Racing and anxious thoughts. Intrusive and irrational thoughts. Sinful or untrue thoughts. Do any of these sound familiar? Do you ever feel trapped in your own head?
When I heard that Esther Smith was releasing a book called A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts, I was intrigued, and I received a digital advance reader copy in return for a review. I then raved about it so much that my mom bought a paperback copy!
I’m often leary to read books about mental health because Buddhism and New Age thinking are prevalent in many books of this genre, but Esther’s book is written from a Christian perspective and her theology is strong. Esther’s book is divided into three parts, General Approaches to Changing Thoughts, Holistic Approaches to Changing Thoughts, and Specialized Approaches to Changing Thoughts.
A few things I especially appreciated about Esther’s book were her suggested meditation exercises based around the Psalms, her recommended visualizations, and her discussion about what makes a thought sinful or not. I saved the following quote on the latter, “How do we know when a thought has turned into a sin that does need to be taken captive? Our thoughts become sin when we break God’s law with our minds (see 1 John 3:4). We often can’t control the thoughts that enter our heads. We can decide whether we will entertain them. This is the difference between being tempted by sinful thinking and choosing to sin with our thoughts. The actual temptation is not sinful, but it is where the battle begins.” I also appreciated that Esther discussed how our bodies influence our thoughts and how medical conditions affect the nervous system and can cause changes to a person’s thinking.
Esther spends most of her book explaining non-medication strategies to change unwanted thoughts, but she extensively discusses the use of medication for mental health issues in the second to last chapter. Her perspective about it is well-balanced. People tend to be extreme in their views about whether or not psychiatric medications should be used, but Esther begins the chapter with two stories–one of a previously suicidal person who greatly benefited from medication and one of a person whose misdiagnosed of schizophrenia resulted in her taking heavy antipsychotics for over a decade. The latter person instead had autism, and the antipsychotics were unnecessary and harmful. They prevented her from receiving appropriate help, and she didn’t become herself again until she discontinued her medications. Esther points out that Scripture does not offer any specific passages that prohibit or command the use of medications for mental and emotional struggles, so she concludes that taking psychiatric medication is a Christian liberty. She gives insights on when medication is appropriate, while at the same time cautioning against taking medication simply as a way to avoid troubled thoughts and to numb feelings.
I recommended Esther’s book to everyone, regardless of whether or not they struggle with unwanted and anxious thoughts themselves. Personally, I don’t struggle much with unwanted and anxious thoughts, but I finished the book with a much better understanding of mental health challenges. I can now sympathize more with those who struggle in this area, and I have strategies for addressing the occasional troubled thinking that I do experience.