I think we all are.
Stress is defined as “the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response.”
And we are all in a time of change that is requiring major adjustments.
Life has changed…and seems to keep changing every day…and we are not sure for how long this crisis will last.
We all respond to stress in different ways. My wife and I have discovered this fact over the past few days. When I am stressed, I tend to move inward. I read, study, journal, think, worry. My wife, on the other hand, tends to move outward. She manages, organizes, makes lists, gives instructions, cleans out closets, and starts throwing things away.
For the most part, our stress responses coordinate well. I don’t get in her way and she doesn’t get in mine. But sometimes our stress paths cross.
She gets frustrated that I am not helping her clean.
I get frustrated that she keeps interrupting my reading to ask, “Can I throw this away?”
I look up from my book and she has my old blue cassette case in her hand…precious cassettes from my early days as a believer…Petra…Michael W. Smith…Steve Camp…Mylon Lefevre & the Broken Heart.
I am broken-hearted that she would ask.
Of course, she does have a point. We don’t have a cassette player any more…and I am not even sure if they still work. But how can you just throw them away? They might be worth something…at least to me if no one else!
Our frustration levels hit a point that we needed to talk. We had to acknowledge our stress, come to understand each other more, learn to show patience and kindness to each other in the midst of the “weirdness” of this time.
That night we got together as a family and talked about stress. It’s a good discussion to have. How do you know if you are stressed? How do you tend to respond to stress? How can you show grace to a person who responds to stress differently than you?
Stress is a reminder that life is bigger than us…that we are not in control…that we need a strength beyond ourselves.
Stress is a reminder that we need a relationship with God…that we need Jesus Christ.
A year ago, my stress levels hit a peak. My anxiety increased. My blood pressure spiked. I took a three-week “monk retreat” (no internet, media, or smartphone) and reconnected with God…recalibrated my life…reordered my priorities.
During that time, I instituted some changes in my life that have progressively lowered my stress levels…and my blood pressure. Perhaps they could be a help to you as well.
Here is the BEST way to reduce stress levels (with BEST serving as an acronym not as a hyperbolic commercial plug :).
I remember the first time that I started struggling with panic attacks. I read a book by Dr. Archibald Hart called The Anxiety Cure. I was looking for immediate relief and immediate answers…and one of his biggest pieces of advice was to learn to rest, relax, and breath better.
I dismissed it.
When you feel like your heart is racing out of your chest, being told to stop and breathe doesn’t even seem feasible.
But over time, I have come to see breathing, resting, and meditating on God’s Word as essential spiritual disciplines. They may not yield immediate results but they do lead to long-term spiritual health.
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a).
The Hebrew word for “be still” is raphah. It pictures a person letting their hands fall down. It is often used negatively in the Old Testament for people becoming slack or lazy or losing courage. But it also has the idea of relaxing, being quiet, letting your shoulders sink, and simply exhaling.
Take a deep breath and exhale.
Rest in God’s sovereignty.
Meditate on His Word.
Meditate on His greatness.
One of the best practices I have instituted in my life is to reserve the “firstfruits” of my day for Bible meditation, prayer, and exercise.
No internet. No media. No emails. No texts. No distractions.
I often simply listen to a portion of Scripture being read, meditate on its words, relax my shoulders, and learn to breathe.
This is not eastern meditation…emptying your mind…but rather biblical meditation…filling your mind with God’s truth.
It is being still each morning and remembering that He is God.
Paul says that bodily exercise profits little but godliness is profitable for all things (1 Timothy 4:8).
Paul puts bodily exercise in its proper perspective. When compared to spiritual growth, physical exercise has limited value…but it still has value!
We are embodied creatures and our physical health impacts our emotional health, mental health, and spiritual health…and vice versa. My body is the temple of the Lord and I want to care for it as much as I am able.
I am not a big “exerciser.” For the most part, I can’t stand it. But I have found that regular walking, times of jogging, and a short routine of exercise are worth the daily discipline.
Each morning (weather permitting), I walk the neighborhood… praying… listening… meditating… worshiping.
Walking is a great stress reliever.
But even if you can’t walk, try to find other ways to exercise your body…and find ways to exercise your mind as well. Read. Study. Learn a language. Pick up a hobby.
These things are infinitely more valuable than other things that we often turn to in times of stress…alcohol, addictions, drugs, binge eating, binge watching, etc.
In dealing with stress and anxiety, one of the hardest things that I had to come to realize was how often it was rooted in pride.
Many of us know the verse… casting all your care (anxiety) upon Him because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
But many of us don’t know the verse right before it… therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6).
Humbling ourselves before God is learning to cast our cares upon Him.
Thus, when we refuse to cast our cares upon Him, we are in effect saying to God, “I can’t trust You to handle this one. I’ve got it.”
Isn’t it interesting that when we feel stress, it is usually felt in the tightness of our shoulders? It is almost as if we are carrying an invisible load that we were not meant to carry.
Prayer is acknowledgement that we are weak and need God’s strength.
Prayer is realization that we are not in control and God is.
Prayer is surrender to the will of God.
Prayer is saying, “Not my will but Yours be done.”
And praying with others in the midst of your stress is a way of saying, “I don’t have it all together and I need God’s strength…and your encouragement.”
Taking off the mask.
And admitting that, of all things, you are human…a dependent creature made in the image of God…a weak person needing the power of the Spirit…a dysfunctional individual needing the grace and healing of Jesus Christ…just like the rest of us.
Many of us who have struggled with anxiety have clutched onto Philippians 4:6-7:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
This is not a “magic bullet” prayer that instantly removes all worries. Rather it is a daily call to dependence on God in the midst of a corporate…and transparent…fellowship of believers.
And a key component in this anxiety-motivated prayer is thanksgiving.
In your stress and worries…be thankful.
One of the hardest challenges for me has been to give thanks in my anxiety…even to give thanks for my anxiety.
I hate anxiety.
I hate the battle.
Sometimes I hate the fact that my body seems to be so out of tune with my mind…or that one part of my mind can be saying, “Calm down! This is crazy!” while another part of my mind can be racing down the road toward all kinds of irrational, out of control, worst-case scenarios.
But…as I look back…my battle with anxiety has deepened my walk with God…it has made me more dependent on the Spirit…it has impassioned my prayer life…it has given me more sympathy and empathy with others…it has humbled me…it has broken me…it has made me more vulnerable…it has made me a better pastor…a better person.
I think of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I wish there were a different curriculum. I wish I could learn humility, vulnerability, and transparency in a different way. But, in the end, I think God gives each of us a “thorn in the flesh,” something that we wish wasn’t a part of our lives, for His purpose and our good.
Not out of cruelty…but out of grace.
Learning to say, “I don’t like this, God, but I am going to trust You through it…and not only trust You…but thank You for it” is one of the hardest prayers that you can pray.
Sort of like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Not my will but Yours be done.
Thanking God enlarges our perspective. It reminds us of our blessings. It pulls us out of our self-pity and toward the grace and goodness of God.
Because when I am weak (and not afraid to admit it)…then I am strong.
So in the midst of your stress, anxiety, and uncertainty…
Breathe in God’s peace.
Exercise in God’s strength.
Surrender to God’s will…and…
Thank God for His grace.
Life may be stressful.
But God is good.
And in Christ, we can look toward the future and know that the BEST is still to come.