The United Nations Stress Management Booklet, a manual used to train peacekeeping workers throughout the world, defines stress as the physical and psychological process of reacting to and coping with events or situations that place extraordinary pressure upon a human being. The UN offers extensive training for peacekeeping forces to learn how to cope with stress in war zones, hostile situations, and humanitarian crises. Most of us, however, never get this kind of training despite the fact that we face, live with, and endure our own seasons of stress.
Whether we are 5 or 50, many of us learn to suck up or stuff down our stress. Where does it all go? Unresolved stress gets deposited right into our souls-the deepest part of ourselves.
The busy executive, the mid-level manager, the high school teacher-we all face our own stress-makers everyday. The demands of our roles in life affect the soul. Like a sponge we soak up what we experience around us and look for ways of letting it all out. When we are squeezed too tightly or jarred, we leak at best and spew at worst on those around us all the stuff that has built up inside our impressionable souls. Stress consumes physical, emotional, and mental energy.
What most of us forget is that stress is both residual and cumulative. Layers and layers of prolonged stress affect every aspect of our lives, and if not dealt with, lead to burnout. When we experience burnout our coping skills and fundamental ways of dealing with stress are short-circuited in our souls. There is no margin, no reserve, nothing to pull from with which to deal with what is happening around and in you.
When stress is not dealt with properly, we can do bizarre, crazy, and never before considered things to relieve the pressures we feel. That’s why the most important thing to remember is where we should take our stress. That place is to God. God will understand it and know what to do about it.
The Bible refers to stress and distress more than one hundred times. The Psalms, in particular, are filled with pleas and prayers for relief from stressful situations.
Here is one particular Psalm I would like to highlight:
9 Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
my soul and body with grief.
10 My life is consumed by anguish
and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,[a]
and my bones grow weak.
11 Because of all my enemies,
I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—
those who see me on the street flee from me.
12 I am forgotten as though I were dead;
I have become like broken pottery.
13 For I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!”
They conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.
This Psalm is one of David’s prayers that speaks to the effects of living with so much unresolved stress in our lives. David describes what unresolved stress does to us. It weakens us, fills us with sorrow, has a physical impact on us, sets off unspeakable inner turmoil, and zaps energy and vitality. But David did the right thing. He took his concern to God.
Some people, in trying to help others with stress, urge them to seek balance in their lives. I do not doubt that there is definitely some positive benefit to having balance in our lives, but I think that even more important is to maintain rhythm in our lives.
God created the world with a rhythm by which we work for six days followed by a day of rest. It’s also true that human beings need a rhythm of rest every single day. We need to take breaks, enjoy meals, and get sleep at night so that our bodies may be replenished. Rhythm allows each person to engage, then disengage; be involved, then withdraw; work and contribute, then rest and recover.
What rhythm allows us to ask ourselves is this: What does my soul need at this particular time? Living with this question and having the courage to ask it repeatedly of ourselves and those we love helps create a redeemed culture that chooses life over driveness, recovery over burnout, and serenity over perpetual anxiety.
So this is all great in theory, but let’s get a little more practical here. So what are some practical things we can do in our lives that can help us reduce the amount of stress in our lives? They don’t have to be major time-consuming things. There are some very easy and quick things we can do that will help us distress.
Here are ten practical things you can do to reduce stress in your lives:
- Practice the discipline of slowing down.
- Identify the sources of stress in your life and seek to make a 20% improvement in de-stressing your life in specific ways.
- Park in the parking place that is the farthest from your destination. You can use the time while walking to say a prayer to God.
- Incorporate more humor into your life. It’s a proven fact that laughter reduces your stress.
- Join the slow food movement. Decide not to eat any fast food for one month. You can find enjoyment from preparing your meals. Another thing that can help is to try to eat your food more slowly.
- Go to bed 30 minutes earlier each night for a month and note how you feel.
- Do something that gives you life everyday. Work with the question, “What makes me come alive?” and practice it.
- Choose one day a week, perhaps your Sabbath, not to check voice mail, e-mail, or use any form of technology.
- Become less available to people’s demands and more available to the choices that lead to caring for your soul.
- Walk for 30 minutes five days a week at a steady pace and monitor how you feel after 30 days of practicing this.
Stress is always going to be a part of our lives no matter what we do. By being very intentional about doing things to try to reduce stress in our lives, we can manage it much better and not let it be toxic to our souls. Let God rule your life, not stress!
If you have any other ideas on ways that you can remove stress from your life, please share them with our readers.