In November of 2015 I conducted a survey of my book and article readers. I wanted to know how this largely Catholic, non-Catholic Christian and professional group viewed current stressors in their lives. When asked what they considered to be a personal struggle, the top three answers were:
- Feeling overwhelmed/out of balance
- Fighting effects of stress and anxiety
- Wanting a more productive prayer life
My first thought of the results were that the top two responses are so closely related, they could be considered two parts of the same struggle. Feel overwhelmed or out of balance long enough and you’ll have to fight hard against the effects of stress and anxiety. Not good. The next thought I had was that the key to handling the first two issues is through the third. With a more productive prayer life, one puts on the “armor of God” that scripture describes, and can kick stress, anxiety and overwhelm in teeth!
So what can I teach others about stress and how to combat it? Fair question. From my personal experience, I know four things about this topic that I am sharing. Spoiler Alert: if you read the introduction to my Kindle book “Catholics Have Courage – 40 Days to Beating Stress, God’s Way”, you will recognize these points. But that’s okay, based on my readers’ survey results, they are worth repeating!
1. Stress is universal – it is part of the human condition. If you breathe, you’re a target. Stress and all its relatives – anxiety, tension, fear and apprehension seem very real, and can do very real, physical damage to us and our relationships if not confronted and managed. Stress manifests itself in a variety of physical symptoms and conditions, like heart problems, high blood pressure, a compromised immune system, skin rashes and outbreaks, aches and pains everywhere – especially head, neck, shoulders and back, digestion and abdominal difficulties, obsessive or addictive tendencies and behaviors, chemical imbalances and depleted energy levels (just to name some of the most common effects). Takeaway: almost everyone you meet is also struggling in some unseen way. This simple acknowledgment can adjust your perspective enough to make you a more patient, merciful and kind person – the type of person people like to work with and be around!
2. Stress does NOT differentiate between personal and professional. It cannot be left at the office. With stress, there are no boundaries, no “work/life balance”. Stress is a perpetual by-product of our fast- paced society. Takeaway: I like to tell others that, thanks to technology, work/life balance these days is a myth. There is no such thing. Instead of searching for something that doesn’t exist, try defining your priorities and then managing your boundaries accordingly. That gives you “voting power” on the things in life that can cause you stress!
3. God does not want anyone to suffer – just for the sake of suffering. Rather, He likes to use life’s stressors to build us up and keep us close to Him. He knows just how heavy our personal crosses are and walks along side us, ensuring our pain is not in vain. Takeaway: Next time you are faced with a crisis, remind yourself: God’s here with me, and He has built me for this!
4. God provides a peace that is not of this world, and He wants us all to know how to hang onto that peace, to not forget it, to know how to harbor and use it to ‘guard our insides’ from the world’s hurts. Takeaway: Prayer and time reading His word are the fastest, most direct routes to that un-worldly peace.
“He who prays most receives most.” –St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori