Four years ago, amid postpartum anxiety, after being awake for several nights in a row, I could not understand why my body and my mind were not lining up. I was suffering from insomnia, and I was battling constant negative thinking. I was battling with all my might, trying so hard to get better. I focused heavily on changing my dysfunctional thoughts. Every time a terrible thought came, I switched it to something more rational. I was practicing cognitive behavioral therapy. I had an app to help me; yes, there is an app for that. Being a Christian, I also used scriptures to combat negative thinking. The problem was, as soon as I felt rational and calm, another terrible thought hit me again. It was like I was fighting thoughts 24 hours a day. It was exhausting, which was not helpful since I was already exhausted from lack of sleep.
Eventually, I started taking a different approach, which was mindfulness and meditation. Although meditation has Buddhist roots, it is often practiced without religious ties. Mindfulness, contrary to cognitive behavioral therapy, does not challenge or replace negative thinking. Mindfulness practitioners view thoughts as just thoughts. Their perspective is that challenging thoughts can make them stronger. They find it best to simply let the thoughts flow without judgement. This practice changed my life.
See, I never had a problem fighting. If I have a problem, I like to solve it. I like to fix things. It was common sense for me to fight my negative thinking using cognitive behavioral techniques. The problem was that my body was already in a constant fight or flight mode. That therapy approach simply made me fight harder when I was excessively exhausted. It did not matter how much scripture I stated, I did not get better. Settle down Christians, I did not stop believing in God. I just needed a different approach to help my mental health. Although it took time, when I practiced mindfulness and meditation, I was able to release so much pressure from myself during a time when I was being extremely impacted by hormones that were not exactly in my control. I did not put nearly as much emphasis on my difficult thoughts. I acknowledged them, then I let them go. I did not lose sight of my spiritual beliefs. It turned out that God did not need me spouting out scripture and fighting so hard. In fact, I think He needed me to just rest.
Now, I have spent quite a bit of time learning about different therapy theories. There are a lot more than I ever knew existed. Cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based therapies have both been shown to be effective, especially with anxiety and depression. Many therapists try to stick to one theory. As some one who has used two different approaches in my personal life, I find myself insistent on finding a balance. Cognitive behavioral therapy did not work for me during postpartum depression, but it has in other scenarios. I have changed my thinking countless times when I was disrupted by irrational beliefs throughout life. I have also let my thoughts come and go without judgement many times. It has completely depended on the situation. If I am feeling sad because I miss a loved one, I accept the thought and allow it to come and go. If I am feeling nervous about a change, it helps me to allow myself to be nervous, letting it come and letting it go. Sometimes, however, if I start thinking things like, “I am a failure,” I practice a more cognitive approach, adjusting my thought patterns. I have learned to use both theories at different times in my life. It simply boils down to finding a balance, using wisdom, and finding what works.
This concept is not only applicable to which therapy approach I use when I begin to practice, or which technique I use for myself. It is applicable to so much more in life. Sometimes, we simply must try things, readjust, and figure out what works. There is not a perfect handbook for life. Even if you are a Christian and you feel your “handbook” is the bible, there are countless experiences, possibilities, and interpretations. I have had to learn how to navigate through life using what works best at the time. I am learning to be open to whatever I might need in the future, being mindful and intentional about whatever path I take. There is so much freedom in this.