What Do I Do With All This Stress?
“Do not be anxious – or worry - about anything.” Philippians 4:6a
That verse is easy to quote, right? But, it’s not so easy to live by! Anxious thoughts. Worry. Even as believers, those things are all too common in our every day lives – even after we’ve prayed!
The reality of life is that we all have stress, and we all cope differently with our stress. Some sleep. Others exercise. Some blow their fuse – especially toward those they love, while others hibernate and stress-eat. Been there, done that? As we all try to cope with the demands of life, our stress levels ebb and flow. Some days are more successful than others.
But, did you know that stress comes not only from difficult situations but in the fun and exciting moments of life as well? Welcoming a new baby into the family or remodeling a room in your house can create as much stress in your life as trouble with the in-laws or financial challenges. No surprise there, right? But, what about the stress caused by getting ready for vacation or planning a birthday party? Seems like those happy events shouldn’t really count in our stress quotient, right? But, realistically, we know when life gets hectic, with any kind of change in routine or when a deadline looms overhead, we can easily sense our ‘coping meter’ is being put to the test! So, what can we do with all this stress?
The best tool that I've ever found was shared with me right before my husband and I got married. As my soon-to-be husband finished up his grad work, we were also planning our wedding and preparing to move across the country for a three-month internship at a church - and as newlyweds. The stress levels were mounting. A pastor friend recommended a simple assessment to help us get a handle on what was really happening in our lives.
The results helped both of us put life back into perspective. We quickly realized, “Yep, we’re stressed. No wonder we’re exhausted.” (and maybe I was a little bit emotional too!) This simple ‘Life Change’ measurement was a great way to gain insight into what we were feeling and gave us a new perspective on how we could better manage all the changes we were dealing with. (We both scored way off the chart!)
In the years to follow, we have often referred to our ‘stress quotient’ when we sense that we are over extended. We don’t even need to retake the assessment. Just a simple reminder of our daily stressors helps us to see the symptoms that are evident in our lives so that we will not allow anxious thoughts to fester and grow.
There are several “Life Change” or “Stress Tests” available online. They list events and assign a number to each category. Once an individual confirms which changes they've experienced over the past year, they add up all the numbers to get their total score. Life changes include things such as -
- Death of close family member = 63
- Change to a different line of work = 36
- Trouble with in laws = 29
- Begin or end school = 26
- Change in work hours or conditions = 20
- Change in church or social activities = 19
- Change in sleeping or eating habits = 16
- Change in number of family get-togethers = 15
- Vacation = 13
Just for fun, I did a quick assessment of my stressors this week, and I actually scored 273. So, is that a good score or a bad one? According to the Holmes and Rahe tool, those that score 300 or above have a higher “likeliness” of physical illness in the near future. Scores that range between 150-299 have a 50% chance of physical repercussion. Uh oh! I knew I had plenty of activity going on in life, but I hadn’t recently considered how high my stressors might actually be. (No wonder I’ve had the munchies!)
Now, I don’t claim to know all the psychology and physiology involved in how stress affects our bodies, but I can tell you from experience that it sure does! And, it is good to take a moment now and then – and go beyond assessment tools - to ask God to show us how we are doing. Spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically – in our personal lives and in our ministry lives.
Sometimes, the best way to confront our anxious thoughts is to face the reality of their source head on. Just to hear someone else say, “Yes, it is normal to feel exhausted when you are remodeling a room.” or “Wow, I remember how hard it was when my mom passed away. Make sure to give yourself some time to rest and refresh.” It is so important to give ourselves room to decompress, to take time to not only assess our life changes, but to hand over all those stressors to God's loving care!
The Holmes and Rahe study reminds us that “The body is a finely timed instrument that does not like surprises. Any sudden change stimuli which affects the body, or the reordering of important routines that the body become used to, can cause needless stress, throwing your whole physical being into turmoil.” God created our bodies to withstand tremendous physical and emotional challenges, but we must take care of both body and mind as best as we can.
So, if you have experienced any of these life changes recently…
- Injury or illness
- Death of a close friend
- Changes in responsibilities at work
- A son or daughter who has just left home
…I challenge you to take them to God in prayer. Give Him your anxious thoughts. Trust Him to help walk you through them – no matter how fun or stress-filled they may be. He can handle it, and He will. All we need to do is ask and believe!
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7