Understanding Stress and Depression
By Mark Greenwood.
Christians are not immune from the stresses and strains of everyday
life. The study and practice of God’s word, prayer, praise,
thanksgiving and trusting the promises of the Lord will help us to cope with the
normal pressure we come against everyday.
However there are also times when we find ourselves brought very low. It
is at these times that we need extra help to climb out of the dark pit we find
However there are also times when we find ourselves brought very low. It is at these times that we need extra help to climb out of the dark pit we find ourselves in.
Different religions and also different counselling and psychology models all have their different ideas and approaches in dealing with the sins that cause us so much problems. However mans basic problem is the heredity of sin. Other religions etc deal with sins, the Bible alone deals with sin. Sins are a result of the indwelling sin. Sins are the manifestation or the fruit of indwelling sin. Only Jesus Christ has dealt with the problem of heredity sin. He has broken it's power over us by His death on the cross.
What is this indwelling sin that we inherit from our first parents, Adam and Eve?
It is an evil heart of unbelief. All the sins and wickedness in this world have their roots in an evil heart of unbelief
God's answer to that of course is faith. Faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross and faith in the word of God. The Holy Spirit purifies our heart by faith (Acts 15 v 9). The bible tells us that we are justified by faith (Romans 5 v 1) and the just shall live by faith (Galatians 3 v 11). Anything that is not of faith is sin (Romans 14 v 23)
Even so, the Christian has still been left with the problem of the flesh to deal with. This is the place where those habitual sins hang on and find an habitat to hide in until they can express themselves.
Keeping this in mind will help us to balance out the practical and
commonsense approach to problems, with God’s answer for the root of our
Problems then, whether the result of sin or difficult circumstances which cause stress, give rise to emotional problems which can have an adverse effect on our body.
emotions improve our immune system.
Problems that cannot be dealt with can cause us to have a negative mood, which
bring about negative emotions.
There are two types of
Healthy negative emotions; i.e., Sadness
The first step (in cognitive therapy) when dealing with emotional disorders is to try to change the emotional effect caused by the stress. (For a Christian the first step is to take it to the Lord in prayer asking Him to show us if there is anything in our lives that is causing the problem)
Taking medication and
what we eat and drink can also affect these biochemical changes.
Stress or illness can leave us depressed and hormone problems can affect
Stress affects people
differently depending on their personality and ability to cope. Two of the
symptoms of stress are anxiety and depression.
High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been found in people with
depression. If a person has
prolonged stress (chronic stress) then there may be a depletion in the chemical
noradrenaline which is produced from an amino acid. Noradrenaline (norepinephrine) is the neurotransmitter
responsible for the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline from the adrenal
glands. These two hormones give us
the stimulation to deal with situations that demand some effort from us.
A depletion of noradrenaline can, it is believed, cause us to be
depressed. Noradrenline, adrenaline
and dopamine are produced from the amino acid, tyrosine with the co-factors of
niacin, folic acid , B12, copper and magnesium.
Stress can also cause a deficiency in magnesium, which in turn will lead
to stress like symptoms, nervousness and anxiety.
neurotransmitter, where depression is concerned is serotonin, which is again
produced from an amino acid, tryptophan in the presence of B3, B6 iron and zinc
etc. Serotonin is believed to work
in the areas of the brain that are thought to participate in depressive
symptoms. Many of the modern drugs
that help to lift depression work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin and so
causing a consequent rise in levels of serotonim in the areas where needed.
The hypothalamus is
the part of the brain that responds to stress and produces corticotropin-releasing
factor (CRF) to affect the pituitary and adrenal glands.
The adrenal cortex releases cortisol into the blood which will, over a
long period of time, lower the immune system, and, it is believed, enhance the
symptoms of depression. It has been
found that people with depression display hyperactivity in the area of the
hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal cortex.
It is believed that this hyperactivity is responsible for the depressive
symptoms. Antidepressants can be
taken to reduce this hyperactivity.
It has also been
found that where a child has suffered neglect, or has had a traumatic experience
such as loss or abuse, it has a permanent increase in CRF production so that the
slightest stress in adult life would magnify the action of CRF and therefore
enhance the depressive affects of CRF. In
other words the person with an insecure childhood could more easily become
depressed than someone with a secure childhood.
A person with hormone
imbalance, such as hypothyroidism, will be more susceptible towards depression.
So drugs can help
people with depression but it has also been found that the herb St John’s Wort
can also help people. However
people taking antidepressants should not take St Johns Wort as they don’t mix
and can make things worse.
is supposed to be better than St. Johns Wort without the reaction to medication.
It works as well as standard prescription medication but has fewer side
effects and works faster.
Nutrients which help
in alleviating depression are, vitamin B3, B12, B6, folic acid, minerals zinc
and magnesium and also essential fatty acids omega 6 and omega 3, etc.
(Magnesium is a mineral that helps to maintain a stable heart rate.
It has a relaxing effect on muscles and nerves and if we don’t have
enough in our body then it is possible to feel continually stressed and to
suffer from palpitations.)
(a type of fat in the blood), can be detrimental to your brain and are closely
linked with depression, hostility and aggression. Omega 3 fish oil is the most effective and safest way to
High levels of
homocystein can effect our mood and predict an increased susceptibility to
depression. Taking folic acid, B6
and B12 supplements can help lower homocystein.
It is known that many
hormones influence mood. A subtle
decrease in available thyroid hormone is suspected of producing symptoms of
depression. Thyroid hormones are made from iodine and the amino acid tyrosine.
The process involves other vitamins and minerals such as zinc, vit E, vit
A, vit C, vit B2, vit B3 and vit B6. Exercise
stimulates the thyroid gland secretion and is important in the treatment for
hypothyroidism. At this time it
appears that thyroid hormone replacement is necessary in the majority of people
An increase in the
stress hormone cortisol, which is released from the adrenal cortex, will
‘mirror the effects of orally administered corticosteroid drugs –
depression, mania, nervousness, insomnia and schizophrenia’. (Encyclopaedia of Natural Medicine by Michael Murray N.D.
& Joseph Pizzorno N.D.)
Although many women
use HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), some are finding help in certain key
herbs. Herbs that contain
phytoestrogen remain the most common option.
The herb, black cohosh , (Cimicifuga racemosa) has been shown to give
marked improvements in symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal atrophy and
depression. ‘The research even
revealed black cohosh’s superiority over HRT when it came to relieving
depression and anxiety associated with menopause.’
(NUTRI News, ION Issue 2
These nutrients and
others are contained in a unique formulation called Her Balance 11 which, it is
said, can prevent and remedy a wide range of menopausal complaints.
will react with medication so it is advisable to see your Doctor before taking
The correct type of
counselling can give some of the best help for depression and can work alongside
medication enabling the person to come through the depression quicker and teach
them how to cope with future attacks. The wrong type of counselling will have an adverse effect and
can turn mild depression into a more serious depression causing it to last much
longer than it would have done without counselling.
(Psychodynamic and Psychoanalitical counselling, should not be used for people
(Psychodynamic and Psychoanalitical counselling, should not be used for people with depression)
We will now look at
how the best forms of counselling for stress and depression can help us.
However I must emphasise that a clinically depressed person may find it
difficult to take in and impossible to apply, without the help of medication.
Behavioural Counselling works by helping a person to change their behaviour. If something is not working in producing a healthy attitude then do something different.
Cognitive Counselling recognizes the importance of changing what we are thinking or saying to ourselves when it is producing emotional disorder.
Both these models of counselling are put together in Cognitive Behavioural Counselling.
The Stress Effect
When we are faced with a stressful situation
the information is passed to our brain where our emotional memory (Amygdala)
matches scenes in the present with scenes and emotions in the past, triggering
(turning on) new emotions similar to the emotions in the past.
When a person has experienced strong emotions in their childhood, such as
trauma, neglect, abuse, loss, rejection, etc., this will be reflected in their
reactions as an adult. Where the
amygdala cannot match the situation with a past event there can be anxiety, fear
and confusion until it has learnt if the situation is a threat or not.
If we are faced with
a threat the amygdala sends a signal to the hypothalamus which in turn sends a
signal to the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the endocrine system.
The ANS has two
sides, one which releases acetylcholine to allow the body to relax, the other
side stimulates us to action by releasing noradrenaline and adrenaline into our
body when the situation demands it.
The endocrine system
releases hormones into the blood which in turn tell the adrenal gland to release
cortisol into the body.
As long as the
amygdala perceives a threat it will stimulate the body to release noradrenaline,
adrenaline and cortisol, keeping us in a hyper alert state.
To relax we need to turn off the hypothalamus.
Feedback to the hypothalamus will try to turn it off, however it cannot
be turned off while ever the amygdala is saying there is a threat.
Now we get to the
Linked to the
amygdala is the cognitive cortex. This
is the part of our brain that does the thinking, reasoning and analysing.
In this modern world,
much of the stress we feel, is caused by our irrational beliefs.
If we can change our irrational beliefs then we stand a chance of
changing the way we feel.
This would involve
changing the irrational belief associated with the original mental picture that
we hold in our minds that is producing the irrational thoughts.
To change our irrational thoughts we need to stop listening to ourselves
and instead talk to self aggressively from a rational and realistic point of
view, by stepping back and looking at the situation objectively.
If we can convince
ourselves that we can cope and we can handle the threat, we will, normally, turn
off the hypothalamus reaction to the fear (Faith and trust in God is the perfect
method for coping with fear and turning off the hypothalamus).
Negative Automatic Thoughts
For us to understand the reason why we
feel the way we do, we need to understand what ‘negative automatic thoughts’
are and where they come from.
What causes an emotion is not a situation
or event but rather what we think or believe about the event, i.e., the
The emotion that we feel depends on the type of negative
thought that we entertain.
Feelings of sadness and depression are a
result of thoughts of loss and rejection.
Anxiety and panic result from thoughts of
Frustration comes from unfulfilled
Guilt is a result of the thought that you
Anger results from thoughts of unfairness.
‘Schema’s are formed early in life
through the influence of role models, direct feedback, cultural factors and
early experiences.’ (A Practical
Guide To Cognitive Therapy by D Schuyler.)
order to be happy I must be successful.
order to be happy I must be accepted by all people at all times.
order to be happy I must have a husband/wife.
worth depends on what others think of me.
cannot work therefore I am inadequate.
made a mistake therefore I am inept.
someone disagrees with me he doesn’t like me.
(Taken from A Practical Guide To Cognitive
Therapy by D Schuyler)
Similar ones from the book ‘Cognitive
Therapy for Depression & Anxiety’ by Ivy-Marie Blackburn & Kate
must be loved by everyone.
I am 100% successful or I am a total flop.
value as a person depends on what others think of me.
should always be a nice person.
people disagree with me it means I am no good.
should always perform as best as I possibly can.
should be able to do everything by myself. To ask for help is to be weak.
These deep routed believes express
themselves as fleeting thoughts that are on the fringe of consciousness so that
we hardly notice their presence but their effect is manifested in our feelings.
The distorted way we perceive different
situations, is shaped by these believes. We
express these believes in our thoughts by what is called ‘distorted
thinking’ or ‘twisted thoughts’. Some
of these are listed below:
1. Selective thinking
Whatever the situation you are thinking about, you focus on the worst part of the situation and take it out of context.
2. Over generalization
You tend to see negative events as general to all situations and a permanent pattern of defeat, instead of being specific to a single situation with the possibility of improvement, i.e., “This always happens to me”, or, “I can’t do anything right”.
Here you personalize negative events, blaming self for the outcome.
You identify with your shortcomings. Instead of being specific, i.e., “I made a mistake”, you label yourself, i.e., “I’m a failure”, “I’m stupid”.
5. Mind reading
You jump to conclusions about what others think of you. You assume that people are reacting negatively to you.
6. Should statements
You criticize yourself (or other people) with ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’. Musts’, or ‘oughts’, and ‘have tos’ are similar offenders. These are the demands we make on others or ourselves.
Making mountains out of molehills.
blow up things out of proportion. You
exaggerate the effect of problems.
have to be perfect at everything you do; there can be no half measures. When things aren’t perfect, you are extremely dissatisfied
and miserable. Everything is either
black or white with no gray areas.
We have been
looking at negative automatic thoughts, which spring from our core beliefs.
Albert Ellis sums these up as ‘Irrational Beliefs’.
They are irrational because they lack evidence, they are illogical, and
the results of holding them produce disturbed emotions.
demands which we make on ourselves and others, i.e., ‘This absolutely
should/should not happen’. There
is no allowance for failure.
Practice and train to
become skilful in the area that is giving us the stress and so reduce the
Change the picture we
hold in our memory, if that is what is causing the stress.
Change what we are
saying to ourselves about the stress provoking situation, and get rid of any
Change our behaviour
and lifestyle so as to cope better.
Learn skills to be
solving skills and learn to set achievable goals. (We can also teach our children these by asking them, “What
would you do if ----“, and, “How would you do that”.)
Change our focus in
life. Instead of focusing on one
aspect of life we could learn to do other things like making new friends or
socialise more with old friends, develop hobbies, have fun, do voluntary work
etc. (Refocusing means changing our
behaviour, doing another activity.)
to relax so as to bring in the parasympaphetic side of our autonomic nervous
Do more of what works
and if things are not working, do something different.
We need to learn how
to change our pessimism into optimism. (A
good book on this is ‘The Optimistic Child, by Martin E. P. Seligman, where he
explains how we need to see negative situations as temporary, specific and
We need to forgive
We need to give and
receive, faith, hope and love, especially love.
Developing a right attitude.
Having now an understanding how the brain works in relation to our imagination, thoughts and emotions and how some of the best secular models of counselling use this information to develop an appropriate method of approach to stress and depression, can we as Christians learn anything by it?
The answer to this is found in scripture. Although the Bible is a spiritual book it is also full of practical common sense. There are many directions given that if we obey we will develop a sound mind. There are many promises given to us that if we trust them and fix our mind on Christ, He will keep us in perfect peace.
Overwork will produce exhaustion, when this happens then we need rest and prayer (especially prayer from our brothers and sisters in Christ) .
As Christians we are
aware that the enemy will oppress us and depress us by putting heaviness upon
our spirits. When we become aware
of becoming heavy and discouraged then we need to respond before we become too
crushed to make the effort.
The scriptures that I
believe are important in teaching us how to deal with this type of depression
Romans 12 v 2, “---
be transformed by the renewing of your mind ---“. The enemy will try to fill our minds with negative and
depressing thoughts but the “Truth will set us free”.
Ephesians 5 v 19-20
“speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks at
all times for all things to Him who is God and Father in the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ ---“. What we speak to ourselves has a major effect on our ability
Philippians 4 v 8
“whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy
– think about such things”. What
we think upon also has a major effect on our ability to cope.
If we spent fifteen minutes a day obeying this scripture we would be more
relaxed and possibly live longer.
problems become a mountain and the only thing we can see. If that is the case we need to change our focus and fix our
eyes and our mind upon Jesus. Hebrews
12 v 2, Isaiah 26 v 3.
the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61 v 3).
A life of praise and thanksgiving puts the enemy to flight more
permanently than a rebuke.
Paul said, “Rejoice
in the Lord always and again I say rejoice”.
(Philippians 4 v 4)
King David commanded
his soul to ‘hope in God’, when? When it was cast down.
(Psalm 43 v 5)
Jonah praised and
thanked the Lord from the fish’s belly and Habakkuk praised and thanked Him
from a place of desolation. (Jonah
2 v 9, Habakkuk 3 v 18)
When we feel defeated and have no hope.
Jesus said, "I will never leave you neither will I forsake you" so that, taking courage, we may say, "I will not be afraid: what will man do unto me" (Hebrews 13 v 5-6 Darby)
"Having cast all your care upon Him for He cares about you" (1Peter 5 v 7)
"I have strength for all things in Him that gives me power" (Philippians 4 v 13)
"Thanks to God who gives us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Corrinthians 15 v 57)
"All things work together for good to them that love God, to those who are called according to purpose" (Romans 8 v 28)
"He has given to us the greatest and precious promises, that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature," (2Peter 1 v 4)
These are just a small number of scriptures that God has given to us to lift us up, not to mention the depth of encouragement that is written in the book of the Psalms.
sadness, the blues, being miserable etc, happens to us all, in general there is
nothing wrong with us, it is just a natural consequence of
how we perceive certain situations. Most of us have at various times in
the past suffered from a mild form of depression which can have been caused by a
number of different reasons, given time this usually lifts of its own
accord. There is however a vast difference
between the blues and suffering from the psychiatric illness of clinical
depression which may take years before it finally lifts completely. By following scripture before we become clinically depressed we may
avoid the serious unhealthy negative effect of clinical depression.
God's plan for the New Man.
Before a Person becomes a Christian their soul is one with their carnal nature (Flesh). After a person is born again, by faith in the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ which He accomplished on our behalf on the cross of Calvary, he is given the divine nature. The Holy Spirit quickens his spirit and indwells it becoming one with it. The Christian now has a choice to make, he can put off the old nature and put on the new nature and walk after the Spirit or he can continue to indulge the flesh.
If he continues to please the flesh then he will find the bad habits that he thought had gone continue to plague his life. The Holy Spirit will be quenched and grieved by him which will also have a similar effect on his life. As the Spirit is grieved he also will be grieved and overcome by guilt and shame. Still not walking in the Spirit he will try to overcome his sinful habits in his own strength, being defeated his continual cry will be "Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me" (Romans 7 v 24).
Feeling in an impossible situation the danger is that he will harden his heart. If, on the other hand, he has some success in his efforts to live a good life then pride will cause his heart to be lifted up and become haughty. This condition must be guarded against or repented of with tears.
The Christian needs to recognize his weakness and learn to depend and trust in God's work in his life. It is the continuing work of the Holy Spirit on our lives that sanctifies us. That is, of course, as we work in co-operation with the Spirit.
God has made provision for the new Christian as well as the mature Christian to live according to His word. The mature Christian has, over time, been transformed and changed from one degree of glory to the next as he grows in grace. This is part of God's plan, that man will be transformed by the renewing of the mind in line with His word (Romans 12 v 2). This takes time as the man daily meditates on God's word. Also as we spend time beholding the glory of the Lord we are changed into the same image (2 Corinthians 3 v 18). Over a period of time then man's soul is brought into oneness with his spirit by the work of the Spirit and word of God in his life. However this growth and development of man's soul will not sustain him through all situations without the help of the Holy Spirit. The more mature a Christian becomes then the more he recognizes his need for absolute dependence upon God to keep him from sin.
For his daily walk (even when a young Christian), God has given him something to do that will give him success in his life. He now needs to change his behaviour by doing something different. Before he has walked according to the flesh, he put his trust in self and his own self effort, now God says "walk in the Spirit and you will in no way fulfill flesh's lust" (Galatians 5 v 16). To walk in the Spirit is a walk of faith (2 Corinthians 5 v 7), not faith in self but rather in God to keep us. The Holy Spirit may bring sins to the mind in order to cause godly sorrow which leads to repentance. We may also need to deal with any offences we have done to others, however we must keep our minds away from thinking about our temptations. While ever we focus our mind on temptations, even with sorrow and wondering how to deal with them, we are inadvertently feeding them. It is from our thoughts that our behaviour gets its life. We should confess our sins to God and then put them behind us rather than wondering how to be free from their temptations. The answer is to focus our mind on praising and worshipping God with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs giving thanks for all He has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. This has two effects. It focuses our mind on God rather than temptation with the result that our behaviour will follow suit, and secondly it exercises the divine nature that we now have within. Therefore the natural graces and virtues of the divine nature will begin to show themselves.
So for the long term work upon mans soul, man needs to work in co-operation with the Spirit by meditating on God's word and changing the way he thinks. For the immediate change in his life man has to change his behaviour. Only by continually being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5 v 18) and walking in the Spirit is it possible to put off the old way of life and put on the new. It is by the Spirit that we put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8 v 13) and not by our own strength and effort.
It is important that we develop our inner life but we do not make our faith subject to our inner state nor to our own righteousness but rather, because our faith rest in Christ who is our righteousness, we can have faith in the grace of God.
In practice I believe that God continually shows man his true condition outside of the Spirits help. He does this by withdrawing, as it were, His guidance, allowing man to fail and so understand his true state before God. This also continually brings man to the humble cry of "Oh wretched man that I am". If God didn't do this then man would become inflated and see himself as having something in himself apart from God (2 Chronicles 32 v 25 - 31). Also God often withdraws the sense of His presence so as to cause us to walk by faith. I could almost say 'blind faith' but it is not blind faith because we have the word of God to guide us. If God didn't do this then we wouldn't grow in faith. Another danger we can fall into is putting our faith in our faith. We believe because we exercise faith then God is obliged to meet that need. Our trust is in our ability to maintain faith against all the odds. Our faith centers not in a person but in our ability to have faith. God wants to bring us back from trusting in our own ability, to trusting in His sovereignty, recognizing His Lordship.
For faith to be effective in our lives then its source needs to be a result of the work of God in our heart. In his introduction to St. Paul's letter to the Romans, Martin Luther says that faith is God's work in us, he then goes on to say, "Ask God to work faith in you, or you will remain forever without faith, no matter what you wish, say, or can do."
Loving God with the heart.
As Christians we should love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind (Matthew 22 v 37). Do we keep this commandment?
What is the heart? we are not talking about the pump which is the physical organ in the center of our body which controls the life flow of the blood, but rather the seat of our soul life, the heart of the soul.
W. E. Vine is his Expository Dictionary of Bible Words says that the heart stands for mans "entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and emotional elements".
It is the seat of our emotions, our affections, the perceptions, the understanding, the reasoning powers, the imaginations, the intentions, our purpose our will and our faith.
So it is a big order to command us to love God with all our heart. As we can see from what the heart consist of, that if we can keep this commandment then everything else will fall into place. (Matthew 22 v 40).
How can this be done, how can we bring our emotions and affections into line with loving God?
First we need to bring a sacrifice of thanksgiving and a sacrifice of praise. Here we are giving to God our praise and thanksgiving without being initiated by our feelings. To give God thanks in all things, the bible says, is God's will for us (1 Thessalonians 5 v 18).
Secondly, as our will is part of our heart then we need to choose to love God with all our heart. To choose to love God with all our heart is also to bring our will into line with God's will for us (Matthew 22 v 37-38)
Thirdly, and very important, when we go on our knees to pray we need to ask God to flow through us by His Holy Spirit in love and adoration back unto Himself. We can ask this because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which God has given to us (Romans 5 v 5).
Now our spiritual exercise is to spend time with the Lord, by faith, in praise and thanksgiving, expressing our love to the Lord. How often do we go through the hard times and neglect to tell the Lord how much we love Him? The more we spend time expressing our love to God then the more of our heart is filled with this love.
Remember, as we have said previously, our emotions, our affections and our imagination are all dependant on what we think in our mind. By thinking and expressing our love to God in words, then our emotions, which are also part of the heart, will be affected and brought into line with the great commandment.
By spending time in expressing our love to God we will cause our whole being, heart, soul and mind, to be focused with love on the Lord.
Finally our love for the Lord will be expressed in our life and actions. A natural expression of this love for God is shown in our love for one another. This life will only really be manifested as a result of the time spent in expressing our love to God.
Copyright M. Greenwood. December 2000 - November 2003