When your world is falling apart, what do you do? I mean really, don’t-know-if-you-can-breathe, falling apart.
My gut reaction is to isolate and hibernate. I stay off social media and email, I don’t leave my house or even answer my door. Chores may get done if they are critical, but otherwise, I tend to even ignore them. I’ll likely function enough to offer the most basic care for my family, but by and large, I want to do nothing.
The problem with this tendency is that it encourages greater negativity, increases mopiness, and generally demoralizes my already depressed mental state.
Want proof my reaction is universal?
The Science Behind the Emotions
In Shaunti Feldhahn’s book The Kindness Challenge, she mentioned an interesting study conducted by Stanford University psychology professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo in 1971. She writes,
[Dr. Zimbardo] and a team of researchers decided to study the effects of incarceration on prisoners and guards. Mentally and physically normal, healthy young men were randomly chosen to be either prisoners or guards in a Stanford basement wing modified to look like a prison. Intended to last two weeks, the study had to be discontinued after six days. The words and behavior the guards used to control the prisoners so thoroughly altered their feelings about the prisoners and their own authority that they became aggressive and even sadistic, and the prisoners were being seriously mistreated.
As one phychiatrist told me, “The Zimbardo prison study at Standford is a powerful testimony to how emotions often follow behaviors. Once the students started acting the part of prison guards, they began to feel the part. People assume that emotions are what shape behavior, but this is not necessarily true. The relationship is reciprocal; behavior often shapes how we feel about things. This is a well-documented finding.”
Behavior Shapes Emotions
Behavior shapes emotions.
I mentioned this in a post at the end of January, but I know it’s a truth that can be tough to accept. We want to believe it’s the other way around, or at least that another’s behavior’s dictates our emotions which then shapes our behaviors. (Anyone ever said, “He made me so mad!”?)
But it doesn’t work like that.
We choose our behavior, and that often dictates our emotions. (If you want to read more about this, I highly recommend Shaunti’s book!)
When Your World Is Falling Apart
So what do we do?
If you want to turn things around, or at least offer some stabilizing hope to a desperate situation, then consider these three keys that always help me. They may not fix everything, but they can make a huge difference in both your attitude and your outlook.
1. Stay in the Word.
I know you won’t want to. Picking up a book is not high on my priority list when I’m depressed, much less reading the Bible and hearing God’s thoughts about my demeanor.
Do it anyway.
The Bible may correct you, but it will also provide peace, comfort, and guidance.
I praise you, Lord,
for being my guide.
Even in the darkest night,
your teachings fill my mind. Psalm 16:7, Contemporary English Version
Again, I know this may be hard, and I know the words may not come.
Do it anyway.
Oftentimes when I’m particularly struggling, I can do little more than cry out for God to come. But that’s okay. It’s enough.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27, New Living Translation
3. Stay connected to Christian friends who love you.
Maybe you want to hibernate like I do. Can I tell you that isolation is a bad plan?
Instead, reach out.
Find one or two friends who love Jesus and will pray for you. You don’t have to tell them a lot about what’s going on if you aren’t in the mind frame to talk. Just a quick text to a close friend to say I’m struggling and need prayer is often enough for her to remind me how much I am loved and cherished — by her and by God.
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Holman Christian Standard Bible
Don’t Struggle Alone
God left us here to help each other. To encourage one another. Life is sometimes challenging or outright ugly. But we don’t have to stand alone when our world is falling apart.
Keep reading your Bible. Keep praying. Keep connected with friends. And see how God blesses your journey forward.