Stress is a “high priority” subject in these last days. Serious causes for stress are escalating, which I believe is an indication of how close we’re getting to the second coming. We all need a strong support network, tools to work with, and increased spiritual strength in order to weather the storms and make the most of the opportunities these times afford.
Stress Is Not All Bad
Stress has become the catchword of this generation, but the most common misconception about stress is that it is all bad. I once attended a stress-reduction seminar. One visual aid was a “stress thermometer.” The teacher explained that all of us need some stress in our lives–that zero stress is “flat-lining.” It means we are dead! And most of us would not define that as positive! Stress is positive clear up to the warning line–about halfway up.
We function better when we have a healthy amount of stress. It creates in us the ability to learn and grown and think more sharply and more clearly. All of our faculties are energized so we can function on a higher level by challenges that stress us in a positive way. It helps to be aware of the point where the stress is becoming negative-the point when it begins to deplete our energy and rob us of our ability to function well. The warning line is different for each person in each situation. What negatively stresses one person does not stress another person.
I used to have a neighbor who drove a paper route with her children and delivered three hundred newspapers a day. To me the constant demand of that responsibility would be super stressful, but to her it was not. On the other hand, she thought I was out of my mind to give talks to large audiences because she thought that would be the worst stress in the world, but to me it was strictly a positive stress. So we are all different and have to deal with stress according to how things affect us personally.
Signs of Unhealthy Stress
We all know the physical signs of getting over the warning line on the stress thermometer. We may have pains in our stomach, or tight muscles, or a foggy mind. We forget things. We don’t perform as well. And stress is cumulative. When it first starts bothering us it’s like walking through snow that’s ankle deep but we can still move along. However, if we don’t become aware of the things that are causing the stress and change something, either the source or the way we’re processing it, the stress just keeps building up like snow. Walking through waist-high snow is more than difficult! Unfortunately, we can sometimes be stubborn enough to ignore stress until the snow gets clear up to our eyebrows and we can’t walk at all!
Any of us who have been to that point before don’t want to experience that again! Too much stress over a long period of time can cause exhaustion, burnout, chemical imbalances, and even severe depression. The time to decrease stress is when it’s ankle deep. If we think about what we can do at that time, if we are mindful and thoughtful and prayerful, we can avoid the buildup that can slow us down to a painful crawl or stop us altogether.
Sources of Stress
Can we trace the sources of our unhealthy stress and dig them out at the very roots? What are the roots?
One obvious root-source of stress is getting “careful and troubled” about many things–all of which we think matter so much; we seem to feel an urgency about everything. In the past few months I’ve been laid low by illness, and found out again that so many of the things I thought I HAD to do, I didn’t have to do at all. In this confused world in the midst of all the trials and temptations, it is easy to get our priorities twisted. Yet the Lord always reaches out his arms to us and says, “Peace, be still.”
Negatively Judging Reality
Nothing creates more stress than embellishing the facts with negative stories. For instance, the fact might be that someone cheated us out of some rightly-earned money. If we add “they’ve ruined my life by their selfishness; I hate them!” stress mounts. If we, instead, pray for healing and peace, then simply carry on and do the best we can, stress decreases.
Negative judgments of people or circumstances are the very seedbed of stress. Assigning negative motives to the actions of others always creates stress within us. Cultivating a forgiving spirit melts stress away. No wonder the Lord even tells us to love our enemies. Loving thoughts are stress-reducers. Hateful thoughts are stress producers!
All manner of adversities and tragedies can pull us into the super stress of despair if we add our negative stories to them, or doubt God’s goodness, or judge life itself as bad. The same events can lead to transforming moments when we turn to the Lord, feel His comforting arms around us, submit to His will, and look for His promise to be fulfilled that “all things work together for good” to those that love Him.
Getting Stuck in the Now
Stress escalates if we forget “it came to pass,'” and think that “it came to stay.” When we were young it was hard to comprehend that things could change dramatically, if not in days or weeks, surely in years. It was easy to get stuck in the difficulty of the present moment and feel like things would always be that way. One of the best things I’ve experienced in growing older is noticing how the Lord’s purposes unfold over time.
For instance, I’ve gained perspective as I’ve observed the lives of my older sister’s children who are a decade or two ahead of mine. I’ve taken heart to note that their trials and adversities have lent them lessons that have brought remarkable positive changes to their lives. Now, many years down the road, I’m seeing the same pattern in my own life and in the lives of my own children.
Now I rarely go into a downward spiral of “ain’t it awful!” when I hear of or experience hard and challenging events. I’m more likely to find a secret place in my heart to “wait and watch” as the Lord’s promises are made manifest over time. I expect to see good things come of even the hardest trials and this attitude is very calming. Perspective is a great stress-reducer.
After my son’s death, my perspective expanded to include the spirit world and the Millennium, as I came to realize that much of the Father’s plan of redemption is implemented in those spheres.
Nothing decreases my stress more than taking the long view and remembering that the Lord has everything all planned out: that it is His work and His glory to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life, and He is busy doing just that.
Still, it is easy to entertain fear thoughts in the moment.
Getting Stuck in Fear
Fear is the great stress-producer! Consequently the Lord wants to help us develop faith and overcome fear. Fear keep us on edge, never relaxed. It is a fiery fence that keeps us from progressing into the promised land of love and trust. The Lord gives us discernment to help us recognize and choose the calming voice of the Comforter rather than the stress-creating voice of the adversary. We can choose to disregard Satan’s barrage. We can put on the whole armor of God to protect our minds from fear thoughts that escalate stress and create havoc in our lives.
Trying to Control
Another related seedbed of stress is trying to control what is out of our control, trying to inflict our will on others, not accepting what is. The necessity of adopting the good old AA motto keeps coming up in my life: Basically, “Change What You Can Change and Accept the Rest.”
I’ve found it wise to analyze “stressors” in my life in order to determine which I can change or avoid. For example, driving in heavy traffic stresses me, so I run my errands and make my appointments during lighter traffic hours when at all possible. When I have to drive in traffic, I listen to soothing music or uplifting talk tapes.
Some stressors I have minimal or no control over. I have to ask the Lord’s help and learn to work with them the best I can. I constantly pray to have the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Anytime I live by that motto I’m more likely to keep stress in the positive area where it simply motivates and challenges me, makes me feel excited and good about my life.
Ignoring the Warning: Your Battery Needs Charging
Things we CAN change are our level of self-care, and our level of spiritual input. When I don’t give those two important priorities appropriate attention, my stress increases. How helpful it would be if, when I am in need of rest and a spiritual “charge” there would appear on the screen of my mind a message similar to the one that appears on my laptop when I’ve used up the available charge and need to plug it in again.
I simply need to become more aware of the warning signs that do appear. If I’m exhausted, discouraged, feeling depressed or that nothing matters I realize that I’m getting spiritually disconnected. I am the branch and He is the vine, and if I’m disconnected from the vine I’m going to experience all kinds of unnecessary stress! Also, I’m in need of constant spiritual sustenance and nourishment. If I’m in spiritual starvation, my stress level is going to increase incrementally!
Stress from Wrong Beliefs about the Lord
I heard a story about a woman who counseled with a trusted friend we’ll call Mary about the high stress in her life. Mary suspected from previous conversations that this lady was spiritually starving herself because of wrong ideas about the Lord. Mary suggested that her friend needed to let the Lord into her life, to get His perspective to help her make sense of everything. She resisted, saying, “If I turn to the Lord He will just tell me all the things I’m doing wrong and make a lot of demands I’m not capable of filling. I don’t need that kind of help.” Mary suggested that the next time she felt the Lord knocking at her door, that she open the door, invite Him in, but suggest He only stay for ten minutes and not proceed past the entryway. She thought the idea presumptive, to say the least, but with encouragement committed to try it.
A week later she sat down with Mary again; she was subdued and peaceful. She said, “I invited Him in and told Him He could stay only for a few minutes.” She paused and looked reflective. “I have never known such joy. He taught me, loved me, encouraged me. He told me to dance and play and enjoy life. How could I have had such wrong ideas about God?”
Time spent with the Lord is the ultimate stress-reducing formula. Because of the Lord’s love and caring we have nothing to fear. We are infinitely better off in His hands than in Satan’s, or even our own. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Perhaps His healing, stress-reducing powers are the least-used but best therapies in the world.
The Connection Between Thoughts and Stress
One of the most important things I ever learned about stress is that it’s not what’s going on “out there” that causes it, but what’s going on in my own mind and heart. Life is simply a series of events that come in at me. Those events do not have the power in and of themselves to cause me to be stressed. All experience must be processed through my brain and given a conscious meaning before I can experience any emotional response to it at all. The feelings come either from old traumatic memories triggered by the event or by the thoughts I choose as I process the event.
The thoughts that continually flow through my mind can be called my “internal dialogue.” Every second of the day and night I’m talking to myself. If I find myself in a tight spot, I can either say to myself, “How could I be so stupid as to leave so much until the last minute?” or “Hmmm. There really is more to do here than I have time for. I’ll need to leave part of this undone or get someone to help me.” I might also say, “I’ll try to plan and work further ahead next time.”
My internal dialogue concerning everything in my life has a big influence on my moods–and ultimately on my stress level.
Is there such a thing as freedom from stress in the midst of impatience?
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<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />1pt;”>Orrin L. Crane penned the following lines:
Slow me down, Lord.
Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace with the vision of the eternal reach of time.
Give me amidst the confusion of my day
the calmness of the everlasting hills.
Break the tension of my nerves with the
soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory.
Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking minute vacations of slowing down
to look at a flower
to chat with an old friend or make a new one,
To pat a stray dog,
to watch a spider build a web,
to smile at a child or to read a few lines from a good book.
Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift;
that there is more to life than increasing its speed.
Patience can be the very antidote to stress. Patience means thinking calm thoughts and being willing to let things take whatever time they take. Patience means not trying to force the rose to bloom, but enjoying the beauty of the bud.
The Importance of Relying on the Lord
I’ve learned a most important lesson: many times I had put myself in high stress mode by looking to my spouse or others for comfort, strength, and answers which only the Lord could provide. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want”. . . not, “your spouse is your shepherd. You shall not want because he will provide all you needs.”
Feeling alone, misunderstood, or neglected has given me the opportunity to ponder and pray and express gratitude and regain perspective. When I turned myself over to the Lord I felt His loving arms around me; I learned all over again that the Lord IS my shepherd. The principle of reducing stress through trusting and relying on the Lord works!
Balance is Not the Solution; Guidance from the Spirit IS
So many times I have thought that if I could just learn to keep everything in balance, my stress level would greatly decrease. The question, however, isn’t balance, but following the direction of the Spirit. On a calm, ideal day, we might be able to give family and church jobs equal effort and still manage to eat right, exercise and have some quiet time for ourselves. But sometimes the Lord directs us to devote ALL our time and energy for a day or even a season to a particularly urgent situation. When we are in a health crisis, for instance, all our focus must be on regaining our health. When someone in the family dies, we cannot be concerned with balance: all our attention must be on meeting the needs of the situation. We can’t do anything BUT the crucial things that must be done.
In like manner, some days the Lord might direct us to focus on the needs of a sister in our ward who is in crisis. Other days the Still Small Voice might tell us that our own child or husband needs our complete attention. Another day, the Lord might whisper that our focus needs to be on our own health and sanity. Guidance from the Spirit is the ultimate answer. Reviewing many conference talks recently has brought to my mind the recurring theme of seeking the Spirit and learning to listen, hear, and respond to promptings. That is really the only formula for avoiding unhealthy stress.
Peace in the Lord
At a women’s conference years ago Pat Holland told about a time in her life when she was stressed and burned out from heavy responsibilities. She was feeling a sense of failure because she hadn’t been able to handle it all without getting totally exhausted. Sister Holland’s beautiful experience of spiritual refreshment in the Holy Land can lift us all. She said, “On a pristinely clean and beautifully bright day I sat overlooking the sea of Galilee and reread Luke 10:38 and 42 but instead of the words on the page I thought I saw with my mind and heard with my heart these words: Pat, Pat, thou art careful and troubled about many things.’ Then the power of pure and personal revelation seized me as I read, but one thing, only one thing, is needful.’ I felt the sun’s healing rays like warming liquid pouring into my heart. Relaxing, calming, and comforting my troubled soul. I found myself lifted to a higher view of life. Spirit to spirit our loving Father in Heaven seemed to be whispering to me, You don’t have to worry about so many things.’ The only thing that is truly needful, the one and only thing, is to keep your eyes toward the son, my Son. Learn of me, of my spirit and you shall have peace in me.”
That peace is real and available. We don’t have to go to the Holy Land to find it; personal revelation from the Lord through the Holy Ghost is available to us wherever we might be. As we turn to Him, the answers and the comfort come, and our stress decreases. Only one thing is truly needful: staying close to Him and listening to His voice. No matter how fierce the storms of stress may rage, our Lord and Master has the power to calm us with words that speak to our deepest soul, “Peace, be still.” Those words are the spiritual solution for stress.