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Staying Emotionally & Spiritually Healthy in Today’s World

previously published on January 2006

How can we stay emotionally and spiritually healthy in today’s world? There are many challenges that we first- and second-generation Korean Americans, face today. It can be difficult navigating our way through the precarious and treacherous waters of conflicting mores and values of two, sometimes diametrically opposed Eastern and Western, cultures. Even bridging the generation gaps with our parents and grandparents who faced very different challenges in Korea, can be extremely difficult. God bless our elders who faced war, starvation and hardship in Korea—suddenly thrust into a new country, they faced new survival issues.

As Koreans, we continue to face the problems of acculturation to a new society. As Christians, we face the challenges of maintaining our Christian faith in a world that seems contradictory to our belief system and we may find ourselves stuck with the same struggles and obstacles over and over again. As Adventists, we also face difficulties with the conflicting values and views of Christianity and the Adventist church itself.

This doesn’t mean that our lives are always dismal. There are many blessings to living in the U.S. However, it is no wonder that many people of Generation X and Y, Millennial, while trying to juggle parental expectations and acculturation, suffer from stress, depression, anxiety, “nervous break-downs,” family conflicts, relational problems, substance abuse and other addictions. How can we maintain our sanity in an often turbulent, upside-down, conflict-ridden world?

In the fast paced world of today, there needs to be a holistic approach to being spiritually and emotionally healthy. On the physical level, getting enough rest, exercise, water, and healthy nutrition are extremely helpful. Finding an activity that we enjoy such as biking, walking, and swimming is important. The body needs daily movement to rid itself of germs and improve the circulation. Relaxation and rest are keys for the body and mind to repair itself. Mentally, reading and solving puzzles can keep the mind sharp.

Recent research has proven positive thinking enhances the immune system! Emotionally, activities such as listening to music, having a hobby and sharing love with ourselves and others connect us to the heart of God. Spiritually, prayer, communion, and fellowship keep our connection with God pure. These strategies can help deal with stress and the negative events in life.

The Bible is our guide and direct link to God. It is the book that breaths divine life into a lost and hopeless world. It is God speaking and communicating directly to us through the Holy Spirit. We can use God as a compass to find our way through the murkiness and hopelessness of our existence. When our thoughts, feelings and attitudes are centered in God’s will, we are “in sync” with His ways. This doesn’t mean our lives will get any easier or better. In fact, sometimes they may get worse. Especially during the trials and tribulations, our strength from the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to handle these stressors.

Our Korean roots can also be a key to healing, just like in ancient times when a support system of accepting friends and fellow believers kept people accountable, encouraged and motivated in their personal journeys. In today’s world, having a relationship with God through prayer, reading the Bible, maintaining fellowship and sharing His love with others is very important.

Take the time each day for tranquility and rest. In these moments we can reflect more on important issues in our lives. This can be challenging for many people because in the silence our problems can emerge. In these times what can we do? So many Koreans have covered this up and pretended that everything is fine. So many Christians have turned to God and get angry with Him when He doesn’t take their ailment away. This is why it is important to realize that as Christians we need to do God’s work. We need to work on being the best we can be through our actions. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can be an important step. For moderate to severe problems psychotherapy has been successful for Christians, non-Christians, Koreans and others. When our faith is rooted in Christ we can handle even the most difficult challenges.
Our brains are similar to computer circuits. Electrical impulses are sent from an input area to an output area. There are many components in between that serve as memory devices, processing areas and central programming units. Actually this wiring is comprised of neurons or nerve cells that connect with other nerve cells to almost every area of our brain. These nerve cells send chemical or electrical signals to other nerve cells. Just like the circuits in a computer, our human circuits can get overloaded or work erratically. Problems occur when the circuits go around and around in the same place in the form of repetitive thoughts, or as in obsessive-compulsive disorder where people are compelled to do ritualized acts to reduce anxiety. In addition, the ups and downs of bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) are attributed to erratic brain activity.

What can we do when problems in the brain occur? Sometimes we have to delete files with junk (i.e. negative thoughts) and put in good files (Scripture) to help things run more smoothly. However, sometimes people are not able to do this by themselves and may need the assistance of a therapist. Psychiatric medication is a key for people with severe disruptions in the brain circuitry, which can cause perceptual disturbances such as hearing voices or seeing things that are not there. If your condition requires more intensive treatment, the help from a mental health professional can be effective treatment. Medications and therapy help neurotransmitters and pathways in our brains function more effectively. However, if you seek professional help, please do not think that it reflects negatively upon you as a Christian. It is important to realize that having emotional difficulties is not a sign of spiritual weakness.

In the end, it is not our weaknesses or flaws which define who we are; for we are all fallen, sinful beings; but it is God’s love for us that gives us grace, purpose and redemption. This is especially true for Asian Americans. We all know how deeply imbedded the concept of guilt is in our unconscious minds due to our Confucianist background, complete with its filial piety and reverence for society as a whole. Remember as we tend to our Temple, we are staying emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Dr. Austina Cho has worked as a community mental health psychiatrist for over five years- Currently she works at an adult outpatient clinic in a busy hospital in South Los Angeles and also works part time for the Asian American Drug Abuse Program.

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