According to many mental health experts, anxiety and depression are both considered mood disorders that many people struggle with today. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. That’s close to 18% of U.S. population!

Mental health experts have prescribed everything from avoiding caffeine and alcohol, to getting more sleep and exercise, to prescription drugs—with little or no results. Many doctors suggest that antidepressants are not addictive because they don’t give you a buzz that you chase after like alcohol or cocaine. However, most pharmacists consider any antidepressant a controlled substance that requires a doctor’s written request every time a person refills their prescription. And if you discontinue an antidepressant abruptly you can experience withdrawal symptoms. (Sounds addictive to me)

Do you often deal with anxiety? Are you consumed with worry? Even well-meaning Christians will suggest that you can learn to manage these emotions by simply meditating on Scripture, pray, and focus on Jesus. All of these things can be helpful in overcoming depression and anxiety, but I don’t believe that it’s that simple.

Depression is something that has been around for thousands of years. Before I went through my own valley of suffering and depression, I would read the Psalms. I can’t tell you how thankful I was that God recorded King David’s struggle with depression in His Word. Because now I could identify with his suffering—I cried out those same cries and felt those same pains of despair. It somehow brought me comfort just to know that I was not the only one who ever experienced depression like this.

There may be some underlying mental disorders that can contribute and even exacerbate depression and anxiety, but I believe that the key to overcoming depression and anxiety that most people suffer with is forgiveness.

We all know how bad it feels to have someone judge us harshly, and refuse to forgive. It’s unfair, and it makes us feel sad, angry, and depressed. One of the sad facts of life is that we all make mistakes. We all hurt people. We all sin. None of us are perfect, so to expect perfection of yourself or others is an exercise in futility.

There are so many people who are carrying around the baggage of unforgiveness. Without forgiving others, the pain that they inflicted on you never leaves. It can’t heal because you won’t let it heal. The people who hurt you aren’t being hurt if you hold onto the pain, and refuse to forgive them. That only hurts you. A wise man once said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

But what do you do when the person who hurt you is yourself? You must forgive yourself too. Sometimes we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else does. It’s sometimes more difficult to accept our own imperfections. But in order to forgive ourselves, we have to accept them. Think of the pain you feel when you’ve hurt someone else, and that person refuses to forgive you. Well, believe it or not, it hurts even more when you don’t forgive yourself. The pain is there, but until you realize that it is self-inflicted, you can’t let it go. Regrets and unforgiveness create pain, anxiety and depression, but you don’t have to allow it.

King David was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) and Israel’s most illustrious king—a giant killer, and yet, here was a man given to depression in the midst of his suffering:

“My heart is blighted and withered like grass; I forget to eat my food. Because of my loud groaning I am reduced to skin and bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins.
I lie awake; I have become like a bird alone on a roof.”
(Psalm 102:4-7 NLT)

But David later acknowledged his sin to God and was forgiven—and in turn forgave others. (And himself) Just as I lamented about my depression before God, I am thankful that I could also join in singing out the same praises as King David did:

“I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.” (Psalm 40:1-3 NLT)

If you are one of the many people who has been beating yourself up for things you’ve done in the past, or something someone has done to you, it’s time to stop it right now and forgive! Even if it’s not possible to forgive someone because of death or inaccessibility to the offender, speak the acknowledgement anyway—and mean it. Repeat it as many times as you feel necessary. Over time, the unforgiveness, as well as the depression related to it, will ease, and eventually, your heart and mood will become much lighter.

The most important step in forgiving is to simply to make the decision to do it. You don’t have to “feel” it yet. That will come with time. You don’t have to wait for the person you hurt to forgive you either. In fact, they might not ever forgive you. But if they choose to hold onto that pain after you’ve tried to make it right, you are not responsible for their unforgiveness. You are only responsible to ask for you. Just remember that forgiving doesn’t mean that you have to have Thanksgiving dinner with the one who hurt you. Nor does it mean that you allow yourself to be abused, or that you must continue to subject yourself to the hurtful actions of others. You must forgive, but a continued relationship with the person who hurt you is completely up to you.

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