Are You In Emotional Distress?
At Christian Counseling Associates, we are in the emotion business. We help couples, families, individuals, children, and teens with all kinds of issues: marital distress, anger, anxiety, depression, grief, trauma, sex addiction, and substance abuse, to name a few. All of these issues have one thing in common: emotional distress. When our emotions are triggered, dysfunction follows. Our brain gives meaning to our emotions, which activates our behaviors. Let's walk through some of the ways that emotional distress can manifest. One or more of these might be your issue. If so, we can help.
Emotional distress can manifest as anger.
Ephesians 4:26-27 talks about emotional distress that manifests as anger. It says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” It doesn’t say, “Don’t be angry.” It says, “Be angry.,” There are times when anger is the correct response. In anger, Jesus drove the money changers from the Temple. Righteous anger over wrong and injustice is righteous. Yet, even with righteous anger, there are three qualifiers: 1) Don’t sin, 2) Don’t stay angry, and 3) Don’t let the devil use that anger as an opportunity, or an entry point, into your life. Even righteous anger can become sin if you nurse your anger. Chronic anger gives the devil a stronghold from which he can control your whole life to hurt you and those you love.
Do you go to bed or wake up in a bad mood? Is anger your default response? Are you grumpy and/or easily irritated? This is “chronic anger.” It means your anger is out of control. Chronic anger is bad for your physical health. It raises levels of cortisol, adrenaline, and other hormones so that your body is stuck in “fight or flight,” which, over time, causes emotional exhaustion and can hinder good decision making. And anger is bad for your relationships. A short temper causes constant fights and pushes your loved ones away. It can even result in violence toward others or yourself.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can have the life you want, one that is happy and free of destructive anger. In anger therapy, you will get help to identify the sources of your anger and learn coping techniques and healthy solutions for dealing with stressful or irritating situations. You can learn how to calm yourself down with breathing and other techniques so that you can talk about why you are angry without lashing out at others.
Emotional distress can manifest as anxiety.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast your anxieties upon Him, for He cares for you.” There are two realities: 1) God cares for us, and 2) we have anxieties. Anxiety is part of life. You see a dangerous situation and feel apprehensive. You get nervous before taking a big test or giving a big speech. You don’t want to get sick, so you wash your hands and try to avoid getting close to sick people. Those are all normal anxieties. But if your anxiety starts taking over your life so that you avoid people, have panic attacks, start fearing things that aren’t much of a threat, or experience recurring nightmares, these are symptoms of abnormal anxiety that needs attention. God says don’t live with this kind of anxiety; cast it on Him.
If you are struggling with anxiety, you may have been like most people who don’t seek help because they believe it is a part of life and they should just “get over it” or “deal with it”. In truth, prolonged anxiety takes a toll on you. One way your body is designed to cope with anxiety is by releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol in your system leads to higher glucose levels which causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, hyperglycemia and diabetes. Overactive stress hormones can lead to a suppressed immune system which opens you up to a myriad of other physical issues.
A therapist can help identify some of the ways anxiety specifically affects you. Anxiety can be the result of something unresolved in your life or even some event that you haven’t fully recovered from, so it continues to cause emotional and physical reactions. Because you live with this on a daily basis, you may not see all the ways if affects you and how you could be free from it, but a therapist will! A therapist will recognize the pieces of the puzzle that are missing and help you discover, name and place them in the right place to make the picture come into focus and be complete.
Emotional distress can manifest as depression.
In Psalm 40:2, David said, “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm.” That’s a great description of depression. In Bible times, they would dig pits in clay soil and mine the clay for potters to make vessels from. When the clay got wet, the pit was too slick to climb out of by yourself, so you become “mired,” or stuck, in the clay pit. Maybe you are stuck in a depression you can’t climb out of. You feel heavy, the world seems dark, it takes all the strength you have just to get through the day, sleeping is hard, you don’t want to be around people, maybe you’re using drugs or alcohol to cope, you can’t concentrate, you cry for no reason, perhaps you even have thoughts of taking your life. That is a miry pit, indeed.
But there is hope. David said God brought him up from that pit and set his feet on a rock. And He can do that for you. Depression has many causes including changes in brain chemistry, hormones, genetics, a life experience, health issues, or a loss of human connection. Whatever the cause, understand that you are not alone. Fifteen percent of adults in America will experience depression in their life at some point. But depression can be treated. The most successful treatment for depression is medication and talk-therapy. While we don’t prescribe medication, we excel at talk-therapy. A trained therapist can help you get to the root of what is causing your depression and give you techniques for breaking the negative cycle of depression and regulating your emotions so that you are able to find joy, satisfaction, and hope again.
Emotional distress can manifest as trauma.
One of the oldest questions of humans is, “Why does God allow suffering?” The whole book of Job was written about this question. There are no easy answers, but one thing is certain, God cares and through Jesus Christ, He has entered our suffering and has experienced trauma at the hands of fallen people in a fallen world. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”
If you have experienced trauma through physical, mental, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse, or if you were traumatized by an event like an accident, attack, rape, or murder, as a coping mechanism, your brain responded by rewiring itself. As a result, you may be experiencing anxiety, depression, dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares, substance abuse, hostility, detachment from relationships, withdrawal, and illness. You may have unwanted memories or re-live the trauma, which causes sweating, hearth palpitations, or even panic attacks. You might have a constant sense of dread or hyper-vigilance, jumpiness, or irritability. Maybe you have trouble concentrating or you become easily overwhelmed or confused.
You are not weak or broken. You are human. This is your brain’s defense mechanism against the terrible thing that happened to you. But there is healing. It takes time and each person’s timeline is different. But recovery from trauma is possible. It is not possible, however, if you just try to “buck up” and “walk it off” on your own. No one recovers from trauma alone, but if you will reach out to a trained therapist, your trauma can be treated with talk therapy, or neurofeedback therapy, or EMDR (Eye movement, desensitization, and reprocessing), and cognitive processing. It is possible to recover from trauma and have the life you want.
Emotional distress can manifest as grief.
Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you are grieving and brokenhearted, God is near. He knows what it’s like to lose a loved one...His Son died. He knows the pain of separation…on the cross, Jesus cried, “Why have You forsaken Me?”
Grief is often presented as a five-stage process with denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then finally acceptance. For some, this may be so, but for others it may be a chaotic swinging back and forth with emotions. You might feel shock, sadness, anger, confusion, or even relief. You can experience regret, shame, or guilt. Everyone is different. You could even feel that you’re handling it pretty well, and then you see a character on a TV show or movie die or lose a loved one, and suddenly grief hits you again.
If your grief doesn’t diminish, but persists over a long time and interferes with your daily life, that may be a condition known as prolonged grief disorder. Some of its symptoms are persistent longing for the deceased, difficulty accepting the death, intense emotional pain or numbness, feeling like you’ve lost a part of yourself, persistent depression, and withdrawal from typical social activities. Prolonged Grief Disorder general involves the loss of a child or partner, or where there is a sudden or violent death.
At Christian Counseling Associates, we have trained therapists who specialize in grief counseling. In a safe, accepting space in the counseling room, you can process your feelings and learn new ways to cope with your experience of loss.
Take The Next Step
If you are struggling with any one of the types of emotional distress I have discussed, I urge you to read more about it, and when you're ready reach out to us and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation to get you started with your counseling treatment.
A.J. Molina is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Christian Counseling Associates. He is taking new clients in the Grapevine office.