focus on our own efforts as a way to make God love or accept us more, we will spiral deeper into our depression. If we focus on law keeping as a way to be righteous with God, we will lose hope, because we can not keep the law all of the time. We just can’t.
When you are at your lowest, don’t listen to the accusations that God doesn’t love you and you are not accepted by Him. If you are His child, nothing can keep you from His love (Romans 8:38-39)! Obeying God should come from a love and appreciation for all He has done for us. We obey Him because we trust that His way is best, not to earn His love or acceptance. That is a free gift!
It’s tempting to think that the more we accomplish in life the better we are. The problem is, we can’t always keep up with everything we want to do. Doing more does not always mean doing better, especially if you are suffering from chronic depression. We may need to cut things back to the basics. We need to establish what our priorities are and which ones would honor God the most to focus on. We need to be brave enough to cut out things that get in the way of those priorities, even if that means a blow to our pride. If this is a chronic struggle for you, take that into consideration as you schedule your days and your life.
You can improve your symptoms of depression by getting more sleep at night or take time out during your day to do something that will bring peace. Instead of scrolling through social media or the news, read a Psalm or listen to worship music. Make choices that will bring peace to your life instead of ones that temporarily distract you but create stress in the long run. It might feel good to watch hours of Netflix or to listen to sad songs alone in your room, but this isn’t true rest, it will make things worse in the long run.
Consider your health
Countless studies have shown the positive impact diet and exercise have on depression. Eating healthy and exercising are hard to do, but it’s part of those daily choices that make things better or worse (see my blog post on How to Make Your Life Easier) . My Pastor, Dr Kevin Carson, is going through Philippians right now and has been encouraging us to focus on having sacrificial love for others (Philippians 2:1-4). Yes, it is a sacrifice not to eat anything we want. It is a sacrifice to make time to exercise, but consider these kinds of sacrifices as avenues to love others in your life better. It’s a way to esteem others better than ourselves.
Ask for Help
My last tip for you to alleviate some of the pain of chronic depression is this: Ask for help. I know everything in you is screaming that you can do this on your own. You can’t. At least you shouldn’t have to. I know it feels like you are a burden but you may be God’s grace in someone else’s life. I have felt like a burden to others at times but the truth is God can use my struggle as an opportunity for others around me to love and serve like Christ did. It can be extremely humbling to depend on others, but your depression is a a tool in the potters hands. He is using it for your good and His glory. He is also using it for the good of others around you as they glorify Him by serving you in love. Trust this as you ask for help from your family, your friends and your church.
I know chronic depression can be a hard road to travel, but it is part of our journey! It’s good because, without a doubt, God is using it as a tool to make us who he wants us to be. He is using it to make us more like Christ and ultimately to be able to better serve those around us. As we learn and grow through this struggle, Biblical principles can help us to manage it more effectively. The choices we make everyday can send us deeper down that spiral of depression or they can be the next step back up to a joyful life of serving God and others. Don’t give up! God is using this struggle! You can learn through His Word how to live with it and manage it if He chooses this path for you.