Why Can't I Just Be OK?

Why Can't I Just Be OK?

A holiday mental health discussion with Barnabas Center’s Curt Meiss

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“I think there’s gonna be a lot of grief during this holiday season because whenever there is change, there is loss, and whenever there is loss, there is grief.”

Curt Meiss, Director of Counseling at Peoria Rescue Ministry’s Barnabas Center, makes the issue many will face during the upcoming holidays very easy to understand. At the core, it’s about how humans handle grief. Or, in some cases, how they don’t.

This year as Christmas dinners are on tables, and worship services celebrate the birth of Jesus, a loss will be on the hearts of many people. This time of celebration promises them heartache, from the mildest loss seen in the absence of a loved one who didn’t feel safe traveling to the permanently vacant chair of one who has passed away.

“There have been so many changes during COVID, and a lot of people have lost loved ones, or people have been compromised because of COVID or other life events. So grief is real, and it’s more prevalent around the holiday time because you feel that loss more acutely during that time.”

Meiss explained what loss looks like more fully and based it around four different perspectives of how human beings function.

“I just like to sort through the four different ways God made us, physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually, and think about how it impacts people and what they can do.”

Struggling? Need help?

If you find yourself struggling during the holiday, we invite you to reach out to us at the Barnabas Center. Our counselors would be glad to help you. If your need is a little more urgent, we recommend you contact your local emergency services.

Whether due to death of a loved one, or distance that can only be bridged through technology, many will struggle through the approaching holidays.

While it may surprise some that a biblical counselor would offer such an extensive overview of mental health, Meiss says the counseling staff at the Barnabas Center strive to approach biblical counseling with clinical excellence. He begins with a look at the environmental surroundings of those experiencing holiday depression.

“Physically, as we move into the holiday season, the weather turns bad,” he explains. “It’s harder to get outside, move around, and exercise. So I really emphasize finding some time, whether it’s a workout video or walking indoors somewhere. Finding a way to exercise that is not weather-dependent is going to be really important.”

Meiss believes the health of the body works closely with one’s mental health. This tie includes being more susceptible to contract seasonal illnesses such as a common cold or flu. According to Meiss, people experiencing grief should not overlook something as simple as bolstering a self-care regimen with proper nutrition and vitamin support. Something as innocuous as Vitamin D, a vitamin made in your skin after exposure to sunlight, is very significant.

“Vitamin D helps our immune system,” he emphasizes. “So another thing on the physical side is to start taking a Vitamin D supplement in the times when there’s not as much sunlight. You’re not going to be outside as much.”

“Sometimes when there is less sunlight,” he continues, “there is a real thing called Seasonal Affective Disorder that some people just naturally feel down. That can negatively flavor our thoughts.” People affected by SAD report feelings of hopelessness, irritability, low energy, loss of interest or pleasure, appetite changes, and sleep disturbances sometimes lasting from October through to April. However, some people don’t begin to return to their normal until May. Increasingly experiencing these symptoms may warrant concern if they grow persistent and coping with them becomes difficult.

Struggling? Need help?

If you find yourself struggling during the holiday, we invite you to reach out to us at the Barnabas Center. Our counselors would be glad to help you. If your need is a little more urgent, we recommend you contact your local emergency services.

What Was I Thinking?

Proper self-care and even cognitive behavioral therapy can be essential treatment tools regardless of whether a person has only a lingering case of the blues, is experiencing somewhat more serious depression, or is struggling to process trauma.

It all begins with how a person thinks.
“On the psychological side,” says Meiss, “just being mindful of our thoughts is helpful. We can’t control the automatic thoughts that pop into our heads. But after they pop into our head, we can start to notice them, evaluate them for whether they’re in line with God’s truth or whether Satan’s lies might influence them. We tend to go to all-or-nothing thinking when we’re struggling with grief and loss.”

Black and white thinking and catastrophizing are more common than many of us believe. As the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “taking each thought captive and making it obedient to Christ” is a way to battle these psychologically related holiday issues by bringing them to the truth.

“I think it’s all about being transformed by the renewing of our minds,” says Meiss. “Having regular, proactive times with the Lord, times that we’re meditating on the word, times that we’re in prayer and cultivating thankfulness. It’s going to have an insulating effect when Satan tries to attack us with his lies and negative thoughts.”

Humans are usually social creatures. To some degree, individuals tend to thrive in a community more than in isolation, whether they are extroverted or not. When one is struggling with difficult emotions such as pain, loss, grief, or depression, leaning on a solid network can be vital in bringing the keel of life back even.

Meiss emphasizes a social regimen that puts a premium on healthy relationships.

“It’s a time to be more intentional, to reach out in healthy relationships,” Meiss points out. He specifically focuses on the significance of healthy church families. If a person finds themselves without one, he also had a recommendation for that.

“If you don’t have a church family, it’s a great time to step out in faith and research. There’s plenty of information on the internet regarding finding a church, finding out what churches are about, looking at connections you already have with people. Maybe one of your acquaintances or family members is already in a healthy church.”

“But please,” he concluded, “get connected with a healthy church.”

Once connected, a person needs to find a community within that church. If the church is small enough, it may function as a small group in and of itself. Larger churches often have small groups specific to hobbies or things the group members share in common. Trauma and depression-related ministries are included in those commonalities. Finding one’s place within the small group is a matter of being able to be vulnerable with the other group members. Meiss believes that looks different for most people, as comfort levels can vary from individual to individual.

The key elements to seek are a willingness to follow Jesus and support one another in prayer, opening up about grief or loss. Even discussing conflict within one’s family can be a focus of small group ministry.

“Having people pray for and care for you,” explains Meiss, “that’s going to be important for the social side of things.

During the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, Americans consume twice as much alcohol as any other time. The risks of alcohol dependency during this period are increased exponentially.

Struggling? Need help?

If you find yourself struggling during the holiday, we invite you to reach out to us at the Barnabas Center. Our counselors would be glad to help you. If your need is a little more urgent, we recommend you contact your local emergency services.

Spiritual wholeness

As Meiss moves the conversation to the spiritual aspect of holiday funk, grief, and depression, he begins at the beginning.

“Spiritually, connecting with God, of course, is the most important.”

He feels it’s vital to confront unresolved things beginning with God. Where unforgiveness or unresolved conflict exists, taking them up with God is often the beginning of the process of healing. Much of this happens through experiencing God’s presence in biblical lament.
“The language of lament is what a lot of the Psalms are about,” he says. “We look to Jeremiah. We look to a lot of different books of the Bible. Lament is just being very open and honest about our heartache and our complaint about the brokenness of this world and taking that to the Lord so he can hear us and care for us.”

Some other spiritual practices mentioned by Meiss include cultivating a thankful heart, praying for others, and serving others. Psalm 103 begins with “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Humans are designed to direct our praise and thankfulness to God, even though this is more difficult during seasons of grief.

Another vulnerable group to keep an eye on are children and youth. Regular check-ins with your child are necessary to keep tabs on any mood changes, and know when finding a qualified counselor might be needed.

Meiss explained, “I would recommend setting aside a few minutes each day to praise the attributes of God and thank Him for specific blessings. Philippians 2:4-5 reminds us, ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.’

During down times, he says the desire Satan has is for Christians to exclusively focus on themselves as opposed to remembering to pray for others.

“God receives glory and you will be blessed,” Meiss elaborates, “as you whisper a prayer, send a card, prepare a meal, or call/text some words of encouragement to someone who is facing struggles of their own.”

In the end, Meiss feels a whole-person treatment approach to holiday funk, depression, or grief is necessary. Knowing when to seek a greater degree of mental health assistance can be as simple as being open about what we’re experiencing with people we trust. In the end, the goal God has in mind for his creation is often to make the journey through the pain and come out on the other side with a peace that will live into the lives of others. Through much of the holiday grief processing humans do in bringing burdens before God, His voice echoes back to them.

As he sums it up, “He can speak back his comfort, wisdom, and truth that would address what’s on our hearts.”

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