It’s Killing You
Stress. How we deal with it can be the difference between life and death. Don’t believe me? Consider these alarming statistics.
The American Institute for Stress (AIFS) recently reported that 44% of Americans feel more stressed than they did just 5 years ago. They also found that stress is the basic cause of 60% of all human illness and disease and that 3 out of 4 doctor visits in the U.S. are for stress-related ailments.
Stress increases the risk of heart disease by 40%, the risk of heart attack by 25% and the risk of stroke by 50%.
Experts even say that stress actually shrinks your brain size! Stressful events shrink the gray matter in your brain that is connected to emotional and psychological function.
Do you believe me now?
About a year ago, my wife and I decided to take a step back and reevaluate our life. While we had some healthy things going for us, we realized that stress was taking its toll on us, and we had to make some major changes in our family.
Precipitated by severe chronic pain in my upper back and torso, we pulled the trigger last September and both stepped down from our jobs at Evangel Church. We decided to move to SC where my side of the family was and the cost of living was much less.
While we miss our friends, for the first time in many years it feels like we have achieved a healthy balance in our lives. Today, I want to share with you some of the changes we made, as well as some things that others have done to reduce stress in their lives.
1. Evaluate your life.
This is an important part of any attempt at de-stressing your life. It’s important that you do this with the right person. Sometimes this can be your spouse. I say this because often our spouse is as overwhelmed as we are and can’t be much help.
A counselor can definitely help you with this in an objective way. It was a counselor that first showed me how out of balance my life was. She was a woman in her 40’s that had just been treated for lung cancer. She had never smoked a day in her life. The doctors told her that if she didn’t change her hectic lifestyle, she would not live to see 50 years old.
Sometimes that’s what it takes for us to make a necessary change!
2. Find someone to whom you can talk.
This may be one of your good friends, your spouse or a spiritual leader in your life. Whoever it is, make sure that you see signs of balance and health in his or her life. Someone who can’t achieve this on their own is certainly not going to be able to help you or anyone else!
There is something very therapeutic about sharing the burdens you carry with a friend or someone who is trained to help. God never meant for you to carry them by yourself. I had to first get past my pride. With that said, I don’t regret any of the sessions I had.
3. Get back in your sweet spot.
Your sweet spot is the place where your talents, your passion, and God’s purpose for your life intersect.
It’s important to understand the distinction between these 3 things. Sometimes we mix them up when trying to understand ourselves and God’s purpose for our lives. Think about it with me for a minute as we look at the following scenarios.
a. It’s possible to have a talent that is not your passion or falls within your purpose. For instance, most people don’t know that I can wiggle my ears. While this is an entertaining talent, I don’t have any passion for doing it and therefore it really has no purpose.
b. It’s possible to have a passion for something without having the talent or a purpose for it. As a worship leader, I would often find this combination in the people who auditioned for the worship bands I led. A lot of people have a passion for worship and music but do not have the talent to help it meet its purpose.
c. This last combination is the most interesting. If you are living out God’s purpose for your life, he will equip you with the passion and the talent to live out your purpose for Him.
If you are in a place where the 3 of these things are not intersecting, you will experience stress. This is an indicator that it’s time for you to make a change.
4. Use your vacation days.
In the past, I have worked with people who bragged at the end of the year about the fact that they hadn’t used any of their vacation time. They acted like they deserved a badge of honor. I think this is sad!
It’s no wonder that a recent study by Monster.com and marketing research company, GfK, showed that only 53% of Americans said they liked their jobs. Compared to other countries, America was behind India, the Netherlands, and Canada.
Interestingly, one of the main conclusions of the study was that America’s big corporations needed to shift their work culture to a better work/life balance.
Did you know that the average American only gets 8 holidays and 2 weeks of vacation? Most of the 1st world countries give their employees more vacation than this. People in France get a staggering 7 weeks of vacation!
Take your vacation days. Your stress level will go down, and your family will thank you for it.
5. Exercise regularly.
It has been proven again and again that exercise reduces stress.
When we exercise, our bodies release chemicals called endorphins which act as natural euphoria. Endorphins also improve a person’s ability to sleep which lowers stress levels. Exercise improves our blood flow and the way our body uses oxygen as well.
Most people start strong when it comes to exercise and then their routine slowly fades. One of my most successful exercise endeavors was when a friend of mine named Mark and I would meet each morning to run.
For me, the extra accountability was exactly what I needed. On the mornings that I was tempted to sleep in, I would get up to meet him. I didn’t want to let him down.
6. Change your diet.
Jan T. Bruce and Andrew Shatte point to 4 foods that help with stress reduction: omega-3’s, vitamin B, magnesium, and vitamin C.
• B vitamins are responsible for anxiety-easing and pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA and dopamine.
• Magnesium produces calming neurotransmitters and can act as a muscle relaxant.
• Omega-3s reduce inflammation, which can be triggered by stress, and a deficiency in these fatty acids has been linked to depression and mood swings.
• Vitamin C—when you’re stressed, your body produces cortisol, which can lead to belly fat and even brain cell damage. Vitamin C may help prevent this damage and keep the immune system strong.
Foods include: broccoli, brussels sprouts, orange juice, red and green peppers, strawberries
7. Walk closely with God.
My friends, this is by far the most important one. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 23:2 which says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters…”
When you walk closely with God, He fills your heart with supernatural peace. This is better than anything this world can offer us!
It’s important to know that no one really can cut all stress in their life. Stress will be a part of our lives for as long as we walk on this earth.
The important thing is to make sure you are in control of it instead of it controlling you. The more you make an intentional effort to do this, the more you will learn to manage the stress that is in your control.
As for the stress that you cannot change, you will get better at knowing how to protect yourself from letting it destroy you.
Remember, only you can change your situation. Take a few minutes and think about your life. Is stress getting the best of you? If so, make the necessary changes and take control of your stress. I am living proof that this can be done. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
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