11 ways we can all nurture our mental health

May 18, 2018

Many of us are, frankly, obsessed with the health of our bodies—except when it comes to our brains. Most people don’t think much about the most complex organs in our bodies until we are forced to consider our mental health, because something has gone wrong. And some of the things that can go wrong with our brains are outside our control—we can’t always do anything to prevent genetically inherited conditions, the consequences of trauma, or other forms of injury and disease.

At the same time, our mental health is not entirely outside our control. In fact, even when a genetic predisposition is present, or our circumstances are harmful, our lifestyle choices can prevent a disorder from developing, lessen its severity, or help us achieve better recovery. Regardless of our predispositions, experiences, or sense of health, it really doesn’t make sense for anyone to neglect the opportunity to protect and strengthen our mental health.

No matter who you are, why not give some thought and care to your mental health this year?

Here are 10 ways we can all do that.

1. Laugh: Laughter really is among the best forms of medicine. Studies have shown that laughter can improve our health in multiple ways, including by lightening our mood, relieving tension, and improving our cognitive function. It can also change our outlook on life, make us more creative and resourceful, and make us more open to friendly relationships with other people. I hope you have someone in your life who can make you laugh. But you can always work on making yourself laugh, too, and you might entertain someone else in the process. And if all else fails, try YouTube.

2. Walk: Exercise in general is good for our mental health, and walking is great. And for reasons scientists don’t completely understand, walking in nature specifically is especially good for our brains. Try going for a walk each day, either as part of your exercise routine or for a quick head-clearing stroll. Get outside for it if you can. And by the way, some studies have shown just being in nature, walking or not, is very good for our brains. So get out there!

3. Be grateful: Gratitude is good for our mental health. It changes the way our brains function. It brings discipline to our thoughts, and it redirects our attention to thought patterns that are good for us rather than destructive. It reduces depression, envy, frustration, regret, and other negative emotions that work against us. It can literally change our minds. So count your blessings. If you make the effort, you’ll never run out of things to be grateful for.

4. Pray: For people who believe in God and the power of prayer, it can’t seem particularly surprising that studies would show prayer is good for us. When we connect with God, turn our attention to his love for us, express trust in him, renew our perspective, and receive God’s comfort, of course we’re going to experience a kind of nurture and help we can’t receive anywhere else. Prayer in community, and on behalf of others, can also strengthen the sense of support and connection in our relationships with other people—which are also good for us. But in case you had any doubts, research does indeed show that prayer can reduce depression, stress, and anxiety and is good for our overall health. And prayer doesn’t have to be hard. We don’t have to come up with anything profound to say. It doesn’t even require words. The Bible tells us, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom. 8:26). So when prayer feels hard, just bring yourself before God.

5. Eat well: Most of us readily accept the idea that eating well is good for our bodies. But it’s common to overlook the effect our diet can have on our minds. More and more studies are showing links between nutrition and mental health. So eat consistently, eat healthy foods, and pay attention to what seems to feed you well, body and mind.

6. Sleep well: Sleep and mental health have an intertwined relationship—a problem with one causes problems with the other. Mental health problems can disrupt our sleep patterns, and sleep problems can cause mental health dysfunction. It’s important to consistently go to bed at a healthy hour and get a full, restful sleep (seven to nine hours for most adults). And this can be especially critical for people who have some kind of struggle with their mental health. If you experience a sleep problem, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. Sleep disruptions can be indicators of a mental health problem or other health issues.

7. Do something difficult: Hard work (as long as it’s balanced with other health-supporting activities) can be very good for us. And meeting and overcoming challenges is a great way to support our mental health. It helps us develop mental strength and confidence, learn (which is good for us), and tap into new or dormant internal resources. So consider tackling something that is going to challenge your mind.

8. Face your fears: When you feel fearful or anxious, your mind and body may tell you the best thing you can do is avoid what scares you. But the truth is, our fears grow larger as we avoid them. And psychologists know the best way to deal with anxiety is to face the things that scare us and push through our reactions to them. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this can be a healing process. If necessary, seek support for this process in the form of someone who specializes in fear, anxiety, and possibly exposure therapy. And remember you’re never alone. God promises you the same thing he promised his ancient people: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 40:10).

9. Go to church: Research has shown that people who regularly attend religious services experience fewer problems with depression and other psychiatric problems. This makes sense when you think about it: nurturing our spiritual nature lifts the other elements of who we are, just as caring for our physical or emotional health has an impact on every other aspect of our well-being. Attending services keeps us in contact, and perhaps in nurturing relationship, with a community of people. It fosters a sense of meaning in our lives. And it reminds us that we have hope in God when we are feeling hopeless. The apostle Paul instructed us all to “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess. 5:11), and we can’t do that on our own. When we gather with God’s people, we strengthen ourselves against the discouragement that can come from getting stuck in our own heads. Oh, and one more thing: the more often people attend religious services, the lower their risk for substance abuse, which is highly correlated with mental health problems—which brings me to another point.

10. Stay clean and sober: Many people with mental health problems also have problems with substance abuse. In fact, substance abuse and addiction is itself a category of mental disorder. For people needing emotional or mental relief, drugs and alcohol can seem like a good idea. They might seem helpful. But they always make things worse. And substance abuse can actually cause mental health problems in some cases, particularly in people who use drugs in their youth. If you struggle with a mental health problem or you’re experiencing emotional difficulties, resist the temptation to turn to drugs or alcohol for help or escape. I promise you will only dig yourself in deeper if you go down that road. And if you already have this pattern in your life, please recognize that your mental health is unlikely to improve unless you also receive help for substance abuse. Seek help from a “dual diagnosis” program that treats both.

11. Do something constructive: Start or restart a hobby. Get involved in a service project. Read. Learn about a new topic. Help someone else with a project. Help a kid with homework. Studies have shown such activities can be great for our overall health and can have specific benefits for our mental health.

Making choices like these won’t guarantee you never experience a mental disorder or emotional struggle. And they probably won’t be enough to “cure” a challenge you’re already living with. But in either case, they will help. So as you’re thinking about your health, give some thought to that powerful organ that sits above your shoulders. Consider the all-important function of your mind. And do something good for yourself. This article originally appeared here.

Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is the award-winning author of Blessed Are the Unsatisfied: Finding Spiritual Freedom in an Imperfect World, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry and Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also an editor for Moody Publishing, a leadership coach, and a … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24