*This post was written by my husband, Kevin. He is both a pastor and a father of four, as well as one of the healthiest people I know. Thankfully, he writes from experience as he practices each of these three strategies daily and his investment in our family is invaluable because of it.
At the end of 2018, several news agencies reported on the latest findings from the Centers for Disease Control regarding life expectancy in the United States. Virtually all the headlines read the same: “Life Expectancy in the United States on the Decline.” The articles all emphasized how this is a trend not seen since 1915-1918, a four year period that included World War I and a flu pandemic that killed 675,000 people. For the last century, the average life span of Americans has steadily increased, but now the trend has reversed itself. We are now a nation whose physical health is in decline.
On the surface, this report doesn’t fit with what we know to be true. Over the last ten decades, we have become a healthier people because of advancements in medical technology. Vaccines have saved millions of lives from deadly diseases. We continue to make advancements against cancer. New drugs are able to control high blood pressure, thyroid problems, out-of-control cholesterol, and a host of other maladies. Why, then, are we dying faster? What are the reasons behind our national reversal of fortune?
There are two.
Drugs and Suicide.
Since 1999, the increase in drug overdoses and suicides has been dramatic. I won’t give you all the stats (you can easily Google these), but, briefly, the suicide rate has gone up 50% and drug overdoses have increased by 300-400%. Again, there has been a dramatic rise in deaths that are entirely preventable.
So, let’s dig a little here: if drug use and the suicide rate have increased, then, logically, we would say that anxiety and depression have increased. I realize that not all drug use is related to anxiety, but in my experience, there is nearly always a “need to escape” when someone takes a pill. The drug is a pressure release valve, giving the individual (even for just a few hours) some measure of relief from the stress of life and the anxiety being experienced.
Here is why this is important: You have people who love you and need you. Your family doesn’t want you checking out of this world prematurely. One of the greatest investments you can make in your family is investing in your own physical, mental, and spiritual health. While tending to these aspects of your body and soul won’t guarantee you a happy marriage and family life, it will greatly increase the odds that you and your family will thrive.
What can you do?
1 – Get Physical
We’ve become a nation of screen-staring, couch-sitting zombies. Again, you can Google the stats on this. There are countless studies showing our national propensity to live with our faces glued to a screen. We sit or lie down for hours and scroll through Instagram posts, or binge watch Netflix shows, or mindlessly play the latest X-box game. We finally decide to put down our device for a moment to get something to eat, then we munch on some processed food we unwrapped from a package. Then it’s back to our screen-staring.
Here’s my advice: put aside the electronics for a while, get outside, go to the gym, play on a sports team, take a walk in your neighborhood, or anything else that gets you physically moving.
When I was in my 20’s, an older friend gave me some great advice. “The easiest thing in the world to do is nothing,” he told me. “As you age, you’ll be tempted to curl up on the couch with a blanket. You’ve got to fight that urge.” He then advised me to mix cardio and weight training, and to try to do something almost every day. While the busyness of life sometimes gets in the way, I have generally followed the advice I received years ago. As I’ve moved from my 20’s to my 30’s to my 40’s, I realize more and more the truth spoken by my wise, older friend. With each passing year, it becomes more of a challenge to get onto the cardio machine, or lift the weights, or get out off of the couch to go and do. I have to fight the urge, but it’s worth the fight. For my mental and physical heath, I just cannot take the easy route and do nothing.
If you’re new to the exercise deal, then start with something. Take a walk in your neighborhood before dinner. Join a gym. Planet Fitness is cheap ($10 per month) and everywhere. Plus, they have branded themselves as the “No Judgement Zone.” (When, by the way, did it become acceptable to add the “e” in judgement?) For less than the cost of two fancy, high-calorie coffee drinks, you can walk on the treadmill or use the elliptical when it’s raining, too cold, or too hot to walk outside. Additionally, you can use the weight machines to supplement your workout. If you’ve never lifted before and you want a great way to lose weight, then try those machines. Your metabolism will fire up and you’ll start seriously burning some fat. Watch out, though. Your appetite will also go wild. If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself attacking your refrigerator like a teenage guy just coming in from football practice.
2 – Put Down Your Screens
The increase in anxiety and depression just happens to coincide with our use of internet and screens. As our national screen time has increased, suicide and drug use has increased.
While this is anecdotal, in my observation, the more time individuals spend on social media, the less happy they seem to be. More pointedly… the more time they spend on social media, the less connected they seem to be. Ironic, isn’t it? Social media is meant to keep us connected to our friends. Instead, it has become a wall, keeping us from true friendships.
Think about how often you go to a restaurant and see a group of people eating dinner together, but they’re all on their phones. How many times have you seen mom and dad and a couple of teenagers, all with faces glued to their screens? Or a group of teenagers, hanging out with one another, but totally disconnected from the person across the table? They are physically in community, but mentally they are completely detached from the person sitting next to them.
Furthermore, they are living in a virtual world where everyone constantly posts only what they want others to see. Even the humorous posts of someone’s failings are framed in a way to show how absolutely fine they are with life going sideways. Imagine a picture of a 2-year-old standing next to the wall in a living room, marker in hand, and a colorful creation on the sheetrock behind her. Mom posts: “Take my eyes off of her for five minutes to cook dinner, and she suddenly decides she’s #Michelangelo. #Momfail.” While it appears that she’s having a miserable day, the post is a subtle way of saying, “My kid did this, but I’m cool with it. I can roll with the punches. I’m that stable.” To the mom who is struggling with her kid’s behavior and is about to come out of her skin, this post makes her feel inferior and inadequate as a mom.
Or for the teenager who sees the post of everyone at the party. The party she wasn’t invited to attend. Or the post of the team winning the state play-off. The team he didn’t make. Or the post of the guy at the beach with his girlfriend. The guy she used to date. This virtual world constantly chronicles what we are missing, reminds us of our failures, and shows us how we aren’t measuring up. And it’s increasing both our anxiety and depression.
So, be intentional about retracting your use of technology. Go to dinner with a friend and leave your phones in the car. Get off social media for a week. Read a book made of paper. Put your phone on silent at night. Better yet, put it in another room of the house. Whatever works best for you, figure out a way to protect yourself from falling into this trap, and watch how much it helps your mental health.
3 — Read Your Bible Every Day
If you’ve never done this before, it will change your life. Start with the book of Proverbs and read one chapter a day. There are enough chapters for you to spend an entire month reading this phenomenal book of wisdom. Then go to the Psalms and read a chapter a day. That’ll keep you busy for nearly half a year. Then read a chapter a day in Luke. Then go to Genesis and read through it. Then Romans. By then, a year will have passed by and your life will be completely changed. According to the book of Hebrews, (Hebrews 4:12) the Bible is living and active and will cut you right to the bone, but in a good way. God will reveal truths about himself, about this world, and about you. You’ll find that your life has changed for the better.
Nearly every day of my life, I read a chapter from my Bible and spend time in prayer. In addition to praying for my family, my church, my friends, and other specific, timely needs, I always pray for three things: that God will grant me wisdom on any decisions I need to make, that he will protect me from temptation that day, and that he will grow my character and make me more Christ-like. Virtually every day I ask God to do these three things in my life, and I’m convinced that my life is immeasurably better as a result.
Your family needs you to spend time reading your Bible and praying. They are counting on you to grow spiritually and to be feeding truth into your mind. They need you to make good, wise decisions and to avoid falling into dangerous temptations. They want you to be spiritually healthy, grounded, and not overcome by anxiety and depression. Your spouse, children, parents, siblings, co-workers, and friends will benefit from you tending to the garden of your soul in this way.
Commit now to starting 2020 off in the right way by investing in your own health, physically, mentally, and spiritually. This time next year, you and your family will be glad you did.
*One simple way to invest in the spiritual lives of your children is through reading the Bible together. Check out Wisdom for Tweens, a 30 day e-devotional designed for tweens and parents of tweens, based off of truths in the book of Proverbs. Use the code 2020 for a 20% discount. Click here for a sample devotional.