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Some people have called stress the “new normal.” A quick look at the stats seem to support this. A 2012 study at Carnegie Mellon University reports that stress levels were up between 10 to 30 percent over the past 30 years. Among women and young people, those stats were particularly disconcerting. Does the Bible offer any wisdom about dealing with stress in a 21st century world?
The Bible assures us, “God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.” (Psalm 46:1, MSG) God is there to help. In fact, here are seven actions that will help you handle ongoing stress —
1. I look to God to meet all my needs. “The Lord is my shepherd so I have all I need.” (Psalm 23:1, NIV) Stop looking to other people to meet your needs. They’re going to let you down, and that’s a big stressor. There’s no one who could possibly meet all your emotional needs. Only God can meet all of them. Let Him.
2. I need to obey God’s instruction about rest. “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” (Exodus 34:21, NCV) So much of the stress in your life comes from always being in a hurry and working too much. That’s why you overwork. You never can get caught up. Rest is so important that God himself does it. You need it too.
3. I need to recharge my soul with beauty. “I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:7-8, MSG) Beauty is an incredibly important part of stress management. Ugliness stresses you out. Beauty inspires, encourages and motivates. That’s why God made the world so beautiful. God made man to live in a garden not a skyscraper. When you’re stressed, you need to look at beautiful scenes and listen to beautiful sounds.
4. Go to God for guidance. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5, NLT) Not being able to make up your mind is a common source of stress. If you’re wavering back and forth about a decision right now, pray to God for wisdom. Read the Bible. Then wait, be quiet and just listen. At the right time — maybe not immediately — God will put the idea in your mind.
5. Trust in God in the dark valleys. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, NIV) We all go through dark valleys. You’ll go through many in your lifetime. When you’re in a valley, you have to trust God. We can either react to dark valleys in fear or in faith. Fear leads to stress. Faith leads you away from stress. Shadows are scary. But remember — wherever there are shadows, there’s light. Look at the light. Look at Jesus.
6. Let God be my defender. “How I love you, Lord! You are my defender. The Lord is my protector; he is my strong fortress. My God is my protection, and with him I am safe. He protects me like a shield; he defends me and keeps me safe.” (Psalm 18:1-2, GNT) Conflict is another major source of stress. Some people in your life just don’t like you. They will criticize you and attack you. Our natural response is to attack back. Instead, God tells us to trust Him and let Him defend us. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what we need to do.
7. Expect God to finish what He started in me. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT) Instead of letting fear of the future stress us, we must realize that God has our best interest at heart. He isn’t finished conforming us into the image of Jesus. You have two choices for how you look at your future. You can ask, “What if?” and expect everything to go wrong, or you can expect God to keep his promise in Psalm 23:6 (NIV): “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Here are some other practical suggestions to keep in mind as you look to deal with your stress —
Serve someone. Nothing takes your mind off your own troubles like helping someone else. Opportunities for service are all around — from family members, to friends, to neighbors. It’s hard to stress out over your own problems when you’re helping alleviate someone else’s.
Talk to God about your stress. Stress often comes because we worry about things we were never intended to worry about. Spend time talking to God. Tell Him about what stresses you. Then trust Him to take care of the situation in a way that takes into account both His glory and your best interest. Make your problem God’s problem.
Take a walk. Our bodies were made to move. One of the reasons we wrestle with so much stress in our lives is because we were designed to have more physical activity in our day. Feel stress? Take a walk. Ride a bike. Play a sport. Get outside and get moving.
Phone a friend. You were not designed to handle all your problems on your own. God wants us not only to take our problems to Him but to also share them with others. When stress begins to overtake you, talk to a friend. Share your hurts, fears and concerns. Ask for prayer both in the moment — and days to come. But here’s the kicker with this piece of wisdom, you must cultivate friendships on a regular basis if you hope to have friends available to help you deal with tough times. What regular practices are a part of your life that help you to cultivate friendships on a regular basis?
Enjoy a sunset. In times of stress few activities will put you and God in proper perspective better than enjoying the beauty of the Lord’s creation. Take to heart the stunning nature of what God has made, and you’ll be quick to remember your problems are small in the hands of an all-powerful Creator. Whether you find that beauty in a sunset, a painting, a sculpture or the seashore, find it and soak it in. Remind yourself of just how big your Heavenly Father is and just how able He is to care for your needs.
Write a letter. Often the perceived source of our stress is no longer accessible to us. Maybe he or she has passed away or just isn’t a part of our lives anymore. Write that person a letter. Tell him or her what’s going on inside of you. Share your frustration.
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