Have you ever found yourself completely exhausted from everything that’s happening between your ears? Like you’d give anything to just feel at peace? You’re out of ideas on what to desperately Google at 3:00am to help yourself. Stuck in a whirlwind of circling thoughts. You might even feel hopeless, helpless, and like the idea of “renewing your mind” is just impossible. I feel you. I’ve been there, and sometimes I even find myself back in that place.
Even writing this article, anxiety starts to creep back in. Last year, though, the anxious thoughts in my head were deafening. They sounded like this:
Maybe I shouldn’t share my secret. If I do, then things will change. Everything will change. People will treat me differently. I won’t have the “front” I was keeping in place, and that might diminish my influence. If my influence is diminished, then my effectiveness will diminish. If I’m not effective, then I won’t keep my job, which I absolutely love. If I don’t keep my job, then I can’t support my family, whom I absolutely love. If I share, then everyone is going to want to talk to me about it. What if they can’t accept it? What if …”
This was my mind about a year ago. I started to believe one lie after another. For months, I never told anything to anyone. Lies about who I am, my worth, what people thought … you name it, I believed it. My secret is that I struggled with anxiety so much last year, it turned into a fairly significant season of depression. There, it’s out! And even though those thoughts of what people would think, how my life would be ruined if I talked about it felt so real, none of them were true. They were distortions. The truth is that I have an incredibly supportive family, boss, and colleagues. The truth is, when we share our struggles, our relationships flourish because of the trust found through vulnerability. The truth is—when I was finally able to open up, healing began.
The Bible calls our enemy the father of lies. Now, I don’t want to give our spiritual enemy too much credit, but he is a master of lies, not a newbie. His lies are tricky, sneaky. They seem like truth. Have you ever had conversations in your head like I described? I wish I could share in this article all the lessons I’ve learned over the past year, but the bottom line is I needed to learn how to renew my mind. Easier said than done, right? Renewing your mind? Really? It’s possible.
The Bible says in Romans 12:2 to be transformed by the renewing your mind, but how does this really play out?
I think to understand how it plays out, you need to understand how you “got in” in the first place. Getting in and out of a bad place in your mind is all about what I call the “mind stack.” It’s all the things on your mind that stack up and start to integrate with each other. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. For my road to depression, my mind stack was:
- Unchecked Insecurities. Constantly finding examples of how I’m just not good enough.
- Story Creation. Everyone else must think that about me, too.
- Ruminating Anxiety. Continuously thinking about the thoughts—even feeling anxious if I wasn’t.
- Negative Acceptance. This is just the way my life is.
- Hopeless Despair. Maybe everyone else is better off without me.
It started with a thought, turned into a story I believed about myself, and turned into something that seemed too much to handle. But here is the truth: Your mind can be your greatest liability or your greatest asset. If your mind can powerfully stack together negativity, creating a new reality for yourself, then it’s strong enough to start to build something new. Over time, and with help, your strong mind can learn to flip the stack.
For me, I had to create a new way of thinking—and then train my mind over and over to think it. Renewing my mind stack looked like this:
- Hopeful Truth. Maybe God is pleased with me and has a plan for me.
- Positive Affirmation. I have wisdom and life experience to offer.
- Expanding Viewpoint. I’m not the only one who struggles sometimes.
- Writing a New Story. God is the center of my life. I build myself on His foundation.
- Guarded Mind. Not every thought I have about myself should be believed. But God’s thoughts toward me can be!
Whatever mind stack you need to create for yourself, you need to start renewing your mind somewhere. As a starting point, when thoughts enter, ask yourself: Is this thought useful? Could this thought be a distortion? Use the wisdom the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-9. Think on whatever is true, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—even about yourself.
If you have a hard time keeping your thoughts in check, then write down what’s good. Literally, on paper, make columns with headings for “What’s Right” and “What’s Pure,” etc. Write under each of those columns the things in your life that fit each category. Add to it. Think on it! Meditate on the goodness of God. It’s no coincidence that Paul began that passage by telling us to “not be anxious about anything.” Reminding yourself of all the goodness that God has placed in your life is the first step toward kicking lies out of your mind for good.
Lastly, you need to talk to someone. You need to verbalize what’s going on, especially if you’ve been in the mental swirl of a negative mind stack for a long time. If your mind can’t get out of a battle, then lean on a trusted friend. Consider counseling. I went for 10 months, and it was a great help just sorting through the mess my mind had gotten into. Once you’re out of the mess, you can stay out by practicing renewing your mind. The opportunities to fall into the trap will still exist. I wish I could say that anxiety and negative thinking are never a part of me anymore, however, I can say that I’m more equipped to recognize and handle those thoughts so they don’t get trapped in my mind.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, 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. Philippians 4:6-8 NIV