5 Crucial Principles for Managing Stress

Manage stressAn interesting progression took place while blogging about stress this past month – I became more stressed. No, writing didn’t negatively stress me. Stress, yes, but the good kind resulting in stretching and growing, the therapy kind.

Do you have any good stress in your life right now?

Maybe the increased awareness of stress in general played a role. For sure, a large part came from an increase in stressors, most through others and out of my control.

My first reaction, my automatic response, is to eliminate stress as much as possible. That’s not always the best option, though. Sometimes my focus must be on recharging and then continuing, letting stress be and not trying to control it. With that, I realize that I must…

Persistently pursue time to recharge and refocus.

Relieve stressIf Jesus needed to do this (Matthew 14:13-34), I definitely need this habit. So, instead of trying to fix everything (which is impossible and only adds to stress), maybe letting it ride, living within it is best. In other words…

Acknowledge the stress, then keep commitments and fulfill responsibilities by simply doing what’s next.

As I’ve learn to keep moving through the stress, I’ve also gotten better at not letting stress constantly eat away at me, at not worrying about what I can’t control. I’ve learned to counteract stress with healthy outlet activities (exercise, reading, talking, etc.), and I’ve learned to pray… a lot… about everything (Philippians 4:6). Do you have healthy outlets for stress relief?

In that, I begin to focus on controlling my attitude and responses during stress. Out of that comes a realization that I need to apply a principle I’ve told my boys many times, namely…

Understand what you can and can’t control, and refuse to dwell in the wrong place.

Prepare for StressWhen I realize what I can and can’t control, I must then focus my energy and effort on that which I can control, even if only slightly. One of the most difficult areas to realize control involves the volume of what we take on, what we commit to and assume responsibility for.

And what I see happening is a lot of people drowning in a perfectly floatable boat simply because they’ve weighed it down by taking on too much. They’re sitting in a sinking boat because they’ve put too much in it, and the only way to keep from drowning is to get rid of some of the stuff. Really, it’s best to never take it on in the first place, but at some point, we must…

Learn to say “no” – even to good – so we can say “yes” to better and best.

As stress ebbs and flows, and as I realize my inability to truly control its existence, I increasingly understand the importance of a habit of consistency regarding stress management. I realize that stress exists mostly as a mental battle, that it’s the atmosphere of my inner self that truly determines whether or not I sink or float. Do you have any consistent habits to help manage your stress?

Psychcentral says “most negative symptoms [of stress] can be corrected if you take action.” My experience with stress – and a crash and burn resulting from not managing it well – supports this fact. With that comes the final principle for managing stress…

Find ways to manage your stress on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

Dealing with stress really isn’t an option. You WILL deal with it one way or another. The question is, will you deal with it by choice or by force?

DISCUSSION: What can you do today to better manage stress? What advice do you have for others?

Additional posts about stress:

Managing Stress by Recognizing Limits

Everyone Has Limits

834002_53926801Stress is not necessarily bad. In fact, it’s required for growth. But we weren’t designed for constant levels of high stress. We need rest; we need to ebb and flow. Not only does an ocean’s tide approach to stress allow our bodies the rest and relaxation they need, it also allows for the mental space necessary to process and deal with life in a healthy way.

Is stress constant in your life, or do you get regular relief from its pressure?

Everyone processes stress uniquely, and every person holds a different tolerance level for stress. Not only that, but how we handle stress and how much we can handle also varies contextually.

The Energizer Bunny

My husband and I provide perfect examples of this reality. I don’t handle chronic stress well and need lots of rest after a stressful event or situation. I also don’t do well with thinking quickly and making a lot of quick decisions, especially with people watching and waiting.

841712_81663505My husband is the opposite. He is energized being around other people and pushing through challenges, and he has an amazing ability to think quickly and act efficiently. In fact, he thrives under pressure.

We are also different in our down time. I need a lot of quiet & down time. He recharges very quickly, and his down time usually involves a lot of activity.

While my limits are quickly obvious, my husband seems to not have them at times. In fact, he’s earned the nickname “The Energizer Bunny” because he keeps going and going and going with uncanny consistency.

Recognizing Limits

It’s obvious to everyone nearby when I’ve reached my limit of stress, and I feel it internally well before it’s visible to others. I look fatigued, my digestion slows, and I get over-sensitive to sensory stimulation.

My husband’s limits are not so obvious. He works hard, sleeps deeply, and shows very few visible signs of stress. But when stress lasts too long, a limit well past that of most people, signs begin to show and include an increased obsession with work and falling asleep in 30 seconds instead of 3 minutes.

Are you like me who needs more ebb & flow or my husband who can handle bigger waves?

My husband struggles recognizing his limits because he, like many high-achievers, doesn’t like admitting he has them. I usually recognize the signs before he does, though he’s improved in this area over the years.

How to Recognize Limits

578724_45121810Regardless of whether limits come quickly or seem higher than most people’s, there are always signs indicating their existence. Learning to recognize those signs can prevent you from speeding down life’s highway at a reckless pace.

Which of the following 5 areas best help you recognize approaching limits?

  1. Sleep – What’s your optimal number of hours, and are you hitting it every night? How’s the quality of your sleep? Consistency in this area brings almost instantaneous overall improvement in the ability to handle stress in a healthy way.
  2. Energy – Is your energy level consistent throughout the day? Or, do you have periods where yawning increases & eyes grow unbearably heavy? Are you constantly reaching for caffeine or sugar for a quick energy boost? An inconsistent energy level is a caution light indicating limits are getting near.
  3. Thoughts – Do you struggle focusing? Do you zone out when others are talking? Are your thoughts constantly wandering to impossible scenarios of relief? Or, perhaps all you can do is think about work or whatever is causing stress. Has your concern turned into worry? Remember that thoughts determine reality, so understanding thoughts can help sense approaching limits.
  4. Leisure – When was the last time you took a day or even an afternoon off? Do you constantly bring work home? Even if you do take a day off, do you sneak in time for work? CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time in 2011 with most of them leaving 11 days unused. That means they only took 30% of their allotted vacation time mostly because they felt they had too much work to do. An avoidance of leisure is a sure indication of approaching stress limits.
  5. Relationships – Do you spend regular time with your spouse and kids/grandkids? What about dinner with your family regularly? Do you have any friends you hang out with outside of work? Strained relationships indicated stress limits are rapidly approaching or have been reached.

Taking time to assess these areas of life can make a tremendous difference in preventing the crash and burn that comes when limits are reached, exceeded and ignored. Don’t let a heart attack or adrenal burnout or worse force you to recognize and respect your limits. Choose to do so on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

DISCUSSION: What experiences or other perspectives can you share regarding limits?

Divine Stress Relief

Divine rest 2DISCUSSION: What can you change today based on Jesus’ invitation for divine stress relief in Matthew 11:28-30?

Confidence and Trust in Relationships

ConfidenceConsistency & Trust

The more consistent a person’s attitude, actions and words, the higher level of trust and confidence I have in that relationships. When I know someone will dependably show solid character, my stress level goes down and trust goes up.

For example, I trust my steady husband more than any other person. My oldest son and a couple of my friends tie for second. Whatever these people are involved with in my life holds a great deal less stress because of their consistent character.

Of course, the reverse also holds true. The less consistent character, the lower the trust and the higher the stress. Unfortunately, several people in my life fall into various places along the spectrum of decreasing trust and increasing stress because of a lack of consistent dependability.

Of course, all of those relationships involve imperfect people that to some extent are unreliable and inconsistent. With God, though, the picture completely changes because perfection exists in a person that never, ever fails me.

PChrist the sameerfection Changes Everything

Whenever I understand more about who God is as He reveals Himself through His Holy Spirit — that He is my Lord and my God, that He is Holy and that He is my Savior — my confidence in Him automatically increases.

“I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

The better I know Him and His ways, the more I trust Him. Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers focuses on this idea in Chapter 14. He expresses the truth this way:

“Confidence happens when we come to understand God and His ways. When we really get to know God, confidence is automatic. If we truly come to know Him, we’ll be confident that He will be true to His person.”

Because God is who He is, I can have perfect confidence in Him. Yet, because I am who I am, I don’t.

Scripture like Isaiah 43:1-3 serve to remind me that my imperfection doesn’t limit Him. As Sorge says,

“Confidence says, ‘I know He’s working on my behalf for good.”’

And I can know this because He has done it before in my life and in the lives of countless others, and because Scripture assures me that’s who He is. That’s His character.

Confidence through StruggleFather does not change

Let’s go back to the “fire” and “rivers” in Isaiah 43:1-3 for a minute and apply how understanding and knowing God leads to automatic confidence in Him to work in my — and your — life for good today.

What would you list as your “fire” and “rivers” right now? In other words, what are the main sources of struggle and stress in your life? (Yes, you can name a specific person… I did.)

For each of the “fire” and “rivers” you listed, tell God you trust Him with them. Think of all He’s done for you and of what Scriptures says of His ways and who He is, and let this knowledge strengthen your confidence in Him to bring you through your current struggles. He did it before, and He’ll do it again because that’s who He is.

Other posts on trust:

5 Ways to Be Strong for the Stressed

Strength for stressedLife fluctuates. Sometimes we live in more struggle than victory. But sometimes, we get to bask in the mountaintop sunshine. Most of the time, though, we seem to live with a mixture of both struggle and victory.

Fortunately, for the most part, we each fluctuate at different levels and paces. For example, sometimes my exercise partner encourages me out the door. Other times, I’m forcing her to meet for a run. Sometimes my husband provides stability and help in my busyness; other times, he leans on me.

What relationships in your life reflect this same exchange of encouragement?

I remember a time when I did all of the leaning and needed all of the encouraging. I felt so buried in struggle I had no strength to lend to others. What others did for me during that time taught and prepared me for how to be strong for others later.

The following 5 ways to be strong for the stressed stand out as tremendous helps during my own season of needing to draw strength from my others:

  1. Encourage. While what encourages differs from one person to the next, finding small ways to encourage others helps them put one foot in front of another.  A “praying for you” text or even just a smile from across the room go a long way in encouraging someone when they are struggling.
  2. Listen. Simply listening to a person talk about struggles helps tremendously. Whether it just allows that person to vent or helps them find solutions, authentic listening truly relieves the intensity of stress.
  3. Create space. Find ways to help unload the person’s schedule. Take a friend’s kids for the evening or clean her house while she’s at work. Giving the gift of margin creates breathing room that might be just enough to encourage hope for more permanent relief.
  4. Pray. Often, someone who is overloaded got that way because they refused to allow others to help them. No matter what you can pray for them, and you can let them know you are praying for them. So many times, I could sense extra strength coming through the prayers of those who loved me.
  5. Create comfort. When stressed out, comfort seems absent and quite distant. Bring a friend coffee or make him a favorite meal or treat. Find out what brings comfort, even if only for a moment.

Strength for OthersFor the first time in 20 years, I’m less stressed than my husband, kids and most of my friends. A new experience, to be sure. Perhaps a better way to put it is that I am just balanced and in rhythm right now, and they are all going through times of intense struggle and less balance. I know this will probably change, that I’ll need their strength more and they mine less at some point. But for now, I can take what others did for me and pay it forward.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can you suggest to be strong for others who are stressed and overloaded?

Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

Getting to the Root Cause of Stress

398165_2008If you were to take the time to map out all the reasons for stress in your life, you’ll likely discover one main root cause. Yes, stress really is that simple.

What is the root cause? Fear. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that when we’re overwhelmed by stressed, we’re really acting in fear.

Fear of failure, Fear of letting others down. Fear of being let down. Fear of sickness and death. Fear of being controlled. Fear of not having enough money. Fear of kids rebelling or getting hurt or failing or embarrassing you. Fear of missing opportunities. Fear of making wrong choices. Fear of loneliness. Fear of mediocrity.

Oh wait, those are MY fears. Those are what cause MY stress. But maybe you can relate?

Unable to Wait

1078872_44288931As I thought more about the fears causing my stress, I realized at the heart is my inability to control people and events. And nowhere is this reality more evident than in my inability to wait for God.

Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers says there are three temptations that derail believers trying to wait for God to speak into their lives.

  1. The temptation to demand and immediate answer.
  2. The temptation to give up.
  3. The temptation to just “do something.”

When I think about the times I’ve given into these temptations, I realize they happen because I believe one of my fears is about to be realized. And in my refusal to wait, I’m usually just trying to save myself from that fear. At the same time, I’m allowing my feelings to control my decisions as well as rationalizing and justifying why I can stop the waiting.

The odd thing is that when I give in to these temptations, when I let fear get the best of me, I end up increasing my stress and allowing fear to gain more of a foothold.

How to Finally Overcome Stress

No fear in loveOne of the best stress relievers and probably one of the least pursued is quietness. We sometimes make stellar attempts at quietness on vacations only to return to chaotic lives. While times away have their place and value, it’s really a habit of quietness that addresses fears and derails stress.

As Sorge notes, we have to remember three important points about quietness. It’s does not mean silence, it’s not instant, and it’s easily lost. Quietness must become a habit in order for it to truly alleviate stress.

My own journey to a less stressful life reflects the truth of what Sorge says about quietness. In fact, as I learn to practice quietness, my fears lessen, which in turn reduces stress. Sure, life continues to generate stressful situations and seasons, but they are no longer flavored with fear.

Instead, I am experiencing “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) by seeking Him through:

  1. Reading Scripture: Simply reading the Word of God and letting it live and breathe within me on a regular basis.
  2. Praying Often: A regular conversation with my Creator transforms stress and overload into times of experiencing Him more.
  3. Seeking Input: Godly influence of those who’ve been where you are and are where you want to be is invaluable.
  4. Pursuing Health: Being physically healthy makes a tremendous difference in not letting fears take control.
  5. Simplifying: The simpler the life, the more likely quietness becomes a transformational habit.

As quietness increases and fears subside, as stress no longer rules and reigns, my inner atmosphere increases in peaceful consistency and reliability. And as this happens, I’m experiencing a transformation that only God could orchestrate.

DISCUSSION: How does fear impact your stress level? What are you doing to overcome that fear?

Join the Book club discussing Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge by leaving a comment below. You can also read more reflections on this book from Jason, Sarah, Dusty, TC, Glynn, and Joell.

GUEST POST INVITATION: For the month of April, my focus will be on guest posting. This will include some of my own guest posts, promotion of other’s blogs and guest post featured on Struggle to Victory. If you are interested in either writing a post for this blog or having me write a post for your blog, please contact me via email. There are still several slots available on the calendar.

Ending the Reign of Stress in Your Life

SONY DSCA recent milk commercial shows a crying, distraught cow watching her best friend (a young girl) going to school.  The idea of emotional cows may seem ludicrous, but research actually shows that cows have best friends and do get stressed when separated from them. This unusual fact about stress helps illustrate the far-reaching impact of stress even beyond human uniqueness.

While a stressed-out cow may have little meaning for your own over-stressed life, perhaps the following facts about stress might.

Symptoms & Causes of Stress

Everyone knows that stress impacts physical, mental and spiritual well-being. But do we really realize the extent of its control? 

Symptoms of stress

And those are just the symptoms, not the actual causes. Here are just some of the causes:

Causes of Stress

When we consider the distance stress will take to rule our lives, should we not also consider the great lengths we must be willing to go to if we are to end its reign?

Drawn Tight

The term “stress” comes from the Latin word “stringere” which means “to draw tight.” Can you relate to a feeling of being drawn tight, perhaps as tight as you think you can go, as tight as you’ve ever gone before? Most people can.

Do you even remember NOT feeling that way?

Sure, we find moments of relief watching mindless television, tweeting, or shopping with friends. But the source of stress always awaits our return, ready to tighten the strings once again.

And stress’ domain seems to be growing, doesn’t it? Even in a culture with all we want continually, easily and readily at our fingertips, more people seem chronically over-stressed. Even kids and teenagers experience stress well beyond what their maturity level can handle. Why does stress seem to be getting worse when we have so many ways to relax?

This month we’re looking at stress’ reign in our lives, and we’ll consider the idea that perhaps stress grips so tightly because we let it, and maybe we live with the consequences of stress simply because we fail to create and implement habits to prevent them.

Want to change? Want stress to be a healthy part of your life instead of a fascist dictator? Want to feel like you’re running on smooth terrain instead of wading through thigh-deep mud?

Let’s get into the details of stress in our lives with the goal of finding permanent solutions. Let’s get at the root causes of stress rather than simply treating the symptoms and numbing the consequences of living chronically high-stressed lives. Are you game?

DISCUSSION: What exists as the root cause – going beyond symptoms – of stress in your life?