Living with high levels of stress can be physically and emotionally dangerous, so much so that stress tests like those by psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe can predict the likelihood of serious illness or an accident in the coming year based an individual’s level of current stress.
1 In his book with Philip Yancey, “Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants,” Dr. Paul Brand describes his work with leprosy patients. The disease attacked their nerves. Unable to feel pain, they cut or burned their feet and hands. The ability to feel pain is a safeguard.
Stress, emotional discomfort, is a similar red light and danger signal— a warning sign that our bodies’ needs must be attended to, a warning to slow down and recalibrate our life, our thinking, and emotions. When heeded, symptoms of stress function as a safeguard.
2 Whereas urbanization, instant communication, and noise pollution are major sources of stress, the best stress-busters, according to a Hoegaarden Beers survey, are contact with nature, the sight of the sea, a walk in the park, hearing birds singing, or smelling freshly cut grass.
Ironically, a balanced life with exercise, rest, relaxation, and time with family and friends makes us more productive.
3 “Planning and making lists removes stress. Noting down everything that needs doing brings huge relief.”
(Both Roy and I have always kept mental lists in our heads—of engagements, parties, things to do…and things do get forgotten–particularly from the To Do list). Whenever I note things down however, I do find a sense of relief. I realize that I have a lot less to do than I thought, and it also motivates me to zip through the list.)
4 Anger increases stress by pumping adrenaline and cortisol around our body, robbing us of tranquillity and sleep.
High-adrenaline physical activity helps to bring our anger under control. As does enough sleep, and trying to see it from the other person’s perspective.
The best way to master anger, however, involves mastering the reflex of dealing with our anger vertically, with God. Telling God about it, and seeking his perspective. Learning to forgive.
5 “The God-given rhythm of rest, time away from our work, is necessary for greater productivity.”
James Crichton-Browne, “We doctors, in the treatment of nervous diseases, are now constantly compelled to prescribe periods of rest. Some periods are only Sundays in arrears.”
A “Sabbath” is good for all human beings. French and Soviet attempts to increase the work-week backfired. Accidents increase and productivity diminishes after about eight hours of work a day, or forty hours a week.
Physician Verna Wright writes, “Just as the body requires its 24 hour cycle, so the one in seven rest day fits perfectly the needs of the body and mind, physically, mentally and spiritually.”
The Sabbath was indeed to be a celebration of freedom from slavery, a gift—a time when humans enjoy the fruit of their labour.
Tim Keller, “God ties the Sabbath to freedom from slavery. Anyone who overworks is a slave. Anyone who cannot rest from work is a slave—to a need for success, to a materialistic culture, to exploitative employers. These slave masters will abuse you if you are not disciplined in the practice of Sabbath rest. Sabbath is a declaration of freedom.”
6 Worry increases stress. Jesus quite clearly tells his disciples not to worry about anything. Again, we can train ourselves to refocus our worry into surrender and trust.
And since, apparently, we control only 8% of the things we worry about, it makes good sense to surrender the outcome of things to God, and to trust his goodness, and his creative ability to work all things out for good.
7 Stress is caused as much by one’s attitude and outlook on life as by external pressures and circumstances.
Once we recalibrate our heart in surrender, and remind ourselves of God’s love for us, and power over our circumstances, and ability to work everything together for good, our stress looks after itself.
By letting God be King, and believing in his power to help us and work together the twists and turns of our lives for good, we begin to learn the secret of being content whatever the circumstances.
I found the earlier, practical chapters more helpful than the later theological ones, though, as Simon points out, while practical lifestyle adjustments certainly reduce stress, facing one’s difficulties as a believer, believing in God’s power to help us, and to work all our difficulties together for good is ultimately the best solution to the problem of stress.