November 1, 2017

Stressed to the Max: How Do You Know If You're Too Stressed?

How Do You Know if You’re Too Stressed?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28–30)

Standing on the stage speaking at our weekender, I suddenly realised I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. Thankfully everyone thought the long pause was for effect, but the few in the room who knew me well knew something was up. I’d lost the words and my place, and was quietly freaking out in my mind. Thankfully, I had my notes and quickly scanned the page, finding the next line in my talk.

It wasn’t the first time lately that my brain hadn’t worked the way it should or I’d forgotten something significant. The dual roles of Director of Operations and Women’s Ministry were just too much. I was under pressure, trying to juggle 20 things at once, trust God, stay calm, and lead a team well as we continue to build the infrastructure, serve our church plants, and work on women’s ministry. I was exhausted, heading for burn-out, completely stressed, and it was starting to have a physical impact on me. There was just too much to do and so little time.

Soon after this the best thing ever happened: I washed my iPhone in the washing machine (it was in the pocket of my hoodie). It’s not the normal response to rejoice and thank God in these moments, but the gift of three weeks phoneless was such a blessing. Proper enforced rest. Until that moment, I don’t think I truly realised just how tired and stressed I really was.

In a BBC documentary called The Truth about Stress, the presenter Fiona Phillips said that ‘the World Health Organisation has declared it (stress) the health epidemic of the 20th century’. Last year it accounted for half of all sick days.

“Stress manifests itself as a physical, psychological or social dysfunction, resulting in individuals feeling unable to bridge the gap with the requirements or expectations placed upon them.” — Health and Safety Executive

What is Stress?

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, even in the Christian life. Of course, we are all different – what stresses one person out won’t bother another. My worst nightmare scenario isn’t the biggest ugliest hairy spider, but what raises my stress level is public speaking. My heart rate goes up, my brain works faster, and I’m wired as my body responds to the stress, flooding it with chemicals and hormones that are being released to help me cope with the situation.

Stress has often been referred to as the flight or fight response. It’s a normal part of our makeup, and it’s a good thing as it helps us be alert to danger and be able to quickly respond. Like a safety mechanism. It’s meant to be a temporary thing; we aren’t supposed to function in a constant state of danger or stress. The lifestyles we live, the business of life, the pressures and the demands, can mean that we may continually be in flight or fight mode. We soon feel overwhelmed. The result is imbalance, creating ill health and other harmful issues.

Are you stressed – worn out?

Stress shows itself in many ways. Are you overwhelmed, irritable, cranky, anxious, fearful, churning over with worry, finding it hard to concentrate, having difficulty making a decision, getting lots of headaches? Are you constantly tired, developed issues sleeping, or maybe avoiding people altogether and withdrawing? This isn’t an extensive list, and anyone concerned should seek sound medical advice.

Maybe you’re a bit like me: tired and stressed, but plodding on. Do you wake up in the morning and wonder how it’s possible to feel more tired than when you went to sleep? You might even try to slow down, but it doesn’t seem to work. Something always gets in the way: the phone, an email, the kids, the workload, the housework. Gadgets that are supposed to help us and free up time just add to the pressure, as now we can do more: online banking, diaries, emails, voicemails, texts, Twitter, Facebook. All this infiltrates our life. If there’s any free time we just jam something else into the space. Does this describe you?

What impact does this have on your relationship with God?

Is spending time with God a priority for you, or is he another item in the list, making demands on your time? Do you squash him into a spare slot in your day? You know what I mean—you suddenly develop a habit of doing your ‘quiet time’ in the car as you listen to the audio Bible and pray about some stuff on the way to work. You really haven’t meditated on the Word of God, but you’ve ticked the ‘quiet time’ box on your schedule. When it comes to spending time with God, the real problem is not that we have too much going on, but that we allow those things to distract us from spending meaningful time with him. That’s the harsh reality!

Part 2 will follow.

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