What Christians Should Know about Stress
by Linda Wood Rondeau
What Is Stress?
Christians are not immune to the negative impact of stress.
Pandemics are not a new thing. Nor is the emergence of many disasters at once an odd occurrence. War, plague, poverty, drought, fires, floods and revolution are nothing new.
However, the American experience has had relative comfort in most areas of our country, allowing a standard of comfort and convenience not known in previous centuries.
Then comes a pandemic few anticipated nor were prepared to manage. This period in our history colored by health fears, culture change, political quagmires, natural disasters and social unrest, to mention only a few of our current matters causing global uneasiness, has created an atmosphere of intense stress—even for the most devout among us.
The pandemic is only one cause of stress.
Stress is our response to changes in our life. Each of us responds to situations in a different way. A nasty spider in the tub can be the cause of intense stress for someone and not an issue for someone else. Stress comes in many forms and is experienced in our environment, social life, our physical experience or even in our thoughts and emotions.
Stress can be the result of both negative and positive events.
What happens when we experience stress?
The Stress Response
When we face a situation where we perceive a threat, our body responds quickly preparing us for fight or flight. When facing stress:
- Our brain releases hormones that trigger emotional preparedness and alertness so that you can respond quickly and rationally.
- Our heart rate and blood pressure increase.
- Breathing becomes rapid, and the lungs take in more oxygen.
- Blood flow increases to 300-400 percent.
- Our spleen discharges red and white blood cells, allowing the blood to transport more oxygen.
- The immune system is dampened as white blood cells are redistributed.
- Fluids are diverted from nonessential locations, including the mouth, causing dryness and difficulty in talking.
- Stress can cause spasms of the throat muscles, making it difficult to swallow and fight infection.
Stress can make us depressed, angry or lethargic. Everyone copes differently. In these times, pastors are particularly vulnerable to stress as they look to increase technological skills they never thought would be necessary, unless not for the present.
How Can Stress Be Harmful?
Stress, left unmanaged, can lead to emotional, psychological and even physical problems, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, chest pains or even irregular heartbeats. Chronic stress may also increase or decrease the appetite, creating nutritional risk. If someone has an addiction—smoking, drinking, shopping, gambling or even exercise—they may cope through increased activity toward that addiction.
In addition, stress affects the way the blood clots. Chronic stress can further impact women by interfering in menstruation. Stress can cause developmental problems in a developing fetus.
Unmanaged stress can lead to heart disease.
- Stress causes blood to become stickier, increasing the likelihood of an artery-clogging blood clot.
- Stress may signal the body to release fat into the bloodstream, raising blood-cholesterol levels.
- In women, chronic stress can reduce estrogen levels.
- Sudden increases in blood pressure caused by mental stress may damage the inner lining of blood vessels, contributing to atherosclerosis.
How to Recognize If You Are Overstressed
Listen to your body: It will let you know when you’ve had enough. Listen to that queasy stomach, stiff neck or sleepless nights.
Listen to your feelings: When moments of peace are rare and your moods as unpredictable as the weather, you may have reached your stress limit. Talk to someone or seek professional help.
Listen to your spirit: If you feel apathetic, cynical and that life has lost its meaning, it is likely that stress has gotten the best of you.
Listen to your relationships: When you find yourself intolerant and easily irritated by other people, you may find it is time to deal with your stress overload.
How Can I Manage Stress?
“God, grant me 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,” said Reinhold Niebuhr.
In a nutshell:
- Keep a positive attitude, accepting there are events that you cannot control.
- Reduce your stressors.
- Assert your feelings, opinions or beliefs, instead of becoming angry, combative or passive.
- Learn to relax.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals.
- Get enough rest and sleep.
- Create a good network of social support.
- Consult your doctor or a mental health counselor if there are any medical or psychological conditions accompanying stress.
- Keep or develop a sense of humor during even the most trying times.
- Meditate (pray).
- Do something for others.
- Make time to spend in God’s Word, find solace in God’s promises.
Finally—allow yourself to laugh and feel pleasure. God has given us this gift to laugh even when things don’t seem funny.
A veteran social worker, award-winning author Linda Wood Rondeau resides in Hagerstown, MD, with her husband of over forty years and where she is active in her local church. Watch for the author’s newest release, Who Put the Vinegar in the Salt, anticipated in November 2020. Readers may sign up for the newsletter and announcement of actual release on the author’s website: www.lindarondeau.com. Readers may also follow the author on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
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