Here is a brilliant article from Relevant Magazine - To read the original go HERE
Millennials hear it over and over again: We’re the most connected generation, the busiest generation. Some call us lazy, but if we’re slackers, why do we constantly feel stressed out?
Most Americans say that stress interferes substantially in their lives, and diagnosable anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, about 18 percent of the population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Although they are treatable, only a third of people with diagnosable disorders actually receive some type of treatment. But chronic stress can actually affect our health, from headaches to sleep loss.
So, is it possible to get rid of that stressed out feeling? What does it take? We talked to multiple professional Christian counselors, and they outlined ways we can untangle the factors that cause us to feel worried and overstimulated in our day-to-day lives. Here are seven of them:
1. Be intentional
Actively working toward reducing stress cuts down on the physical and mental damage from chronic stress. The definition of de-stress seems simple: “to relax your body or mind; to stop feeling the effects of stress.” Sounds easy, right?
Multiple counselors emphasized that the process of unloading the stressful factors in our lives is not an overnight solution. Similar to the process after becoming a Christian; changing habits and patterns takes effort and intentionality—even with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. When we seek to lose weight or get in shape, we must be intentional with changing our habits and making the effort to achieve our worthwhile goal.
“You didn’t get stressed overnight so you aren’t going to get unstressed overnight,” says Nancy Nichols, founder of a counseling practice called the Nehemiah Project. “There are immediate steps you can take, but in order to take control over your life it’s going to take more than a quick pill or quick fix. Take the time to sit down and look at your life, declutter your mind from the stress.”
2. Identify the unhelpful (or sinful) stresses in your life
Part of the intentionality and process of sorting through the roots of stress is deciphering which stresses are negative influences in our lives. After all, some stress is helpful—we all know someone who works best under a tight deadline.
“Like many of our internal experiences, stress is a reaction to our environment that has a function in our lives. Short-term, mild stress can function as a motivational tool that helps people accomplish goals or make changes in their environment (for example, changing how we communicate with a significant other),” says Christopher Cook, a counseling instructor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “However, the chronic stress that many people experience as a result of a fast-paced lifestyle can have a negative effect on mental and physical health.”
Counseling professor Heather Davediuk Gingrich adds that really, there is no way to get away from stress. She pointed to Hans Selye, a Canadian physiologist who paved the way in studying stress.
“Selye talked about the optimum level of stress being one at which we are accomplishing things and enjoying life without feeling ‘distress,’ the negative aspects of stress. He made a great analogy using a guitar. If a guitar’s strings are not tight enough, it won’t make music i.e., some stress needs to be placed on them. However, if the guitar strings are wound too tightly, they’ll break i.e., distress. It’s the same with us.”
3. Take care of your physical self
Just as chronic stress can reveal itself through physical symptoms, taking care of ourselves can reduce anxiety. Although it’s tempting to attempt to solve our stressful situation by sleeping less, eating too little or too much or skipping the gym, that will actually make us feel worse.
“Taking care of our physical bodies has been proven to help with stress,” Davediuk Gingrich adds. “Getting enough sleep, eating properly and exercising can impact our body’s biochemical makeup, including decreasing stress hormones.”
David Dixon, director of the Carmel Counseling Center, gets even more specific:
“Regular exercise is a must—cardiovascular and light weights. This should be done three to four times a week to de-stress one’s life,” he says. “Eat healthily—fruits, vegetables, low-carbs, protein, almonds and walnuts to snack on during the day, avoid a lot of carbohydrates and sugars.”
4. Set boundaries
Depending on individual personalities, setting boundaries might look different for each person. It’s difficult to say no and leave margin in our lives for life’s twists and turns, but it’s a key life skill to learn.
“You need to be self-aware enough to know when you are nearing your ‘distress’ limit and learn to say ‘no’ when necessary,” Davediuk Gingrich says. “In her research, Brene Brown has found that people sometimes say “yes” because they want to be nice, but it actually backfires. Setting boundaries allows us to be more loving than doing things for people motivated by what they will think of us.”
Andi J. Thacker, an assistant professor of counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary, is a big proponent of unplugging. “One thing that can be very helpful is to set and maintain appropriate boundaries, especially with technology. Many stresses come from our constant tether to our phones, emails, social media, etc. So actively deciding on when to ‘unplug’ is crucial.”
5. Identify “life-giving”
activities, and prioritize them
If your job is stressful, is it fitting your gifts and talents? Are you leaving time for hobbies? That’s important, says Davediuk Gingrich.
“Individuals can spend a lot of hours working, but if that work uses their strengths, it will not be experienced as nearly as stressful than if someone is constantly working with limitations,” she says. “Also, finding activities that rejuvenate is important. For me, involvement in music and time outdoors and in nature are essential. Even if these activities take time, I feel more refreshed emotionally and spiritually when I engage in these activities. Each person needs to find what works for them.”
6. Check on your spiritual life
Most Christians believe that mental health is related to the health of our soul. Are we prioritizing our relationship with the Lord?
More importantly, it can also hinder our effectiveness for Kingdom work, Thacker adds.
“The Lord instructs us to cast our burdens on Him,” she says. “Sometimes this is a very active process of turning to him and also making wise decisions with the time He has given us to steward.”
Dixon adds: “I have found in talking with people through the years that one’s walk with God has become just another task in their busy world.
“This often causes stress and people begin to avoid the very object which is life-giving: their relationship with God in Christ. When this happens something that might be helpful is to set time with God having no agenda—no devotional book, no Bible, no verses to memorize, no music, etc. Only you and God with the assignment of listening. Without fail when I give this assignment people begin to share their need to re-organize their life—prioritizing it to become less stressful and more available to pursue the better way of living for God, others and self.”
7. Pursue healthy relationships
Our interactions with others can often have the most significant impact on our feelings of anxiety. Christians especially might feel obligated to care for others at the cost of their own self-care. This could look like cutting out unhealthy relationships, but also replacing them with life-giving relationships.
“Develop relationships where proper care for each other is reciprocated i.e., avoid ‘one-way’ relationships where one is continually pouring in but receives nothing in return,” Dixon says. “This does not mean one never ‘bears the burdens of others’ (Galatians 6), but proper practice of daily boundaries will equip you for those special times of helping a friend through a difficult time.”
“Foster community and relationship and demonstrate what true intimacy (in relationships) looks like,” Nichols advises. “Who are the life suckers in your life? Limit your exposure to those people. Find the life-givers and put yourself in their lives: people who build you up, encourage you, give you direction, cast vision and hope. Every one of us needs godly counselors.”