I wasn't raised in a particularly spiritual family, but I was given the knowledge to understand God and the Bible and I was given the encouragement to broaden my understanding of other religions and spiritual practices around the world. I did so in a haphazard way - I went to Sunday School while young, attended a different church or two with friends when I was in high school, and studied the ancient philosophers and religions in university. Nothing particularly stuck, and to be honest, I was too self-involved and free-spirited to care all that much.
I had the naivety of a child in that I believed I was invincible and the world was at my feet. It was a kind of faith, I suppose, in that, I never entertained the thought that anything would be difficult. I've always had the gift of a positive attitude in general, even though I only vaguely believed in God and never really had a conversation with Him. I had no reason to; I flowed from opportunity to opportunity, always with rather good "luck" and enjoying the adventure.
In my twenties and thirties, I began experiencing episodes of depression but always pulled myself out them eventually by scratching through the fog and pressing on. They were usually driven by outside circumstances, and I managed to sidestep them by changing jobs or cities or apartments. Anything for a fresh start.
When I hit 40, something changed. I began experiencing quite severe anxiety, complete with panic attacks. Sometimes out of nowhere, an overwhelming feeling of doom and fear would wash over me, making me sick to my stomach and have a difficulty breathing. It felt as if the world would end.
It didn't, of course. The attacks always subsided, but I lived in fear of when the next one would occur, and that gave me general anxiety that hovered like a raincloud.
In desperation, I began to investigate my faith. Slowly, I came out of the fog and into the sunshine again.
Unfortunately, I hear all too often of friends and acquaintances who are hitting mid-life and also struggling with anxiety or depression or simply a never-ending feeling of overwhelm. It's a time when we're super-busy with careers, kids, aging parents and sometimes having to deal with going through life solo. Add to that our compulsion to over-commit and entertain ourselves on screens (when we're not working on them), and it's a recipe for mental health issues like no generation has ever seen before.
I wonder if part of the problem is that our generation has lost faith: faith in God, in the Universe, in our own intuition, in our connection to one another and everything around us. We're ironically so connected online that we've forgotten that we're spiritually connected as well. We've forgotten that we don't need to be overwhelmed or anxious or depressed because God is in control and "this too shall pass."
It's easy to understand. We are beings that are constantly guided by our senses and our thoughts. All around us we see and hear and feel a million tiny things every day, and those things trigger thoughts and emotions that keep us thrashing around in our own small bubble.
Faith, on the other hand, requires us to acknowledge and believe in what our senses cannot distinguish. It requires us to turn off our rational thoughts and listen to our intuition (or soul or heart). This isn't something that comes easily. At least it didn't for me.
We sometimes get glimpses of the peace that faith can bring - at a church service or in a yoga class when we've become tuned into our inner self. But then the real world bombards us once again with bills and decisions and laundry and meetings, and that glimpse of bliss is too far away to bother chasing after.
To build lasting faith that brings consistent peace, we need to practice it daily; to strengthen and condition it just like we do with our muscles and our memory. It means making a commitment to it just as we would to a new relationship or a new class we take, and often it involves a lifestyle adjustment.
That's what I did, and it was life-changing. I've not had an episode of depression or a panic attack in years. I have much more peace in my life, and have found it easier to hear God speak to me. It still takes practice - when I lapse for a few days some of that fear and stress can creep back in - but my faith has become durable, and my life has become more meaningful.
You can do it too.
Here are ten ways to rebuild faith daily:
1. Read and/or listen to faith-filled teachings every single day.
It could be the Bible, quotes that remind you of the goodness and connectedness of the world or a book or podcast on spirituality. Check out my recommended list for ideas. Thich Nhat Hanh says to be mindful of consumption: ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being and joy in body and in consciousness. That means shut off the news network and violent Netflix shows and consume things that will build faith instead.
2. Be still.
You can't connect with your inner being/God/intuition without time to be still and quiet. Use that time to ask questions and listen for answers. Meditate to quiet your mind. Observe the natural world around you and the wonder that it holds. Pray.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Start consciously becoming aware of where you are in the present moment. Acknowledge that you are fine right now. Say in your head or even out loud the things you notice around you that you are grateful for. As Eckhart Tolle says, "Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it."
4. Practice breathing.
It may sound obvious, but we seldom breathe as we should to maintain optimal functioning. Deep belly breathing helps us clear our minds, lets our nervous systems work properly and allows us to connect with the present. Take three deep breaths every time you can remember to do so. In fact, make reminders to breathe deeply, for example when waiting in a line or every time you go through a doorway.
5. Write in a journal.
Although this can be challenging, it's important to build a routine of dumping your thoughts on paper. Write down your worries and let them go. Write out the burning questions you have. Write down your hopes and dreams. Write down what you're grateful for each and every day.
6. Visualize your happy place.
Sometimes, a situation can be so overwhelmingly difficult that it's hard to find anything positive within it. In that case, have a vision ready of your dream life or a place or person that makes you happy. Visualizing what you want and love can actually make you feel - even when you don't have it yet- positive.
7. Listen to music.
It's amazing the power music has to lift your energy and bring to you a place where it's much easier to be grateful and faithful. Operating at a higher energy frequency - which can often be achieved by listening to music - will allow you to attract positive things and help rebuild faith. Listen to uplifting and/or soothing music and turn off the news channel.
8. Help others.
Taking the focus off of yourself and your problems by serving and helping others restores faith in the connectedness of us all. Look for even small ways you can help others daily: a smile, a compliment, holding the door or helping a neighbor mow the lawn.
9. Recognize when your ego has taken control.
Your ego, Tolle says, is your armour that separates you from all others and makes you think you're on your own. And so when you complain about the situation or try to control it or let anger or fear or sadness overcome you because of it, you are letting the ego have its way. Recognize when this happens - when your thoughts and feelings overcome you - and simply observe it. In this way, it will diminish and you can let it go.
Trying to hang onto control means continuing to worry, compare, stress, fear and despair. But handing over the unknown and trusting that God is working for your good means enjoying peace, strength, ease and joy. Which sounds better to you?