Pivotal People

Cultivating Faith and Mental Wellness with Laura Smith: Building Vibrant Connections and Whole Self Care

February 05, 2024 Stephanie Nelson Season 2 Episode 69
Pivotal People
Cultivating Faith and Mental Wellness with Laura Smith: Building Vibrant Connections and Whole Self Care
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Are you yearning for a conversation that merges faith, mental health, and the joys of building connections? Look no more, as bestselling author Laura Smith is our guest today, bringing with her a wealth of wisdom from her latest book, 'Holy Care for the Whole Self.' We tackle the often-ignored subject of mental health within Christian circles, shedding light on the crippling effect of shame and the healing power of empathy and understanding.

Ever wondered how to initiate meaningful friendships and harness the power of connection? Laura shares her personal experiences and practical tips on meeting new people, setting ground rules for engaging discussions, and celebrating the joy of forming bonds. We firmly believe age doesn’t dictate the possibilities of making new friends, so tune in to get inspired.

Lastly, we take a deep dive into the importance of maintaining mental health through practical steps. From nurturing creativity and implementing a prayer routine to prioritizing exercise and healthy habits, Laura also shares how maintaining a relatable presence on social media platforms encourages and inspires many. Hear more about Laura's writing process, her future projects, and how embracing biblical principles can lead to a more abundant life.

Order Laura's book "Holy Care for the Whole Self" on Amazon, available Feb. 6th
Connect with Laura at https://www.laurasmithauthor.com/

Order Stephanie's new book Imagine More: Do What You Love, Discover Your Potential

Learn more at StephanieNelson.com
Follow us on Instagram @stephanie_nelson_cm
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Speaker 1:

I'd like to welcome Laura Smith to the Pivotal People Podcast. You might recognize her name because she has been on in the past. She is a prolific author. She writes beautiful books. I've read a couple of them and her newest book is coming out in February and it is called the Holy Care for the Whole Self. And I just told her before we started it's the first time I have read a book that really married the idea of improving our mental health with our faith in God, and she'll talk more about that. But I want you to know who she is. She is a popular speaker. She's a Bible study teacher. She's a bestselling author. In fact, this is her 13th book. 13th book. Two of her books her most recent ones Restore my Soul, the Power and Promise of Thirty Psalms, and her book how Sweet the Sound, the Power and Promise of Thirty Beloved Hymns, has sold more than 130,000 copies. She's very humble and modest about that. Of course, she credits God completely with that. I am thankful that she is willing to put her what she has learned down on paper for the rest of us. So welcome, laura. I'm excited to talk about your new book, holy Care for the Whole Self. Thank you for taking the time to be with us.

Speaker 2:

I'm so excited to be back. Thanks for having me back, Stephanie.

Speaker 1:

I think the obvious question is you've written 12 books already. This is your 13th book. Why did you write this book?

Speaker 2:

So I personally have been on a mental health journey my whole life and didn't really realize that's what I was on until sometime in my 30s and I realized that some trauma that had occurred during my childhood had greatly impacted my mental health. And when it's something that happens to you, sometimes you're just like this is just my life, this is just how things are, and you don't even realize that it's a struggle, it's just what your day to day is. And when I started getting language for it and started to understand how things that had happened to me when I was young really impacted me now in negative ways, how I was fearful, how I wasn't really living in the freedom that Christ has for us, I started to try to figure out well, how can I change that? And I went on my own mental health journey and then, I think around the time of COVID, we realized that our country is in a mental health crisis. That's what mental health professionals and even government is calling it. The current statistic is that 50% of Americans, what some point in their life, have a mental health struggle and that could be something they're going through temporarily through through grief, or even if you have a car accident, that can create trauma. There are things that sometimes are just episodic in our lives and some of those things are lifetime battles with anxiety or depression. So, as I was done with my own mental health journey and looking around at how many other people were too, I was like this is something that we Christians need to talk about. Like it's 50% of Americans, whether you're Christian or not Christian like that's still 50%. So this is something that is a relevant part of our lives. And Jesus said he came so that we can have an abundant life, so that we could have a full life. And if you're having mental health struggle, you're not living in that abundance. So if he came that we could have it. And we're not living in it. Shouldn't we be talking about it and figuring out what tools he's given us to step more into that abundance?

Speaker 1:

Exactly, and I was talking about your book to a friend of mine today and I said what Laura really talks about is the idea and I'm glad you surface this as Christians, when we're going through mental health struggles, anxiety, difficulties, there is this feeling I get at least I get that says my faith must not be strong enough, I must not be trusting enough. Just, you know, cast all your anxiety on him. How come I can't do that. I must not be a strong enough Christian. And that's, I think, where you talk about shame. I wrote down so many of the things in your book. This one really hit me shame. Defining it, you refer to Bernay Brown. She's done so much teaching on this topic the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging, and generally we keep that secret. So you might have, like I'm in a women's small group, a Bible study. Do I feel comfortable enough revealing to them as their Bible study leader that I'm having troubles? And so what I love is that shame depends in our feeling, alone in it, and that as soon as we speak about it and receive empathy, our shame can't survive. And if we can't share our shame with people, we can surely share our shame with Jesus, amen. That's where your words really hit me to say wait a minute. Shame is. Let's bring the light into it. It can't survive in the light, and probably the first step is and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this is recognizing it. We might not even recognize that we have shame around something.

Speaker 2:

Yeah for sure. I think, like I started to say, was just that I was dealing with so much. I had a father who left our home multiple times. Growing up and as a little girl, you know, I internalized that as I wasn't good enough. He was leaving because of something I had done. And you know, also as a child, you want to please your parents, so the people who are protecting you and who you're looking to for love most. So all these lies were embedded in me, because Satan loves to sneak in In our weakest and most vulnerable spots, and I started to believe I wasn't lovable. No one would stay with me. Why would anyone Right Like that? I and those were all lies. Those things weren't spoken in my home out loud. That wasn't actually. You know, my dad had his own demons he was dealing with. That created, I'm sure, all the things that he did. But I just walked around thinking I'm not lovable and I, no one would ever want to be with me. And if I don't bring the light on that, then how can I ever learn differently, hear differently, see differently? But when we have thoughts in our head that we know don't line up with the Bible and if the Bible is ultimate truth, then we can start to be like wait, you know, jesus says that he'll be with us always, to the end of the world. And if he'll be with us always, but I have a lie in my head that no one would ever stay with me, then I'm like, okay, well, that's not biblical. If I have a lie in my head that I'm unlovable, that's also not biblical. Because God so loved the world that he gave us his only son. Jesus is perfect love, his perfect love cast out here. He died for us out of love. So when we look at those, okay, thoughts in our heads aren't lining up with biblical truth. That means there's something wrong. So we can't speak those out loud. Not to be like I believe I'm unlovable, aren't I the worst? I'm so awful and no one would ever love me. But to be like to with a trusted friend, not with, like you know, random stranger on the street or just necessarily the other mom at the soccer field. Like, consider who you're talking to. It needs to be someone you can trust with your pain and your shame and your emotions. But like, hey, I know the Bible says that God loves me, but I don't always feel that way and as soon as you do that, there's light on the subject and the enemy has to flee. And you've like taken this lie and you've cut it down with truth, right, you've like been like oh, once you say that loud, you're like but the Bible says that God does love me. You've said out loud someone loves you, right? It's this first step to acknowledging what truth is versus what lies are.

Speaker 1:

And when we do that with trusted friends, you know the look on their face. Like what. What are you talking about?

Speaker 2:

Like, we love you right, like we adore you right, like that's it. They're gonna take that down immediately.

Speaker 1:

That's right, and so you also talked in the book. Okay, you talked about loneliness and the impact on our mental health, and then you talk about the power of friendship and community, and you also what I appreciate you had some very practical tips for as women. When we're older and our kids are older, it can be harder to make new friends. You know not. You know we aren't sitting next to people at the soccer field anymore, and so how do you go about really connecting and finding trusted friends? And it's a quality, not a quantity thing I have found. But what are some of the things that you tell your readers?

Speaker 2:

So we have to be intentional. I think, again, a lie of the enemy is like oh, you don't have any friends because no one wants to hang out with you, right, or you're not fun or you're not interesting. But the truth is, who did we reach out to? Who did we even try to be friends with, right? So I think we have to get ourselves out and sometimes out of our comfort zone and be intentional. So I think a key thing to do is to look for people with similar interests, and that can be join a Bible study at your church if you love reading the Bible or if you want to learn more about Jesus. It can be joining a walking club or a book club if you love books or if you like to go for walks. Our community, whether I live in, has a hiking club, but it's walking on flat trails, it's not like mountain climbing, like anyone could join the hiking club, right. Our library has all kinds of classes and guest speakers and if there are speakers that are interesting to you, go and sit next to someone and start a little conversation before. Why did you come to see this speaker or what you know? Have you read one of their books? Are you passionate about this topic, or did it just look interesting? Did you just want to learn more? Talk to them a little bit more halfway through. What do you like so far? At the end, wasn't that great, or I'm kind of disappointed. You know and you're going to make friends when you go places that people have similar interests to you, and then then you have to kind of be bold and courageous again and be like, hey, this was fun, do you want to? I heard there's another talk in two weeks. You want to join me? We can get coffee beforehand and go to that talk, or we could. You know, this is the hiking club that meets once a week, but hey, I like to walk more than once a week. You want to meet? Is there another day of the week that works for you? You know, and you'll find that as you do this and it might not be the first person you ask, it might not be the first thing you go to, but there are so many opportunities for us to meet people. Volunteering is a great one, because if you're volunteering, you know you can actually be talking about the work you're doing to help others, and helping others is also really good for your mental health because it gives you a sense of purpose, and it's also biblical, because Jesus asked us to you know, help the widows and the orphans and the poor people. So that's another great way to meet other people. So, whether you enjoy doing service or whether you love being active, or whether you love learning, our community also just had a free Shakespeare in the park over the weekend and it was like anyone could go. You know, and if you like Shakespeare, you're going to be. There's some other people who like Shakespeare there, so ask them what they liked. Have they seen other shows? What's their favorite play by him? What are they reading right now? You know just what can you ask to engage others and you'll find all those other people are looking for connection too.

Speaker 1:

You just hit the nail on the head. Everyone's looking for connection. That's like our number one need.

Speaker 2:

I think God created us for connection.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and I'm turning 60 this year and in the past couple of years I've made new friends, you know, as I've become an empty nester, and what I find interesting is that what we're describing. Maybe it takes a little gumption to say to someone hey, would you like to meet for a walk in the park or whatever. However, it also takes them effort to do that. So lots of times people are just glad that they were invited and they didn't have to invite. And if you invited someone to get together, there has to be a little bit of affirmation for them like, oh, this person thinks I'm interesting and wants to get to know me better. And I do that with walking and all of my new friends I got to know by going on walks together. You can connect with the person more, I believe, in an hour of walking than in being in a group atmosphere and doing small talk at, say, a neighborhood function five times in a year. You're going to get to know them better in that one hour, especially when we're women who have so many things in common. But the whole idea of connecting and making a little bit of an effort is actually kind of a gift to the other person that they didn't have to make the effort, and everyone wants more friends. So, and what's the worst thing that could happen? They're like, no, I'm busy. And maybe they say no, they're busy a couple of times, so they move on to someone else.

Speaker 2:

That's okay. And even if you go on that walk and you find out you don't have that much in common with someone you didn't just marry them, you just went on a walk you don't have to ask them again, right? I think there's all these like false things that we put in our head, like, well, they have to be our best friend, and what if they aren't that interesting? Or what if they bother us? Whatever ask, you know, ask someone else another time. What if they can't make it Like you said, fine, there's nothing hinging on it, we can try again. And if I know, I'm an introvert, so to me sometimes making those moves seems really tricky. Sometimes I'll even plan questions ahead of time. Like, okay, I'm going to meet this person for the first time, I haven't seen them in a long time. And like, okay, what could I ask them? I could ask them, like, what was the most interesting thing that happened to them, whatever this last season was, or what are they most looking forward to? Like, if I have three questions in my head ahead of time, I know anyone out there who's listening, who is so good at conversation. You're howling right now, but some of us need that If it just gets rid of the fear like then come prepared with a couple of questions. This is science. This is just making friends.

Speaker 1:

Making friends, and the other thing I want to say that I learned is we are never too old to make a new friend.

Speaker 2:

No.

Speaker 1:

No, and it's actually wonderful. It doesn't have to be a group of friends. You know, sometimes I my best connections are when it's just one on one with another friend or maybe a small group. I always say if the group gets too big, someone might hijack the entire hour with some crazy conversation topic. We also have a little rule in my women's group, the Bible study I told you about, which I can't believe. It's gone on for two and a half years and this rule has stayed intact. It started during COVID and it was so tense during that time so we set a ground rule that we were not going to talk about politics or who we voted for.

Speaker 2:

That's good yeah.

Speaker 1:

And we also weren't going to talk about our opinion about COVID and the vaccine. Yeah, and do you know, in two and a half years, these are my dearest friends. I don't know how they voted.

Speaker 2:

Which is lovely, right, it is the best. It is the best. It just relieves all of that it really does.

Speaker 1:

You get, you see through. You know it's so easy to objectify people to, you know, dehumanize them with these labels, and when you strip that off entirely and make it a ground rule, and then you see who people really are. So anyway, that's my, that's my two cents on that. You know it is fun also when you've read a similar book of your readers, especially a book that makes you think. So lots of fun ways to make friends. One of the one of the sections of your book I really enjoyed it was more than a section with several chapters. You talk about proactive things that we can do to, let's say, increase the production of our feel good hormones. I mean there is a physiological causes of our depression and anxiety. There are we're not minimizing depression and anxiety, but there are physical things that we can do that and if you'd like to explain that, I found super helpful.

Speaker 2:

Sure. So anxiety and depression are real things and they are chemical imbalances in our brain. That's science, that's Real. But we also have these feel good chemicals in our brain. We have serotonin, we have endorphins and there are some things that we can do to produce more of those so we can be with other people. That is actually one of the things that helps us feel better. We can exercise. That creates more serotonin and more endorphins in us and those are called the happy chemicals. So those things actually are proven like exercises proven To increase your happiness, decrease your stress, decrease your anxiety, decrease your depression, not make them vanish. It's not a magic elixir, but this helps. Being creative is another thing that increases these happy chemicals in our brain. So when we do creative things whether that's cooking or writing a poem or Picking out outfits for your grandkids or designing graphics like it doesn't have to be painting, it doesn't have to be fine arts but if we create anything, create a spreadsheet, like that helps those chemicals again. It's another proactive thing. Meditation, or, as Christians call it, prayer, is another thing that has been scientifically proven to calm racing minds and bring more peace and reduce anxiety and stress in our brains. So it's really interesting to me because, as I was writing this book, so many of the things that top mental health professionals are saying you know, look, these actually activate happiness. These decrease stress in you, these improve your sense of belonging, these help you deal with problems better. These things are all biblical, like being creative, god created us in his image. He is a creator. If we're creating in his image and he's a creator, then we also should create right. The whole community, thank God from the get go says it is not good for me and to be alone. God wants us to be with people. You see throughout scripture, god partnering people with other people to do life, to do the hard things, exercise and movement. I mean, if we know that our bodies are a temple and that we're supposed to care for these bodies, these creations of God or, in the Amago day, we're in God's image then it makes sense that taking care of our bodies is something he wants for us. So, rest and exercise, eating healthy, getting enough water these are all things that God wants for us. So it's really cool to me to see that the things that are good for us. Of course, god has said we should do Like because he cares so much about us right. So he doesn't say in the Bible hang out with other people because it's good for your mental health. But he says stir one another on to love and good works. He wants us to be together. He talks about community a lot because he wants wholeness for us and he wants us we set at the beginning abundant life. So he's had all these things throughout scripture, giving us clues and tips on how to have a more abundant life. And he doesn't use the word mental health in the Bible because I don't think people were recognizing that as a thing or use that word at those times. But he's given us all kinds of ways to help manage our mental health and take care of it.

Speaker 1:

Well, and even referencing anxiety, and you talk about peace and joy and contentment. You talked in the beginning about the whole freedom in Christ. I mean to me that's like having this thing taken off your shoulders, this whole freedom. You mean I really can just relax into you and it's hard to get your head around. But you talk many times in your book about lots of times this happens. You know you get a thought and you're maybe obsessing on it. Now you're getting stressed about it and you start going down this mental rabbit hole and you say wait, okay, recognize when that's happening. Stop and pray. Just stop and pray like get my head off this thought and let me look up to God, and how that can. It's like a stronghold, it is like holding onto something, just in that moment. You don't have to solve the problem that's spinning in your head, but you can help stop the spinning.

Speaker 2:

Well, the Bible tells us to hold every thought captive. And those spiraling thoughts are not captive. They're going crazy town in our brains, they are running, raking havoc and they're not imprisoned, which is what captive is. They are not contained, they're all over the place. So we have to grab that thought and be like is that true? Or I know this by dwelling on this, it's stressing me out, or I don't know if you ever do this. I have complete made up conversations in my head when I'm worried about something, I'm like well, and then that person will say and then I will have to say and then they will say and it's like no stop. Why am I having this pretend potential conversation about something that hasn't even happened? I mean, that's holding the thought captive, being like that isn't actually happening. I don't need to stress about it. It can be just calling out to God like help Jesus, help me, I'm stressed, help me. You don't have to have words or be like I'm going to hold this thought captive and I'm going to figure out what to do with it. Sometimes, yes, but sometimes it's just like Jesus, I'm going bonkers in here. I need you, jesus, I need you please. And his name. When we call it his name, he is there and he is the Prince of Peace and he wants goodness for us. So if we ask, I mean he says if you ask, he's going to give you goodness.

Speaker 1:

In his name. I'm sitting here smiling because you're just describing my life. It's like I said wait a second. This is all complete, total speculation. I am making this up. This doesn't even exist. Yeah, but it could happen. But yeah, but it could. One of the things you also talked about, which this is nature. The way being out in nature makes us feel. I couldn't agree more. We live half the year in Colorado and a little mountain town, half the year in Georgia on a little lake, and I feel like whenever I step out of my house and just allow myself to look at the beauty, it's God. I'm looking at God, it seems to put things in perspective and it helps. So the whole idea of I'm all about exercise too. But if we can exercise outside, even if it's just a walk, I have to believe that must do something positive to our brains.

Speaker 2:

It totally does. The heavens declare the glory of God right. So when we are outside and in the sky and there's all kinds of science that says if you're in green spaces or blue spaces, which are where water is, that those things are calming to our brains. That's science and it also makes sense because God originally created a garden right and that's where he intended people to live, was in his beauty and outdoors. And weather stops us from doing that. I live in Ohio, so today it's 100 degrees, but as we record this, but when the book releases it'll probably be 10 degrees. So there are extremes, but you can still. You can literally walk outside for a moment. Tell yourself, even in the worst, worst weather, today I'm going to go outside for a minute. I'm going to set a timer and for a minute I'm just going to close my eyes and breathe. Or for a minute I'm just going to say thank you, jesus, thank you.

Speaker 1:

Jesus.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, jesus, for oxygen or stars, or birds singing or something outside that you can see. Rain, snow is a miracle. Even though it's cold Like it's still a miracle that these beautiful you know snowflake crystals are falling from the sky right. So even when you don't, if you can't exercise outside, it is like a double whammy if you exercise outside, because you're getting the outside and the exercise, but if you can't, if you can just even go outside, or you know drink your cup of coffee on a bench outside, or you know get outside still, even when the weather is bad. It is so calming and so soothing and it's a wonderful way to connect with our Creator.

Speaker 1:

Love. That A wonderful way to connect with our Creator. You've touched this just a little bit, but other proactive things that you talked about to, you know, make us feel better, to stimulate these feel-good hormones. You talked about the idea of helping others. You know, getting outside yourself, which can be hard when we're in the middle of a well, I'm going to call it a, you know crisis. We're in the middle of a little mental health crisis. We're worried about someone we love or we're, you know, anxious about something that's coming up. But you talked about what happens to our brains when we focus, then, on helping someone else.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean. So. It gets us outside of our own problems and I think quickly. I know a recent project that our church did was building beds for kids in the community who literally don't have beds to sleep in. And I'm not handy, I don't use tools, but here we are, like they had an organization that's super great at this and pounding nails in this wood, to know that I was creating beds for kids who don't have beds Like my problems shrink in a heartbeat. That thing I'm worried about. Like my kids always had beds. I have a head. I'm so grateful. It just puts things in perspective so quickly. And also, when we are so worried, sometimes we get consumed by our own problems and when we are actually helping others and all of a sudden like, oh, we have value because we can help others, it reminds us that God gives us power, that God gives us purpose, which sometimes we lose sight of. So it reminds us of the power and purpose that God has put in us, that we can make a difference, that we can be the change. It's like, oh, I'm not worthless, I'm not. You know, if you have these things like people don't like me or I'll never amount to anything, or my work isn't going how I want it to go or my relationships aren't going how I want it to go, it's like, oh, but I have purpose in this world. I can do good, I am made to do good. There's so many aspects of that, and most of the time it's not always, but when we're volunteering or helping others, that tends to be in a group setting too. So you're also getting community while you're doing that, whether you're working at a soup kitchen or volunteering at a preschool or you know and again find things that you like to serve at. So if you are passionate about the elderly, then go to a nursing home, and they would love for you to just go and talk to their senior citizens there. Like, just visit, it's that easy. You don't have to have any talent or skill. If you love kiddos, almost any preschool would welcome you to come read stories to the kids. You know, so think about who you're passionate about, who you connect with, what you enjoy doing. If you love the outdoors, you can do everything from being on, like the cleanup crew and our community. There are people who pick up trash just to make the community prettier, or people who tend to the bird sanctuary in our town. So think about the things that you love once again, just like when you're trying to find community. Serve in those areas and you'll find that you can make things prettier. You can make a difference for people and you can usually meet new people too, and you get such an elevated sense of purpose because you are a child of God. You are holy and royal and chosen. God tells us, and we forget that, and when we can help others, we just remember that that's who we are.

Speaker 1:

Thank you so much for that. I have to tell you, after I read Laura's book, I emailed her and I said I just finished your book. It is all caps so good, but I wish you lived next door.

Speaker 2:

It would be so fun if we lived nearby. We could go on walks in the woods together.

Speaker 1:

That's right, that's right. Laura does live in the town where I went to college. It is absolutely beautiful, oxford, ohio. I met Laura because I know her husband, who is a professor at Miami, so it was kind of a bonus. I was talking to him and he said you know, my wife is a Christian author. I think you'd really like her. So I have to thank Brett for that. So how?

Speaker 2:

God does that. We didn't say this to you when we were talking about community. Pray for friends, guys. Pray for friends. God wants you to have a community. Ask him for them. See like I feel like God introduced us, stephanie, clearly you know that thing you were talking to Brett, and Brett's like hey, and God wants us to have friends, he wants us to connect with people who we get along with. So just ask him. He's a good and perfect father. He will hold no good thing.

Speaker 1:

Exactly. Well, all good stuff. You can learn a lot more from Laura from one of her 13 books. Your newest book comes out February 6th, I believe, correct, february 6th, and where else can we find you? I'll have this in the show notes, but take note of this.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, super Thanks. My website is laurasmithauthorcom and that has everything on it Blogs, free resources, all the things my books, my social media connections. Instagram is my favorite social media to be on, and that's laurasmithauthor is my account there too, so those are the two best places to find me.

Speaker 1:

And I would encourage people to follow Laura on Instagram because she has really good, just inspiring, quick little clips of her talking to us or sharing something meaningful. You know it's not a huge investment of time, you just get a good dose of 30 minutes or a minute of wisdom and it's always encouraging and it's always so honest, right, I like that.

Speaker 2:

We're all living a real life, so, and God wants to meet us in it, so it's important to talk about that, that's right.

Speaker 1:

Well, thank you so much and I wish you the best of luck with your newest book, and I look forward to talking to you when your 14th book comes out.

Speaker 2:

Thanks so much for having me on again, Stephanie.

Holy Care for the Whole Self
Making Friends, Building Connections
Practical Steps for Mental Health
Encouragement and Inspiration Through Social Media