Stress is a serious problem for many of us. If left to run its course it can destroy a person's health, relationships, and sometimes grow into something that threatens life itself. Stress has a variety of causes. Personal problems that lead to stress include a poor self-image, unresolved guilt, inability to forgive others, anger, fear of death, and depression (in the popular sense of the word.) Marriage problems include poor communication, lack of commitment to one another, lack of love, and spiritual disparity. Family problems include stress with children, parents or in-laws, ongoing strife, sickness, substance abuse problems, unfaithful friends, or lack of support or meaningful friendships. Job stress includes difficult relationships with supervisors and co-workers, too much responsibility, or a general dislike of the job itself.
Financial stress is becoming more common, I think. In some cultures the stress focuses on simply obtaining enough money for necessities of life. In America, there are systems that encourage good, honest people to go deeply in debt. They system makes money readily available to people with good credit ratings. But when these people fall on hard times (as happens to anyone now and then), those same conscientious qualities cause severe stress. They suddenly find that they cannot respond quickly to requests from creditors to pay past due accounts, they slip back to a less favorable credit rating, and sometime they even lose their home or automobile. Because they have been conditioned to pay all debts promptly (as we all should), they suffer from severe guilt feelings.
I should also add that young men and women aren't always blameless when their financial house of cards comes tumbling down. Many of them have been guilty of greed, love of possessions, and perhaps a dose of pride as they ran up the bills.
I sometimes think the institutions that advance credit so easily to young adults should require them to attend a two-hour course in "Financial Management Under Adverse Conditions" or "Worst-Case Scenario Financial Planning." Honest, hard working young men and women don't anticipate devastating illnesses, unexpected or unjust employment problems, or emergency needs of family members, but such things do happen. And as we have seen, bad things also happen to good people.
Spiritual events also cause stress problems. A person who is raised in a spiritual environment and then rejects the past values almost always experiences some kind of stress
So the situations that create stress accumulate. The pressures intensify. In one of my medical journals there is an advertisement that depicts a person's internal organs being squeezed out of shape by a tightening loop of rough rope. That's the way we begin to feel when caught in a stress situation. The following symptoms become evident. I have arranged them in order from least serious to most serious:
If untreated, the emotional signs advance into clinical depression.
Symptoms of stress problems that are evident in the body itself are:
Aches and pains
Weight loss or gain
High blood pressure
Decreased sex drive
Spiritually, a person has difficulty praying, he or she is unable to spend time listening to God, and there is a perception of God being "at a distance". In short, the person suffering from the stress factors I describe above are on the borderline between "self-help" and "seeking professional help". He or she is only a step away from serious problems that will require hospitalization and professional therapy.
Self-help may still be helpful if the victim can examine himself or herself objectively. First must come an effort to pinpoint the problems that cause the stress, and then corrective steps must take place. Are teenage children making your life miserable? Turn to a support group and begin to take control of your family life again. Do you suffer from intense anger? Get the anger out in the open, discuss it with someone you trust, and begin consciously to dismantle it. Are you over-committed financially? Set up a budget, cut expenses, write creditors, and begin to take charge of the situation. Share problems with a friend. Get things off your chest. With help from a friend (or a good book on stress reduction), work through conflicts, try to understand causes, and remove stress factors one at a time.
Get a physical checkup. Even if the doctor doesn't uncover particular problems, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your body is functioning normally. Relax. Care for your body. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat nourishing foods. If you don't take care of your body, no one else will do it for you!
Spiritual factors are also important. There are very real emotional benefits from spending time with God in prayer, meditation, reading the Bible, and simply listening for His quite voice. By cultivating the spiritual qualities of trust, obedience, faith, patience, and love, you also bring emotional peace into your life.
God is many things - and He is also a friend. He wants to enter into a relationship with you. You can feel comfort in His presence. He tells us many times in the Bible that those who suffer can ask for help, for miracles, for peace, for comfort, and for healing. He is not offended or impatient when we come to Him with our problems. And in the end, Christ's suffering children can look forward to heaven. Beyond the grave is everlasting hope. Death is swallowed up in Jesus' victory!
Anxiety and fear