Overcoming Stress Before It Overcomes You
The other day, I was sitting on the couch fretting about details of an upcoming event the counseling center is hosting. I had frantically emailed a couple of my wonderful staff members about an email I couldn’t find that I thought I needed and shortly after that email my phone rang. On the other end of the phone was a soft, calm voice that kindly and gently told me to relax. I didn’t need to concern myself with the details, everything was in the hands of my very capable assistants. I was surprised that I started to cry (just a little) when I hung up the phone. Thinking back on the past week, I realized it has been one big stress sandwich.
I am prone to respond to stress by worrying; annoyance, irritability, and impatience. The three of them go together for me. Because I am stressing about something, I am worrying about how to solve the problem or address the issue. Because I am worrying, I am easily annoyed and irritable. This all leads to being an impatient, unkind wife. Problem-solving is part of my nature, so many times that morphs into worrying. I am continually trying to figure out a number of ways to attack or solve complex problems.
I am thankful my friend shut me down before things got worse! There can be ungodly responses to stress that bring destructive consequences. One consequence of an ungodly response to stress is having only superficial relationships with people. The stressed person tends to withdraw or even run from people! The stressed person is less likely to fulfill the one-to-one ministry opportunities God presents her with. There is no time to interact with friends when you are busy trying to figure out every possible outcome to situations in your life. It is enormously time-consuming and honestly, people tire of trying to encourage someone who is always expecting the worst to happen.
The stressed person typically doesn’t respond biblically to the stressors in her life. This will hinder her spiritual growth and her usefulness for Kingdom work will be nil. Stress and anxiety can become life-dominating sinful habits! Because she has unrepentant sin in her life, she will struggle to produce good fruit.
Outside of the church context, those who have an ungodly response to stress are difficult employees and students. They may have all of the qualifications and ability, but their personal issues inhibit their performance. They have excessive responses to situations and people, they can’t handle unexpected things that pop up without responding in anger, without being flustered or incapacitated by them.
Stressed-filled living brings physical consequences in addition to interpersonal problems. The body is not built to withstand chronic unresolved stress, and medical science is proving what the Bible has said for centuries: Anxiety and stress are very hard on the body (Prov. 12:25; 14:30; 17:22)
I found some great counsel in a little book by Dr. Wayne Mack, Overcoming Stress and Anger God’s Way (Mack, 2007). Dr. Mack lists several Overcoming Factors that might help you as much as they did me.
Overcoming factor #1
“To win this battle over the stressors of life, you must deliberately choose to see everything that happens to you within the framework of the Sovereignty of God.” The sovereign rule of God is bedrock foundation for being able to trust God to keep His promises. God gives us extensive promises in His Word, which He intends for us to trust in by faith. God does not exercise His sovereignty on a whim, or impulsively, but only in a way that His love deems best for us. God’s plan and His ways of working things out are frequently beyond our ability to understand. When I am stressed, I write out my thoughts on what this truth means in application to my present circumstance. It is when the Word of God is applied to my heart that understanding comes. Many times I don’t realize that I am not believing until I sit down and face it in a quiet moment.
God clearly shows His authority, ability, and activity as He works in our hearts through our circumstances. This should be comforting to us! God prevents and allows only things that will bring Him glory either now or in the future. God constantly restrains the evil intent of the enemy and other people from touching our lives. We may never be aware in this life of His authority, ability, and activity in this area. How many times have we been protected from an evil intent which was going to come toward us without God’s intervention? We really have no way of knowing, but we can be assured that God is constantly intervening on our behalf, protecting us and keeping others from bringing us harm.
Overcoming factor #2
“Choose to give thanks in the midst of our circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18). One issue a worrier has is a lack of gratitude for the blessings they have and for who God is. Thanksgiving is an attitude of the heart that God commands us to have, regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. When we are worried or stressed the last thing we think of is what God has already done for us. We are typically focused on all we lack or are looking at the downside of the issue instead of God’s goodness, kindness, mercy, and justice. We must also think about what God is accomplishing in us as a result of our present trial. There are incredible reasons to be thankful for difficulties! God does His best work in our hearts and lives when we are under stressful circumstances, because we are weak and recognize our insufficiency. These are reasons to be very thankful indeed.