Depression or Grief: How Do I Know?

“Are My Feelings Normal?”

3899825528_7261373b15_bAs a professional counselor, I hear this question many times per week. People in a variety of situations, heartaches and struggles just want to know “Do others feel similar to me when they go through comparable circumstances?”  And their second question follows closely on the heels of the first, “How can I stop the pain?”

This question has personal and professional importance to me. When my mom died in 1996, I was officially diagnosed for the first time with depression. I was not a counselor at the time, but looking back I was extremely sad and hopeless.  I struggled every day to get myself and my small children ready for the day, was always tired and uninterested in most activities. After months in this zombie-like state, I finally drug myself to counseling and within months was back on track with life. With the loss of my dad this past year I came face-to-face with the fear of the “black dog of depression” enveloping me again and taking over my life. This time I was better equipped with an understanding of grief and specific tools for keeping the depression on the distant horizon.  For a great overview of depression take a moment and watch “I had a black dog, his name was depression” on YouTube.

The following are some differences between grief and depression:


Bereavement/Grief includes:

  • Losing something or someone significant to you. (i.e. a loved one, job, home)
  • Experiencing painful emotions felt in waves intertwined with positive feelings and memories of what was lost.
  • Maintaining good self-esteem with the feelings of loss and emptiness directed at what is missed.

Major Depression is different in that:

  • It can be either triggered by an event like a death (or any another traumatic event) or it can be spontaneous and happen without any warning.
  • Moods and thoughts are predominately negative most of the day every day.
  • The experience of low self-worth and a self-critical inward focus rather than the outward focus on missing someone.

The experience of grief varies for different people. It is stressful and can last up to 1 – 2 years but it does not automatically lead to depression. While it may be difficult to discern between mild depression and grief, for many people an exact diagnosis is unnecessary. It has been shown that 40% of all depressive symptoms start to lift within 4 months without any treatment and many of the interventions shown to help relieve grief also work effectively with mild depression.

So to the second question, “How can I stop the pain?”

I would encourage you to ask a different question—if you can.

Instead of asking to be rid of the pain, ask:

How can I live well in the midst of pain?


Take Personal Responsibility for Feeling Better

Probably the biggest difference for me between the last time I dealt with a parent’s death and this time is the realization that I am responsible for caring well for me. I can invite others to help but I no longer expect my spouse, kids or friends to make me happy. I am happy when I am with them—well, most of the time :-)—but they are NOT responsible for me feeling better.  My heart, my job!

Be social

The last thing I wanted to do after my dad’s death was to be with other people. Those awkward moments when people don’t know what to say are difficult; however, often just being around others and listening to their conversations helps you know that life will eventually return to “normal”. Some other options: Attend church. Volunteer. Do things for others. Attend a grief class.


I believe managing mild depression or grief with exercise is a double win! You get in better shape and you start to refill the happy chemicals in your brain. (Severe depression is different and usually needs an anti-depressant to enhance good therapy.) Walking is great. Finding an online workout has been very helpful personally.  Join a gym if you need the motivation of a trainer and classes. Find something you like so you will be motivated to continue. Three times a week, 30 minutes a time has been shown to be successful in lifting mild depression!

Give yourself time. Don’t rush. Remember the good times

Journaling can provide a container for the grief when it threatens to overwhelm you. Get those sad thoughts out on paper where they can be cared for effectively. My mom’s 85th birthday would have been this past week. I journaled about all the things I loved about her and yes, I teared up. But it helps to keep bringing healing to my soul and joyful memories to my brain—releasing happy chemicals! It’s a win, win!

Think about your thoughts

Talking with a friend, spouse or counselor can help you process the thoughts of grief, sadness and at times regret. Our thoughts determine our feelings which lead to our eventual behavior. For example, if I start to think “The pain of losing my dad will always be unbearable,” it leads to feelings of hopelessness and discouragement which lead to actions of staying in bed or isolating from others. It is extremely valuable to examine our thoughts with someone who can help us identify better thoughts which can lead to different feelings and more helpful actions. Instead, I might choose to think “I miss my dad but I was so blessed to have a great dad,” leading to feelings of gratefulness and writing a card to someone telling them why I am thankful for them today.

Sit with the Ultimate Comforter

Prayer and sitting with Jesus gave me hope when losing my parents seemed dark and hopeless. There is NO substitute for God in the walking of the grief journey. His word states, “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 2:3b-4 (NLT). If you are not a believer or are REALLY mad at God over the death of your loved one, I understand. I was there. Talk to him about your anger and your loss, He cares that you are hurting.

If you have recently lost a loved one, I am so sorry. IT IS DIFFICULT. There is no quick healing or solution. I would be honored to journey beside you as you process this grief. Maybe you have a great friend to encourage you, if so you are blessed! Ask them if they will walk this grief journey with you. I encourage you, don’t walk it alone. God intends for us to heal in community. Praying for you today!


christian marriage therapyLooking for help? Join the 3,000+ families who have found the help they need by trusting the counselors of MyCounselor.Online. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $50-$155 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here for Christian Marriage Counseling

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Embracing Single Sexuality as a Christian

A recently married Christian couple sits before me in my office and through tears and shame relate their story:

The husband: “We waited. We were virgins on our wedding night. We never even kissed before marriage but that first night something went horribly wrong. We tried and tried to have sex and it just wouldn’t work. Now my wife is not even interested because of the intense pain it caused her. My wife has been to the doctor and there is no obvious medical condition.”

The wife: “It’s been 3 years and we are ready to call it quits. We are wondering if there is even a chance that we could conceive children. It’s all my fault.” Their heads drop as they cry together.

It is familiar cry of couples who unwittingly sabotaged their sexual relationship by putting sexuality “on hold” while dating and can’t “switch” it back on for the wedding night. Am I suggesting they should have had intercourse before marriage to make sure all the parts worked? No; rather I am proposing that sexuality is an essential part of our being from birth and should be faithfully stewarded rather than repressed.

This scenario will be addressed in two ways, first in a preventative manner looking at what this couple could have done during their dating season to steward their sexuality and secondly in a restorative manner—what are some ways to bring healing now? These two articles are Embracing Single Sexuality as a Christian and Overcoming Sexual Barriers in Marriage.

Embracing and Stewarding Single Sexuality as a Christian

Sexuality was God’s idea and reflects his very image. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.There is something unique about God’s plan for two persons to reflect his fullness.

Christian singles today are waiting longer to marry and are bombarded from two sides of the cultural sexual war:
Side One –generally promoted by TV and Hollywood: “Why wait? Sex is meant to be enjoyed!”

Side Two –generally promoted by the church: “Sexuality will get you into trouble. Do your best to shut it off and suppress it until marriage.”

Clients that have fully embraced either one of these options sit in my office devastated by the outcome. Let’s explore a third and better option:

The Third Option: Stewarding Single Sexuality

What does it mean to steward our sexuality? I believe this includes embracing God’s design for human relationships. God was clear in the beginning about his image being defined by the two sexes—male and female. Our sexuality does not start at puberty but rather at birth.

Authors Rosenau and Wilson (2006), give overlapping concepts of the various aspects of sexuality including lifelong sexuality, erotic sexuality, and true sex. Sexual activities fall into these three categories reserved for specific people and places. Let’s compare the three categories:

1. Sexuality

Sexuality encompasses all of our whole being from birth. We relate to others out of our sexuality every day. Sexuality drives us to intimacy with friends, God, and potentially our partner. It defines us as male or female.

This includes our sexual identity as male or female and all of our day-to-day interactions. It is the largest and most comprehensive circle in which the next two categories sit.

2. Erotic Sexual Behaviors

Erotic Sexual Behaviors include physical and mental activities that are emotionally or sexually arousing. (i.e. fantasy, sexual conversation, kissing, caressing, holding)

3. True Sex

True Sex is the most erotic sexual behavior reserved for marriage (Hebrews 13:4). At a minimum, this category includes all oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse and activities leading to orgasm.

Soul Virgins chart

The above illustration is adapted from Soul Virgins by Doug Rosenau and Micheal Todd Wilson (2006).

For the Christian dating couple who want to abstain from true sex until marriage, that does not mean avoiding any conversations about sex. It also does not mean avoiding physical contact entirely. Instead, it refers to deciding what to do when an intimate moment starts to go farther than the limitations agreed upon .

This involves couples stewarding their sexual lives in a way that honors both partners. Instead of asking the proverbial “How far can we go?” question, one of the following questions might help steward sexual behavior toward the couples’ sexual values:

  • In our romantic interactions, how can we find sexual wholeness and intimacy in ways pleasing to God?
  • How can I steward my partner’s sexuality and develop his or her true potential to become all God wants him or her to be?
  • How can I value, celebrate and protect this other person, who might be someone else’s Adam or Eve? (Rosenau & Wilson, 2006)

No significant change comes without looking at our underlying core beliefs. Individuals must truly believe their body is special, made by God, belongs to God, and is worth saving until marriage. It is a soul virgin attitude that must define a man or woman’s life to pave the road for physical virginity.

Soul virginity starts during singleness but is an attitude continued through the various potential stages of marriage, possible singleness again, childbearing, and widowhood. A soul virgin is defined as one who continuously seeks to value, celebrate and protect God’s design for sexuality—body, soul and spirit—in oneself and others.

How To cultivate soul virginity:

Stay in close relationship with the Fathergetting your intimacy needs met with Him first
Cultivate many friendsnot just your significant other
Discuss biblical standards and set a practical plan for purity with your “person”
Set up accountability partners for both to contact when struggling
Steward and discipline your thought life — It is where the battle is won or lost
Repent and try again if you fail — figure out why the plan isn’t working well

Much of the content within this article has been gleaned from the excellent book, Soul Virgins. I encourage you that the battle for sexual purity is worth the fight. Keep up the battle. Let me know how you are doing. You can contact me through my professional page, Rachelle Colegrove, MA, PLPC on Facebook.

My next article on Overcoming Sexual Barriers in Marriage will be featured in December 2014. I am looking forward to helping couples explore options for restoring health and fun to their sex lives!

christian marriage therapyLooking for help? Join the 3,000+ families who have found the help they need by trusting the counselors of MyCounselor.Online. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $50-$155 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here for Christian Marriage Counseling

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10 Practical Ways to Deal with Anxiety

Scan the list for 10 practical ways to deal with anxiety…I purposely made it sparse so you wouldn’t be anxious about the length of the article. If you find one that interests you, scroll down to that number to read more about it!

  1. Talk with a frienddealing with anxiety
  2. Listen to calming music
  3. Practice Deep Breathing (download the new app for suggestions 3-5)
  4. Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  5. Practice Inspirational Imagery
  6. Pray
  7. Get rid of the “if onlys” and “what ifs” in your life
  8. Live in the present
  9. Take an effective anti-anxiety med
  10. Hire someone to worry for you
  11. Oh wait, or you can see a counselor…like me!

1.  Talk with a Friend

I can relate to the visualization of worry reproducing like rabbits! But do the worrying with someone else involved! “Never worry alone. When anxiety grabs my mind, it is self-perpetuating. Worrisome thoughts reproduce faster than rabbits, so one of the most powerful ways to stop the spiral of worry is simply to disclose my worry to a friend… The simple act of reassurance from another human being [becomes] a tool of the Spirit to cast out fear — because peace and fear are both contagious.” ― John Ortberg Jr.The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

2.  Listen to Calming Music

Calming music is so personal. What may calm me, may stress the heck out of you . . . get on YouTube and search the era and type of music you like. Close your eyes and let the good times from the music you love wash over your soul.  I recommend a classic song, “How Great Thou Art” by Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill.

3,4,5.  Practice Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, & Inspirational Imagery

Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Inspirational Imagery are an amazing part of a new app I highly recommend: Being. Life Simply.  This app features customizable durations for Deep Breathing, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Inspirational Imagery, followed by a time of extended music. Sessions can range from 2 to 22 minutes in length. They also include a “booklet” on causes and solutions for stress.  I encourage clients who are struggling with anxiety and/or panic attacks to download the app on their phone so relaxation can be available at a moment’s notice.

6.  Pray

I love Sarah Young’s thoughts about laying our prayer requests before the Father. She encourages readers to lay out their concerns before the Father but then to start thanking Him for the answers even before there are discernible results. It is stated in Sarah Young’s devotional, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence: “Thankful prayers keep your focus on My Presence and My promises.”  This is an awesome 365-day devotional written in the first person from Jesus.

7.  Get rid of the “if onlys” and “what ifs” in your life

“If Onlys” are regrets about the past. You or I can’t change a single thing about yesterday. Sometimes I need to look at the past, grieve actions—both mine and others—but then refocus on the power found in today. In contrast, the “what ifs” keep me distracted by the future. “What ifs” are mind reading to the negative—”what if I die on the way to work today?”, “what if my spouse does not change?”, “what if we go bankrupt?”—you get the picture. When you catch yourself on the “if only” or “what if” train, see a BIG RED STOP SIGN…stop that thought and refocus on something positive. By doing this, you will cut a new neuro-pathway in your brain that will lead to a different destination. A great book for retraining your thoughts is Telling Yourself the Truth by William Backus and Marie Chapian.

8.  Live In the Present

One of my favorite quotes is “Be fully where you are” by Lucy Swindoll.  Anytime you are experiencing significant anxiety, ask, “Is this in my yard?” If it is your responsibility, claim it, make a plan, and take care of it. However, often the responsibility belongs to a spouse, child, co-worker, or other relative. In that case, gently place it back in their yard and let your peace return. You are not responsible for another person’s thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviors, or beliefsjust your own. For most of us, we have plenty of our own weeds to care for in our own yard.

9.  Take an Effective Anti-Anxiety Medication

While one of the most effective treatments for anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, sometimes therapy can be enhanced by medication to increase its effectiveness.  According to WebMD, antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil and Lexapro are often used to treat a variety of anxiety disorders. These medicines may need to be taken on a daily basis whether you experience anxiety that day or not. See your health care provider for his/her recommendation.

10.  Hire Someone to Worry For You

Lastly, Max Lucado shares a humorous story about a man who hired someone to worry for him. His salary? a whopping $200,000 a year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, “Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?” To which the man responded, “That’s your worry.” ― Max Lucado

11.  Come See Me!

While anxiety is no laughing matter, laughter does help decrease anxiety. I hope you will try some of the suggestions in this article to help you live an anxiety-free life. OK….at least lower it a degree or two. If you need to chat, give me a call at The Relationship Center :  417-763-3309. I love to help people start on a new peaceful path in their life.

For a printer friendly version of this article, please click here: 10 Practical Ways to Deal with Anxiety


christian marriage therapyLooking for help? Join the 3,000+ families who have found the help they need by trusting the counselors of MyCounselor.Online. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $50-$155 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here for Christian Marriage Counseling

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