What To Do When You Feel Stressed
It’s 1:57AM. The air conditioning clicks on, momentarily stealing the details of the horror that woke me up. I blink as my eyes and body adjusts to the room and I am reminded of where I am. I’m at El Tovar, a historic grand hotel located directly on the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
It’s a charming hotel and the room is equaling charming, albeit a bit chilly and disputably haunted. If I’m lucky, I can take a peek out of the room’s terrace view window and catch an Elk chillin’ like he ain’t got a job. The north wing of the hotel runs toward the canyon and from the porch, I can sit in a rustic, granny style rocking chair and watch the sun rise over the canyon’s horizon. Likewise, I can enjoy fine dining in the hotel’s restaurant while watching the sun set. I feel lucky, blessed, to have been able to book a stay here, during the tail end of summer.
But here it is nearly 2AM and I am wide awake, not because of the anticipation of being able to hike and witness the beauty that is God’s magnificent creation. And not because of the anticipation of spotting a mountain lion during a walk on the Bright Angel trail (I know. This likely won’t happen anyway since a) these cats are nocturnal and b) they’re probably lower in the canyon than we’re planning to go but anyways.).
I am awake because I just had a dream, well, a nightmare really, that my ivory colored, too-dang-expensive-ain’t-nobody-got-$$$-for-this-but-I’m-buying-it-anyway wedding dress had been bleached and it’s noticeable and there is no time before the wedding to go get a new one.
Can you believe that?
I am at one of the world’s greatest natural wonders and I am stressing about my wedding so much that it’s appearing in my dreams, er, nightmares. I cannot even appreciate the Grand Canyon in all of it’s seven layer dip gloriousness for night sweating about every thing that could possible go wrong with this wedding. The irony of this is that I took a vacation to get away from some of the wedding stress. But like a hungry pigeon, it followed me to the park in hopes that I’ll drop a crumb of wedding worry.
I am in the home stretch of wedding planning and let me tell you, that pigeon has been getting pretty pudgy. If I’m not stressing over the music, I’m stressing over the decorations or the transportation or whether the wholesale flowers I’m ordering 2 days before the wedding will wilt before I walk the aisle. Or, whether someone will accidentally step on my dress while I’m shaking my grove thang causing it to rip and expose me in my “I do” skivvies.
It is always something. Always.
Wedding planning was fun until it wasn’t. It was fun until I had to start paying people for things, figuring out the logistics, and responding to questions that I hadn’t even thought to think about.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m not looking forward to our wedding. I am. It’s just the getting there part that I want to get over with. Under normal circumstances, I don’t mind planning. It comes naturally to me but when I have a gazillion other things to do on top of wedding planning, I ask myself is this really worth it? Should we have just gone the courthouse and small, catered reception route? Or better yet, the backyard BBQ wedding? Cake and punch wedding? Elvis style Vegas wedding?
Is it too late to cancel it all and get our money back?
I am stressed out.
I don’t think any of us have gone through a period where we weren’t stressed out about something.
When I am stressed out, I have a tendency to take “flight” meaning I avoid doing what it is that is causing me stress. But because I avoid it, I become even more stressed when I realize that the time for me to do what is stressing me out is dwindling to the point that I HAVE to do it.
It’s like cooking and not cleaning up afterwards. You can get away with a messy kitchen for a bit. You can order takeout or go out to eat. But at some point, you’re going to have to clean your kitchen. And if you keep avoiding cleaning the kitchen you either a) won’t have any dishes to eat or drink out of off of and nothing to cook with, b) be met with any overflowing and smelly trash can, or c) fight a cockroach for the last bite of that beef and broccoli. And oh, because you’ve waited to clean the kitchen you have a lot more to do, which will take even more time than it would have had you after yourself after the first meal.
That’s all the flight response does: it piles on the stress on top of stress, overflowing the mental garbage can until you can’t take the stink any longer.
But let’s back up a sec. First let’s talk about stress.
What is stress, exactly?
Well unlike leggings, stress is not a one size fits all type deal. It differs from person to person; what stresses you out or causes you stress is not the same as what stresses me out.
However, it can be broken down to a definition such as this: stress is what we typically refer to as the emotional reaction we have towards excess pressure placed on us. Stress happens when we do not think that we’ll be able to manage or uphold the expectations or demands placed on us. Stress can be a result of the high exceptions that we place on ourselves or the result of other’s exceptions placed on us. It can also result when others don’t meet the exceptions that we’ve placed on them.
I feel stressed out just writing about it.
I’ve been painting stress in a negative light here but it isn’t all bad. Sometimes stress is good. It is what puts the necessary fire under us so that we can finish the things that we need to finish. Stress can serve as a great motivator for doing what we need to do in order to get what we want. It lights the flame under our behinds and gets us going. This type of stress is called eustress. Eustress is the type more positive type of stress that leads to a beneficial impact on our health, motivations, and overall emotional well being.
The bible seems to point towards all stress being eustress because as long as we hold onto the faith that God is in control, we can rejoice, for our problems are only helping us build our endurance, our strength, our patience (Romans 5:3). Therefore, all stress is good stress that will benefit us in the end but you know, let’s be real. When I am going through a trial, a stressful event, my first response isn’t “YES! I get to go through this stressful situation because it is strengthening my patience”.
Whyyyyyyyyy is this happening to me?!
Whyyyyy do I have to do this?!
Ain’t nobody got time for dat.
Ain’t nobody got money for that.
Seriously, I really don’t have the time/strength/resources for this.
The thing about stress is that if you receive a little stress here and there, eh, not so bad. It puts the boot to our rear and kicks us into gear. Increased stress results in productivity…up until we get to the point where we have too much stress. The more the stress piles, the more problems we encounter. We no longer stay motivated and our spirit begins the rapid decline into despair. Our natural instinct to fight or flight the stress begins.
Fight or Flight
Remember when I said that stress differs from person to person? Well our reaction to stress also differs amongst ourselves. For those that react to stress with more of a “fight” response they become more irritable, aggressive, and snappy when under a great deal of stress. Instinctually, the fight response helps to ward off predators or those that are trying to hurt us. But in today’s times, unless we are in a type of dangerous scenario, our fight response can ruin relationships. We snap at undeserving people, we insult them, we yell at them, all because we are stressed out and can’t manage our stress.
Or, if you are like me, when it comes to stress you to take “flight”. You avoid your stress and act like it doesn’t exist. You place your stress in the last file cabinet of your mind, where the old cell phone numbers reside, only to access it when you really, really need to call your ex. Again, in a dangerous situation, the “flight” response is what keeps us alive when faced with something or someone that could hurt us. But in the every day situations of life (given you aren’t always in a dangerous situation), this type of response only leads to increased stress when we realize that our stress isn’t going anywhere and instead keeps building and building and building until we are forced to actually do something about it.
Think about how you respond to stress. Do you fight or do you flight?
Or are you part of the sacred group that doesn’t know they’re stressed?
If you fall into this category, please be aware that this is one of the most dangerous groups to be in because if you don’t realize that you are stressed, how can you manage it? The stress creeps up and suddenly knocks you out physically and emotionally. You don’t even know that stress is the agitator because you think that all you’re doing is dealing with the daily nuances of life. In reality, however, you are past your stress boiling point and don’t even know it because you have adjusted to the subtle temperature changes of the water. This is why it is important to check in with yourself, your body, mind, and spirit and to recognize the stress symptoms that I’m about to give you:
What are the stress symptoms:
I’ve broken down the most common stress symptoms into mind, body, and spirit categories.
Rapid heart beat
High blood pressure
Lack of faith
Anger with God
Fear of the Unknown
Questioning His timing and abilities
Unwillingness to pray
Unwillingness to release control
As a result of the stress and its impact on our mind, body, and spirit, instead of turning to the bible, praying, and surrendering the need for control to Him, we: numb ourselves by drinking too much alcohol or turning to drugs. Or, we binge in a different way, by watching too much Netflix (guilty. ouch.) in attempt to avoid the problem.
We tell ourselves all we need is coffee and give our body more caffeine then it needs. We stay up late because we are too focused on the problem and can’t sleep. We sleep too much because we don’t want to think about the problem. Nothing is funny to us anymore. Someone tells us a joke that we’d normally genuinely laugh at but we can’t because we’ve got real stuff to deal with now. We lash out at those we love.
So how do we manage this stress so that we stay productive and maintain healthy relationships with the Lord and our loved ones?
1. Recognize it.
We must recognize that we are stressed. Did you snap at someone recently? Are you procrastinating over something? What’s going on in your life? Are you feeling any of the stress symptoms?
2. List it.
List the stress. What, exactly, is stressing you out? Write it out: I am stressed because….
Now write out your exceptions (or write out what is expected of you). What is your end goal? What should be accomplished?
Now that you have the big picture, what smaller steps can you take to get this done? If you still feel overwhelmed after writing out these smaller steps then break the steps down into even smaller pieces. Check out my post on breaking down goals for more help on this.
This should never NOT be a response that we take when we are stressed. Ask God to reveal to you the areas that you are stressing over. This is the part where we turn to God and ask Him to calm our nerves, show us direction, and allow us to focus fully on Him and not the gazillion things we have to do. We turn to Him with confidence that we will get everything that we NEED done and if it isn’t done then it isn’t something that we NEEDED to do. We trust Him with that. We trust that He is equipping us with all of the strength that we need to fight our stress battle and we trust that He will guide our paths.
Get some rest. In the midst of a storm the disciples were super stressed out (Matthew 8:23-27). These were some skilled sailors and when they saw what was ahead they knew there would be some major problems. They knew their job very well yet an unexpected project (the storm) came with a very rigorous deadline. They were overwhelmed. Pressured. Panicked. They looked to Jesus for help but He wasn’t there besides them, sweating buckets of stress. He was in the back of the boat. Sleeping. The disciples were worried that the projects, the debt, the student loans, the storm would be too much for them to bear. Meanwhile, their leader, Jesus, was resting.
Dismayed, the disciples shook Jesus out of His slumber and said something like, “Lord, I’m not sure if you noticed but there’s a storm happening. This project, the bills, the debt repayment is due ASAP and we need You to pull Your weight. Like, right now. If You don’t, this will be the end for us all. We will drown. We will lose our possessions, our job, our health.”
And the Lord said “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!”
You see, when the storms of our lives come blowing through, we too can rest knowing that while we can’t control the storm, God can. Jesus accepted that they were going through a storm and went to the back of the boat for a little siesta because He knew who was really in control of that storm. And just like that, with the flick of His hand, the storm left.
While we can’t control the stressful situations, we can control our reaction to it. We can recognize that no matter how strong the wind is, how heavy the rain is falling, and how loud the thunder cracks, and our much our house shakes, God is in control of our storms. As David says in Psalm 62:6, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” And because of that, we can rejoice, for we know that through our endurance and our trust in the Lord, He has leveled up our faith.
Oh, and as for my nightmare, it may have woken me up but I tightened my earplugs, readjusted my sleeping mask, cuddled up deeper under the covers and got a good night’s rest for the remainder of the night.
I pray that amidst the storms of your life, you can do the same.
Until next time,
May He overwhelm you with blessings, today.
Images, Content, and Graphics by Cefion