Dealing with Stress

ACCORDING TO THE World Health Organization, stress is the ‘epidemic of the 21st Century’. We live in a stressful world—a large proportion of its population suffer with hunger, disease and war. But bizarrely, the country with the highest level of stress- related disease is the relatively peaceful and prosperous United States. What is this phenomenon we call stress, and why is it so prevalent today?

Our bodies are marvellous things, brilliantly equipped for life. One of the mechanisms we have for dealing with difficult situations is called the ‘fight or flight reaction’. When we’re in danger, the body releases a hormone called adrenaline which boosts its systems and enables it to respond efficiently. For example, you’re out walking and you come across a bear and you’ve never run so fast—that’s adrenaline at work.

The body is designed for short bursts of adrenaline which dissipate when the danger is over. The problem with so many people’s lives in the modern world is that they contain low-level, ongoing stressors. When the danger is not a bear which you can run away from, but an over-complicated life or a job that causes anxiety or the niggling dread of what the world is coming to, the body experiences a long-term ‘fight or flight’ response which can develop into an ongoing condition. This is stress.

Severe stress can lead to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called ‘burn-out’. But more than this, medical research estimates that as much as 90 percent of illness and disease is stress-related—that is, it is caused (directly or indirectly) or exacerbated by stress.

There are many remedies available for this debilitating condition—practising mindfulness, getting more exercise, downshifting to a less demanding lifestyle… but this is a Bible magazine, so here are a couple of remedies which come as part of life as a follower of Christ.

Get Things in Perspective

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:25–33).

This is the teaching of Jesus Christ. Maybe life was simpler in those days— they didn’t have mortgages and credit cards and phones and climate change. But the principle is the same: it’s about getting your life into perspective. The follower of Christ lives by faith. They’re looking beyond themselves, at the bigger picture. ‘We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18). Believers have their sight set on the coming Kingdom of God, and in preparation for that they’re focused on trying to make His ways and His will a reality in their lives here and now. When life is in its correct perspective, the anxieties of the ‘here and now’ will diminish.

Take Problems to God

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7).

This advice was given by the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Philippi. The account of the formation of the congregation there is in Acts 16. It was a city steeped in Greek culture and religion. From the accounts in Acts and hints in Paul’s letter it seems that the new Christian converts were deeply unpopular and their lives were difficult. But look at the remedy Paul prescribes.

‘Do not be anxious.’ You and I know that can be easier said than done. But those aren’t empty words—he tells us how it’s done. Tell God about it in prayer; acknowledge your dependence on Him; be sure to ask with thanksgiving, remembering all His blessings; tell Him about your anxiety, and ask Him to deal with it. Then you can stop worrying about it.

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved (Psalm 55:22).

He may take the problem away, or He may not. With hindsight, it seems that God often deals with the causes of His children’s fears and anxieties in surprising ways. It’s often the case that He provides the problems in the first place, and uses them for His children’s education (Romans 8:28). But the important thing is to lay it before Him in faith. They say a problem shared is a problem halved: a problem shared with God will be very much smaller!

Those are just two Bible remedies for the modern epidemic of stress. We were designed by God, and so it should be no surprise that He knows how we can live our best life.

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