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From the column Health and Wellness

health-wellness-07-14-1Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. One way to describe stress is the fear that a situation (actual or anticipated) is greater than our resources to handle it. For the Christian, dealing with stress is especially problematic. We know the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so why should we doubt His ability to care for us? Yet, if we are honest, we all face stress at times. So, why is this and what can we do about it?

First, we may feel stress because we have become distanced from our Source. The world is filled with untold distractions: TV, news, Facebook, texts, tweets, phone calls, and on and on. While not bad in themselves, these may interfere in our relationship with God. The objects of our focus tend to have a controlling effect on us. If we center on amusements more than on God, we distance ourselves from our Source of peace.

Jesus reminded us of this in the story of the Vine and the Branches in John 15. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15: 5-6).

The concept of a withered branch well describes the sense of helplessness we may feel when we allow diversions to come between us and our relationship with Christ. And in this isolation situations may overwhelm us. In a fractured world we desperately need connectedness to God and to the power of His Holy Spirit in our lives. It is this relationship that brings all other relationships into proper perspective.

Second, how we think creates stress. The Apostle Paul says, “be made new in the attitude of your minds” (Eph. 4:23). We can be overcome by harboring negative thoughts of ourselves or others, fearing, doubting, trying to control situations, focusing only on ourselves, fearing the worst, and overanalyzing others and their intentions. We need a change in the way we think.

One technique we can use to help in this area is changing the words we use. Terms to avoid are: “have to,” “must,” “always,” “never,” “no one,” “everyone,” and “can’t.” We should replace these with words such as: “want to,” “don’t want to,” “sometimes,” “occasionally,” “some people,” and “choose to” or “choose not to.” We are guilty of putting a lot of stress on ourselves by the terms we use.

Third, recognize that input determines output. Paul says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). What are we allowing to shape our thoughts? What are we reading, watching, or listening to? Who are we hanging out with? We all know persons whose presence lifts our spirit and makes us feel good about ourselves. But we also know people whose negativity leaves us feeling like we’ve been run over by a truck. What changes do we need to make? We should pray and ask God to help us to focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely.

In addition to tending to our thought life and spiritual connection, some practical things we can do to relieve stress include: talking, walking (or other forms of exercise) and taking drives. We need to slow down and lose our sense of urgency. Count to ten and take a deep breath before responding. Let someone do us a favor, consolidate errands and chores, play or listen to music, appreciate nature, visit the zoo, watch the clouds, try gardening or any enjoyable activity. Laugh! Find humor in the regular ebb and flow of life. Break large tasks into smaller jobs. Most importantly, we must cultivate time for quiet, reflection and worship. Try a DAWG: Day Away With God. Spend intentional time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to draw upon the Source of our strength, peace, and joy.

Remember: stress is a part of life. We’ll never eliminate the situations that bring it on, but we don’t have to be its victim—not when we are children of the Prince of Peace.

(All scripture references NIV).

Rev. Loretta Mansfield, RN, is a licensed Nazarene minister, a member of the Nazarene Parish Nursing board, and on faculty at Olivet Nazarene University.

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