The Impact of Stress

When Melissa and I were getting married, the minister who did our pre-marital counseling gave us a copy of the Holmes and Rahe stress scale.  The test—which can be taken online—asks if certain life events have happened in your life over the last year or so to see how stress can be wreaking havoc on your body.

So you simply checked a box if the situation applied.  Things like: marriage, divorce, death of parent, death of a spouse, move, work changes, change in finances, different sleep patterns, arguments, and 30+ other items.  Each is given a number, and if the total number is more than 300, you have a very good chance of becoming physically ill due to the stress.  If it was 150-299, you have a moderately good chance of getting ill.

In the past number of years, I don’t think I’ve scored lower than 200, most times pushing higher.  I suspect many of you might be in the same boat.  I’ve lived much of the last years with near constant stress.  Since my ordination 7 years ago I’ve relocated 3 times for church positions, experienced the birth of my two kids, dealt with the death of my mother, had major surgery, and the list goes on.  I’m not looking for sympathy as much as to say these things happen in life and often we are unaware of the long term impact of stress in our lives.

I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday that we have a tendency to isolate ourselves when things get rough.  We don’t want to talk about it either because we don’t want to admit that life is difficult right now or because the constant rehashing of our experiences is emotionally draining.  And not only do we pull away from friends and family members, we also have a tendency to stop doing things that give us life.  We stop engaging in activities that feed us.

One of the things I often ask people who come to see me about issues in their life is this: How are you taking care of yourself?  Often in stressful situations we get so bogged down by it all—the pain of divorce, the late nights with a newborn, planning for a new endeavor—that we don’t take the time to rejuvenate or to connect with God.

I wish I could say I’ve got it all figured out, but I too get caught up in the stress at times.  But these things have helped me.

1. Set aside a regular time for God. Yeah, I’m a priest and I get paid to say something like this, but it actually works. When I set aside a regular time each day to pray, read scripture, or just sit quietly I am able to recognize God’s deep love for me and that God cares for me and is with me in the stress.

2. Do something I love. This takes intentionality, but if I can go for a walk, do some cooking, see a movie or one of the other things I love to do (I have a lot of hobbies), then I’m able to be fed by those things. I met a person recently who said his thing was trying new beers, so this summer he’s doing just that. Each night he’ll try a single bottle of a new brew and then keep a list of the ones he likes.

3. Connect with a friend. Tell someone you love that you’d like to do something together. Grab a cup of coffee or a meal. Browse at a local bookstore. Whatever. Spend time with them and be honest about some of the stress you’re experiencing. “Bear one another’s burdens,” Paul tells the Galatian church (Gal 6:2), “and in this way you’ll fulfill the law of Christ.” One sure way to reduce your stress is to talk with a trusted friend who can give you support.

I hope you’ll take time this next week to take an inventory of where your stress is at and also to become intentional about how to take care of yourself.  We don’t do ourselves any good if we just let the candle keep burning on both ends without becoming aware of how it might damage us or our relationships.