Life is stressful. Can I get an 'Amen'?
Stress (or anxiety) can come from lots of places: medical issues, broken relationships, work problems, trauma, mental health disorders, addictions, drugs, alcohol, heredity, and many others. Just about anything can be a trigger for stress.
Stress, for the purposes of this article, can simply be defined as worry -- to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts.
So, how are you handling your stress?
Let me suggest that the following exercises might help you manage your stress in healthier ways:
1. Read and Pray Every Day
While there certainly can be physical reasons for anxiety, one thing seems to always be present when we are stressed: obsessive thoughts about our fears.
What you think about matters to how you feel. And what you think about is affected by what you focus on. So, what are you focused on?
A simple way to refocus your mind away from your fears and anxieties is to read and pray every day. Read a passage of Scripture that reminds you of your inherent value or of your identity in Christ.
Pray throughout the day. Share your struggles and fears with God. Be honest and open about the difficulty you are having; even expressing any doubts you are having about God and goodness and life.
Also, it is important to read other good material on understanding your emotions and how to respond to them in healthy ways.
Read and pray every day. It makes a difference for handling stress well.
Stress creates a sense of panic. And when we panic everything speeds up -- thoughts, heart rate, and even breathing.
So, a very practical exercise to help deal with stress in a healthy way is to focus on your breathing. And keep it simple: breathe in and breathe out.
According to Medical News Today, something called the 4-7-8 breathing technique can help reduce tension and stress. (I'm not advocating for yoga; this is only a simple way to breathe that has positive effects on your body.)
Simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds. Start easy by doing this for 3-7 minutes, then work your way up to 15-20 minutes a day. I suggest lying down or sitting down when you start, just in case you get light-headed.
To enhance this breathing exercise, meditate on Scripture or pray the Lord's Prayer. Breathe in God's grace and truth, and breathe out any lies of shame and all the things you can't control. Focus your mind on God's truth and grace.
Breathing is essential to life. Learn to breathe deeply and focus on what is true. This will help you handle your stress far better.
3. Name Your Fears
Stress seems most powerful when it attaches our fear to the unknown. And the unknown is whatever is unnamed.
Have you ever noticed that the stuff that scares us most is usually the stuff we know very little about. Take something extremely difficult, like cancer, for instance.
When someone has cancer but doesn't know it, their fears about feeling sick can go in a million different directions. But once the cancer is named, those particular fears are not as strong -- even though the thought of fighting cancer is very daunting.
Once the diagnosis is made, new fears emerge, right? But why? Because now there are yet more unnamed realities that must be faced.
Naming your fears is healthy self-talk. The Psalmist says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?" (42:5) And follows this up later with a specific question, "Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?"
Finally, after naming the specific fear (oppression of the enemy), the Psalmist fights it with pointing his will toward truth: "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God."
The more you can name your fears and combat them with truth, the more you can limit their power over you -- and the more your stress will decrease.
4. Connect with Healthy People
It is not easy to deal with stress, or name your fears, alone. You need to connect with healthy people who love you and can listen thoughtfully to your full story of stress and anxiety.
Healthy people are those who understand the difficulties of life, and have likely traveled through some valleys themselves, but know how to direct you to wisdom with love and compassion.
The more you try to handle your stress alone, the more you are likely to drown in it. Healthy people lift your head above water so you can see from a different vantage point, and breathe the air of hope and truth.
I'm sure you're asking, "Where do I find these healthy people?"
Start right where you live. Plug into a local church where you can connect with Christians who can love and support you.
Seek out professional counseling to deal with any underlying roots to your stress, whether they be psychological or physical.
Connect with others in a confidential support group.
5. Embrace Your Limitations
There is no "cure" for the difficulties of life. Sure, there are things you can do that help with responding to such difficulties in healthy ways, but be careful of "magical" thinking that says you just need to get the formula right and all your troubles will disappear.
You and I have limitations. And each of us is different. I'm amazed at how "easily" some people seem to handle stress. It's like nothing bothers them. But I'm not them. And neither are you.
Admitting you are weak is not weak. It's actually quite powerful. The Apostle Paul said as much:
"But he [Jesus] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (1 Cor. 12:9-10)
Stress isn't fun. It seems to "torment" with relentless persistence. But you can respond with confidence; not in yourself, but in the grace of God.
Preach this message of truth and hope to yourself every day: though I am weak, my God is strong. I will trust in His power, not my own. I rest in Him.
May you grow in grace as you learn to handle stress in healthier ways.
Written by Jonathan Daugherty
Founder of Be Broken Ministries
by Jonathan Daugherty
Every addict I have ever met is afraid. They may not say that to my face, but their actions betray their silence. Also, they may not all have the same fears, but fear is an ever-present monster against whom they have grown weaker and weaker. Eventually, most of these addicts simply choose a life of avoidance; they embrace cowardice.
If you read that last paragraph and got really angry at me, let me assure you I am upset too! The words sting my soul because I have been, and often still am, a coward. I prefer to avoid conflict than face it, to run from trouble than to wade through it, to pretend problems don't exist when they are crushing the life out of me. But to overcome fear (or cowardice), we must face it; we must open the door to where we hide.
My particular fears that were a major part of why I got tangled up in addiction were that people wouldn't like me if they really knew me and a terror of intimacy (mainly because I had no idea what closeness in a relationship really was). I would hide my soul, trying to find comfort and happiness in sexual behaviors rather than in real relationships. This led to a lot of heartache, deception, and broken promises.
When I began recovery, I imagined it would clear up all my fear issues because now I would be on a path of righteous living. No more sexual acting out, no more fears, I thought. I thought wrong. And my fears only got worse!
Now, instead of simply fearing what my secrets would mean to my reputation if exposed, or fear of closeness with others, I also adopted fear of failure (I can't even do recovery right!), fear of being alone (my wife had left as a result of my addiction), and many others. I couldn't understand why cleaning up my behaviors wasn't simultaneously relieving my fears.
Many addicts in recovery get stuck at this point. Fear paralyzes growth, or movement of any kind (except maybe slipping back into old addictive patterns for attempted relief). And such paralysis only reinforces a core belief of most addicts: I'm a coward. This is like a death sentence to the soul, especially for men. To remain stuck here is as good as a dead man walking.
Good news! You don't have to stay stuck in fear. By God's grace, you can face your fears, learn to trust, and embrace a new life of courage and adventure.
There are 3 key elements to breaking free from the paralysis of fear:
1. Face it in COMMUNITY.
Fear isolates us. This is why it is so easy to get locked into addictive behaviors. We drift off alone, spinning thoughts of worthlessness and fear, and to find relief we self-medicate (sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.). Fear (and shame) is always going to defeat us when we are alone. That's why you can't effectively deal with it without the help of others.
Support groups are a great starting point for facing fears. Sometimes just the act of entering a support group is a huge step in overcoming fear! Find a group that values confidentiality and learn to open up in such a safe place; about your addiction, fears, hopes, struggles.
Sometimes it is helpful to get more one-on-one help in facing your fears. Counseling can be a great environment for such work. A good counselor can help steer you into places in your soul that need healing. Take the time and make the investment to face your fears in the presence of others who care for you.
2. Fight it with FAITH.
Psalm 56:3 states, "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." The good news about fighting fear is that we don't have to fight it in our own strength. In fact, we have proven that we cannot overcome it in our strength. If we could, we wouldn't have found ourselves drowning in addiction. We need a Power greater than ourselves to overcome our fears.
Fear often tells us things that aren't true, or maybe truths with a shaming tone (i.e. "You're weak and that's why no one will love you"). So to combat fear with faith requires knowing the truth about who you are; who God says you are. A resource that helped me in this is The Bondage Breaker by Neil Anderson. Understand your identity in Christ, and run to Him when fear rises. Trust in God is the antidote for fear.
3. Finish with COURAGE.
God doesn't want you to live in fear. This doesn't mean you won't feel afraid, but He doesn't want it controlling your life. And He makes a way for us to live fearlessly, by way of His repeated promises of His love and faithfulness. Everything else may fall apart, or fall away, in your life, but the love of God never will.
Hebrews 13:5-6, "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear, what can man do to me?”
You can confidently say...
God wants you to have confidence (courage) that He is your helper and no one can thwart His plans in your life. There is a peace that grows when you place your confidence in the ever-present love of God. Fear may try to overwhelm you, but the love of God is greater than fear.
Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Dear friends, do not be afraid. Stand up by the grace of God and declare yourself a Coward No More! Engage community, battle by faith, and finish with a brave heart.