18 Tips for Mental Health in 2018

Here’s a quick list of 18 tips to improve mental health for 2018.

1. Make time for people that bring you joy.

2. Connect regularly with a small group of people who you trust and with whom you can be yourself.

3. Let people know when you are struggling. Let 2018 be the year of vulnerability and truth-telling.

4. Prioritize regular sleep cycles to maximize the restorative power of sleep.

5. Get a check up from the neck up. Ask your doctor for a depression screening.

6. Spend more time in nature and make it a regular part of your week.

7. Get certified in mental health first aid.

8. Engage in face-to-face conversations (or on the phone or FaceTime) with a friend at least once a day.

9. Develop a spiritual practice that helps reduce stress.

10. Move your body in ways that invigorates you and restores a sense of inner balance.

11. Moderate caffeine, sugar and alcohol consumption.

12. Educate yourself and talk to people about mental health as a way to reduce stigma and shame.

13. Commit to seeing a therapist or counselor long-term to strengthen your insight and self awareness.

14. Take your meds.

15. As much as possible, say “no” to the things/people/activities that consistently cause stress.

16. Say “yes” to opportunities where you feel relaxed, playful, rested and will be loved, encouraged and supported.

17. Promise to tell someone who cares about you if you ever feel like harming yourself.

18. Always hold onto hope, even if you have to let go of something.

“The Scream” on Christmas Eve

This Christmas Eve the painting, “The Scream” comes to mind. In “The Scream,” Norwegian Expressionist Edvard Munch depicted a figure who is visibly pained, the person is holding their hands beside their head and apparently screaming. Of course, as viewers of this haunting image we can’t literally hear the iconic scream, but we can imagine that the scream comes from deep within.

For highly sensitive people who feel, hear, think and experience life differently, moments crafted to illicit joy can turn into what seems like an eternity of anguish. As a mother of a highly sensitive child, about five minutes into the Christmas Eve worship service at church, we discovered that the worship service was too loud for him.

The sanctuary pews were packed, extra chairs lined the back wall and outside freshly fallen snow glistened all around. This picture perfect Christmas Eve inspired singing from the gut. Christmas hymns accompanied by the organ and brass quartet filled the sanctuary, reverberating off the walls, creating a festive spirit of joyful celebration and anticipation.

Yet next to me on the pew my child was curled up screaming. Like the Munch figure in the painting, he looked pained, had his hands covering his ears and he was yelling. But I couldn’t hear him. The Trumpets. The Organ. The soprano in front of us in the red and white striped sweater dress. It was all too much. My heart broke. We attended this church regularly and yet this service with all its goodness was not good for my son. While my husband stayed in the sanctuary, I took our son out of church.

Holding his hand, we squeezed through the crowds during the second hymn and ducked out the back and left the worship service through the side door. We found a quiet room with a couch, a green pen and white paper. After some more tears of frustration he quieted down and began drawing. In this room adjacent to the sanctuary we could hear the angels singing, the organ, and the trumpets, yet these sounds were muted. The scream was silenced.

He wanted to go home. My husband and I wanted to stay. So we negotiated that we would re-enter the service for communion and the lighting of the candles at the very end of the worship service. So after 45 minutes of waiting in the room, I heard over the speaker system the pastor’s invitation to the table. And in those words she said that the meal Jesus shared was for all of us.

Part of me felt disappointed and frustrated not to be in the sanctuary for the worship service. Yet I decided to not dwell in resentment or feel sorry for myself, but to turn my energy and focus to my child who needed compassion and support. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder what do other people do who are highly sensitive. I couldn’t help but wonder how, despite our best intentions, to create worship that is more welcoming and inclusive. Why did this worship environment make him scream?

I love my child and I love my church. I love the community of love, justice, hope and peace that church creates. So I find myself this Christmas wondering how we can honor the Christ who comes to us in a highly sensitive child. How can church be a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for us all, especially for children (and all ages) with special needs? Are there churches who have already figured this out and provide family worship experiences that are sensitive to how loud sounds can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and even painful?

Is it fair to ask churches to consider adapting their worship services for the wellbeing of a small minority? I don’t think that the answers are simple or easy. And I don’t think the answer is that kids and families like mine should just stay home and not go to church.

Perhaps as parents we should take more responsibility. We have sound canceling headphones that we bought for this very reason. He has used them in church before. Yet we forgot to bring the headphones because he hasn’t needed them in church for at least a year. We thought he had gotten better. We didn’t think about the brass quartet on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps just as we’ve come to expect health related warnings for flashing lights for people with various health challenges, we could identify services that have a certain threshold for volume level. What if we began to pay attention to this reality in our churches?

We left church after the Christmas Eve worship service was over to find the quiet snow still falling and it was peaceful. At home we made a special dinner, exchanged presents by the Christmas tree, and then sat by the fireplace reading books, doing crossword puzzles and playing with Legos. I was glad for my son’s happiness. He was no longer screaming. All was calm and all was bright. God’s tenderness has arrived again and it is good.

Now it is the day after Christmas and I am already wondering: what about next year? What about the other families like mine?

Testimony of Tears

Sometimes the tears are the testimony. Sometimes the levels of pain are so deep that our words can only convey so much and the tears come. In the silence, the tears speak for us. In the tears, God is made flesh and weeps from within us.

As spiritual communities we find our meaning through the connections and relationships we nurture with each other and with God. Going deeper in our sense of being present to each other in the midst of suffering is part of the power of the testimony of tears. Last week my church held its first Blue Christmas service. The service was born out of a desire to create a space at church during the weeks leading up to Christmas where we could bring all of our tears without apologizing in a season where society commercializes joy.

So we named our tears, we blessed our tears and we called them holy. We named our tears: heartbreak for children who live with mental illness, anger for women who are harassed and abused, and lament for people like Venus who die too young because of our nation’s broken healthcare system that neglects the most vulnerable in society.

We named our tears in the silence. We took salt rocks and collectively placed them in a bowl of water on God’s altar. We witnessed the testimony of tears.

We gave God back our tears. We prayed for God to hear our cries, to hear our testimony and to transform our tears. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God is the potter and we are the clay. God uses our tears to wet the cracked clay vessels that we have become in our brokenness. Because of our tears, we can be restored and reformed. Without our tears, we would dry up and crack apart. God the potter works with our tears, integrating them back into our very being.

The testimony of tears makes possible our healing. No need to be ashamed or embarrassed of the tears. Let the tears flow…for in each tear holds the power of God made flesh. Divine love dwells in the tears. Tears, both hot and messy, are holy and designed for wholeness.

This is the testimony of tears. It is for the healing of children, women and Venus. It is for the healing of the nations.