One of the most important (and hardest) lessons I’ve learned in life is how to deal with stress. It's something that plagues all of us at some point in our lives, but especially around the end of the year. Between holidays, meeting year-end goals at work, and making time for family, it is completely understandable when stress creeps its way into our hearts and minds.
So what can be done about it?
Growing up, I was a very hard worker, and I was pretty smart. I rarely encountered a problem that I couldn’t think or work my way out of. As a result, I developed a lot of confidence in my ability to handle whatever came my way. This confidence has served me well in many ways, but it has also been a real hang-up at times, leading me to try to handle things myself that I should be giving up to God.
Stress is a great example. When I treat stress as just another problem for me to solve, I get in trouble. Big trouble. As in: ulcers, anxiety, resentment and exhaustion. Because working hard to fix your own stress is, well, stressful!
Come to God. He doesn’t promise a burden-free life. He promises to be with you, to guide you and to give rest to your soul:
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. (Matthew 11:28).
In the past year, I have dealt with stress more than I ever could have thought I would. Between my daughter Annie's health and spurts of growth and transition at 4word, I have found myself nearly buckling under the stress of it all. It is in moments like these when I recall the following list of "stress-relieving steps" to mind:
Prayer and sleep. I used to lay in bed at night replaying or anticipating stressful situations in my mind, flooded with tension and wracking my brain over what I needed to do or should have done differently. Prayer and sleep produce much more positive results than all that worrying ever could! When my friend Richelle was having her first child, she asked her OBGYN for her best piece of parenting advice. “Simple,” said the doctor, “worry less, and pray more.” It’s great advice for all of us, and totally in keeping with what the Bible instructs us to do.
Study God’s word. I’ve learned that I do best at this when I’m committed to a structured group Bible study that keeps me in the word and reminds me of God’s promises and His faithfulness. It’s not enough to be reading one of the many great Christian advice or perspective books out there. There simply is no shortcut or replacement for God’s word and fellowship with other believers. If you’re looking for a group with which to connect in your area, check here to see if there’s a 4word: Local Group meeting in your city. These Groups are an excellent way to connect with women in your area, possibly going through the same stresses as you, and create a tight-knit community that will serve as your support system for years to come.
Focus on others. I’ve realized that serving and caring for other people gives me a healthy perspective of my own stress. This year has been incredibly difficult on myself and my family as we deal with my daughter Annie's serious health issues. Looking back, I see that the time I spent focusing on supporting her through her illness was incredibly productive for me in other areas, especially with 4word. Knowing that I had a lot to accomplish and very limited time and emotional capital to spend was very clarifying. I did a lot more, with a lot less associated stress, than I would have if more of my focus had been on myself. Caring for Annie made me care less about fears and obstacles that otherwise might have tripped me up.
There is actually some scientific evidence to back me up here. I read about a recent study seeking to determine how happiness impacts stress levels. The study concluded that not all happiness is the same. The type of happiness matters a great deal: “happiness derived from meaningful activities—many of which involve serving others rather than just ourselves—produces greater benefits than simply seeking pleasurable experiences.”
So I'm here to tell you, "It's time." Begin to let go of your stress. This time of the year is for rejoicing in all that God has accomplished and blessed you with this year, not for sitting in a corner, stressing about everything that might have or could go wrong in your life. God is waiting. He is bigger and stronger than you could ever imagine, and He wants you to stop trying to do this for yourself.
Are you ready to stress less?