Five Ways To Combat Stress, a Guest Post by Dan Erickson

Dan Erickson writes about writing and blogging in a hectic world.  His blog,  “writing for the sake of my humanity,” is an eclectic combination of writing and blogging advice, poetry, music, and minimalism.  Dan has written two books including, A Train Called Forgiveness , based on his personal experience of being the child victim of an extreme religious cult.

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Dan EricksonStress.

I’ve had my share.

I was the child victim of a religious cult, basically a slave to a megalomaniac cult leader.  After my escape as a 16-year-old boy, I went to the opposite extreme and enjoyed my freedom a little too much.  I spent years wondering aimlessly, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, which be the way, didn’t relieve the stress.

After a dozen years of self-abuse, I finally found my way back to normal.  Whatever that is?  I went back to college at the age of 30, earned my master’s degree by 38, and was married about the same time.

My spouse wound up having extreme mental health issues.  More stress.  We lost our firstborn child.  Stress on top of stress.  She couldn’t care for our second.  Her meddling parents tried to convince her she could.  Triple stress.  That led to a divorce that took five years to complete, and to me becoming the single parent to my daughter when she was 11-months old.  Superstress.  Yes, that’s a new word.

So as you can see, I’ve dealt with my share of stress.  Recently, I added more stress to my plate.  I started a blog (or three).  I wrote a book (or two).  I bought a house (only one).  And now I’m teaching double-overload classes as a college instructor in order to pay for the house.  Geez!  Will I ever learn?

Yes!  I will.  And I have.  What I’ve learned is that one doesn’t necessarily have to eliminate stressful events, but rather there are ways to relieve stress during those events.  The key is balance.

Stress becomes harder to bear when we focus only on the stressors.  So we must find other outlets, other places to focus our energy.  We need to learn to compartmentalize our activities.

Here are five things I’ve done to help myself through the most stressful times in my life.

  1. Eating right: I put this at the top of the list because it’s essential to well being.  When we eat foods that lack nutrients, it’s like fueling our bodies with bad gas.  If you get bad gas in your car, it can cause it to sputter and run inefficiently.  When we eat junk we get tired and worn down.  This is the last thing we need when we’re under heavy stress.  Make sure to spend the extra time and money to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, and other foods rich in nutrients.
  2. Exercise: My divorce was strung out and frustrating.  The waiting and the expense was enough to drive anyone crazy.  So… I ran.  I discovered that running is an excellent way of dealing with pent up negative energy.  Something happened when I ran.  It was meditative.  I focused only on the moment, each step, my breath.  That allowed me to disengage from the stress of the divorce.  Exercise helps us think clearer.  It’s an essential part of dealing with life’s stressors.
  3. Team support: I’ve always been a bit of a maverick.  If I can’t do it myself then forget it.  When I became a single dad, I discovered that I could not be a one-man show.  I had to reach out to others.  What I found is that there are a lot of good people out there who are willing to help out someone in distress.  Several members of the church I attend stepped up to help take turns watching my daughter so that I could work and take occasional getaways.  Having people in your corner during stressful times is a Godsend.
  4. I’m a musician.  Music has always been an incredible outlet for me.  But sometimes life has become so complicated that I’ve set my music aside for short periods of time.  When I’m stressed I’ve found that returning to music is another effective self-therapy.  For you it might be writing, cooking, or gardening.  But having a hobby to turn to helps to balance things out a bit.
  5. Meditation: I’m not a Zen Master.  I’m not a Yogi.  In fact, I’m a Christian by faith.  But I’ve found that meditation can be extremely helpful in relieving stress.  That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in prayer.  I do.  And I practice prayer, too.  But sometimes prayer can cause us to focus on the problem when we should let it go.  I’ve found that practicing simple breathing exercises while letting the mind relax, letting thoughts dissipate, can bring down tension levels considerably.

I’m sure there are other things one can do to combat stress.  From my own experience, finding a balance that includes good nutrition, team support and healthy activities has worked wonders.

DISCUSSION: Tell me about a stressful situation in your life.  What methods were most effective for you in dealing with the stress?

Dan invited me to guest post on his site, “writing for the sake of my humanity,” earlier this month. Check out the post, “writing, why you should trust the process,” on Dan’s blog. Be sure to peruse the rest of the site while you’re there!

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on my virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

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:

Essential Elements of Vision Therapy

Many optometrists do not recognize when someone needs vision therapy. In fact, a person with vision problems can pass an eye exam with flying colors. This was the case with my son. I sensed we were missing something in his learning plan, but that something remained allusive until one of his teachers suggested I check into vision therapy.

Elements in vision therapy include the following:

  1. Comprehensive Vision Exam/Consultation: Before a patient begins vision therapy, an assessment by a qualified doctor takes place. This includes diagnostic evaluations identifying strengths and weaknesses with regard to visual coordination and information processing skills.
  2. Patient Conference with the Doctor: After the assessments, a doctor specializing in vision-related problems reviews and interprets the results. When vision therapy is recommended, a treatment plan is created with goals and expectations outlined. The patient must then decide whether or not to begin therapy.
  3. Weekly Therapy: Therapy sessions at the doctor’s office vary depending on each individual’s needs. Some patients have in-office therapy twice a week, while others have it once a month. Patients also often have tasks to complete at home to enhance the in-office therapy. The specific type and frequency of therapy depends largely upon an individual’s unique vision therapy needs.

This process works well within our spiritual lives too, if we’re open to it. This same sort of process can lead us to a place of preventing vision-related spiritual problems – such as double-mindedness, lack of or wrong focus, and absence of alertness or paying attention – that can plague our spiritual lives. After asking the question, Do you Need Vision Therapy, proceed to implementing the necessary elements.

Elements in spiritual vision therapy include the following:

  1. The Basics: Serving as an eye exam or vision evaluation for our spiritual lives, make sure the basics of regular fellowship, daily Bible study and prayer create the core of your spiritual vision health. (Colossians 4:2, 3; Acts 2:42) All other elements will be fruitless without these basics. Stopping regular practice of any of these habits leads to blurred spiritual vision.
  2. Consultation: A seasoned saint can provide the essential observations needed to make adjustments in one’s spiritual progress. Seasoned simply means more spiritually experienced and victorious in a particular area and maybe in general. In addition, regular accountability can help us see what we are blind to about ourselves. Talking out problems is often all that’s needed to find a solution. (Galatians 6:1, 2)
  3. Expert Advice: This can come through pastoral counseling, professional Christian counseling and Christian books. Some struggles simply need the experienced vision of a pastor or Christian counselor. Regularly reading good Christian books also provides expert advice that can be preventative as well as problem-specific.
  4. Practice: Vision therapy practice includes “homework” that produces daily application for growth. Spiritually, this means not just taking in the Word and hearing from God, but also “going into all the world” and practicing what God plants inside of you. (Mark 16:15)
  5. Continual reassessment: Realizing The Danger of Routine and Habit in Our Prayer Lives proves the need for continual reassessment in the life of a Christian. Just as someone receiving vision therapy will be reassessed by the doctor several times during and after therapy, Christians too much assess their habits and routines. Really, every area could benefit from regular, personal assessment in general. Check with the Holy Spirit daily in prayer and make a deliberate point of consistent personal assessment.

One final connection between vision therapy for the eyes and spiritual vision therapy lies with the power of choice. In either case, the “patient” must make the decision about whether or not to begin the recommended therapy. Just like the eye doctor makes the vision therapy plan very clear, God makes the plan of action very clear for clearing up and even preventing spiritual vision problems. With both, commitment and then follow through are necessary for improved vision.

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Do You Need Vision Therapy?

Humans possess over 15 essential eye-coordination visual skills. When a child under performs due to one or more vision-related deficiencies, they are said to have a vision-related learning problem. These problems are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, behavior problems and/or reading disabilities. This is what happened with our youngest son, who is now nearing the end of a 3-month eye therapy program to correct the deficiencies.

Throughout his therapy, I have done my best to understand not only his visual challenges but also the steps for correcting the problems (thank God they are correctable). In this process, God once again proved Himself to be an Everyday God who shows Himself in the details of life. To that end, the following points not only teach about common vision-related learning problems, they also help illustrate some of the common reasons for vision problems in our spiritual lives too.

Convergence Insufficiency

This involves eye-teaming skills, which is the ability to coordinate the two eyes together. Symptoms include eye strain, fatigue, poor attention and avoidance of reading. Words overlap when reading, resulting in double-vision. Many kids with this problem don’t know that what they are seeing isn’t normal, and as a result say nothing about the problem.

James 1:8 tells us that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Just like convergence insufficiency leads to a child who struggles with stability (confidence) in reading, double-vision in a spiritual sense leads to avoidance of obeying God’s will. Like waves of the ocean, a double-minded man can be unpredictable and even volatile.

Accommodative Dysfunction

Eye focusing skills, such as the ability to focus for sustained reading and to shift one’s focus from near to far, fail to function properly with this dysfunction. Symptoms include miscalling easy words, complaints of headaches, tiring easily and poor attention and concentration when reading. Accommodative dysfunction is all about the inability to focus and results in blurred vision.

The Old Testament gives numerous examples from the lives of God’s people (the Israelites) of what happens when our focus moves from God to anything else. Psalm 1 also gets at this idea of focus telling us to be aware of the type of people we spend our time with for fear of them leading us down the wrong path. Blurred vision in our spiritual lives leads to fatigue at every level, inability to see God when He does speak to us and even failure to focus when we clearly know He is speaking.

Occulomotor Dysfunction

Occulomotor dysfunction involves eye tracking skills, which is the ability to point eyes on printed material and to move them from word to word. Symptoms include losing one’s place easily and needing a finger to keep one’s place when reading, slow reading, poor fluency and comprehension, inability to pay attention, and difficulty copying words. With this dysfunction, words appear to jump around on the page.

Luke 21:36 gets at the idea of constant alertness and paying attention since we don’t know the day or the hour when Christ will return again. Failure to have this alertness results in losing our way and wandering outside of God’s will, inability to pay attention when God gives us opportunity to move on His behalf, and struggle copying the example set for us by so many godly men and women. We jump around in life without any real focus or purpose when we fail to be constantly alert to the work God sets before us.

Vision-related learning problems affect more than just reading. My son’s ability to properly socialize, to keep focused in and out of school, and to enjoy much of life in general were compromised because of these dysfunctions. Vision-related spiritual problems have the same impact on our spiritual lives by negatively impacting our relationships, stealing our focus, and robbing us of joy.

My son needed vision therapy to correct his vision-related learning problems. Vision-related spiritual problems require vision therapy too. Next Friday, we will discuss what elements are involved with vision-related therapy.

DISCUSSION: What vision-related problems do you see in your own spiritual life?

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