Continuing the earlier conversation with historian Mike Keas, on his epic struggle with anxiety, philosopher J. P. Moreland discusses practical ways to retrain your brain and body to defeat habits of anxiety and depression:
Keas To what degree does thinking affect feeling? To what degree is this similar to what physiologists refer to as “muscle memory”?
Moreland: Ah, what a question! Actually, thinking can really trigger emotions. In fact, the way we engage in self-talk—which is the way we talk to ourselves—we beat up ourselves and talk about how scary the future is. A lot of the time, this self-talk is subconscious. We’re not aware of it because we’re busy doing other things and then we end up nervous and scared to death and anxious and wonder why. And it’s because our thoughts shaped the triggering of certain anxiety emotions. And emotions can affect thoughts.
If you are suffering from anxiety and depression, I want you to know that you can change. I want you to have hope because there are things you can do to get better. The second thing that is probably one of the most important ideas in the book is that anxiety and depression are largely—not entirely but largely—habit. And those habits are ingrained in the different members of our body…
A golf player has golf flesh in his wrists and arms, maybe, not his hips and legs.. And what that means is that his muscle memory in his arms and shoulders are contrary to getting good at golf… And what I mean by that is, I want you to go to a golf instructor and he’s going to tell you something to practice with your club and your arms, your wrists, and so forth …
So repeat those practices over and over again, and if you do that for a few weeks, and guess what, you will get rid of the bad grooves that make you swing poorly. And that will be replaced with new muscle memory grooves that are conducive to being good at golf.
So if anxiety is a habit, that means there are grooves in our brains and our heart muscle and our nervous system that automatically trigger anxiety and depression without us choosing it.
What we have to do is represent our brain and heart muscle to God as an instrument of shalom and –flourishing. [9:15–10:45]
The podcast stems from Moreland’s new book, em>Finding Quiet: My Story of Overcoming Anxiety and the Practices that Brought Peace (May 2019)
Notes: Moreland recommends Romans 6 in the New Testament for a fuller account of the process.
Moreland also discussed these issues in an earlier podcast with Sean McDowell and Scott B. Rae. See: Moreland Theologian, battling depression, reaffirms the existence of the soul J. P. Moreland reasons his way to the evidence and captures his discoveries in a book
and also J. P. Moreland’s Model of the Human Self Survived the Ultimate Field Test Could the Christian philosopher rely on his model to help himself heal from psychiatric disorder?
His most recent professional work is Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (2018); an outline is available here.