Sleep

by Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA


Babies love it. Toddlers fight it. College students belittle it. Working adults covet it. It improves memory, lowers stress, combats disease and increases longevity. S L E E P – we should approach it as if our lives depend on it—because they do. 

Jesus himself, embracing his humanity — body, heart, mind, and will — closed his eyes and went to sleep. And not once or twice, but every day.

Of his thirty-plus years living here on earth, Jesus spent roughly one-third of that time asleep. He not only ate, drank, cried, and celebrated like every other human, but he also became tired, “…wearied as he was from his journey…” (John 4:6, English Standard Version), just as we become tired and weary. 

For many of us today, the most God-honoring act of trust we can do is get some sleep. The problem is that we can’t always control it, and when we can’t sleep it seems to affect everything else. Sleep impacts our physical health, emotional health, immune system, energy levels, decision making and critical thinking skills, motivation, ability to focus, job performance, relationships, and even our spiritual health. 

There are many different reasons why sleep might be difficult. Lack of sleep could be caused by medical disorders such as thyroid or kidney problems. Different lifestyle habits can cause sleep problems including too many caffeinated beverages, drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day, increased amount of screen time, and eating only one meal a day. Both depression and anxiety can effect sleep. Stress and anxiety are actually the most common causes for sleepless nights. In fact, research suggests that there was a 37% increase in the rates of difficulty sleeping due to stress from the COVID pandemic this past year (Carrier & Morin, 2020). 

While we can’t always control the circumstances that affect our sleep, there are some helpful practices that can lead to better sleep. 

1. Use the bed only for sleeping. Oftentimes we lay on our bed and scroll on social media, watch TV, or even work. Doing this, however, trains your body that the bed is not exclusively for sleep. Lying in bed several hours after you wake up has actually been proven to disturb your sleeping routine. Try cutting down time in bed, allowing your body to know your bed is only a place for sleep. 

2. Plan to go to bed and wake up at a regular time. Statistically speaking, you’re likely not in the group of people who can get away with little sleep (looking at you, college students!). The amount of sleep we need is largely due to our genetic makeup or season of life. Being consistent with your sleep schedule helps get your body in a rhythm of going to sleep and waking up. Even when you do go to sleep late, don’t compensate by waking up later than usual. 

3. Write down your worries and thoughts before bed. Those of us who struggle to sleep because of anxiety or depression might benefit from this the most. Journaling your thoughts and worries before you go to bed allows you to get them out of your head and onto the page. Give yourself permission to leave those things in the notebook while you go to sleep. 

4. Find ways to calm your body and mind. Stretching before bed or low intensity yoga actually calms both the body and the mind, allowing it to fall asleep easier at night. Counting from 100 backwards, imagining a place that feels peaceful and calm as you’re in bed, taking slow, deep breaths, or doing check ins on all areas of your body for stress and tension can all be ways to help your body relax. 

References

Carrier, J. Morin, C.M. (2020) The acute effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on insomnia and psychological symptomsSleepMed. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2020.06.005

Hauri, P., Linde, S. (1996). No More Sleepless Nights. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 


Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA

Happy and Hope-filled New Years 2021

by Pam Nettles, LCMHC


As I awake this morning, it is now New Year’s Day 2021. I look out my window and it is dreary and rainy; I don’t see the beautiful colors of the sunrises I’ve seen in the last several weeks. I am reminded that I, like many others, wanted to say good riddance to 2020, welcome the new year with a fresh sense of hope, but the turn of the calendar hasn’t automatically changed the circumstances.  While the circumstances might not change, I can change the manner in which I view them.  I can look back on 2020 and remember the scary, unprecedented events of the year; or, I can look for the blessings and/or the growth I’ve made.  

Simply put, I can look at this morning as a dreary, rainy day that has spoiled my plans to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air; or, I can view this morning as a relaxing, quiet morning in which I slept later than usual and woke to the comforting sound of the gentle pitter patter of rain.  I can enjoy the brilliance of the Christmas lights I still have decorating my house (no judgement please, lol).  I can look at the holiday season and wallow in sadness that my entire family made the difficult decision not to be together; or, I can be thankful that my family is healthy and we’ve enjoyed many phone calls, exchanged texts with funny memes and prayer requests, and gathered together via Zoom.


I can look at 2020 and all the problems many have experienced (Covid-19, political and civil unrest, financial and health issues) with despair, fear and anxiety; or, I can view it as a time when I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that ultimately, I am making the choice to rest in God’s promises and blessings; He is good, sovereign and my sole security despite the circumstances.  I am learning to give up my plans, and choosing to be flexible and resilient; to be open to the opportunities God is giving me each day.


So, in 2021, you also can choose to reframe your view of difficult circumstances. As scripture says,  “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19, New International Version)


Maybe the new thing is reaching out to others who are hurting with a card, meal, or even sending an encouraging text and truly committing to pray for them.  Maybe the new thing is praying for our leaders, that God would give them wisdom and discernment, even if you don’t agree with their platforms. Maybe the new thing is choosing to forgive someone who has hurt you deeply, rather than holding on to bitterness and resentment.  Maybe the new thing is identifying a scripture, biblical promise or word that you use to anchor your thoughts and decisions this upcoming year.  Maybe the new thing is allowing God to stir your heart and mind; to be open to growth, change and new possibilities.


In 2021, I pray that  God would soften your heart and mine; we will look for the opportunity for revival rather than despair; that you and I, can be salt and light in a season of darkness for our world.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me- put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9, NIV)


“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)


“You are the salt of the earth.   But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it give light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)


“People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.  We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.  He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:16-19, NIV)


Pam Nettles, LCMHC

Stronghold

by Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC


Stronghold. It sounds like such a complicated word! But, what is a stronghold?

A stronghold is simply anything that has a strong…hold. Anything that hinders us spiritually, emotionally, or relationally. 

A stronghold can be what we perceive to be big or small. It can be a temptation, a disorder, an addiction, or even just a hang-up of sorts. (drug addiction, lust, emotional connection with someone not your spouse, eating disorder, overspending, pride, cutting, compulsive eating, social media addiction, pornography, stealing, lying, unforgiveness, gossip, self-loathing, occult involvement, etc…) Sometimes it begins with an act of rebellion that becomes an unintended pattern. Something that eventually has control of us. Other times, it is something that begins as a coping skill during a tough season of life, and then unintentionally grows to a more significant attachment. A stronghold is generally something we feel we must hide. It is a tool the enemy presents as an enticing substitute for attachment or dependence on God. Sometimes it’s such a familiar part of our lives that we don’t even realize it is a stronghold. The bottom line – no one ever sets out to have a stronghold. 

How do we respond when we recognize a stronghold in our life? Let me guide you through an exercise this might help you get started:

Take a moment to look within. Is there something in your life that stands between you and God? That affects your personal relationships? That impacts the way you see yourself? That causes you shame? That controls you more than you’d like to admit?

  1. Give that stronghold a name. Call it what it is. No sugar coating. No exaggerating. No minimizing. Write down the name you have given your stronghold.
  1. Contemplate what that stronghold has cost you? What has it taken from you? How has it robbed you? How would your life be like without it? How would relationships be different? Your finances? Your emotional stability? Your job? Your parenting? Your health? Your spiritual life? Your family? 

Take a few moments and write out what this stronghold has cost you. Look over your list. What do you feel? 

  1. Execute your authority! Let those negative emotions do their fueling, and then put the enemy in his place. You are an heir with Christ. You have access to the same power that raised Christ from the dead, but the enemy is causing you to be a slave to an unworthy master! Have no more of it! Proclaim God to be your stronghold when you find yourself in the grips of a false stronghold. 

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1 (New International Version)

If you are overcome by a stronghold, don’t give up! Reach out for help, and commit to walking away from the destructive effects of this unintended attachment. 


Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor and a Board-certified Professional Christian Counselor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse. 

Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.  

Ghost Fruit

by Lori Heagney, LCMHC


I recently saw the most stunning image while looking online at some nature photos. Hanging from the frozen branch of a tree was a spectacular crystal apple. The farmer called it a “ghost apple.” It had been formed during a polar vortex as freezing rain coated a rotting apple, creating a solid shell of ice. Since the rotting fruit on the inside had a lower freezing point than the outside temperature, it slipped out like applesauce leaving behind a ghostly replica of its former self (see image here: https://images.app.goo.gl/ZHTbVKrnSjVipM8P6).

I thought of this as a perfect metaphor for how we attempt to develop the fruit of the Spirit talked about in the book of Galations. As followers of Christ we undergo the lifelong process of sanctification and the Lord works through the Holy Spirit to produce His “fruit” in our lives. I have found that all too often we forget that this is a cooperative effort. In a rush for it to happen we take matters into our own hands and end up projecting a ghostly image of something that is not truly a product of the Spirit, but rather something we produce ourselves. 

Our fruit can be dazzling and often gain much attention from those around us, just as this image captured the attention of thousands of viewers on the internet. This is dangerous in many ways. Pride can take root when we take credit for our own accomplishments. We can also lead other believers astray by showing them a counterfeit image rather than the true work of the Spirit, and that fruit is never as sweet. 

As stunning as the representation may be, unless it is the real thing it’s important to remember that on the inside there is nothing but an empty shell produced by rotting fruit that slipped away during the ice storms of life. Unless the Holy Spirit produces the fruit, it will not last. 

So how is it possible to produce lasting fruit? Let’s go over a few steps to help us get there.

Fruit not Fruits: Galatians 5:22-23 (New King James Version) tells us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Note that the noun fruit is not plural, but rather collective. We are not talking about a fruit-salad, but rather a whole group representing a singular entity; traits of the Spirit Himself. It is easy to fall into the trap of favoring one fruit over another; being selective about what fruit we want to possess (kindness) and which ones we don’t (longsuffering). Have you ever found that it is easy to embrace and take credit for the fruit that comes more naturally to your own nature, and perhaps judge others who do not seem to possess that same trait in themselves? God has called us to produce all of His qualities and not just some of them. We can’t pick and choose the ones that suit us and fully represent His character in full.

Connection: Just as it is with apples, in order to produce fruit, we must be connected with our source of sustenance. In John 15:4-5 (NKJV) Jesus said, Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

Google defines connection as, “a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.” In order to bear the image of our Lord and Savior, we must stay connected to Him through the Holy Spirit. Just as a cut off branch cannot produce fruit, neither can we if we do not stay connected with our Source. 

Spending intentional time with a person helps us get to know them. We learn about their hopes and dreams and we share our own with them. In doing so it helps develop the relationship and it grows. Often we take on characteristics and develop similar interests with those we hang out with. When we spend time with the Lord through worship, in His word, and by talking with Him in prayer, we accomplish the same. By learning about His characteristics, His heart, and His way of doing things, we develop the fruits of His Spirit in us. 

Abide: According to Google, abide means to “go along with” or “fall in with.” This word speaks of a cooperative process, rather than an instantaneous event. The word of God has the power to transform us, but it takes time. We need to participate and allow time for God’s word to be planted firmly in us, to hear it and then do what it says.  The fruit of the Spirit grows from our cooperative response/reaction to our circumstances and the people He puts on our path. We cannot develop patience by avoiding trying activities/people any more than we can develop love by responding with hatred. As we fully submit ourselves to God and His way of accomplishing His will in our life, good fruit will inevitably be the outcome. 

It is important to remember that growing spiritual fruit takes time, so take a deep breath, give yourself grace and relax into the process. The apple doesn’t tug on the tree to make itself grow; it just stays connected and it happens. A crystal apple may be beautiful, but in the end, it’s just a ghost and we all know that ghosts aren’t real!  : )

*This blog is dedicated to my brave client (you know who you are!) who has embraced this concept, helped me develop this metaphor, and is allowing the Holy Spirit to grow her into the woman He created her to be, day by day! 

References:

https://www.indiatimes.com/trending/wtf/thanks-to-polar-vortex-people-are-now-surrounded-by-transparent-round-ghost-apples-on-trees-362164.html

https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2019/02/ghost-apples/

https://www.google.com


Lori Heagney, LCMHC

Psychological Resilience

by Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC


COVID-19. Riots. Sex trafficking. Racial tensions. Political divisions. These are universal stressors, resulting in an extensive rise in psychological and emotional struggles. Anxiety is as prevalent as the common cold, and substance use has never been at such an incredibly high level. Many are hurting. Schools are closed. Businesses are shut down. Deaths are memorialized in isolation. We are living in an historic time. A time that has invited untold global suffering and anguish. We are crawling wounded, and we have to learn how to get back up and start living again. Resilience is essential!

Several years ago, I began to think very deeply about the development of resilience. At that particular time, I was seeing more trauma and suffering in my clinical practice than ever before. Hour after hour, and day after day, I was introduced to beautiful people who had endured unearned, unwelcomed, and unthinkable trauma. I began to notice that there was a difference between those who suffered and got stuck, and those who moved through their suffering and came back stronger. I had no idea, during that pre-pandemic time, how vital those discoveries would be. Who knew that resilience would be a global need!

It is true that in order to have resilience, you have to have some hardship from which to bounce back. There must be some trial of life. There must be a vulnerability. Pain is an essential ingredient of resilience. Why? Because resilience is not something that you are given. Resilience is earned and developed. Consider Paul’s words, as recorded in Romans 5: 3-5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (New International Version) Also powerful are the words recorded in James 1: 2-4, Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Our pain never has to end with suffering, because resilience is God’s creative idea. Resilience is His territory, therefore our hopes of bouncing back following a painful season are entirely dependent on our cooperation with the Author of our resilience!

Consider some of the ingredients that may make a person vulnerable to psychological distress: isolation, desperation, oppression, and uncertainty. Sounds like our recent global experience, doesn’t it? COVID has shut down our businesses and our schools. Interactions have been reliant on technology, absent of face-to-face contact, creating unprecedented isolation. Business closures and lay-offs have been born out of the shut-down of the economy, creating financial desperation. The unpredictability of a novel virus has created a landing place for anxiety, and sometimes crippling fear. Riots in cities, and tensions among races have both exposed, and created, oppression. The dependence on social media for meaningful relationships has invited comparisons triggering insecurities. Additionally, the toxic political climate in the world of social media has many feeling additionally disillusioned and discouraged. Many places of worship have shut down, and the meaningful social and faith supports that have sustained many individuals and families in previous challenges of life have not been readily available. Making matters worse, a rampant false theology of suffering has created a crisis of faith for many. Because we’ve been largely insulated from suffering, and able to live lives of relative comfort, we have forgotten that struggles and trials represent expected seasons of human existence (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Most individuals, of all ages, stages, ethnicities, and socio-economic statuses, are impacted psychologically in some manner by our current season. Most individuals are, at minimum, experiencing heightened angst. Sadly, many feel crushed by the weight of this multi-faceted and oppressive season of life, as evidenced by increased rates of substance use, domestic violence, and suicide. It’s so easy to get stuck when we are in pain. Indeed, resilience is in high demand! 

So how do we bounce back? Let’s have some practical discussion about how to move through this season of suffering and come back stronger. It’s a strategy that we all need! Let’s first be clear: resilience doesn’t require that our circumstances be entirely resolved. As believers, we know that the sufferings of life are normal, and often inescapable. Avoiding pain is not an option, and gratefully it is not a requirement for resilience. But we do want to minimize any unnecessary sufferings, and begin to develop the muscle of resilience, which increases our ability to tolerate, and adapt to, the inevitable uncertainties and discomforts of life. 

There are numerous significant aspects to developing resilience, which I cover in great detail in the book, Becoming Resilient: How to Move Through Suffering and Come Back Stronger. Due to the limitations of this article, I will cover just a few recommendations for developing resilience, and encourage you to reference the book for a more thorough overview regarding this critical topic.

It is foundational to first identify that resilience is fully dependent on our use of coping skills. Each of us use coping skills every day. Whether toxic or healthy, these coping skills in which we historically rely allow us to either numb, or effectively maneuver, the normal physical and psychological challenges and discomforts of life. Our current, and unprecedented, season of life universally demands more coping skills than may be typical of other seasons. Compounding the everyday hardships that many were facing in the months prior, the pandemic has additionally threatened psychological resilience. Many individuals around the world were struggling pre-pandemic through challenging traumas, health issues, family dynamics, work stressors, or financial strains, which were only exacerbated by our global crisis. 

Poor coping skills can delay, or entirely sabotage, our recovery. Any coping skill that immediately numbs psychological discomfort also inevitably arrests development, provides a false sense of resilience, creates an additional layer of unnecessary suffering, and leaves us vulnerable to being stuck. It’s impossible to have psychological resilience in the face of additional, unnecessary suffering.

While the options of unwelcomed coping strategies are endless, so are the varieties of healthy coping strategies. For the sake of this brief article, I will introduce just a few of these preferred strategies, and recommend further exploration in the book for a more complete examination of resilience. 

Let’s start with brain health, the importance of which cannot be overestimated in the face of significant stressors and traumas. The organ most responsible for our neurological functioning, and our psychological resilience, is the brain. Therefore, in our efforts to bounce back from the stressors of this season, we cannot neglect the care of this remarkable organ. We don’t have to look far to find journals, articles or blogs focusing on  the healing power of exercise and healthy nutrition. God created the healthy foods that would provide nutritious fuel for our bodies, and He designed our bodies for movement. Exercise increases the blood flow in the brain, and therefore aids in the development of new neurological pathways. Exercise also triggers the neurotransmitters that are responsible for mental health. In the same manner, a nutritious lifestyle aids in brain health, and involves an increased intake of God-made foods, vs toxic foods that are made in factories and laden with chemicals and preservatives. Foods that increase inflammation in the body also compromise brain health, and therefore hinder psychological resilience. Adequate sleep is another vital ingredient for brain health. Our desire is the development of psychological resilience, so a very basic lifestyle that promotes physical movement, healthy nutrition, sound sleep, and overall brain health, is essential.

Psychological health is additionally dependent on the health of our internal dialogue. I like to refer to self-talk as “the most important conversation no one ever heard”. No other organ of the body is responsible for our psychological resilience, and no other organ is so heavily impacted by the health, or toxicity, of our thoughts. Our internal dialogue constructs the pathways of our brain. Destructive pathways (negative or catastrophic thoughts) keep us stuck in our suffering. Psychological resilience requires conquering destructive pathways and reconstructing new and healthier pathways in the brain; new thought patterns that are based on truth regarding the past, the present, and the future. This conquering of destructive pathways requires a very aggressive approach, and a radical intention to submitting our thoughts to Christ. Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, is evidence of the power of our Creator, and his intention for psychological resilience. Much like a stroke victim can adapt, develop new pathways, and gain back their functioning, so can someone who has been beat down by a pandemic develop new psychological pathways, and bounce forward, with a stronger functioning than ever before.

The most powerful strategy for replacing destructive thoughts requires a repetitive, and meditative focus on an eternal perspective. One of my most cherished examples in scripture, which I love remembering in times of struggle, is found in Acts 7, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55). As far as I know, this is the only mention in scripture of Jesus having the posture of standing at the right hand of God. Stephen was suffering, and Jesus was brought to His feet. Isn’t that a comforting image? In our suffering, we sometimes doubt the care of God. The image of Jesus standing reminds us that He is close. That He cares. That in our pain, we have His full attention. Meditation on scriptural truths like this one gives us hope that our suffering doesn’t end with suffering; that there is an eternal story that is greater than our temporary pain. Recognition of eternal truths is a powerful springboard to psychological resilience. 

If you’ve been through a tough season of pain, I pray that you are encouraged today. You don’t have to remain stuck. You really can bounce back. You can have psychological resilience. Cooperate with God, take care of your brain, and conquer destructive thoughts by relying on His truths. Get ready to stand. It’s time to bounce back!

Donna Gibbs, Becoming Resilient: How to Move Through Suffering and Come Back Stronger (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2017).

Originally Published in November 2020 for the Missional University World Prayer Summit.


Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor and a Board-certified Professional Christian Counselor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse. 

Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.  

Emotions in Body

by Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA


This past week my husband and I drove to the beach for a much needed vacation. Before we left we got the oil changed in his car, made sure the tires didn’t have any leaks, and filled the tank with gas. Thankfully, we made it there and back without any trouble at all. The good news is that if we did have car trouble, the dashboard in the car would have told us there was a problem long before we recognized it ourselves. 

And while there are so many parallels to how our bodies function and how cars function, we don’t have a dashboard on our forehead that lights up when we’re wrestling with anxiety or depression (that could get interesting). There are, however, indicators that we can pay attention to that help us recognize and manage stress before we do real damage to ourselves. 

When you receive bad news, how do you know that you’re sad?

When you’re betrayed by a close friend, how do you know that you’re angry?

When you have a big test coming up, how do you know that you’re anxious?

You feel it in your body

Maybe your head hurts or you feel tension in your shoulders, neck, or arms. Maybe your chest feels tight or you feel a pit in your stomach. This is our body’s way of communicating to us that something is going on that we need to address. 

And on top of personal stress, there are tons of stressors to address from this year alone: the pandemic, quarantining at home alone, cancelling or rescheduling major life events, job losses, financial hardship, the racial injustice in our country, and not to mention it’s an election year. All of these things can cause us to experience overwhelming amounts of stress. 

Oftentimes when we are stressed, we choose to ignore the warning signs or suppress them altogether because we either don’t want to feel them or don’t have time to feel them. We don’t do this with our cars (or at least hopefully we don’t) so why would we do this with our bodies, which are much more valuable and precious to God? 

Emotions are like going through a tunnel–we have to let ourselves go through them in order to see the light at the end. Unfortunately, most of us get stuck in the tunnel of our own emotions.

Typically, what happens is you come home from a stressful day at work to more stress at home and then go to sleep and do it all over again the next day, but you never actually deal with your stress. We have to move through the tunnel of our emotions to deal with and process them in a healthy way. 

We all need a regular rhythm to process the things in life that weigh us down. It could be as simple as setting aside time to journal what your day or week has been like. Maybe it’s time at the gym with your headphones in or going for a walk after work with your spouse or a close friend. It could be drawing or painting something meaningful, seeing a counselor, or even giving yourself space to cry and feel your emotions. The beauty is that although we all need a rhythm for processing stress in a healthy way, it can look different from person to person. 

We can’t always control our stressors but we can control how we carry stress. If listening to your body or moving through stress in a healthy way is new to you, it might take time to see progress but acknowledging even the smallest of victories can be impactful. Like the dashboard in a car, your body is speaking to you and will tell you if you’re carrying stress.  It’s vital that we learn to listen to what our bodies are communicating to us.


Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA

Beyond Blame

by Kevin Wimbish, LMFT


“Criticism,” “accusation,” “attack,” “censure,” “charge,” “complaint,” “disapproval,” “disfavor,” “disparagement,” “implication,” “opposition,” “reproach,” “slur,” tirade.”

These are just some of the words from www.thesauras.com if one searches for synonyms for the word “blame.”  

As I contemplated this blog post, initially I was planning to write about some macro issues that I see in our culture.  Ways that we seem to be becoming something that is increasingly grieving my heart.

However, upon hearing a recent sermon from our Pastor, Bruce Frank, of Biltmore Church (https://www.biltmorechurch.com/sermon/authenticity-must-be-hypocrisy/), I believe the Holy Spirit convicted me to consider myself first.  Upon further thought, I think if maybe we all did this, we could get somewhere.  Somewhere more positive.  Somewhere more helpful.  Somewhere beyond blame.

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5, New American Standard Bible)

What if in conflict in my relationships, I looked at my own issue(s) first?

When something triggers us to anger, what if we paused, took a couple of slow, deep breaths, and considered “what is my log?”  

I wonder how many marital conflicts may become more loving if that happened, as opposed to creating more pain?

I wonder how many interactions we would have with our children that would not leave damaging, but life-giving words?

I wonder how many offices, churches, cities, states, countries would benefit from being willing to look inward before looking outward?

I wonder if our nation may begin to heal, instead of seeming to tear itself apart.  

The Scripture does not say to never address anything with the other person.  I believe that if we take the time to deeply consider our “log,” it brings a sense of humility, a sense of humanness to the equation.  I think it helps to see more objectively without our own “win/ lose” mentalities taking over and being able to find better solutions. Then, from that posture, we are then able to address the concern with the other person, in a way that empathizes with what it means to be human, to struggle, to make mistakes, to sin, and still know that we are no better, and still address the issue.  We’re all in the same boat.  I don’t mean the “boat” talked about pertaining to the situation with COVID.  I mean the “boat,” of being humans, of being fallible, of often simply being a mess, and seeing that “we’re all just trying to make it,” as my old friend Terence used to say.

Then we can “try to make it” together.  

I don’t think it’s going to work with pointing fingers “out there.”  The problem with us all is “in here,” first. I think any honest view of human history will support that notion.


Kevin Wimbish, LMFT

Damage Control: How to Avoid Wrecking Your Life

by Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC


One of my colleagues only reads books that are from deceased authors. We joke with him about this preference, and his reply is always,“Authors who are alive still have the chance to mess up”. Ouch! That’s true, isn’t it?  All of us can name someone we have admired who later disappointed us. Their music, their writings, their company, their ministry was forever tainted by their implosion. It’s not that God can’t forgive. It’s that we can’t forget, and reputations are forever contaminated by a fall. Truth is, we too can “mess up”. As long as we still have breath, we still have the option of wrecking our lives.

Sounds encouraging so far, doesn’t it?

I’ve done a lot of damage control over the years. All too often, my role has been crisis intervention when a life, marriage, family, or ministry has been unnecessarily wrecked. A controversial social media post. A DUI. An affair. A financial scandal. A mental health crash. Greater people than me have solicited destruction into their lives, without ever intending to have sent an invitation. Anyone can self-destruct. No one is immune. In fact, our sinful nature is naturally bent towards an implosion. But, I’ve learned some of my most treasured and humbling lessons from some fabulous people who suffered a collapse that they never intended. The reality that anyone can fall keeps me on my toes. I’ve seen the unnecessary suffering, born out of a crisis that never had to be created. 

 I will share a few tips that hopefully can prevent an unnecessarily destructive season in your life. 

I recently read a simple, but powerful book, How to Ruin Your Life. The author sums up three vulnerabilities that can lead to destruction: isolation, boredom, and pride. I would add to those three the vulnerabilities of comparison and despair.

This discussion is so important right now because COVID has created a season that leaves all of us inevitably more vulnerable. Why? Think about the presence of isolation. (We’ve been ordered to stay home!) The presence of boredom. (There is only so much to do within the same set of walls.) The heightened use of social media triggering comparisons (particularly in the absence of face to face interactions). The political divisions and heightened tensions, (leading to pride and arrogance or despair and hopelessness). The last 6 months have fertilized the very vulnerabilities that can lead to an implosion. 

If you’re like the average person, you are having days in which you struggle. You have some discouragement. You have some anxiety. Some days you just want to escape this crazy whirlwind called 2020. I get it! But I also know that part of maturing, and preventing a destructive collapse, is learning to tolerate the discomforts and uncertainties of life. It’s learning to pause when we realize we are vulnerable, and learning to look far enough ahead of our decisions to discern their benefit (or their danger). 

Isolation, boredom, comparison, pride, despair – they all require a coping skill. In fact, we use coping skills every day of our lives. The average person needs more coping skills right now than they might have needed at this time last year. (This fact is why substance use has increased in the last 6 months.) We are in a particularly vulnerable time and space, and our prevention of self-imposed ruin is dependent on the coping skills that we utilize to manage our inevitable vulnerabilities. 

If you’re concerned about wrecking your life, and you can see present dangers, I encourage you to pause. Maybe others have sounded a warning, but you don’t see a problem. Consider this blog your “check engine light”. It won’t hurt to pull over and inspect your situation, rather than continuing to race ahead. 

How do you inspect your situation? Take an objective peek at your coping skills. Are they helpful? Or are they causing you to spiral? Take inventory of your mental state. Are you hurting so badly that you have lost your care regarding potential consequences? Do you just want an escape? Are you responding impulsively? Are you having a difficult time regulating your emotions? Are you stable enough to make life-altering decisions? Consider your recent pattern of decisions (and the future-focused decisions you are pondering). Are you dabbling with disaster? Are you on the brink of a decision that will create permanent ramifications? Are you ok with those potential ramifications? Can you in good conscience recommend others take the same path you are considering?

If you are concerned about wrecking your life, know that there is still time for damage control! Speak with a trusted friend. Call a pastor. Consult with a counselor. You have the freedom to implode. But you also have the freedom to prevent a crisis. You have the freedom to protect your testimony and your reputation. You have the freedom to save your marriage or your ministry. If your check-engine light is indicating potential danger, it may be time for a U-turn!

If you’re struggling, we’d be honored to help you re-route, to help you prevent a crisis, or to help you rebuild the ruins. There is nothing too big for God to manage or redeem, and we’re here to join you in the journey!

They shall build up the ancient ruins;

they shall raise up the former devastations;

they shall repair the ruined cities,

the devastations of many generations.

Isaiah 61:4, ESV

Geiger, Eric. How to Ruin Your Life: And Starting Over When You Do. B & H Publishing Group, Nashville, 2018. 


Donna Gibbs, LCMHCS, BCPCC

Donna Gibbs, co-owner of Summit Wellness Centers, PLLC, is author of the recent releases, Silencing Insecurity and Becoming Resilient. Donna has authored numerous other books, her blogs are frequently shared in various media outlets, and she is commonly featured on radio broadcasts across America, and occasionally internationally as well. Donna has been providing individuals and families the hope and help they need for more than twenty years as a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor and a Board-certified Professional Christian Counselor. A member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), she is a leading professional provider for Focus on the Family, Christian Care Network, r3Continuum, FINDINGbalance, and Samaritan’s Purse. 

Follow Donna’s author page at https://www.facebook.com/DonnaGibbsResilience/ for daily encouragement, the weekly blog, and updates regarding events and speaking engagements.  

Walking Wounded

by Lori Heagney, LCMHC

Our brain has a way of grounding every facet of a traumatic event: it’s buried in our senses-smell, vision, touch, taste, and sound. I recall September 11, 2001 with all of these senses. I was holding my coffee, watching the television in the group room at the psychiatric hospital I worked at when I witnessed the 2nd plane crash into the tower. Oblivious and sleepy patients nodded in their chairs, and I remembered the concern I felt for the confusion and paranoia that would ensue when they awoke to hear the news. I recall the panic as I hugged my coworker when she shared that this meant she would not see her military husband for an indefinite time period as he was on a ship that instead of coming toward home, had turned back to the Middle East to defend our country. These are memories I will never forget.

I hear so many speak of remembering exactly where there where on 9-11 and the impact it had on them. I believe this can serve as a compassion-link for us to understand those who have experienced trauma. Trauma harms the brain and leaves a lasting impact like a head injury. It requires time as well as treatment to heal. If you are one of the walking wounded, please reach out and ask for help. Our brains were made to heal and healing is possible. If you are one of the fortunate who has not experienced the impact of lasting trauma, please be patient with those who have, showing love and concern to these individuals. Show them Jesus instead of impatience and an attitude that they should “just get over it”.

We all were impacted by that tragic day, 19 years ago and experience a level of anxiety because of it. Let this shared experience help us grow in compassion for the walking wounded among us and point them toward healing.


Lori Heagney, LCMHC

Exhaustion

by Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA

Exhaustion, a word I have heard so much lately. With students navigating virtual classes, teachers learning new methods on the fly, and parents wondering how they are going to balance their kids doing school at home, none are out of its reach. No one would have thought this pandemic would last as long as it has and affected us so intensely. And while a positive perspective can help, it isn’t if the glass half empty or half full but how long can we hold the glass. We are all exhausted and tired of holding the glass. 

Exhaustion can make you feel overwhelmed and drained emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It can easily cause stress, irritability towards others, low motivation, lack of focus, easily fatigued, sleeping issues, destructive coping skills, and a sense of purposelessness.

While some of us approached this season as a “this is a marathon not a sprint” mentality, no one knew it would last this long with no real end in sight. The exhaustion we feel comes from trying to predict a seemingly uncertain future, a lack of structure to our day, limited opportunities for meaningful connection with loved ones, or maybe the amount of news or media we consume in a day. 

So how do we recover and avoid places of exhaustion? 

We create a trellis for our souls. 

According to Webster’s Dictionary a trellis is “a framework of light wooden or metal bars, chiefly used as a support for fruit trees or climbing plants” in a garden. The idea is that we (like plants) are always growing and changing. But when there is no order or structure to support growth, our lives quickly begin to bear the fruit of exhaustion. What structure do you need in your life that will produce life-giving fruit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.?). Here are some rhythms we can implement in our lives to fight back exhaustion and bear the fruit of the Spirit. 

1. Practicing the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of rest, but is more about what you do than what you do not do. It is not just a nap after church but a day spent intentionally with the Lord. This doesn’t mean you have to read your Bible all day or visit a monastery (although you could do that if you’d like), but it means we engage in things that stir up our affections for God. What fills you up? Do those things. What drains you? Avoid those things.

 2. Practicing gratitude. Right now it feels like so many things have been taken away. And while it is important to acknowledge the losses of this season, it is equally important to look for the ways God has been faithful in this season as well. Make a list of moments you are thankful for — the moon shining bright in the midst of a dark night, a small smile and laughter from a close friend, watching bubbles as you are doing the mundane of task of washing dishes. Find beauty in the ordinary because it is ever before us even in the hard times. 

3. Practicing soul-care. When is the last time you slowed down long enough to evaluate your life? Who are you becoming? How have you been living?  What emotions have you been experiencing most lately? While emotions don’t always communicate the reality of things, they do communicate how your body is responding to what is happening in your life.  Practicing soul-care can look like journaling daily, having meaningful conversations with a friend, seeing a counselor, or doing something that gives you life. 

Moving out of a place of exhaustion takes time. This is a process of daily adjusting our expectations. Give grace to yourself and to others as we are all trying to figure this out together.

The best life-giving rhythm is turning to Jesus, who is not exhausted, overwhelmed, or stressed. He carried the full weight of suffering of this broken world and he offers rest to those who would follow him.  I pray the words of Jesus below would provide you with rest for your souls as you follow him. 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 (English Standard Version)


Ashleigh Beason Herrington, LCMHCA