Stress has been a part of my life for so long that I wouldn’t know what it feels like to have it absent. I see stress as falling into two categories – positive or negative. There are some things that stress us but have a positive result. Things like deadlines that help keep us accountable, or a difficult problem at work that allows us to feel fulfilled when we solve it. However, when stress increases above a level that we are used to, it can have some pretty serious adverse affects.
When you are stressed your body has a similar reaction as to when it senses you are in danger. It speeds up your heart and your breathing by releasing hormones into your system. All of this will lead to an instinctive response to either stand-and-fight or run-and-hide depending on the individual.
If stress is allowed to continue for too long or too often in your life, your health can suffer. Headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, and muscle pain are all common physical responses to stress. In addition, it can weaken your immune system making you vulnerable to other health conditions as well.
I’m writing this blog entry because my stress level has been extraordinarily high during the past five years. While I consider myself someone who handles stressful situations well, I recognize that it has impacted me in significant ways. I have learned that rarely do the things I face only apply to me. So I’d like to share some strategies that have helped me through some very trying circumstances.
Three Strategies for Taking Back Control
Strategy #1 – Just say NO. Learn that it is ok NOT to volunteer to bring the snacks, to organize the car pool, or to teach that Sunday School class. We live in an age and culture of busy. In fact, I think sometimes we need to be busy just to feel important. If you get a group of women together, often it seems like they are bragging about all the things they are involved in as if the more they do, the more important they become in their circle. How about we start bragging about how we are saying “no” to the things that don’t really matter in the end, and demonstrate an ability to manage our lives more effectively??
Strategy #2 – Manage time. There are only 24 hours in a day. Try removing things from your life that waste one of your most precious commodities. For example, we are currently choosing to not have cable TV. Television consumes our precious time without an adequate return for the investment. We DO have Netflix and are purposeful about what we watch and when. What is sucking up your time? Get rid of it or reduce its impact on your time.
Strategy #3 – Identify priorities. Trying to cram in as much stuff as possible leaves no time to clear your head or relax. When my kids were younger I tried to involve us only in things we could do as a family. Instead of each child having their own pursuits, we hosted study groups, took Tae Kwon Do classes as a family, and went to the park or spent the weekend camping. While dance and soccer are nice for a time, I feel like we reduced everyone’s stress while improving our connection as a family by focusing on our time together. If one of the kids did do something on their own like soccer, they each took turns to help reduce the mania, and the entire family supported them by attending every game and cheering them on.
What About the Stress Caused By Things
That You Do Not Have Control Over?
Whether it’s divorce, death, or a significant loss, if you are walking this earth for any period of time you are going to have to deal with a heart-breaking situation at some point and time.
When I first learned that my husband of 17 years was having an affair, the shock of it hit me like freight train. Unless you’ve walked that particular path, I could never adequately explain the pain, the anxiety, and the stress that it causes. When he left to pursue and ultimately marry the object of his affection, the resulting stress caused rapid and significant weight loss, about a third of my hair fell out, and my brain lost memory and the ability to focus on anything longer than 5 minutes. While you may never experience this exact situation (and I hope you don’t), life WILL throw us a curve ball every now and then. The following is what I learned in my personal journey that helped me get through a very difficult and stressful situation. I pray that you might find them useful if you ever find yourself facing down your own curve ball.
- Forgive – often stress caused by things outside of our control are the result of the actions of someone else. Staying angry and becoming bitter will only hurt your ability to move past it. Or perhaps you need to forgive yourself for a mistake or bad decision. You’re human – cut yourself some slack. If you struggle to forgive, seek some counseling to help you.
- Ask a trusted friend for help – This one has always been hard for me. Pride generally gets in the way of reaching out. If not for the good friend that walked me through this dark time, I know that I would not have made it to the other side with my heart intact.
- Get professional attention, if needed – If you are unable to sleep, are experiencing fluttering in your chest, have the sensation that your heart is in your throat, are finding it hard to take a deep breath (shallow breathing), or are having trouble keeping food down it is time to get to a doctor. There is help and if left untreated they can become a real and serious threat to your health.
- Write it down – Within 24 hours of learning about the affair, I began writing a journal. I wrote down everything that came to mind whether it made sense in the moment or not. Sometimes I stayed up all night writing in that journal. It became a close confidant and was a very healthy way for me to express the tidal wave of emotion that was threatening to wash me away.
- Focus on the future – Circumstances are temporary. True joy comes from knowing that our God is bigger than our problems and that He cares for us. Some nights I feel asleep singing Jesus Loves Me over and over (a suggestion from the friend I mentioned above). The lyrics to this simple children’s song were so affirming that they soothed and healed my wounded spirit with every note.
- Be courageous – Do not allow fear to take over. In difficult circumstances you will no doubt be facing some hard decisions. Gather your courage and do what you need to do. Guard yourself from having wrong motives or making a bad decision out of fear, anger, or revenge. At the end of the day, do what is right and good for you, your children, and anyone else affected. Do not adopt a victim mentality. Claim victory over your problems and move forward.
If you have been through a difficult time and have a strategy for managing stress that worked for you, please share it with a comment.