Yesterday I woke up feeling grumpy. A few days before that, I got out of bed feeling a bit low emotionally. Last week I woke up feeling so tired, I just wanted to roll over and go to sleep again. Anyone relate?
The amount of stress in our lives creeps up on us without warning and suddenly we are aware of emotions that we aren’t used to. We have no idea why we feel this way, we just know we don’t feel right or good or normal. I am not a depressive sort and generally have had lots of motivation and ability to accomplish a lot. So, when suddenly I feel very low, apart from having Long Covid, I realise there is something else going on. I think a lot of people, especially guys out there, are like me and don’t find it easy to evaluate their feelings and be aware of what is happening on the inside.
Stress around us: I know there’s good stress that motivates us to get things done but I want to focus more on bad stress in this article. Part of the stress we have to deal with is the state of our world today – the political and social unrest, the many conspiracy theories flying around, the sickness and death in so many countries, the emotional struggles under restrictive lockdown and the sense of helplessness to make a difference. On top of that, are our personal circumstances – decisions we are needing to make, transitions we are walking through, problems we are working on, plans that need making or are impossible to make due to Covid or simply the personal circumstances we find ourselves in.
Stress in us: How much of our stress is due to open endings? We live with many loose ends, and it would be very beneficial to close as many doors as we are able: that decision that has been hanging over us, that job that needs doing or completing, that conversation that we have put off too many times, and the list goes on.
Future possible stress: If we don’t have enough stress already, we add to it by thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong, 99% of which never will. The bible repeatedly tells us to not worry, not be afraid and be anxious for nothing.
Identify your stressors: Each of us has a personal history, personality and set of habit patterns that cause us to stress in certain ways. Certain circumstances will stress one and not the other. It’s not a topic that we can compare with one another. We are all unique. So, it’s a good practice to discern what is causing stress in our lives in this season. I think you will find it very enlightening when you make your own list. When I made a list the other day there were 20 items and it made me realise and understand that ‘yes, I am definitely stressed.’
So how can we lower our stress levels?
Stress and the effects of this last year are all around us, so what are we going to do? What are our actions, strategies, and rhythms to stay emotionally healthy? The following thoughts aren’t new or radical but principles we desperately need to make a part of our daily rhythms to bring balance to our lives. I hope they are helpful reminders:
Create some necessary endings: Make a decision and a time to close all the doors that you possibly can – stop making excuses, stop the procrastination and just do it. Then decide that you want to think differently. Create a boundary line in your thinking. When those thoughts come that cause worry or fear, say ‘No.’ Shake your head, think of something else, start thanking Jesus for who he is, his presence with you and speak it out loud. There are practical things you can do to minimise future challenges but we can’t completely protect ourselves or our families, friends and teams. Leave the future to Jesus and experience his peace right now.
- Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing. Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude. Tell him every detail of your life, 7 then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will guard your heart and mind through Jesus Christ.
A two minute vacation: This is a simple, quick & easy activity. When I was having piano lessons as a teenager, my teacher would often stand behind me and gently push down on both my shoulders in order to help me relax. So right now, allow your arms to go loose and feel your shoulders drop – we hold tension here. The next step is to focus on your breathing for 2 minutes without thinking about anything else. Take some deep breaths – count to 4 breathing in, count to 4 breathing out, speaking out the name of ‘Jesus’ and count to 4 as you hold your breath and then start again. You can do this as many times during the day as you need to.
- Psalm 46:10 Surrender your anxiety. Be still and realize that I am God.
A distraction every hour: I have a watch that reminds me to move – I get up and walk around and get my body moving. In our zoom oriented world, we need to make sure we are moving positions. Let’s not become zoom potatoes!
A daily walk or exercise: This doesn’t necessarily mean an hour work-out in the gym, although that is great. You need to find the kind of exercise that suits you best. For me a 30 minute walk, including an elevation that increases the heart rate, is ideal for me. The fresh air, with the sights and sounds, gets me out of my home and office cloud and brings a lightness to my spirit (it helps that we live in a beautiful environment). Walking, talking and listening to Jesus is obviously life giving. All the experts say – doing some form of exercise daily is very important.
- Isaiah 40:31 But those who wait for Yahweh’s grace will experience divine strength. They will rise up on soaring wings and fly like eagles, run their race without growing weary, and walk through life without giving up.
A daily devotion: We all know the importance of journaling, meditation, thanksgiving, intercession, and various kinds of spiritual exercises. If your rhythm has grown stale then mix it up and add something new. Let me share my current rhythm – I call it my P’s and T’s. I have a template with the following headings in my Day 1 journal.
- Title for the day – a few words that frame the day
- Photo – that captures what the day is about
- Thanks – 5 things I am thankful for
- Prayers for people – I ask Jesus for a couple of people needing prayer
- Texts to people – I ask Jesus for a couple of people that need to hear from me
- Prayer for today – a breath prayer that I can say in one breath
- Thought – journal time for what’s on my mind
- Priority – I ask Jesus what his priority is for me today
- Tasks – I write down my key tasks for the day
- Passage of scripture – my daily schedule of reading – lectio divina
- Phrase – pull out a word or phrase
- Ponder – think about the meaning of that word or phrase and how to apply it
- Prayer response – how I respond to what I have heard
I would encourage you to give it a go for a month and see how it helps.
- Matthew 11:28 “Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis.
A caring connection: Last month I wrote about connecting with 2 or 3 others on a regular basis to share your lives together. There is an old saying that says – a problem shared is a problem halved and a joy shared is a joy doubled. I have found this to be true. Offering hospitality to people brings you out of yourself as you prepare the environment, make something special and then enter into conversation. We were made for this (I know in total lockdown this has been a sad loss). Make sure you have time to laugh with your friends and even laugh at yourself. Laughter is good medicine for stress.
- Proverbs 25:25 Like a drink of cool water refreshes a weary, thirsty soul, so hearing good news revives the spirit.
A plan: One of the greatest stresses for people has been the lack of ability to plan for the future. Covid has brought restrictions that limit our ability to travel anywhere and we can feel in limbo. So, it’s important to create some things to look forward to, to hope for, that brings a breath of fresh air into our weekly schedule. These will obviously vary depending on your circumstances but you can discover somewhere new to visit, somewhere to have a morning or afternoon retreat, a coffee or meal out somewhere, a game to play, etc. It’s important too in our planning to manage our time well: prioritising our tasks, breaking larger projects into small steps and being careful to not over-commit.
- 1 Peter 5:7 Pour out all your worries and stress upon him and leave them there, for he always tenderly cares for you.
A positive outlook: In the midst of our situations we can think in two ways – the glass is half empty or half full. We can believe the best or dream of the worst. In the midst of difficulties, I often try to think two other thoughts: 1. It could be worse! 2. What can I be thankful for even in this situation? Push out the negative, depressing thoughts by dropping in positive, warm, encouraging thoughts and giving them out to others too. Very few affirmations are freely given, so think of someone to text and just speak out words of affirmation. It will make you feel good too. (that’s part of the P’s & T’s)
- Philippians 4:8-9 says, ‘8 Keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honourable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind. And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always. 9 Put into practice the example of all that you have heard from me or seen in my life and the God of peace will be with you in all things.’
Until next month
Questions on stress
1. In what situations do you feel the most stress in your life right now?
2. What are the positive stressors, that help you make progress or learn something?
3. What are the negative stressors that take life from you?
4. What are de-stressors that have worked for you in the past?
5. What kind of rhythm do you need to establish – activities to add in and activities to take out in order to live more in peace?