We all experience stress every day. Some days are much worse than others. I’ve recently experienced some stress related to travel that made me think about how to handle and manage the stress we face every day. First our flight got cancelled, then our new flight was delayed 3 hours, which caused us to miss our connecting flight. You probably got stressed out just reading that.
When stress builds up over time it can wear us down, and take a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. When we are worn down we often will do and say things that we can regret later.
Stress is often relatively short-term, and is often caused by feeling that work or home life is out of control. When both of those are out of control the stress feels extra heavy.
Maybe you have a heavy work week with several big projects, causing you to work extra hours, and maybe pushing to meet a tight deadline. You may also be experiencing tension at home with a close relationship, or have some financial pressure that has been building.
Most of the time we have high stress days or weeks, and then days or weeks of lower stress. It’s when those stress days move into months and years that it can take a toll on us to the breaking point.
Prolonged stress can lead to burnout. When you start reaching the point of burnout, your work starts to not seem as meaningful, and there is often a disconnect between what you are doing and what you want to do. You start to feel like you’re just going through the motions, and you can become cynical, critical and adversarial. You are probably experiencing regular mental and physical exhaustion, and you’re finding it hard to rest.
So what can we do to manage stress. First it’s important to recognize the unhealthy ways that we are dealing with stress. Many people will self medicate by drinking, smoking, eating, shopping, binging on something. I’ve been binging on Law & Order SVU, Criminal Minds and Chicago PD.
Next you can start working on healthy ways to deal with stress. Here are just a few that help me:
- Exercise/Eat Healthy/Sleep – I put those together because those are all physical things we can do to help with our stress. Those three things, when done in a healthy way, can reduce stress and make you stronger physically and emotionally. You become more resilient and can bounce back faster.
- Prayer/Meditation/Worship – I put those three together because those are spiritual things you can do to reduce stress in a big way. I believe in and follow Jesus, and when I spend more time with Him, I feel so much better and less stressed. I also include reading my Bible and doing daily devotions to help prepare me everyday for the stress that is coming. Block off extra time when stress is high for Quiet time with God. Listen to worship music, and sing along. Write in a journal and list everything you’re grateful for. Caring for yourself spiritually builds internal strength, and allows God to make changes in you and through you.
- Plan for and take breaks during the day, during the week, and during the month. – Every day take short refreshment breaks. It could be a 10 minute walk around the office, going and getting a drink of water, standing in the sunshine for a few minutes or taking 5 minutes to pray. Each week you should have a day of rest, where you are not working, but resting, reading, exercising, sleeping, spending time with loved ones. Every month you should plan a little extra time for self care, spiritual care or relational care. Plan those and put them on your calendar.
- Have honest conversations – Talk to your leader if you’re able to, about the stress you are feeling. Ask for clear expectations, and help in prioritizing your work. Also ask your leader if you have the right goals, and if they should be adjusted. If you don’t have any goals for work or home, work on setting a few and then talk with your boss or spouse. If you’re in a toxic environment have the courage to talk about that, and offer ways that you can help make it better.
- Learn the art of saying no, and asking for help – This can be hard, but is a great way to reduce stress. You can say no and still be kind and helpful. It’s also wise to ask for help. If you are unsure about something, or don’t know how to do it, ask for help or clarity. Good leaders appreciate when you ask questions, and you can avoid a lot of stress and miscommunication when you ask good questions. This works at home as well.
- Finally talk to a counselor, mentor or pastor – This can help to dig a little deeper and find out if there are things that are causing stress that are under the surface, or buried inside you. This doesn’t mean you are weak, it actually takes courage and strength to go get help, and it will reduce your stress in the long run.
Philippians 4:6-7 is very helpful when it comes to stress. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you”
Jesus also told his disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” When they had been overworked and overwhelmed Jesus encouraged them to get away and rest. That’s great advice for us today.