Arming Yourself Against Depression: Down Time

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While a healthy body isn’t absolutely essential for a healthy mind, it certainly helps. Many people have been cured of minor depression by taking brisk walks, getting more sleep, and switching to a healthier diet. Remember that when Elijah was down in the dumps and devaluing everything he had accomplished, the first things God gave him were food and a nap.

Naps, and vacations, and days off that are truly days of rest, are frequently scorned in our culture. Have you seen the comic strip (there are dozens of versions) where a kid spends the first 90 percent of panels working or playing hard; then, as he finally settles down for a break, some adult happens by and mutters, “kids are so lazy today, they just lounge around doing nothing”? That’s an apt picture of our societal attitude toward down time: prejudged worthless even in small doses. And if the kids get dirty looks, adults who dare to be seen relaxing may be risking their reputations or even their jobs.

But what does God say about down time? First, He definitely does not condone laziness:

  • “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber” (Proverbs 6:6-11).
  • Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4).
  • “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the [Father] who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work” (John 9:4).
  • “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12:11).
  • “If [people receive easy welfare when they could provide for themselves], they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t” (1 Timothy 5:13).

Yet neither does God want us to spend all our time frantically striving to accomplish more and more–even in His service. Before any of the above Scriptures were written, He gave the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” In Moses’s time, working on holy days was unhealthy in more ways than one: it was considered an act of serious disrespect to God, bordering on blasphemy and punishable by death (cf. Numbers 15:32-36).

Significantly, the Scriptural commands against laziness were given to people who were relatively well off and tempted to take down time for granted, while the original Sabbath commandment was given to people who had just escaped a slavery-driven society where labor-free days were virtually non-existent. Work and rest are both good things you can get too much of. We who take freedom of opportunity for granted can enslave ourselves to fear of lost opportunities, always “doing” and “doing” lest success get permanently ahead of us (and awareness of our own limitations catch up with us). In fact, incorporating down time to reduce “I can never do enough” pressure may initially make us feel more depressed–like the person who decides to quit drug addiction and can look forward to being seriously sick for several days before the worst of the dependence is out of her system and she gets on the road to feeling permanently better. Constant motion is an addiction to the “high” of accomplishing tangible things and to the pride that tells us we can be like God.

If you’re already exhausted and miserable and can’t remember the last down time you had aside from nightly sleep, try reserving your next few Sundays for true Sabbath time. Eliminate all chores and screen time. Take a long walk or a nap. Get in an extra hour of prayer. Listen to worship music. Share this commitment with as many of your family and friends who will join you, and don’t quit after the first time when you feel you’re going to freak out. After a month or two, you’ll be surprised how much closer you’re drawn to God (and others), and how much less stressful and depressing you find life overall. You will be truly blessed!

And with that, I take my own advice and put aside blogging for a month to get some extra down time. See you again on August 2!

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Adapting Stress Management to Your Natural Bent

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Have you ever wished that disability-accommodation laws provided better for people with emotional and autism disorders that make frustration (even) harder to bear? Wouldn’t it be nice to have special checkout lines that guaranteed exemption from long waits, special customer service connections that fixed every glitch within five minutes, special cars that flew over blocked traffic?

Okay, I’m being a dreamer, and perhaps belittling the role of hardship in nurturing Christian growth. But some of us do have lower stress-endurance levels than average, and while you don’t have the right to always get your own way because of that, neither should you berate yourself for not being able to take the same level of stress as the person in the next apartment/cubicle/pew.

If we believe in God’s grace to accept us despite our weaknesses, we should also accept ourselves and work with those weaknesses, not against them. Part of Christian responsibility is being good to ourselves so we’ll be in good condition to do good works.

If you want to minimize your stress to ensure maximum personal effectiveness, plan your day/week/career/long-term goals with the following questions in mind:

  • Have I had any meltdowns or near-meltdowns in the past six months? If so, consider the circumstances that led to the meltdown (not just the incident that set you off, but whether you were already overstimulated or, conversely, bored), and plan on avoiding those circumstances in the future. This may mean shortening your to-do list, leaving more margin between appointments, asking for work that’s more creative/stimulating, or staying out of gripe sessions and associating with cheerful people. Or it may mean modifying your own expectations: no improvement or adjustment will ever satisfy you if you cling to “I have to be perfect” or “everything has to go right” attitudes.
  • Am I an introvert or an extrovert? If an introvert, put at least two hours of “alone time” in your daily schedule–and try not to work in customer service. If you’re an extrovert, reenergize yourself daily through work and leisure activities that involve lots of stimulation and human contact.
  • Do I prefer working by the task or by the hour? Arrange your schedule to accommodate these tendencies. Even if you’re a by-the-task type working a fixed-hours job, you can take your breaks at natural stopping points. And few employers object to your staying fifteen minutes past quitting time to finish up a task!
  • Would I describe my temperament as melancholy, easygoing, get-things-done, or bright-and-sunny? If you have a low-key temperament, keep your tasks list small and slow–you’ll make up for a lack of quantity with an increase in quality. If you’re the driven, high-energy type, stimulate yourself with a long, challenging to-do list. Whatever your temperament, work with it instead of trying to force yourself into a mold that suits someone else (and feeling guilty when you just don’t fit). And never, ever nag a “weaker brother,” or anyone with a different temperament, to become more like you–that only leaves two people stressed, angry, and frustrated.

Finally, feel free to pick, choose, and test stress-management tips from the experts according to what appeals to you. Not everyone is made for aerobic exercise and yoga, hot baths and social activities, protein-rich meals and herbal tea. Above all else, don’t copy anyone else’s approach just because that “someone else” seems to have it all together: God created you as a unique individual with unique responses, and it will only increase your frustration if you expect any guarantee of becoming “just like” anyone else. Besides, most people have stress issues you can’t see. That acquaintance who “has it all together” may be falling apart inside–and perhaps needs support you can deliver once you calm down and rediscover your effectiveness.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be released this spring. Join the 100 Ways email list for up-to-date news, special offers, and teaser optimism tips!

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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