“God does not give you more to do in one day than you can achieve.” I recently heard this quote and have to confess that there are times when I am guilty of adding far more to my schedule than my regular daily responsibilities and the marching orders God gives me in the morning. Overloading can quickly result in a stressful day, and instead of enjoying the 24 hours provided, I can find myself under pressure and missing out on the simple joys of life.
Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse, or very demanding circumstances.” The number of people reporting that stress affects their work has quadrupled in the past 20 years. Indeed, one-fourth of all drugs prescribed in the United States go towards the treatment of stress, and three out of four people say they experience stress at least twice a month.
On the positive side, healthy stress levels can ease boredom and push a person to reach peak performance. However, to protect health, this type of tension should be for short bursts of time only. Research links long-term high stress to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Stress may also suppress the immune system, making people more likely to catch infectious diseases. Psychologically, stress can contribute to alcoholism, drug use, depression and anxiety.
Is stress in the mind?
Interestingly, research has shown that it may not be the actual stress that is damaging to our minds and bodies, but the belief that stress is harmful. Mental toughness is learning how to control our mind rather than letting our mind control us. Romans 12:1 tells us to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds,” and time spent in worship, prayer, reading the word and at church are important spiritual disciplines. It is vital to find ways of deferring or relieving stress. Laughter has been shown to release endorphins in the body, and physical touch, such as a 20-second hug, produces oxytocin, both hormones vital for calming people. Children laugh around 100 times a day, but by the time we become adults this diminishes to about eight times a day. God wants us to be light hearted and filled with joy, and the Bible tells us that “a merry heart is good medicine,” (Proverbs 17:22) – the best stress reliever.
A recent study from Stanford University showed that stress levels are higher than they were 25 years ago due to greater economic pressure and the fact that it is much harder to turn off information and escape the world. I often wonder how wise it is to know so much information, via social media, about those around us, their family, their friends, etc. While this can be helpful for ministry opportunities and prayer, it is vital that we not overload our minds to the point where we are unavailable to those closest to us. Establishing healthy boundaries when using social media is critical. For example, I try to take a “Sabbath rest” from social media. In this digital age, we must strive for eye to eye contact.
The value of vacation
Escaping for a while from the daily stress of life is vital to refresh our spirits. Sadly, more than half of Americans, 56 percent, have not taken a vacation in the past year, and those who do choose to stay home or are leashed to the office via electronic devices. Four in ten Americans do not use their annual paid vacation, gaining the USA the reputation of a workaholic culture with a “martyr” complex. Lack of adequate rest can backfire, with more employee sickness and less creativity. As God shows us in the book of Genesis, humans are designed to work, then rest and rejuvenate. God not only rested but enjoyed his creation, and in the book of Exodus, we see observance of the Sabbath tied with freedom from slavery and from allowing work to become an idol in our lives. Time off calms and reprograms a tired brain, enabling families to reconnect and make memories together while refreshing the body. Research has proven the importance of regular vacations for cardiac health and cancer prevention. We must be sure that our recreation reinvigorates and doesn’t cause more work and stress. Introverts prefer to refresh alone while extroverts revitalize by being around other people.
Stress and overeating
Overeating because of stress affects two thirds of people. Glucocorticoid, a stress hormone, can take hours to clear from the bloodstream, causing a physiological component to emotional overeating. Research on rats shows that while under stress, they have difficulty distinguishing the larger of two rewards. Therefore stress can affect decision making, which can last for several days. Good nutrition, decluttering our homes, kicking the caffeine habit, regular bed times, enjoyable hobbies, exercise and time spent having fun with those we love are also important components in managing stress.
The Bible tells us “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Good time management, which involves planning ahead, can relieve stress, but there is also great value in unscheduled time to allow the heart and mind to do what they want or follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps fewer personal goals and being more others focused is what is needed. A worthy goal to help relieve stress is to rest from self-sufficiency and to relinquish ourselves to total dependence on the Lord.
Andrea Goff hosts Choosing Joy, a support group for people dealing with ongoing medical conditions, pain, anxiety or depression. For information, contact [email protected]