I had my first real experience with depression the year I prayed for more joy. In January, I was fired up to pray that 2009 would be the year of joy. I expected a great year, but by March, depression set in.
“Really? Are you kidding me?” I asked God.
I’m usually an upbeat, optimistic person, so I didn’t know how to react. As weeks passed, the cloud of depression only settled more firmly over me.
I read every Scripture I could think of, but many days I was near tears. James 1:2 said, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” and I told myself to count it all joy.
But who could feel happy about being depressed? I struggled for months with feelings of hopelessness.
Although I probably needed a counselor, I never saw one. However, I had a supportive husband and a few close friends who listened to me.
Ironically, my depression lasted five months during what was supposed to be my “year of joy.” Today I realize I learned more about joy that year than ever before or since.
Depression affects millions of Americans each year, and Christians are not exempt. If you’re experiencing it now, remember you’re not alone.
We have a Heavenly Father who’s always there, ready to help us navigate the sadness, anxiety, or lack of motivation caused by depression.
Here are 10 ways Christians can fight depression.
1. Let go of guilt.
Depression can make you feel like a “less than” Christian. You might feel as if it were your fault. We sometimes have thoughts like: “If I really trusted God, I wouldn’t feel this way.”
Someone else may even say this to us, but guilt never helped anyone recover from depression.
What if we let go of it and asked God for a fresh revelation of His grace instead? Feeling discouraged and hopeless is not sin, so don’t let Satan tell you you’re a bad Christian.
Psalm 42 reminds me that even a man after God’s own heart like David felt depressed.
Clearly he felt deep discouragement when he wrote, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5)
Somehow it comforts me to remember our faith fathers struggled with the same emotions I feel.
2. Reach out to tell someone.
One of the most important ways to fight depression is simple: Tell someone about it. Choose a friend or family member you believe will listen, and tell them how you feel.
Reach out to someone you trust. You might feel ashamed or embarrassed, but tell them anyway. Chances are they’ve experienced similar feelings themselves and will understand.
When we’re discouraged, Satan would like nothing more than to keep us isolated and alone. After all, the enemy of our souls wants to keep us as far as possible from help.
Telling someone who understands and can empathize brings healing. Talking with someone about our negative feelings usually helps us process them and ultimately feel better. We learn we’re not so alone as we thought.
3. Get professional help if you need it.
Having committed friends and family members stand with us can help, but sometimes Christians need professional assistance.
If you experience symptoms of depression that last more than several weeks or interfere with your ability to function, you probably need to see a counselor.
If you have thoughts of suicide, make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible.
If you feel you might take your own life today, go to a hospital emergency room immediately or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). Help is around the corner.
My friend Michele Bengston, a Dallas area neuropsychologist, wrote the book Hope Prevails about recovering from depression.
She says this about seeking help: “When a person notices his relationships getting strained and/or friends beginning to voice concern, it may be time to seek professional help.”
People are definitely in need of assistance when they “begin drinking, using substances, eating more, spending more money, or spending more time in solitary activities like gaming” in response to depression.
4. Draw close to God and get real with him.
As children of God, we’re never alone. Our Heavenly Father loves us on our worst days. We have a Shepherd who walks with us through the darkest valleys.
We have a Savior with power to pull us out of the deepest pit. He’s our truest source of hope, strength, and encouragement.
These verses describe God’s heart for depressed people:
- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
- “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
As we draw near to God, let’s remember we don’t have to put on a holy happy face. We can be ourselves. Let’s pour our hearts out to Him and tell Him the same things we’d tell our best friend.
He longs to hear our deepest thoughts and sorrows. We’ll experience friendship with God on a whole new level and receive more of His unconditional love.
5. Cling to the Word of God.
When you’re depressed, you might find it hard to focus on reading Scripture. Even opening your Bible can feel like the last thing in the world you want to do.
But let’s remember God’s Word offers encouragement, hope, and strength for hard days. You never know how God might speak to you until you crack open your Bible and start reading.
When I’m upset or feeling low, it helps me to return to simple truths. You might find hope through going back to familiar passages like these:
- Psalm 23
- Romans 5:1-8
- 1 John 4: 9,10
- Isaiah 40:28-31
Maybe a whole passage is too much. Try using Google to find an encouraging verse or promise. Write it down or use a Bible app to make an image with the text for your phone.
Say it and pray it. Declare it each morning. Do whatever you can to unleash the power of God’s Word in your life.
6. Start your personal joy project.
What do you enjoy? Spend a bit of time each day doing something fun or relaxing. What friends energize or encourage you? Call one of them for a coffee or lunch date.
Practice self-care by taking time for exercise and making sure to get enough sleep. Make room in your life for joy and happiness, even when you’re feeling depressed.
Brainstorm a list of things that make you happy or nurture your soul. Then do one each day. It can be something small. Buy flowers.
Put a beautiful object in a place where you see it each day; either a treasure from your closet or a new item can remind you of the beauty of life.
Read a book. Take your dog for a walk in the park. Hug your child. Hold hands with your spouse. Surround yourself with beauty.
7. Help someone else.
Depression can rob life of its meaning and leave us feeling useless and unimportant. Helping another person shifts our focus from ourselves and helps us feel significant again. It can be a powerful step toward finding healing from depression.
Perhaps you know someone who needs encouragement. Send a text. Buy them a small gift or send a card. Make a meal for a friend who just had a baby or offer to babysit a single mom’s kids.
Explore volunteer opportunities in your city. Help a child at risk by serving in an after school or lunchtime mentoring program. Give back by volunteering in a soup kitchen. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to serve others.
8. Tune into worship.
“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, My God on whom I can rely.” (Psalm 59:16, 17)
Worship helps us shift our eyes away from ourselves and towards God, who has the power to renew our hope. Reading the Psalms can lift our spirits.
Music touches our emotions in powerful ways, and it can alter the atmosphere around us. Turning up my worship music has transformed my attitude more times than I can count. At the very least it adds some joy to difficult days.
9. Do something creative.
Whether it’s drawing, painting, knitting, or flower arranging, creativity can lift people’s spirits because it gives them something enjoyable to focus on.
Consider enrolling in a class to learn a new skill like sewing, photography, or Asian cooking. Creativity helps us feel productive and can renew our motivation for living.
Creative pursuits like playing an instrument, singing, journaling, or writing can also provide healthy outlets for processing and expressing negative emotions.
10. Keep your perspective.
Today things may look bad. Whether difficult circumstances or chemical reactions in your body are causing your depression, you may feel overwhelmed by negative emotions.
Try not to lose perspective. Your story is not over, and you won’t feel depressed forever. God is with you. He loves you, and He’ll complete the good work He began in you.
Remember that your feelings will change, but God’s word never does. Psalm 30:5 offers a word of hope: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
Depression may feel like a dark night that goes on forever. Yet even the longest night will end with the morning.
In the same way, even the deepest depression will sooner or later be lifted by God’s healing power. For the believer in Christ, hope and joy are always around the corner.