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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

Digital Age Anxiety by Lisa LeSueur

written by Lisa LeSueur

If I were to scroll through my Facebook feed right now, it would not take long before that familiar anxiety and overwhelming sense of helplessness would come creeping back. I say that because I am all too familiar with recent news events, that in and of themselves are anxiety provoking for me, but amplified in Facebook, they become even more traumatic. Case in point, the wildfires raging out of control in Australia. Since I follow multiple news agencies on Facebook, I have been bombarded over the past few weeks with articles covering all aspects of the fires. While the debate rages on as to the effect climate change has had on this disaster, lives are being lost, people are being displaced, millions of acres of land has been ravaged, and in some estimates, a billion animals have been killed, pushing some species to the edge of extinction. My heart has broken a thousand times over the past few weeks as pictures of kangaroos trying to outrun the flames, partially burned Koala bears, and weary firefighters have flooded my newsfeed. In some cases, it is the same picture, over and over again. 

While Facebook and other social media platforms quickly became popular ways to keep in touch with family and friends, they soon morphed into a major source for the way that we get our news and information. Now, mixed in with updates from your “friends” you’ll find all sorts of other information, such as sports and entertainment news, recipes, parenting advice, etc. Since I am a news junkie who is always on the go, I get much of my news from Facebook. While social media platforms have increased our access to real time information regarding world events, I would also argue that they play a role in increasing our anxiety, and in some events, the trauma that we may sometimes feel in response to them. To use my own example, every time I see a picture of an animal escaping the flames, it reignites in me the feeling of brokenness I feel for the destruction that is happening all over our planet due to climate change. 

As an adult, I find it difficult to digest all that I see on social media, but I am learning how to walk away when it gets to be too much. I worry more about the resilience of our children growing up in a world driven by the number of “likes” the picture they post or the comment they make gets. My own daughter began asking me around the age of six how many likes her picture received when I posted it to Facebook. Under a certain number and she would look hurt, her ego already being trained to evaluate her value and sense of self by the number of “likes’ she received. She is eleven now, and although she has been pressured by friends to open a social media account, I have told her no. I have talked to her extensively about social media and the responsibilities that come with having an account and have tried to prepare her for a cyber world that is often cruel and unrelenting. 

However, like so many aspects of parenting, it takes a village. .That’s why I am so excited that the leadership of my church, Coral Gables United Church of Christ, is responding to the concerns of so many parents by hosting a viewing of Screenagers: Next Chapter. This important documentary teaches parents how to help their teens build the necessary skills for navigating the digital world with resilience. This includes learning how to develop skills for handling the stress and anxiety that often come with increased screen time. My church has a history of being on the forefront of issues pertaining to mental health and recognizes the importance of addressing the impacts of increased social media and internet exposure on our children. It is just one of the ways that we demonstrate our ongoing commitment to be a church that is Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged with regards to all aspects of mental health challenges.
Lisa LeSueur is the Minister of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She recently graduated with her Master’s in Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children. 

Mind, Body, Spirit by Karl Shallowhorn

written by Karl Shallowhorn

“My body and mind may fail, but God is my strength and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26

It’s the year 2020. As I write this on New Year’s Day, I cannot help but reflect on what this year may bring forth. For me, my family, my friends and for our world. This sense of unknowing can bring about a sense of anxiety. You know, the “What ifs?”

As a person in long-term recovery from bipolar disorder and addiction there is also a certain degree of uncertainty. While I’ve been extremely fortunate for the last nearly 25 years in terms of my overall mental health and wellbeing, there’s still the possibility of a relapse. This is why I consider myself to be in a perpetual state of recovery (as opposed to being “recovered”).

But this is why I need to ensure that I employ the various tools that have served to help me maintain a degree of stability that allows me to perform at a high level. For instance, I take medication for my bipolar condition. And I do other things that are holistic in nature: exercise, meditate, pray, get proper sleep. 

One thing I’m going to do is to make the effort to take better care of myself when it comes to my nutrition. As the saying goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It has been well documented through research that things like sugar, in all its forms, and processed foods can adversely affect not only the body and the mind.

Stress is another area I plan to pay particular attention to. People living with mental illness can be particularly sensitive to stress which can manifest in any number of ways.

Stress, processed foods and sugar can all increase inflammation in the body. This inflammation can have negative long-term physical, mental and emotional effects.

So where does the spirit come in? Well, my belief is that we are triune beings comprised of mind, body and spirit. If one or more areas is adversely affected then the other(s) will be too. The key is to find balance, which is an often, elusive goal for me. When I am attuned spiritually then I am more mindful of the other areas.

And then there is the Spirit of God that empowers me and gives me strength. When I’m feeling a sense of imbalance or disconnection I can utilize the tools of prayer and meditation to engage with the God of my understanding. This method has a way of helping me to re-establish my sense of what I need to be doing to address the needs of my mind and body.

It is true that tomorrow isn’t promised, not to mention the entire next year, but if I work daily to establish a pattern of healthy living then I will be better able to serve others as God would have me do.
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.