I have good news and bad news. I will start with the bad first so we can end on a positive note. Stress is an inescapable part of life. Most days, something or someone is going to stress us out! Jesus expressed clearly that he wants us to have His peace, but He was also clear that living in the world we do, troubles will come our way. (John 16:33) So, let’s learn about managing stress without regrets.
What is Stress?
“Stress” is an emotional strain or tension from outside circumstances or situations. For example, an unexpected bill comes in the mail. Stress occurs when a meaningful relationship in your life ends. Just listening to the headline news stories about the negative circumstances around us is enough to ruin anyone’s mood. Metro Atlanta traffic is jammed (as usual), making us late for an important appointment. Stress. Our child has an accident at school and has to be rushed to the hospital. More stress. The list could go on and on…but the goal isn’t to stress you out by reading this article!
We need to be keenly aware that stress can alter our mood, upset our digestive system, drain our energy, and too much exposure to stress too often can actually cause more physical damage to our bodies than many addictive behaviors. Partnering this kind of stress with addictive behaviors is a recipe for disaster! We must recognize that if we are over-stressed, we are prone to heart issues, sleeping disorders, stroke, memory and concentration impairment, and other physiological consequences.
Controlling our Actions and Behaviors
HopeQuest teaches that you and I can only control our actions and behaviors. That is a gift God has given each of us. We have agency! We cannot completely avoid stress because stress comes from the world around us from sources we cannot control.
On the one hand, stress can motivate us to action. Having a deadline can push us to produce. Setting a goal can remind us to stay disciplined when we don’t feel like it. Stress and exterior pressure can spur us out of complacent inaction in healthy doses. If experienced in healthy doses, stress can be that extra boost that inspires us to accomplish more than we ever imagined we were capable of.
On the other hand, we must be careful with managing our stress levels. If we are consistently exposed to high-stress levels, we are more susceptible to the emotions of anxiety, helplessness, feeling overwhelmed and trapped. The longer we allow ourselves to stay under stress and in those negative emotions, the more likely we are to desire relief from that pressure and, unfortunately, turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms to find some form of solace, no matter how brief it may be. So the question is…how do we manage the stress that will always bombard our lives without turning to addictive behaviors?
I think of the safety instructions before taking off on a flight. The crew explains if there is an emergency, we are to “take care of ourselves before taking care of others.” If we apathetically do nothing and ignore life’s stressors, they tend to compound and get worse. Self-care is not doing nothing. Self-care is taking care of your body because, right now, it’s the only place you have to live. It is taking a break from the business of life and doing something relaxing. Self-care is intentionally taking time to engage in something fun that can produce emotions of joy, satisfaction, comfort, and fulfillment. It is important to recognize that Jesus loves us so much that he does not only desire to forgive us for our imperfections and failures as our savior…, but he also wants us to be blessed and experience happiness and fulfillment in this life.
Going to the gym 3-4 times a week could be the catalyst that breaks our habit of coping with a substance. Eating healthy foods and managing portion control will energize our bodies to function correctly when stress comes. Getting adequate sleep and staying on a consistent routine as often as possible can empower us not to be addicted to caffeine or unhealthy energy drinks. Those of us prone to being “workaholics” need to understand that the world will keep spinning if we put work aside momentarily and participate in a hobby we enjoy once or twice a week. Sabbath is actually a command God gave us, not just a suggestion. (Exodus 20:8-11)
Givers need to understand the limits to their generosity because takers have no limits. Setting a boundary and sticking to it protects us from the regret and shame of acting out in reaction to our stress. As Patrick, one of our Case Managers at HopeQuest, eloquently teaches often… “No” is a complete sentence. Someone in your life may not like your boundaries, but we should be willing to disappoint someone’s unrealistic expectations before returning to a vice that Jesus has set us free from. We need to know our limits, and we need to put up guard rails to protect ourselves. That is a much healthier practice than getting as close as we can to the line of being overwhelmed by stress that leads us to compromise. People and circumstances will try to stress our lives, but boundaries help us express that “your situation is not my emergency” to the world around us.
Stress will come and go. The good news is that if we intentionally take care of ourselves, set healthy boundaries, and adhere to those boundaries, the unavoidable stress we will experience in this life will only make us stronger and increase our capacity to live life to the fullest. I want to encourage you that stress management is possible in our broken world. With a good plan, we can experience very stressful situations and maintain sobriety without turning to addictive behaviors.
Still, need help managing stress without regrets? Contact Hope Quest online or call us at 678-391-5950.