Separation or divorce. Chronic disease. A death in the family. Loss (or change) of job. Argument or fight with a friend or family member. All of these circumstances, and many more that could be named, create pressures that cause stress in the lives of adults, teenagers and children. Stress is unavoidable in today’s hectic world. In fact, if you’re like most people I know, you could be an excellent candidate for stress overload.
Fight or Flight
Stress is the body’s response to the pressures of everyday living. It produces an adrenaline rush that gives your body the extra energy it needs to deal with the demands that our busy schedules and hurried lives place on us. This is called the “fight or flight” response. Stress is relieved by either fighting the source of the pressure or running away from it. A manageable amount of stress is actually good because of the way it mobilizes the resources of the body to deal with pressure. Excessive amounts of stress, however, can result in physical and emotional illness. Stress has been associated with causing acne, nausea, allergies, cancer (doesn’t everything cause cancer?), heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers, headaches, TMJ, muscle tension, and asthma. When stress becomes extreme, people sometimes escape the emotional pain through drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression, and suicide.
Avoiding Stress Overload
When you are feeling seriously stressed and it seems like everything is crashing in around you, you have probably entered stress overload. Sometimes this condition is called “burnout.” The way to avoid stress overload and burnout is to manage the amount of stress that you experience at any one time. Since Christ is our example, let’s look at some Biblical stress management principles drawn from the life of Jesus:
- The BALANCE principle. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) Keep a healthy balance between the mental, physical, spiritual and social aspects of your life.
- The REST principle. “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) Studies continue to reflect that most Americans are sleep-deprived. Make sure that you get plenty of rest and sleep every night. A good rule of thumb is to divide each 24-hour day into thirds: eight hours of work (or school), eight hours of “personal time” (including time with the Lord and family), and eight hours of sleep. I’m a big Clint Eastwood fan – and, as “Dirty Harry” says, in Magnum Force: “A man needs to know his limitations.” I remind myself often that even Jesus occasionally walked away from those who needed his healing touch to rest and recharge.
- The PRAYER principle. “But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:16) Jesus knew that time alone with his Father was essential to avoiding stress overload. If a regular prayer life was necessary for Jesus, it must be even more necessary for us. Spend time alone with God every day.
- The PRIORITY principle. “But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42) In other words, “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Remember that not all of your activities are equally important. Choose wisely, and give special emphasis to the ones that are more important and less emphasis to the ones that are less important.
- The CHILL OUT principle. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Luke 12:25) Worrying is the most nonproductive thing you can do. The Serenity Prayer reminds us that there are some things that we cannot change through human effort. There is no need to worry about what we cannot change. Maybe you need to pray (and live out) this prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”