How should the church think about mental health?
Our mental state is connected to body and spirit, and, like them, can be in a state of unhealthiness. In this perspectives section, leaders and health practitioners from Anabaptist-related congregations around the world address how their church has a role in caring for the mental health of their congregants.
Stress management for mental health
Stress is a major problem in Japan. When someone becomes mentally or physically ill in Japan, we often say that it is because of stress. We feel stress most in interpersonal interactions: with work colleagues, family members or even among church members. When we feel stress in relationship, we lose inner peace. In this sense, “stress management” is important. We need to learn how to manage our stress to create inner peace.
Stress causes not only mental illness, but also physical illness because our bodies and minds are related to each other. Similarly, if we are physically ill, our mental state may also become weak.
Mind and body are connected
So when we think about mental health, it is important to remember that body and mind are not separated. Though stress is often understood as something we feel mentally, it is our bodies that first react to stress.
Imagine that you feel stress. Muscles of some parts of your body feel tension and get stiff. We need to know how to relax. I would like to take a look at “emotions” and “boundaries with relationship” to release stress by two approaches of body and mind.
First, the key issue is “feeling,” that is, emotions, especially negative ones. When we have a conflict in relationship, we likely feel stress with negative feelings toward other people. When we have negative feelings, we feel bad or even guilty, because we are supposed to be kind, nice, gentle and so on, especially as Christians. We lose inner peace.
We need to control or renounce those negative feelings somehow. It is difficult and may take a long time, but first we need to be aware of and admit to having those negative feelings as human beings. Then we need to learn to how to deal with them.
Meditation and moving our bodies – exercising, dancing, walking and so on – are ways to release our feelings. My husband and I practice Aiki. This Japanese martial art was made for self defence; however, we practice it for our mental training. It is easier for me to meditate while moving my body, like doing Aiki or walking. And as a chiropractor, I believe it is useful to care our bodies physically. When our body is relaxed, our mind is also relaxed. Body influences mind.
Power of confession
A challenge for Christians to take care of negative feelings is probably that we find it difficult to admit to having them. Because it means we do not have peace in ourselves or with the others. If we have spiritual friends to meet periodically to share and pray together, that would be a wonderful way to work through these feelings and reduce stress.
As a Christian community, we need to create a safe place to confess our negative feelings to uplift them to the light of God. I would like to have a silent retreat for my congregation to look inside ourselves carefully, then share and pray.
Another key issue is boundaries in relationship. We need to learn to have healthy boundaries. Japanese people are not good at saying “No.” That is a stress. Because we want to keep peace or harmony with others, we often hesitate to say “No.” I see the troubles caused by unhealthy boundaries in churches.
I have a group that is learning about boundaries together. We use the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. It is helpful to know that God has boundaries in the Bible. As a group, we are looking at some stories in the Bible with the aspect of boundaries.
I find Aiki is also a way to learn boundaries. Maai, space and timing with others is important in Japanese martial arts. We get the sense maai in practicing. And ai of aiki means timing and connection; ki is a kind of energy in our body. We need to connect with the opponent through ki. The opponent is not an enemy but becomes a part of myself. Unless we are connected and become one, we cannot throw our opponent. This sense of timing, space and connectedness can be practical for our relationship with others.
I think that it is helpful to learn how to deal with stress to create inner peace for mental health. I found meditation and moving body to deal with negative feeling, and learning boundaries in relationship are useful.
—Miwako Katano a member of the Mennonite church in Sapporo, Japan.
This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2017