by guest author Dr. Uduak Afangideh
How do we keep our minds healthy in uncertain times? Two steps to taking every thought captive.
If there is one thing that psychologists, behavioral scientists, natural scientists and Christians agree on, it is the power of the mind in directing the affairs of the human individual. There is an abundance of evidence based on empirical research to support what scripture says in Prov. 4:12 that “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is”. What this seems to suggest is that if we are to achieve maximum health in every aspect of our life, we need to pay attention to the things that occupy our minds- our thoughts. And while this is an important truth, the ongoing global pandemic seems to lend a certain urgency to this universally accepted truth.
We know that thoughts form in our minds and that thoughts affect the neuronal pathway that controls the hormones produced by the different glands in our bodies. We also know that these hormones then determine our feelings and our behaviors. Because behaviors and feelings are observable, it is easy to focus on changing them without giving much attention to our thoughts. Incidentally people believe that it is easier to change one’s behavior and feelings than one thoughts, but research by various psychologists, including the CBT Institute of America, suggests that any change that does not involve one’s thoughts (the mind) is seldom a permanent change.
So with this background in mind, the big question is “how does one keep their mind healthy, especially during these uncertain times”? May I suggest a 2 – step process that might be helpful?
- Be mindful of the state of your mind. Another way of saying this is be intentional about the thoughts that you are thinking. According to neurologists, the thoughts we think form tracks in our minds and easily become our default thoughts. That means that without really meaning to, we tend to think the same way that we have always thought. One step to keeping our minds healthy is to be mindful of and question the things that are in our minds. This will help us to know whether our thoughts are helping us attain the life we desire or actually hindering us. The Biblical directive for this is found in 2 Corinthians 10:5 where we are admonished to “take every thought captive”. Practically this means that I form a habit of asking of the thoughts in my mind “is this helpful”? Is this thought getting me closer to my goal?
- Engage in cognitive restructuring. Cognitive restructuring is a tool used by counselors to help clients form alternative thoughts. It builds on the previous step and requires that once a thought has been identified as unhelpful, a person begins then to form an alternative thought with the goal of gradually replacing the former thoughts.
For example: It is the day of our outside family reunion and I have a headache, everyone is getting on my nerves and nothing seems to be going right.
So lets consider a practical use of the above steps:
Step 1: I will be mindful of what’s going on in my mind: I am plagued by fear that the event will be rained out and this fear is keeping me from enjoying the planning, giving me a headache and making me irritable. The thoughts that are causing this fear is not helpful.
Step 2: What is an alternative thought? I have no way of controlling the weather. It is possible that it will not rain. I can ask other family members to help me come up with a plan B, in case it rains. I can focus on the fact that our family gets an opportunity to be together and think of the great memories we will make.
By following the suggested steps, it will gradually become easier to replace the unhealthy thoughts in our minds and set us on the path to having a mind that is healthy.
Dr. Uduak Afangideh, originally from Nigeria, is a licensed Mental Health Health Counselor in Montgomery. She teaches biology, genetics, and nutrition at Faulkner University. She is an author and speaker on Mental Wholeness for churches and organizations.