Who has ever experienced overwhelming stress? You can’t see me, but both of my hands are all the way in the air. Stress isn’t healthy. Stress isn’t fun. Stress isn’t the ideal way to live. It can impact the decisions you make and the mood you are in.
After many, many years, I still have no magic formula for eliminating stress in life. Sitting on a beach seems to be as close as I have gotten. However, I do have a few thoughts on how to address stress that are based on lessons I learned. Seven of these thoughts are below.
Get to the root of things. Identify the root cause of your stress. There is some underlying issue, matter, or concern that is the root of your stress. Unless you identify this root cause, you are going to keep running into the same stress regardless of the places you go, the job you change to, or the moves you make. Identifying the larger category of your stress (i.e. finances, etc.) is a start, but what is the root cause of your stress?
The root cause of stress is different for each person. Perhaps part of your root cause of stress is that you feel overwhelmed in situations that you can’t control. Maybe the need to be in control of certain things is further linked to a disconnect between what you see, what you believe (i.e. your faith), and what you do (i.e. your actions). Perhaps the need to be in control (of the things you really need to turn over to God) is connected to fear, doubt, or uncertainty of something or someone.
Alternatively, maybe part of your root cause of stress is connected to a feeling that you must live up to the expectations of others even when those expectations are inconsistent with the direction God is taking you. Trying to make others happy by doing what they want you to do instead of what God wants you to do is exhausting (among other things).
Maybe neither of the above situations resonate with you. Here is another possibility. Is your stress because you are a big picture person and the thought of handling details is an instant stress inducer? Conversely, are you detail-oriented and the thought of the “bigger picture” is the reason for your stress in different situations?
Perhaps you have determined that you must be “perfect” in all that you do. When you fall short of your definition of perfection, you stress.
Discovering your roots is a personal journey, so the questions you ask and the root cause of stress that you identify aren’t going to be the same for everyone. That’s okay. They don’t need to be.
Prioritize spending time with God. Dedicate some time each day to reading your Bible, seeking to understand what you read, praying to God, and actively listening and/or observing what God may be telling you. Commit yourself to doing this every day regardless of what you have planned for the day. Don’t neglect your responsibilities, but remember what you dedicate your time to is an indication of what you value.
During your time with God, be honest with Him. One of the many beautiful things about God is that you don’t need to sugarcoat what you are feeling or why you are feeling a certain way. He already knows. So, talk it out with God. Tell Him what is bothering you. He loves you. He also understands what others do not.
For me, spending time with God as the first thing I do every morning has allowed me to deal with some of my own root causes of stress. By way of background, I am not a morning person and so getting up extremely early is not my “default” habit; I work long hours most days which means I’m not against hitting the snooze button on my alarm; and for many years, I would wake up and check email and texts before doing anything else. However, my time with God also allows me to refocus on who is in control of my life and what is important to me. (Just to be clear, I’m still talking about God being in control of my life.) Putting God first truly does make a difference.
Make a list. For those who feel overwhelmed because your list of things to do keeps getting longer and longer, perhaps a different approach to lists may help with stress.
Make a list of all that needs to be done in a week. Now take out seven notecards and label each one with a different day of the week. Go back to your long to do list and assign each task to a certain day by writing that item on one of your seven notecards. Instead of adding things to a master to do list, assign a day to each new task as they arise. When your sheet is filled for a particular day, you know some things may either need to be shifted to a different day or you may need to say “no” to some things if they don’t take priority over other things already on your list. After each day, crumple up that completed (or semi-completed) notecard and throw it out…or put it in a recycling bin. Reflect on what was accomplished that day. Anything that was left on the notecard you threw out can be reassigned to a new day.
Notecards are something that I use to stay organized and to help ease stress. They are a visual reminder that everything that I feel needs to happen doesn’t need to all happen in one day. Also, the notecards allow me to review how I’m spending my time and what I’m dedicating my time to.
Disclaimer: The harder lesson in trying to plan your life out this way is that what you list on those notecards may be your own plans, but God can (and will) change things. Things will not go according to how you planned it. Remember Romans 8:28 though.
Commit to a hobby and remain consistent with it. Stress knows how to try and attack your joy and peace. Stress knows how to push you to magnify the issue or problem at the expense of seeing the larger picture of things. Doing something that you love, that you look forward to doing, and that you are doing by choice and not because of a requirement is one way to get back to joy, peace, and clarity.
Get yourself a team. Stress is…well, stressful. Identify a few people who you can call on and who know the power of prayer, who love you not for what you have but for who you are, and who encourage you in different ways.
Perhaps you have that one teammate who is ready with a pep talk that reminds you of the purpose God has placed on your life and the larger goal you are trying to achieve through those late nights of studying and financial sacrifices you are making right now. Maybe another teammate is always available to just sit with you while you cry. No judgment…just support. Lastly, maybe you have another teammate who is hilarious and will help you get through your stress through laughter.
The bottom line is surround yourself with a diverse team of folks who you trust and who love God.
Be intentional about observing something new in the world around you each week. Stress can cause you to get tunnel vision. That tunnel vision can very quickly have you focused on yourself and cause you to forget about the blessings around you. Get outside of that tunnel by observing something new on a regular basis. There is an abundance of things to explore and so many things to be grateful for. Life is a true blessing, even when life gets hard.
Ask questions. When you are feeling stressed, consider answering the following questions:
- Will what you are stressed about now matter in a week? In a month? In a year? (This is a version of a question someone once told me to consider.)
- Are you stressed because you are trying to do something only God can do? (You may not see how, but know that God can do anything. He is not limited by what you see.)
- What are you worried about? What are the reasons you are worried about it?
- What is the “bigger picture” connected to your situation?
- Are you trusting God with your words AND actions in that very moment of stress?
- Have you prayed about it or did you just request that God make things easy? (These two actions are not the same, and “easy” may not be what you need.)
In all honesty, stress is frustrating. Sometimes you may get stressed more because you are stressed that you are allowing yourself to stress over something that you know you should not stress over in the first place. There are so many opportunities to stress in life.
I pray you know that the value of your life, God’s purpose for your life, and the blessings God has specifically for you are far greater than the stress you may be experiencing. Stress doesn’t have to be permanent. Breathe. Believe. Proceed.
The seven thoughts above on stress are ways that have helped me to address stress. What are some ways that you address stress in your own life? Share them in the comment section below. Let’s be a teammate for each other.
Blessings and Love,
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