The biggest fight in soul care is the fight against stress. We are all built with this Flight or Fight instinct. It is great and essential when we are about to be eaten by an angry mama bear. Our body surveys the situation and we start running with tremendous speed and endurance, because our adrenal glands are kicked in high gear and we have cortisol running through our body.
Fight or Flight is, again, great to avoid that bear, but not so much when we are dealing with a temperamental boss, lazy employees, a computer that doesn't work, locating our phones for the fifth time of the day or dealing with our children who are acting uncharacteristically unruly.
That is when we do not need our body going into Fight or Flight. Having a ton of hormones racing through our body for hours on end does not serve us well. Stress comes in many ways, some we have no control over, and some we've pretty much created ourselves. We can't help the uncontrollable crisis, inflation, and other people's conflict driven lives, but we can take a look at some things we could do to reduce stress. Here are some thoughts on managing stress:
Manage Money: Finances can be a huge drain and tremendous stress on people's lives. One of the main reasons that some marriages end in divorce are over money issues. So let’s take control of our finances. Maybe that is easier said than done, but at minimum we can begin to learn about how to manage our money. We can get an emergency fund. Dave Ramsey who is my favorite money guru says to have at least $1000.00 in your account for emergencies even before you start paying off your debt.
We can also make out a budget each month and put the money we’ve appointed in marked envelopes so we don't over spend that month. Check out Dave Ramsey because he excels in finance which is not my forte. I practice "shopping and travel therapy" as legitimate forms of therapy, but I have adopted many Dave principles in my life and they have served me well.
Create Boundaries: This one has changed my life. There was a time in my life that I allowed people to manipulate and take advantage of me. I have actually worked so hard at having firm boundaries that I can go to the other extreme and tell people no for really no apparent reason. No was such a hard word for me. I took some advice from a wise woman in my life and I practiced in the mirror. I actually practiced saying 'No.’ It is very liberating. Give it a try. When we over commit, enable an addict or endure a manipulative person we will have a lot of stress in our lives. Try out the word "no" and see how it feels. Here are a few sentences to practice with. "No I don't want to see you anymore, I've moved on with my life," or "No, I can't add anything this season right now." Now, some of you might not have enough stress. So if you never volunteer, hang out with friends or try something new, you might try practicing the word "yes.”
Owning a planner: I know that it seems like a lot of work but it's not. It's so important to get everything out of our head and on to paper or entered electronically. I heard that Albert Einstein didn't even know his own home address because he wouldn't waste information like that in his brain. I do hope he had it written down somewhere though. Anyway the point is, if you manage your time, you are going to put an end to a lot of needless stress like missing appointments, being late for meetings and wasting a lot of time you could be spending with friends and family or serving a cause that you are passionate about.
Resolve Conflict: I used to be a person who would run from conflict as fast as my legs would carry me. I've come to learn the hard way that unresolved conflict is a stress nightmare. I just remember that whenever I go into conflict, I think about how this situation can be resolved. If we think "conflict resolution" then we are a lot more likely to see good results than a blood bath. Also, I try not to take things too personally. I give people a human moment and look for the best. We are only allowed to not forgive if we are completely perfect.
Learn to Laugh: There's a proverb that says, "Laughter is a good medicine.” When we laugh, the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine are reduced. Also, laughing increases the happy hormones such as endorphins and serotonin. When these happy hormones are increased our immune system rises countering the effects of the stress in our body. When we have a great belly laugh it's like we are getting a workout from the inside. The best thing about laughter is, it brings perspective. It probably is not really a mama bear that is chasing us. Laughing can remind us that this stress is not the end of the world.
Learn to Relax: Sometimes I have to remind myself to lighten up. I heard somebody say once, "If I've talked myself into being this stressed out, then I can talk myself down too." There are a few tricks to do if you find yourself really stressed out.
Take Care of Yourself: Eating clean, exercising and getting a good night’s sleep can do wonders for fighting stress. When I find myself getting stressed out the first thing I do is go for a walk. Going for a walk is probably the best way to reduce stress and create a good sense of well being. Walking gives you time to think, smell the roses, and again raises those happy hormones in your body. In a study in 1999, the Annals of Behavioral Medicine showed that people who walked and did other easy to moderate exercise in their routines had lower stress levels in their lives than those who didn't. We can get out there and move when we begin to feel those stress hormones starting to shoot through our bodies. Our bodies will think that we are escaping that mama bear and will begin to relax.
Begin to Pray: Have you heard the story about the guy climbing in the mountains? The weather began to turn and clouds started to settle around him and he couldn't see. He ended up missing a step. He started to slip off the mountain and grabbed a limb. He was hanging from this limb for a while and no one was answering his screams. He decided what the heck, maybe he would pray to God for help. He yelled, "Is there anyone up there? I need some help.” He heard a peaceful voice say, ‘Let Go’. He thought about it and yelled "Is there anybody else up there?"
Letting go and trusting God is generally the complete opposite of what our natural minds want to do. The reality is that there are too many variables in life to be able to control them all. I have found when I let go and trust God, I find immediate peace. 12 step programs have a great saying "Let go, Let God.” It's short and catchy and sometimes it's just what I need to remind myself not to freak out by whatever is going on. By the way, the guy in that story was only two feet from a sturdy ledge, he just couldn't see it.
Chronic stress is truly dangerous to our bodies. Some of the effects that long term stress can lead to are: depression, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, obesity, mental health issues, ulcers, chronic illnesses.
As we learn how to stress less we will become healthier holistically and able to pursue the dreams in our hearts and soar into our future.
Pic by Lior + Lone