April is National Stress Awareness Month. This focus helps us not just become more aware of stress and its consequences but also learn to manage it and not let it make us so unhealthy.
Unfortunately, to be busy for many people is to have purpose and meaning. Stress is often a badge we proudly wear, and it even becomes an excuse we hold on to far too tightly. So, we have this widespread encouragement to manage our stress, and that’s a good thing.
As Christians, though, I think we’re stopping far short of God’s will if all we’re doing is becoming aware of and managing our stress. Still, awareness and management of stress are important, so let’s spend a few minutes talking about them.
Good vs. Bad Stress
Stress can be good, but balance is key. We need stress to learn and grow. It’s why we have the built-in safety mechanisms of increased adrenaline, oxygen, strength, and mental acuity during times of stress.
Examples of good stress include exercise and learning something new. Really, challenging yourself in any positive way can be good stress.
Too much stress or high-stress too often without relief creates an out-of-balance state. When we never experience relief from stress, we suffer consequences. The longer that state continues, the worse and more abundant the consequences.
The Consequences of Stress
Common consequences of stress often include depression, anxiety, anger, and predisposition to a slew of health problems. Stress levels, how much we have and how we cope, also determine how well we age.
Stress kills more people than smoking, drinking, and not exercising. It also inhibits and deteriorates the part of the brain associated with learning and memory. There’s a 40% higher death rate in those who do not manage their stress, and excessive stress aggravates or causes a host of other afflictions.
The short of it is that excessive, long-term stress can make you unhealthy. This makes managing stress crucial to health and wellness. To manage stress, we must identify its causes
The Causes of Stress
Stress has many causes and identifying them in your life is key to managing them. Everyone is unique in what stresses them and how stress affects them. Personality, learned responses, biology, and other factors all affect how we handle stress and what causes us stress.
Common causes of stress include:
- Work stress: Unhappy with your job; a heavy workload; long hours; poor management; a dangerous job
- Life stress: Death; divorce; job loss; marriage struggles; finances; moving; illness
- Mental stress: Fear and uncertainty; attitudes and perceptions; unrealistic expectations; change
Everyone is unique in how stress affects them, what causes stress, and what relieves stress for them. Across the board, though, the top stress management approaches – really, a stress management foundation – for everyone are:
- Getting at least 7 hours of sleep a day
- Eating healthy and exercising regularly
- Staying socially connected
Beyond these, it’s important to find techniques to use when stress is triggered. Stress management techniques allow you to get a handle on stress before it starts causing overwhelm and overload along with potentially serious health problems.
In addition to the stress management foundation mentioned above, some of the most helpful stress management tips in my life include:
- Deep breathing
- Stretching and yoga
- Walking in nature
- Reducing noise
- Playing soothing music
- Using positive self-talk
With all these techniques, I find using them in the absence of technology (i.e., phone, computer, television) to be vastly more effective than if I allow technology to interrupt me too consistently.
Everyone handles stress differently; stress management is unique, too. The tools discussed above are important, and I believe they are gifts from God for helping manage stress.
God doesn’t want us to just manage our stress, though, he wants us to overcome it. If you think about it, the whole Bible is really a book about relief from stress in this life as we head toward eternity.
There is a slew of verses that speak specifically to overcoming stress. Here are just some of them:
- Isaiah 40:27-30– Wait quietly for God
- Isaiah 41:10 – Receive strength from God
- Psalm 69 – Cry out to God
- Matthew 11:28-30 – Learn from Jesus
- John 14:27 – Don’t be troubled or afraid
- Romans 8:35-39 – Know God’s love
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 – Don’t quit
- James 1:5 – Ask God for wisdom
Much of what the Bible talks about regarding overcoming stress is focused on obtaining peace. Not peace alone, though, but perfect peace.
“You will keep in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”
Let’s break this verse down to help us understand how we can have God’s perfect peace even amidst over-stressed lifestyles.
“You will keep in perfect peace…”
In the original language, “perfect peace” was written “shalom shalom” with the repetition used for emphasis. Essentially, it means harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility.
In other words, God doesn’t want us to simply manage stress; he wants us to have wholeness in the midst of it. He wants us to have harmony, completeness, and tranquility. The Bible tells us stress isn’t going to go away (John 16:33), but that we can be prosperous in the middle of it.
The rest of Psalm 26:3-4 tell us how this happens.
“…whose mind is stayed on you…”
A mind “stayed” on the Lord is a settled and established mind. It’s a mind kept in perfect peace. This is not an occasional focus but a fixed one. To determine what your mind is stayed on, consider the following questions:
- What sustains your mind?
- What do you lay (rest) your mind upon?
- What upholds your mind?
- What does your mind stand fast upon?
- What is your mind established upon?
- What is your mind settled upon?
- Where is your focus?
Reflect on if your mind is focused upon yourself, your problems, other people, and/or your stress. If you want to overcome stress, it’s important to understand that any focus other than the Lord only results in stress management at best. And, eventually, stress management won’t be enough.
“…because he trusts in you.”
Trust in God is the key to perfect peace. It’s the key to overcoming instead of just managing stress. If you study the verses referenced earlier, you’ll see they also drive toward trusting him in your efforts to overcome the trials (i.e., stress) of this life.
“Trust in the Lord forever, for in Yah, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”
Why can we trust in God? Because he IS everlasting strength. He doesn’t just give us strength; He IS strength. He’s not just strength, either, but everlasting strength.
We’ve all felt drained of strength because of stress. You don’t have to, though, if you learn to trust in the Lord.
You can overcome instead of simply manage stress when you focus on God. You can live in prefect peace as you learn to be still in his presence and learn from him.
I used to live in overwhelm and overload. Depression used to define me. Adrenal fatigue became my reality for several years. Through many different tools, God gently led me to a healthier life not overwhelmed with stress.
Learning to trust him and letting him guide me and be my everlasting strength led me to peace. I’m still learning to focus on the Lord rather than on what causes me stress, but I am making progress toward perfection as I learn to apply what God’s word says to my life.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he’s done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and heard and saw, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:6-9)
God’s peace is guaranteed to those who trust in him, and trust grows through spending time with him. When we pray, tell him what we need, and thank him for what he’s done, our trust and our peace grow. It also grows as we fix our thoughts where he directs them and increasingly practice what the Bible teaches.