By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
If you’re stressed out, you’ve probably have tried something to deal with it, to feel better. Maybe it’s been the “plow ahead” method, which would be trying harder to fix the obstacle that is causing a lot of your stress, or there’s the opposite method, which is the “ostrich approach”, meaning trying to ignore it a
nd hope it goes away approach. I get them both and have used them often enough myself. And for the smaller stresses of life these approaches can help us and sometimes they are enough. But usually for the bigger stresses, or when the stressors pile up, these approaches don’t cut it. And, you’ve probably tried others as well; ones that you’ve read about or a friend recommended, like exercise or yoga, or getting better sleep. And I am
all for these as well. But if you’re looking for something else to try, I’ve got a few ideas that are a bit different. Keep in mind that what you are looking for is a strategy that works for you, and since we are all unique, what helps us to lower our stress will have a unique bent to it that fits us. That’s what you’re aiming for, a blend of strategies that fit you.
1. The principle of turning away.
This principle is for those of us who tend towards the “plow ahead” method. If you are more performance or task oriented and generally feel that you will feel better if you just check one more thing off or get out from under this one huge task, then this one may be for you. It’s based on the law of diminishing returns. The law states that “The tendency for a continuing application of effort or skill toward a particular project or goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved.” I like the way a friend of mine used to describe it. He would say that he really likes cheeseburgers. So, he eats one and it is very good. He decides to have another and it also tastes really good. He decides he wants a third. He is getting rather full. He then chooses to have a fourth cheeseburger. And now his level of enjoyment has begun to wane. And if he decides to have another (and is able to eat another) his enjoyment will likely drop even lower. Okay, how does the rule apply? Well, when we get stressed out and try to press on through a burdensome task at some point our level of productivity, along with our ability to focus and our cognitive sharpness will diminish. We continue to work but now we are getting less and less from our efforts. Our stress is building and so we try harder. This is the point at which turning away is the most ‘productive’ thing you could do. Stop focusing on the stressor and turn away. Focus on something else entirely and take a break. Just giving yourself permission to step away usually will lower your stress level.
2. Journaling Your Stress Away
Here’s something not many would think about in the midst of stress. Sit down and process your thoughts and feelings by writing them out. Let me clarify; this is not all about problem solving – writing out strategies for fixing your problems. This is instead sorting out your inner world; how those problems or challenges are affecting you and your perceptions about those things and about yourself. You see, we don’t just live our lives dealing with stuff and moving on to the next thing. Life is not just about the stuff going on – it’s much more about what God is doing behind all the stuff to grow and develop us and use us to accomplish his wonderful purposes. We need to tap into what God is working in us – and our stressors are often very likely places where God is wanting to open our eyes and help us change for the better.
Probably not high on your list of things to do to relieve your stress would be to look for a way to bless someone else; to give something away, to help or serve someone, especially if a large portion of your stress involves financial stressors. But that’s exactly what I am recommending. Because doing so forces you to get beyond you own life and look farther. Many times stress, pressure, fear and anxiety tend to narrow our vision and cause us to become self focused and self absorbed. We lose sight of how we aren’t the only ones in this world struggling and with problems. We get caught up in our own in such a way that causes them to grow and seem bigger than they are; which increases our stress and makes it harder to overcome. But lifting our eyes to see others can shake us out of our funk. When I was in college, during finals week I would sit with my friends at the cafeteria and we would grumble about our studies. Inevitably, someone would say something to the effect of, “yeah, the poor and the destitute have it so good.” We then would laugh and remember that our lives really weren’t so bad. It was a great breath of fresh air. Blessing someone else reminds us that we are a part of the human struggle – together.
The fourth concept in a way combines these other three concepts. When we turn away, when we ponder what our stressors mean, and when we lift our eyes beyond our circumstances – we have moved ourselves into position to worship. Focusing on ourselves and on our stressors are hindrances to worshipping God. And yet those same stressors are ironically great motivators to worship God. My stress can be a distraction, or it can draw me to the Father, aiding me to see his glory through the eyes of my mundane, earthly struggles. It is the contrast between my everyday existence and the infinite and yet personal God that magnifies God and helps me to seek him out. I need his wonder to lift me, to remind me, to give meaning to the everyday. And then – God shows up in our stressors when we chose to put him first and worship him and not the stuff. Matt 6:33
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. Psalm 5:11
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8
I call upon the Lord and I am saved from my enemies. Psalm 18:3
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14
The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. Psalm 28:7
If you are under stress, anxious, feeling stuck, then give one or more of these a try.
And, if you aren’t currently burdened by stressors – then I would recommend incorporating one or more of these approaches now – as ways to ward off stress.
They work in that way, too!
If you are interested in a counseling session with Matt, call 407-647-7005.
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