Coping With Stress

Why do people react so differently when life presents hassles or major events? The answer to this question is not found in a comparison of circumstances. Rather, we must look at a person's attitude towards God, himself, and his environment.

Many people I meet each week are truly stressed out. I am convinced that the time in which we live is more tumultuous than any generation before us. From the constant low voltage stress of everyday living, to the occasional unavoidable crisis, you and I live in a stressful culture. The constant crush of demands on every side has the potential of robbing us of our peace, joy, and energy. All of which leads to horrible consequences – emotional breakdowns, tension in our relationships, physical ailments, etc. “Be anxious (stressed) for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 4:6-7)

There is a critical truth in this passage. That truth is this: God has designed prayer as a stress reliever for your life. God wants us to understand that prayer is not just about asking Him for things, but to unburden our hearts before Him. In fact, you will notice in these verses that there is no promise to answer your requests (though it is certainly implied), but there is a promise to grant you peace - His all-powerful peace - if you will talk to Him about your problems.

Individuals in stressful positions often do not let people know what really goes on in their own hearts. They struggle and are reluctant to reveal their struggles. Some feel that if they are open and transparent, people will misunderstand or think that they are weak. In a perfect world, these individuals would handle the difficulties and peculiar pressures in the right way. In reality, though, not all do. Some fail to cope and eventually burn out.

Burnout reveals itself in several ways. In coping with the stress, some people have become reclusive and withdrawn. They stay to themselves rather than associate with people as they should. We are to trust His Word as our ultimate guide to a stress-reduced life. David says, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4). David knew that by seeking the Lord and sharing his troubles with Him that perhaps he would find favor with Him. The Lord in turn answered him and calmed him down.

Six Behaviors to Cope with Stress: How does a person in a stressful position deal with the stress without giving up or burning out? While there is nothing that can remove all the stress from your life, there are some ways you can lessen the wear and tear and better cope with the calling.

1. Guard, cherish, and cultivate your personal relationship with God.
Because of the solitary nature of many stressful positions, God must be our refuge. David, during a time of great stress, encouraged himself in the Lord his God. Private prayer and devotional reading provide a cooling rain in the heat of the battle.

2. Keep short accounts with God and with men.
Unsettled conflicts and undone jobs add immeasurable weight to an already heavy burden. Most people detest confrontation. They prefer to ignore problems and hope that they will go away. Solving your own problems biblically should be a primary focus. Part of the moral authority to be a leader comes from modeling biblical problem-solving before a sometimes skeptical audience. The alternative is stress, guilt, and the realization that there are conflicts left unsettled between you and the God you want to serve.

3. Organize your time.
Learn to delegate responsibilities to others. A leader cannot do everything himself. Delegation frees the leader from unnecessary tasks while involving the membership in meaningful service. Work hard at accomplishing the tasks that you alone can do, and delegate the rest. Learn to say no to activities that are not high priority.

4. Discipline your thought life.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3). The mind is a battleground for every Christian. The mind’s dwelling on the wrong things will be a person’s downfall if he doesn’t deal with it. God provided us the ability to control our minds. Lustful thoughts, worry, anger, and doubts can eat away our stability and strength.

5. Nourish your marriage relationship and cherish your wife.
In Genesis 2:18, God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.” While in many ways Adam was perfect, God had left incompleteness in his life. That large hole was to be filled by a woman, also of God’s design. This companion and helper completed Adam for the job God had for him to do.

6. Take time away from your work.
There will always be something else that needs to be done. Even our Lord saw the need to go away to a quiet place to renew Himself. A day off each week pays great dividends. Spend time with your family. Go fishing. Play golf. A change of routine can reduce stress and clear the mind for more creative thinking.

Let's talk about our expectations and how they affect our stress levels. Unrealistic expectations cause incredible stress. Adjusting expectations from unrealistic to realistic can produce a sense of contentment and peace. Here are some realistic expectations:

1. Expect Differences
People are different. They have different likes and dislikes. They will see the world in different ways. They will problem-solve differently. This is reality. Differences will exist, and sometimes they will cause conflict.

2. Expect Conflict
Conflict is normal. It does happen. It’s a natural part of people’s lives. The important thing to do is learn to handle conflict well. When you handle it well, it can actually deepen friendships.

3. Expect Others to Fail
He/she is human. Humans make mistakes. They aren’t perfect. When you expect others to fail and make mistakes, you are better prepared to respond to their failures with grace and forgiveness.

4. Expect to Share Your Expectations
Others are not mind readers. They may not feel the same way you do. They may not think the same way you do. They might not make decisions or process hardship the same way you do. If you desire something from others, ask. With words. That conversation will either help you get your needs met or help you see that your expectations are out of line.

Unrealistic expectations are preconceived resentments. They begin a downward spiral that is unhealthy for relationships. Unmet expectations turn into resentments, which turn into bitterness that turns into anger, and ultimately becomes conflict that could have actually been avoided if you had internally moved from unrealistic expectations to realistic ones.

Let me offer a final encouraging invitation our Lord Jesus makes: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We need this encouragement! Let’s start and finish each day by meeting with our Savior, telling Him all of our problems, and trusting that He will help us in every time of need.

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