By Rick Ezell
Anne Marie, age 34, a manager with a large food distribution company, complained to her doctor about increasing headaches, sleep disturbance, irritability, indigestion, and difficulty concentrating. After a thorough examination, the doctor found no physical cause for Anne Marie’s symptoms.
He asked about her daily routine. She responded, “I’m up at 5:30, make lunches for the children, prepare their breakfast, shower while they eat. We’re on the road by 7:00 for preschool, I’m in the office at 7:30, charge through a demanding workday, pick up the kids at daycare by 6:00, rush home, make dinner, help with the homework, get ready for the next day, and then drop into bed.”
An increasing number of people are like Anne Marie. They experience the physical and emotional impact of stress on their lives. According to the Executive Stress Coach (www.executivestresscoach.com), “Numerous surveys and studies confirm that occupational pressures and fears are far and away the leading source of stress for American adults and that these have steadily increased over the past few decades.”
Stress is an inevitable part of life. Since we can’t escape stress, we must learn to manage it. In fact, stress under control is actually a good thing, because it creates energy, compelling us to perform distinctive work. For example, concert grand pianos have more than 240 taut strings that exert a pull of 40,000 pounds on the frame. If the tension is too great, the strings will snap. If the strings are too loose, the beautiful music is lost. In a similar way we must learn to manage stress, producing beautiful music.
What could you say to Anne Marie that would help her manage her stress? If you help your friends understand and apply these sound biblical principles, their lives will play a grand melody.
Know Who You Are
If you don’t know who you are, somebody else will tell you who they think you are. Having a clear sense of identity protects you from people who would like to manipulate and pressure you into being someone you are not.
A rabbi once ventured onto an army post, lost in his thoughts.
“Stop right there!” shouted a sentry.
The rabbi looked up, completely unaware of his surroundings. He had crossed into an army installation. The guard was both alarmed and upset at the sight of this roaming rabbi.
“Who are you? What are you doing here?” commanded the guard.
The rabbi was awestruck by the questions. He responded with a question of his own: “How much do they pay you to ask questions like that?”
“Why do you want to know?” asked the guard.
The rabbi said, “I will pay you double your salary to come to my house and ask me those same questions every morning.”
The first way to manage stress is to get a sense of who you are. And who are you? You are a child of God put on this earth for a purpose—not by accident. You are deeply loved by God and accepted by him. That gives you great value, providing a purpose and reason for your existence. Everything you do flows from this identity found in Christ.
Don’t Try to Please Everyone
You can’t please everyone. You shouldn’t even try. God doesn’t please everybody, so it’s foolish to attempt something even God doesn’t do.
If you try to please everyone, you cave in to criticism because you are concerned about what others will think about you. You become competitive because you worry about whether somebody else is getting ahead of you. Such thinking often leads to conflict because you are threatened when anyone disagrees with you.
Jesus instructed, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). If you focus on pleasing God, it will simplify your life. You play to an audience of one—the one that matters most. When you seek to please God, you will always be doing the right thing, regardless of what anybody thinks.
Unless you establish priorities and live by them, you will be pressured by what other people think is important. Every day you live by priorities or you live by pressures.
Living according to your priorities produces balance, which creates harmony; boldness, which fosters conviction; and preparation, which produces peace.
Make a daily “to do” list that reflects your priorities. Remember there is a difference between scheduling your priorities and prioritizing your schedule. Consider your priorities before saying yes to additional obligations. Ask yourself, “Will this task or meeting help me accomplish my priorities?” Then make a “not to do” list. This list will help you determine in advance what you will not do—those activities, events, and projects that are outside of your priorities
Realize that you can’t—and shouldn’t—do everything on your own. Learn to delegate. Get others involved. Assign chores to your children. Train subordinates at work. Enlist the aid of friends.
Question: How do you accomplish the work of 10 people? Answer: Get 10 people to do the work.
Delegation is the art of accomplishing more through the efforts of others. When you delegate appropriately you allow others to grow and to develop their potential. Mark Twain said it humorously: “Never learn to do anything. Then you’ll always find someone else to do it for you.”
One reason some people don’t like to delegate is that they think no one else can do the job as well as they can. This is perfectionism. Others refuse to delegate because they feel threatened when they turn over a responsibility to someone else and that person does a better job. This is insecurity. You won’t be threatened if you know who you are, whom you are trying to please, and what you want to accomplish. In order to be effective and reduce stress you must enlist the help of other people.
Make a Habit of Personal Prayer
No matter how busy you are you need time alone with God. Jesus did. If Jesus needed quiet time with the Father, how much more do you need to spend time with God?
Prayer is a stress reliever, a God-given tool for releasing your anxieties, worries, fears, and frustrations. Quiet time with God is like a decompression chamber for life’s stresses.
Begin each day with prayer. When you start your day with prayer and practice the presence of God by praying continuously throughout the day, you recharge your spiritual and emotional batteries and you gain needed direction.
Take Time Off
No one can work consistently without relief. Everyone needs breaks, some rest and relaxation.
Rest is not optional for a stress-managed life. In fact, rest is so important that God included it in the Ten Commandments. God knows that our physical, emotional, and spiritual constitutions demand periodic rest. An old proverb says, “You’ll break the bow if you always keep it bent.” Your life will break if you always run at full throttle from daylight to midnight.
Billy Graham once said that if he had his life to live over, he would withdraw more often for times of rest, meditation on the Word, and prayer so he could give himself completely to the battle when he needed to.
Give Your Stress to Christ
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus didn’t say, “Come to me and I will heap on you additional guilt, burdens, and worries”—even though some people think that. Jesus said, “Come to me and I’ll give you rest. I will bring relief to your life. I will give you inner strength. I will transform your life. I will help you live peacefully.”
Managing stress on your own fails to recognize the sovereignty and grace of a loving God who desires to be your burden bearer. Give God your stresses. Let him carry the heavy load.
Rick Ezell is a minister and freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.
How well do you manage your stress? How well would your spouse, kids, friends, or coworkers say you manage stress? Chances are, there are some stress reduction tactics that you use well, and some you all but ignore. We’ve all got plenty to work on in this area.
Read and pray through these stress management strategies. What do you do well? Where do you need to grow?
Pick out one area to focus on over the next month. Set specific goals to help you track your progress and ask someone you trust to help hold you accountable.
1. Know who you are.
2. Don’t try to please everyone.
3. Establish priorities.
5. Make a habit of personal prayer.
6. Take time off.
7. Give your stress to Christ.