Stress is part of life. Some stress (eustress, or beneficial stress) is healthy. But too much stress can be deadly.
Archibald Hart, author of Adrenaline and Stress, writes:
Nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without some arousal of the stress response system. It is a biological law that we must work, and even light, to accomplish a worthwhile goal. Challenge and fulfillment are important to health and well being. The lack of it causes us to atrophy in body and mind. But-and and this point is crucial to my whole argument-challenge and stress must be accompanied by, and work in harmony with, relaxation and rest.
We need stress, but we also need to learn to manage it.
Here are some keys to managing periods of high stress.
Cut Back, but Protect the Basics
We can’t always operate under ideal conditions. We need to learn what we need when there isn’t time for the ideal, especially when we’re pressed to just get by.
It’s important to cover the basics:
- Sleep and rest — It’s hard to function when we’re deprived of sleep and proper rest. While this isn’t always within our control, it’s important to do what we can to get the rest that we need.
- Core habits — We encourage people to practice three core habits: reading or listening to the Bible, praying, and getting involved with worship and community at a church. You don’t need to practice these perfectly, but you need to practice them consistently. When life gets stressful, scale back on other habits if you need to, but don’t scale back on these.
- What you need — Learn how God has made you. If you’re an introvert, get some alone time. If you thrive on exercise, hit the gym or go for a walk. Learn what energizes you, and guard that.
My point isn’t to give you more to do. My point is to simplify so that you’re merely covering the basics. Cut back, but protect these basics. They will keep you going in times of stress.
Preach the Gospel
I regularly forget the gospel. I need to be reminded that God is on his throne, that I am forgiven through Jesus, that he has given me new power through the Spirit. I also forget all the benefits that God has given me through the gospel: the promise that he cares, the support of other believers, and the knowledge that Jesus sympathizes with my weaknesses and is praying for me.
I especially forget the gospel when I’m stressed.
In periods of high stress, preach the gospel to yourself. “To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget” (Joe Thorn, Note to Self). Remind yourself of what’s true, but you tend to forget. God has grace for this moment.
Remember That God Cares
We don’t have to wonder what Jesus would say to someone who’s under stress. In Matthew 6, Jesus says:
…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34)
Jesus reassures us: God knows. God cares. We don’t have to worry about things, because God knows what we need and will provide.
Later on, Peter reminds us of the same thing. “…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
In periods of high stress, we can remind ourselves: God sees. God cares.
Stress is unavoidable. To survive a period of high stress, cut back, but protect the basics. Preach the gospel to yourself. And remember that God cares.