By Charles Gerber
Stress is all around! It cannot be avoided on this planet. Just turn on the news and watch your stress level rise. In our world there is both acute and chronic stress. Stress can affect our body’s immune system, shutting down its ability to function and heal.
Stress and what causes it fascinates me. What causes stress for some, like public speaking or riding on a roller coaster, can also be stress reducing for others.
The words distress and distressed are found over 100 times in the New International Version. Some stress is actually good (termed: eustress)—it motivates. Consider what Daniela Kaufer, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley said: “You always think about stress as a really bad thing, but it’s not. . . . Some amounts of stress are good to push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.”
Eustress is what I feel when I am speaking in public. But a lot of stress is bad for us; it demotivates—which is riding roller coasters for me.
I spent about 20 years teaching stress management classes for cardiac patients at our local hospital and have written a book titled Living with Stress. Here are some biblical ways that we can all cut down on the bad stress in our lives:
Be still—I know this is going to sound cliché, but you must learn to be still before God and know that he is in control of the situations in your life that are causing stress (Psalm 46:10). You must learn to still mouth, movements, and mind.
OK the first two are easy to do, but how do you still the mind? One of the best ways to still your mind is to read and study the Bible daily. Get God’s perspective. In times of stress, dwell on God’s promises. Pray about the situations that are stressing you. The Bible teaches us to cast all our anxieties on him (1 Peter 5:7).
What causes stress is temporary. I love what Revelation 21:4 promises: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Help others—Another great way to deal with stress is to do something for others. Serving others and meeting their needs puts our stress in perspective (Acts 20:35). How does serving others lower stress? Consider a study published in American Journal of Public Health:
Research has shown that serious stressors—like losing a job or a loved one—can worsen your health and shorten your life. But among the 846 adults in this study, those who did good deeds for others were less likely to die in the five years that followed a major blow. On the other hand, people who didn’t do much for others weren’t as lucky—every stressful event they experienced led to a 30 percent greater risk of death.
Ask for help—Another great way to deal with stress is to allow others to help carry your burdens (Galatians 6:2). A burden shared is a burden divided. This is probably harder for males to do than females. Males have been programmed to believe that asking for help makes us weak, a burden, and a bother. This simply is not the truth. When you allow people to help you, they are blessed as well as you.
Listen to music—One of my favorite ways to reduce stress is to relax by having music on. When King Saul was struggling, music helped him (1 Samuel 16:23).
Laugh—Laughter is a great way to relax and unwind. Laughter is a medicine that has no negative side effects (Proverbs 17:22). Doing things on purpose that make you laugh is wonderful. Laughter is a free gift from God!
Sleep—The proper amount of sleep is great for stress management. But sadly, many of us don’t get the right amount. A Ladies’ Home Journal article gave a list of what we experience according to the amount of sleep we get each night:
• Eight hours: refreshed mood, alert, peak physical performance
• Seven hours: moody, occasional trouble concentrating, reduced short-term memory, some drowsiness while driving
• Six hours: testy, irritable, poor decision-making, weight gain, reduced immunity, impaired motor skills
• Five hours: depressed mood, 50 percent slower reaction time, stressed out, great chance of heart and stomach ailments, physical performance akin to someone legally drunk
• Four hours: extremely irritable, exhaustion, higher risk of ulcers, diabetes, heart attack, and obesity, dangerous to self and others on the job and while driving
Exercise—Exercise is great for stress. One of the easiest exercises we can do is walking. It is cheap and easy to do. Jesus walked most everywhere he went. I try to walk 4-6 times a week for about 35 minutes a day with my headphones on, listening to Christian music.
Eat well—One of the hardest ways for me to reduce my stress is to eat and drink the right stuff, at the right time, in the right amounts. I love my food. Daniel might have been right about eating lots of vegetables (Daniel 1:12-26). Also try to drink half your weight in ounces of water every day. (But don’t do this right before bedtime or when you’re traveling!)
Be realistic—A lot of self-imposed stress comes from trying to be perfect and earn approval from others. Obviously you can’t be perfect. Learn to set goals for yourself that can be reached with maximum effort. When you make mistakes, learn from them; don’t beat yourself up (Isaiah 43:18, 19). Dwelling on your mistakes will only make you and others around you miserable.
Be a kid again—Becoming like a child is not only biblical (Matthew 18:3), it also does amazing things to lower stress. Every day do something you enjoy. Every week do something you look forward to. Learn to play without feeling guilty. Developing an infant mentally to evil works wonderfully to reduce stress (1 Corinthians 14:20). This means learning to turn off the news when it overwhelms you. You don’t have to be totally aware of everything negative that is happening in the world.
Be grateful—I might have saved the best for last: be grateful for what you have in your life, the people and the blessings. We are commanded to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). An attitude that is positive is a great way to combat stress! Don’t forget that Christ is coming back. We might be alive when we hear the trumpet blast signaling his return, and we are going to spend eternity with him.
Charles Gerber works at Christian Counseling Services in Muncie, Indiana.