Stressed Out

How to deal with stress through the power of Christ

        Reality. As I sit to write this, I am in my bedroom, which is now my office, working from home, racking my brain about everything in the world and how much there is to do in life and in ministry right now. This, of course, is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shut down the known world for the past two months. Oddly, at the same time, I am easily distracted, unsettled, impatient, lonely, sometimes anxious; always needing a snack, and ready for a nap as soon as I get up. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so; it’s called stress.

        In the normal patterns of life, when most days are more predictable, we all have a certain level of stress. This stress is important as it is actually a driving force to keep us productive. Yet, there is nothing normal or predictable about the current state of things today. Every leader, every person, at every level, is faced with challenges, worries, and unknowns that no one has an answer for. This introduces stress into our lives in ways that most of us are unable to process in a healthy, God-honoring, and personally edifying way. Add to this, that many of us are now spending more time with our spouses and children than ever before. Still others who live alone or are distanced from friends and family, face an entirely different set of challenges. They are trying to cope and they are doing it void of key in-person relationships that they would have normally had. This is the perfect storm of stress that begins a cycle of behavior that often only leads to shame and regret, which leads to more stress.

            So how are we coping? Well, most of us, if not ALL of us, have unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. Some are more harmful than others, but all of the ways, in the end, don’t alleviate the stress. Common ways of dealing with stress are either numbing up or escapism. This could be with comfort food, alcohol, drugs, compulsive shopping, etc. Some of us escape from reality through hours of TV, movies, games, books, social media, porn, unhealthy sexual behavior, etc. The list can continue with many other ways that are merely a temporary distraction from the realities we face. In times when so many things are out of our control we search for things we CAN control.

        Stress also has a way of bringing out the worst in us. Many people have a tendency to have less grace and a shorter temper than normal. Every interruption or inconvenience is now exasperated beyond an appropriate response. This causes conflicts to arise, harsh words to fly, and often regrettable actions. Still, others tend to withdraw from others, if not physically, then emotionally. Any of this hitting home? Let’s take some time and look at how to handle stress from a practical and biblical perspective.

            How do we go from just surviving to thriving? Here’s 10 ways to deal with stress that leads to a stronger faith and stronger relationships:

1. Identify the stress you are feeling. Then be honest about how you have been dealing with it.

2. Confess the wrong behavior to those affected and to God. Then ask for forgiveness. Don’t point out their sin or any provocation that they may be guilty of. This is about your part not theirs.

3. Start a journal. I use a basic $1 notebook as a journal.

Start making the following lists: 

    • What are you thankful for?
    • Who or what are you most worried about?
    • What are you lacking most right now?
    • List all things you need to do (or think you do)
    • Write down any relationships that are stressful
    • What are your financial needs or concerns
    • Make a list of the unknowns in your life/ world

4.  Now pray about each item on your lists. In plain language, talk to God about it like you would a friend.

5.  Take ownership of what you can control in your life. Meaning, take responsibility for  your part in relationships, the money you do have, the time you have, the OFF button on devices, padlock the fridge if you have to. Take back control!

6.  Bring all things and the things that are out of your control to God. Pray for those who are leading us through these times, our government (whether you like them or not), medical professionals, economists, industries, grocery  and essential store workers. Trust God in His word that we are to Be Still and know that He is God. (Psalm 46)

7.  Schedule time with God every day. Follow a simple reading plan. I have included a plan below. You can search for one on google or use the YouVersion Bible app and search their plans. Approach time in God’s word and in prayer as spending time in a relationship and not as an academic exercise. You will see a difference in the impact it has on your stress level. 

8.  Take a time out. This might mean in life so that you can stop and have a time of solitude with God to work through all of your thoughts. Taking a time out may be situational. ( Ex. if you are feeling out of control, your heart is racing, your emotions are high, you are red in the face or clenching your fists. These are signs you need to take a time out. Now remember, you cannot call a timeout for another adult, as much as you may want to. You can call one anytime for yourself, even if it is really for the other person. This is not only to cool down, but a time to sort out your thoughts, pray, and consider the other person’s perspective as well.

9.  Re-engage with life. This may be after you just took a time out to calm down or a time of solitude. For some of you who have been numbing up or escaping, it is time to re-engage with reality. 

10. Communicate. Healthy communication is the key to healthy life. Starting with communication with God through His word and prayer. Communication with others is crucial, especially during times of crisis. When stressed, we tend to assume other people’s motives. We lose sight of other’s perspectives. We don’t listen well and we fail to communicate clearly.

    • A few quick tips on communicating well. First listen! James 1:19 NIV – “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,”. Listen to the other person in an attempt to understand their perspective.
    • Ask questions like “how are you feeling”, “how can I help”. The thing needed most might be to listen and empathize with what they are feeling. Sometimes this just means that we listen, be silent, and agree with the person that what they are feeling is difficult. One way to be sure you understand the other person is to repeat back to them what you understood them to be saying. If you didn’t hear it correctly, be patient and continue to listen until you understand more fully.
    • On our side of the communication we need to be aware of what we say and how we say it. Think through what you want to communicate before you speak (James 1:19). Use “I” statements. “I feel…” or “I think…” Refrain from any statements that start with “You.” “You always…”or “you never…” or “you did…” These are accusational and are bound to start a fight, or at a minimum shut down healthy dialog. “You” statements also assume the other person’s motive. Always be willing to be wrong, you may have misread the other person. Your statement may start out like “I could be wrong, but I feel like I am not being heard.” This is an initial step in healthy conflict resolution.

         Remember that you love and care about the other person whether they are a friend, sibling, child, parent, or spouse. In the end, the goal is peace, not winning an argument. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to become angry, give grace, pursue peace, and don’t make little things into big things.

        Don’t give up if you screw up. You will screw  up. Real encouraging, right? Let’s face it, we will take two steps forward and three backwards some days. Ask for forgiveness, forgive yourself, start again and keep moving forward. Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV – “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

When in doubt pray it out! Pray, Pray, Pray! 

Don’t Distress- Reading Plan

Read the verse or passage each day, write it down, and then say as a prayer for yourself.

Day 1: Psalm 23

Day 2: Matthew 11:28-30

Day 3: Psalm 55:22

Day 4: Matthew 6:25-34

Day 5: Philippians 4:6-9

Day 6: Luke 10:38-42

Day 7: Hebrews 12:1-3

Day 8: 1 Peter 5:6-11

Day 9: Exodus 14:14

Day 10: Psalm 46

Day 11: Galatians 5:19-26

Day 12: James 1:12-18

Day 13: Psalm 94:18-19

Day 14: Isaiah 40:26-31

Resources:

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life https://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-When-Take-Control-Your/dp/0310247454

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature https://www.amazon.com/Emotionally-Healthy-Spirituality-Impossible-Spiritually-ebook/dp/B01HAKH3IE/ref=sr_1_1?crid=GXCPYADB21E5&dchild=1&keywords=emotionally+healthy+spirituality&qid=1586983013&s=books&sprefix=emotionally%2Cstripbooks%2C176&sr=1-1