Some people think when a teen gets anxiety or depression, We’ve got to get meds or We need to get counseling or You need to get repentance in there. There’s no doubt that these areas may eventually need to be thought about, but I would say there are some basic steps we shouldn’t miss before we go to these areas. This came to me via a psychologist friend, a Christian who is a psychologist. I once asked him, What do you do for people who have depression and anxiety? He said, I give them three pills. I thought, Oh no, this is like the worst caricature of a psychologist! He laughed because he knew what I was thinking, and he said, Good diet, good exercise, and good rest. Now, he wasn’t saying that these areas in and of themselves will cure all depression and anxiety, but he was saying that they can help a lot in every case; and in some cases, that’s maybe all that is needed at a low level.
Pill #1: Good Diet
So what does he mean by a good diet? Eating healthier foods. There’s amazing research showing how some foods are real causes of anxiety and depression—they multiply certain processes in our body’s chemicals, and others are really good at suppressing these processes. So figuring out the right food to eat.
But you also think of mental diet—what you’re letting in your eyes and your ears through your devices and things like that. If we’re playing violent video games all the time or watching terrible news stories of school shootings all the time or just useless stuff coming in and overdosing ourselves on triviality and superficiality, that’s affecting us. Our mental diet has to be a healthy diet as well.
Pill #2: Good Exercise
My friend is very strong on daily exercise of 20-30 minutes, ideally outside. It’s not very easy in Michigan where I come from, especially in the winter. But being outside, there’s a big benefit from just the sunlight and being outside in the fresh air. If you can, obviously; inside is good enough. The environment you do it in is, again, very good for you mentally and emotionally to be out beside water or green trees, grass, nature. You think of Jesus speaking to the people in the Sermon on the Mount, Look at the birds, look at the fields, look at the flowers. He’s saying, Let nature come in, and all of that is restful.
Pill #3: Good Rest
That brings us to our third area. First diet, exercise—ideally outside and ideally everyday—and third, rest. Sleep is massive. It’s one of the ways God uses to cleanse our brains of really damaging chemicals. Teens sleeping rates have dropped about two hours in the last 20-30 years; that’s two hours a day. That’s over a day a week of sleep they’re losing, and that really affects your mental and emotional health. So trying to help them get good sleep. Take a day off each week, a weekly Sabbath; God made it for our health and benefit. Say, You don’t need to study today, just relax and play. It will make the other six days more productive, and helping them even to take time off during the day. It’s not like dawn to dusk or to sleep, packed and crammed; but even just to get a half hour of down time, doing something silly that just lets the body and the mind relax.
These are the three pills: diet, exercise, and rest. Very practical ways to help our teens with depression and anxiety.
This is a guest article by David Murray author of Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This: A Guide for Helping Teens through Anxiety and Depression. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.