Dr. Paul Alexander is the President of Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He, his wife, and their kids have been attending Eastside Christian Church for over twenty years. Dr. Alexander has a passion for teaching and encouraging those who are struggling with fear, anxiety, and depression.
Not just because he’s a therapist by training, but he also shares that he’s been a lifelong worrier himself. He knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle in this area but has also found some practical things that have helped along the way. Right after college, he went through a really rough season struggling with depression for almost a year.
Mental health is an incredibly important and relevant topic right now. It was even before COVID because we knew that one in four Americans were struggling with either clinical depression or anxiety disorders. Take a minute to wrap your mind around that – one in four! When COVID came along, those stats went up to 25 percent. Thankfully, the rates are now coming back down. Many people struggle with various levels of worry or anxiety surrounding a loss of control. Anxiety and depression are sometimes referred to as “the common colds” of mental health.
Because this is so common, no one should feel embarrassed or ashamed if he/she is struggling with anxiety and/or depression. Dr. Paul Alexander has four practical recommendations for those who experience anxiety and/or depression.
1 – Go see a doctor. This allows you to address the biological aspects. It may be brain behavior, maybe something going on with hormones, who knows, but let’s at least have a physical, if you haven’t had one in a while.
2- Look at your alcohol and caffeine intake. Now that just got really personal, but before you ignore this recommendation, consider what alcohol or caffeine could be doing to your body that isn’t helping you in the long run. Years ago Dr. Alexander ended up in the ER with chest pains. He thought he was either having a heart attack or a panic attack. It turned out he was having a toxic reaction to twelve cups of coffee and Diet Cokes.
3 – Stop watching the news. There are a lot of studies that show if you watch the news right before you go to bed, you will sleep less, your sleep will be less productive, and you’ll feel more anxious and more depressed. So after COVID had been around for a little while, Dr. Alexander quit watching cable news. He still gets the headlines he needs for work through a couple of news feeds without the constant input of negative conflict, clickbait, and politics.
4 – Last, but probably most important, is to find someone you can be real with. It can be challenging to admit we are not in control. And finding someone to be real with means that we have to lessen our control so that we can have trust in a relationship. That’s why some people go see therapists because they know they can trust that relationship. Dr. Alexander recommends seeing a therapist, but also remember the benefits of a small group and/or support group. When we do life with people, our anxiety will go down because in a community we feel heard and understood. That’s the beauty of the church. It’s a place where we can come, admit we’re not okay, and find community. Take a risk!
About five years ago, Dr. Alexander was going through a difficult season and received this text from Eastside’s Pastor Gene Appel: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. In every part of your life acknowledge him and he will literally make the path straight instead of curvy.” He imagines that when he’s looking at things that are freaking him out. God takes what is crooked and bumpy and he pulls them straight so the path is smoother.
You can incorporate this verse as a prayer in your daily life. At night when you are going to bed, pray and ask the Lord to straighten out the path for the next day. Start each day with, “Lord, today I am going to trust you!” Stand firm and trust God when he says he will take care of you. The LORD loves you and cares for you.
Eastside Christian Church would like to be a safe place for you. Please take some time to check out our resources, small groups, and support groups. If you or someone you know is in a difficult season, we invite you to check out the Care & Recovery groups at Eastside. Don’t navigate these seasons alone, Eastside has a caring community of people who would love to walk beside you on your journey to hope and healing. There are so many groups to choose from. Check out: eastside.com/care. Our prayer is that you will incorporate one or all of the ideas from this blog into your life.