Part 3 in the “Stalking the Wolf” series
Over the years I’ve watched friends and colleagues struggle with gnawing mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar and insomnia. As a young man, the occasional nervousness and hyperactivity I experienced in my own life led me to ask the perplexing question, “Are these cognitive disorders traits hard-wired into a man’s DNA?” Or more importantly, “Is there any hope of breaking free of these bondages?
From my personal viewpoint my answer is yes and yes.
Yes, for most of us, our mental and emotional make-up has, at least in part, been passed down through our ancestral gene pool. In my case, it wasn’t until I reached my late twenties that I recognized some of the disturbing behavior of my father’s explosive and melancholic moods reincarnated in my own life.
And yes, I say resoundingly, despite the ebb and flow of our dysfunctional emotions, most of us can ride them out and keep these pernicious predators at bay.
I have chosen to address the topic of mental health in this blog series with urgency for two important reasons. For one, because right now our society in America is literally burning up. The George Floyd / BLM movement, urban terrorism, the Covid outbreak, unemployment and political upheaval have ignited stifling flames of fear and insecurity for nearly everyone. In August the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Tracking Poll revealed that an astonishing 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted. And those numbers only reflect the survey participants who were candid enough to self-disclose their disorders.
Nothing has a more dramatic impact on our behavior and influence upon others like our mental and emotional state. But to carry on with our lives, despite the chaos, we must master these sinister forces and SEIZE control rather than BE controlled.
Secondly, because I’ve been chasing down the dark wolf of anxiety for several decades, and through trial and error, I’ve discovered some potent antidotes that have given me good success in the hunt.
(Notice I’m putting the emphasis on taking the offense, taking action, stalking, cornering, and shooting the predator to at least keep it pinned down, manageable, at bay.)
Here are the daily weapons I’ve learned to wield, habits that give me the upper hand and ultimately mastery over the mental disorders of acute anxiety, depression, mania, or insomnia. If you practice them long enough, I’m confident they’ll work for you.
The notion that God made you and has the power to help you through your problem — over which you are powerless — is a compelling reality if you will stir up the faith to believe it. It’s a basic tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous, the importance of giving over our cares and troubles to a Higher Power.
Praying while you’re in bed, while listening to soft music from apps like Calm.com, can help your mind and body get the essential rest it needs, especially in times of acute stress.
Then, first thing in the morning before getting out of bed, pray again. Ask for help to get you through the day, and for the power to make decisions and take actions you feel incapable of making as the day unfolds.
Transparency starts from within. You can’t help yourself, nor can others help you if you’re not completely honest. Confession of your struggles with a trusted friend, therapist or clergyman cleanses the soul and fosters encouragement from an empathetic listener.
Take A Walk
Sometimes you’ve just got to get out of the house or apartment. “Change your state” as Tony Robins says. Physical activity doesn’t mean you have to work out at a gym or run five miles. A brisk walk can do wonders for your spirit, especially if you listen to encouraging music or a Tony Robbins podcast.
Use A Scorecard
It is essential that we can prove to ourselves that we can have control of our thoughts, emotions and actions. If we can look back at the end of the day and account for even small successes, we’re on our way to recovery.
The first thing I do after my brief morning prayer is to create a list of the things I know I have the power to do, small things when I’m super stressed, and bigger things when I’m less so. I write down a manageable to-do list for the day that usually has around 5 things on it: call my sister or best friend just to say hi; make the bed; make my wife breakfast; write in my journal; tidy the kitchen; mow the lawn, etc.
When I’m wearing my professional hat and I’m functioning at a modestly efficient but still-stressed level, maybe I’ll list more ambitious tasks: contact a client with a courtesy call; write a hand-written note to a prospect; jot down a few ideas for future blog posts, check in with a co-worker, etc.
The point is not to overwhelm yourself with yet more stuff to do, but to simply be intentional so you can say to that inner man inside, and the wolf nipping at your heels, ”I was successful today. I made some plans, I stuck to my goals and I achieved them. I won the day.”
The best way to make your Scorecard even more motivating is to assign a weighted number to each task. Making a phone call may only get a score of 1 or 2, whereas writing in your journal may be more difficult and get a score of 4; or if you cook, assigning a score of 6 to the task of making a cake from scratch, or a 7 for writing a blog post.
At the end of the day, when you add up the numbers from the tasks you assigned yourself, if you can reach the number 10 you have had a perfectly successful day! You can say, “Depression didn’t define me; Anxiety didn’t control me, etc.” It’s what I call my mission for the day, “Getting To Ten.”
My friend, neighbor and occasional prayer partner, Delilah (the radio host), has built a nightly fan base of over 8 million listeners by prescribing simple acts of love and kindness to the people around us. When we give of ourselves to others something magical happens. I can’t explain why, it’s just something that God put in our hearts – when you give to others you get more in return.
Years ago, when I served as a missionary for YWAM and later with Mercy Ships, I embarked on a two week medical field outreach in Dakar, Senegal, along the West Africa coast. Seemingly out of nowhere I experienced a stifling bout of fear I will never forget. While in my cabin one fretful night, out of desperation I turned to a portion of scripture that’s always offered me comfort and guidance in times of great need. I read a passage that, thousands of years ago, the King of Israel declared to his inner man, and to the hosts of heaven and hell while in hot pursuit of his archenemy, the marauding Philistines. He declared, “I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them. I did not let up until they were utterly destroyed.”
There is so much I could say about this event, and the life of David in general. He remains one of the most beloved and inspiring authors of the Old Testament. Yet he was doggedly chased by manic depression as a host of historians and Bible scholars have documented. He remains one of the most successful leaders and military strategists in all of history. And he remains one of my most strident heroes.
To this day I have adopted that furtive passage as my daily life motto: to pursue the obstacles that would otherwise prevent me from success, to lay claim to a pathway of achievement and self-actualization that not even the hounds of hell can stop. During my missionary days, that obstacle was the enemy I called “Fear.” Since then I’ve never looked back.
As a fellow sojourner in this adventure called life, my highest aim remains to grow stronger, to keep fighting and help others along the trail that leads to their own conquest.
I pray it’s yours, too.
This series on mental and emotional health was written by Phil Herzog for TrailMasters, a new men’s social network to be launched in early 2021. For more details go to www.trailmasters.godaddysites.com.