Spiritual Retreat Aimed at Reducing Anxiety and Depression


ESV Matthew 14:23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,

There are times in our spiritual and life journeys when we need to step out of our regular lives and go to be alone with God.   This is what a personal spiritual retreat is all about.  This particular guide is for a spiritual retreat aimed at reducing anxiety and depression.   Use this guide as a gentle coach to keep you on track and make the most of your time.    The guide will have many suggestions about what to do.  Choose the things that your soul tells you will help you and be led by God’s Spirit in choosing.  Sometimes what we need to do will not be the easiest thing but it can be the most healing activity. 

General guidelines

I.   Keep to a schedule and routine.   It has been proven that have an outline of activities and scheduled events during the day will provide a sense of structure and this reduced anxiety.  So even though this is a self imposed schedule, you need to commit to it and generally keep it.   This will also give your retreat a sense of purpose. 

Write up your schedule now

Ideas of Activities My chosen Activities Time
Wake up & Prepare for Day
Prayer & Meditation
Reading & Study
Nap or unstructured time
Prayer & Meditation
Treating Myself to “Fun”
My reflections on the Day
Time to sleep

II. Choice of Spiritual Activities and Exercises to do during your retreat

I.  Centering Prayer is a method of prayer, which prepares us to receive the gift of God’s presence, traditionally called contemplative prayer. It consists of responding to the Spirit of Christ by consenting to God’s presence and action within. It furthers the development of contemplative prayer by quieting our faculties to cooperate with the gift of God’s presence.

Centering Prayer facilitates the movement from more active modes of prayer — verbal, mental or affective prayer — into a receptive prayer of resting in God. It emphasizes prayer as a personal relationship with God. At the same time, it is a discipline to foster and serve this relationship by a regular, daily practice of prayer. It is Trinitarian in its source, Christ-centered in its focus, and ecclesial in its effects; that is, it builds communities of faith. 

Christian Contemplative Prayer

Christian Contemplative Prayer is the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words and emotions, whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, feeling and choosing; even closer than consciousness itself. The root of all prayer is interior trust and contentment in God. Though we think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, this is only one expression. Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of silence trust, contentment, and peace, an experience of God’s presence as the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment.

  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself.  Remember that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Remember that God loves you more than you could ever imagine.  Breath deeply and slowly.  Allow your muscles to relax. 
  2. Choose a sacred word or phrase  that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you (i.e. “Jesus is Lord,” “God loves me,” “Jesus is my Savior,” “God is my daddy,” “” “God is my peace,” “God’s Spirit is in me,” ).
  3. Let these words be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord’s presence and open to His divine action within you.   Picture yourself sitting at the  Jesus. 
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred words, your anchor.

II. – Prayer of Release

Phil 4 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

The prayer of release can be done by sitting with our eyes closed and making our hands into fists with our palms down towards the ground.   Sit before the Lord and imagine the anxieties of your heart flowing through your arms into you hands.  Feel these anxieties making your hands heavy.  Name them one by one.  Then when you have named every anxiety slowly and deliberately turn your palms up towards heaven and raise your hands over your head.  Now open your hands and release these to the Lord.  You may want to release each one by name.  Lord I release to you ……   After this exercise thank the Lord for taking your anxieties and then go into a season of contemplative prayer.

III. Focus on the Good

At times our lives have overwhelming problems.  Sometimes these areas of pain are chronic and unending.  Many times we convince ourselves that there is nothing good in our lives.  This is never reality.  It is important to remember the good that God has allowed into our lives when they have been filled with chronic physical and/or emotional pain.    

List every positive event and good experience that has ever occurred in your life.  Be objective.  Don’t allow your feeling to block the reality of things.  Let your cognitive mind review your life and make an objective judgment on the good that has been in your life. 

Once you have this list read it six times.   Read it slowly and try to bring back the memories of these events.  Allow yourself to move back into those moments which you judge to be most good.  Rest in those moments and allow the feelings of those times to flood into your heart. 

Spend some time in contemplative prayer after you do this. 

Write down any impression you have during this exercise.

IV. Directed Journaling

Journaling has been proven to reduce stress.   It is a matter of making our inner world come into the outward world.  It is a way to feel heard by myself and if I journal before the face of God to also feel heard by Him. 

There are many different ways to journal.  If we have a lot tearing us up inside then it is best to sometimes just go with the “emotional vomit” journal in which we just dump all of our stuff on paper.  The purpose of this “emotional vomit” is the same as a physical vomit.  It empties the system of all the stuff that is poisoning us and allows our system to stabilize.  We should just write out our thoughts, feeling, and fears.   We should not worry about grammar, style, or if it makes sense.  Just let it all out. 

We can also journal to answer our own questions

  • What should I do right now to make things better?
  • What could I do to reduce my anxiety?
  • How could I be less depressed?
  • What do I believe God would want me to do in these circumstances?
  • What would my most wise, mature, and stable self tell me to do right now?
  • Imagine yourself five years in the future and you meet your future self.  Get a clear picture of this in your mind.   You find out they have successfully resolved the issues you now face.  Ask them to tell you, “How did you do it?’  What do they tell you?

Other Questions:

  • What can I learn from this?

    When faced with a challenge or difficulty, see what you can learn from it.
  • What can I do today to grow myself?

    Even small improvements made each day can have massive impact on our lives over time.
  • What should I stop doing today?

    Just for today, find one bad habit you can commit to stop doing. All bad habits are eliminated by consciously eliminating them from our lives, one day at a time.
  • What kind of impact do I want to make today?

    People who leave lasting legacies choose to impact others positively, every day of their lives.
  • What am I grateful for today?

    Being grateful for what we have, rather than focusing on what we lack, is the key to well being and abundant living.
  • How will I measure success today?

    Are your criteria for success empowering you or setting you up for failure? Set achievable success goals and over time you will build an amazing life.
  • How do I choose to feel today?

    Many people allow external circumstances and people to determine how they feel. Taking back control over your feelings gives you a confidence in living that is priceless

The key to good journaling is that it is allowing us to know our feelings, our thoughts, and our answers to the issues that face usIt allows us to find the most sane, stable, and spiritual self that lives inside of us. 

V.  The Serenity Prayer

Stand and pray this prayer six times.  First face the north, then the east, then the south, then the west, then look down, and finally look up.   Do contemplative prayer after this exercise. 

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen. –Reinhold Niebuhr In loving memory of
Fr Bertram Griffin — 1932-2000
Requiescat in Pace
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths. Proverbs 3, 5-6  

VI. Meditation

To Meditate Is to Be

Filled With God  By Peaches Lukens

The Hebrew word for meditation is “hagah”, meaning “to ponder”. In Christian meditation, the goal is not to empty the mind, but to fill it with God. We take in a small portion of God’s Word slowly as though we were savoring fine food. Letting it be absorbed into both mind, heart and spirit. The Words of God have power and life them just as food does. We allow the Holy Spirit of God to nourish us from within and speak to us in a unique way when we slow down, become still and listen.

Before you begin this practice. Find a short passage in the bible that you would like to take in on a deeper level. Open your bible to that passage and lay your bible in your lap or before you. Keep a journal and pen nearby.

“Teach me and I will be quiet.” Job 6:24

Find a quiet place and position yourself before God in humility and reverence.

“Peace. Be still”. Mark 4:39

Our minds are abuzz with thoughts and activity. We quiet the mind and relax the body in order to better receive God’s Words to us today.

* Sit with your back erect, but comfortable. Rest your hands in your lap (on top of your open bible if you can).

* Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose slowly and exhale out your mouth. Do this 3-4 times.

* In your mind, begin repeating the phrase, ‘Peace. Be still’. These are the words our Lord used to calm the sea. We will use them to calm the body and mind. Repeat the phrase over and over. When you catch yourself thinking of other things, simply return to repeating the phrase. You will meet resistance and hear yourself say that you can’t focus. Do not fight with yourself. Simply return to the phrase and the mind and body will soon comply. Stay with this for 20 minutes. You may find it takes 15 minutes to quiet yourself. Persevere.

“My Word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

The words of God have power and they set out to accomplish something within us. They challenge us to repent, lift us to rejoice, prompt us to  change. Receive God’s personal word to you.

* Read the passage you have chosen out loud and very slowly. Read it through two times. Lean into it. Do not try to grasp it or grab it. Let it come to you. Let God come to you. Sit quietly for at least a full minute.

* Reflect. Read the passage again out loud and slowly. “What are you saying to me Father through these words?” Be attentive to any word, image or verse that seems to stand out from the others. Note what comes to you in your journal and take time to “ponder” why God has highlighted these particular word(s). Do not rush through this. God has something to impart to you and you don’t want to miss it.

*Respond. Read the passage again even slower. “How do you want me to respond to what you are saying, Father?”. Converse with God within or through journaling about how you feel led to respond to what He has spoken to you.

* Rest. Read the passage one last time. Now rest in what God and you shared.

Stay with this passage for a week. Come to it daily and take it in deeper by following the practice listed above. The Word will change you. If you desire to memorize scripture, this is an effective way. By taking the word in slowly and consistently for a week, it will come to your remembrance almost effortlessly.

Here are a few passages to begin with:

James 1:2-8

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

Hebrews 12:11-12

2 Corinthians 2:14-17

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

The Goal of a Spiritual Retreat

  • To nurture your soul
  • To gain perspective
  • To gain self knowledge
  • To be comforted by God’s presence
  • To gain God’s wisdom
  • To gain God’s power
  • To enjoy the fellowship of Jesus Christ
  • To be filled with the Holy Spirit
  • To gain the strength to repent
  • To gain the strength to persevere
  • To rest in God
  • To know God

What did you gain from your spiritual retreat?   What theme did God seem to reinforce as you came before His face?