Posted by: kathryngraves | May 17, 2017

Are You Stressed?

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We hear a lot about stress, and we feel the effects of it on our bodies and our minds. But what is stress? Where does it come? Are there effects of stress we might not be aware of? How can we manage stress? All these questions bombarded me as I thought about writing on the subject. A brief effort to research stress almost stressed me out trying to sort through the large number of articles written about it. You might wonder why I should add one more.

My goal in this post is to do the research work for you and offer a condensed version of the information. When I’m faced with information overload on a subject, I usually end up ignoring it all and moving on to something else. I want to prevent that for you about stress.

Stress is one of those buzzwords that become meaningless from overuse. One physician concluded in a 1951 issue of the British Medical Journal that, “Stress in addition to being itself, was also the cause of itself, and the result of itself.” (1) Talk about confusing!

Good Stress and Bad Stress

But what was the original meaning? There are actually two kinds of stress: good stress and bad stress. The bad kind is what we usually think of. It is defined in the Merriam Dictionary as, “A state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.: something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety.” We’re all pretty familiar with that one. The good stress is “when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize and motivates people to accomplish more. This stress results in increased productivity–up to a point. After which, things go downhill. (2)

The bottom line is that the sense of having little or no control is always distressful–and that’s what stress is all about. (3)

Effects

Negative stress takes an emotional, physical, and spiritual toll on us. We’re all familiar with the feeling produced when somebody steps on our “last nerve.” We react, and it’s usually not pleasant. But did you know how closely entwined the emotional and physical are? Your brain and other functions of your body work together to control your emotions. It is easy for us to identify the effect of stress on our emotions, but it also wears down our bodies and our exhaustion contributes to spiritual neglect. Maybe that old scientist was right! It is all connected. So, if our lives produce negative stress because we can’t control the pressures placed on us, then the question becomes, “How can I manage stress?

Physical Management

You might be surprised how much can be gained by paying attention to our bodies in this area. When we provide them the nutrients needed and make some lifestyle adjustments, the emotions will calm.

As far as eating habits go, eliminate or greatly reduce caffeine, sugars, and refined carbohydrates. Eat more healthy fats (like avocados, tree nuts, and olive oil), vegetables and some fruits (berries are best). Did you know that one Starbucks coffee drink contains more caffeine than an energy drink like Red Bull? (4) Not to mention all the sugar.

If you’re used to drinking a lot of coffee or other high-caffeine drinks, missing a cup can make you edgy, tired and irritable. It is a vicious cycle because caffeine causes fatigue and jitteriness. However, caffeine withdrawal only lasts a few days. After that, your body will calm down.

Sugary foods and carbohydrate-dense foods also increase the heart rate, mess with blood sugar levels, produce tiredness, and increase mental fuzziness.

However, good proteins like lean poultry, fish and eggs and non-starchy vegetables help stabilize blood sugar levels while providing energy. A higher-fat (as in healthy fats mentioned above) diet can even reduce anxiety levels. (5)

Some supplements that can calm us include the B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, Magnesium, L-theanine and GLA. Take a high-potency B-complex vitamin with 25 to 50 mg of B1, B2, B3 and B6. Did you know that the first symptoms of Vitamin C deficiency are irritability and fatigue? (6)

Magnesium is a muscle relaxer and L-theanine relaxes alpha brain waves. This is the active ingredient in green tea and what makes it a calming drink, in spite of the small amount of caffeine it contains.

Lifestyle Management

Try not to multi-task. It is far more efficient to focus on a single task at a time. Switching between activities helps give the mind a break and can be refreshing. Try alternating thought-intensive jobs with mindless activities like chopping vegetables.

Schedule time for meal preparation and eating so you don’t feel rushed. This can be one of the most difficult things for working moms to do, but it is important for the whole family. Priorities will need to be examined and changes made. Everyone will benefit from the interaction and opportunity to converse that dinner time affords.

Get adequate exercise. Exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good hormone. It also gets the lymph system moving and improves mental clarity. Thirty minutes a day, five days a week is optimal. I like the stretching and balance involved in yoga, but find what you like to do and do it.

Go outdoors. Walking or running in a park, playing frisbee with your dog, gardening, anything you enjoy doing outside is good for stress-reduction. Even in the winter, get out there whenever possible. Find activities you can do in your location.

Spiritual Magangement

Spend a few minutes every day (preferably at least 30) by yourself in prayer and Bible reading. Much new research is pointing to meditation as helpful in managing stress and chronic illness. This word can have many connotations, but for the Christian, it means focusing on Scripture. Choose a verse or passage to read and think upon. Ask God what He wants you to learn from it. Journal about it.

A daily quiet time with God helps us discipline our minds. Rather than allow our crazy lives to control us, we can counter with mental discipline. Romans 12:2 says to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” and 1 Corinthians 2:16 tells us “we have the mind of Christ.” Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” We need to make a conscious effort to think about the right things. What are those? Philippians 4:8 tells us. “Whatsoever things are true…noble…just…pure…lovely…of good report…any virtue…anything praiseworthy–think on these things.”

Does that sound like a lot? Like it might just be too hard? Remember, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22) Jesus wants us to succeed in minimizing our stress level so we can experience the abundant life He came to give us. He helps us in ways we don’t even understand because He prays for us and the Holy Spirit comforts us. “Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:27) Who are the saints? Born-again believers.

Attend church every week. This will set a pattern for your week, but also helps you draw closer to God. For a couple of hours, we can stop thinking about all the pressures on us and simply worship. Church attendance is a weekly re-set button for me. It helps me focus on what is really important. It also places me in a social group of like-minded people. These are the ones who become my closest friends and my support network. Somehow everything seems easier to manage when we are in community with others.

All these actions, when taken together, will make a huge difference in your stress level. And above all, you will “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Ephesians 4:32)

 

Notes:

(1) The American Institute of Stress website http://www.stress.org

(2) ibid

(3) ibid

(4) Jack Challum, The Food-Mood Solution, p.187

(5) ibid

(6) Challum, p.188-189

Photo: Pixabay

 

 

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Responses

  1. Kathy, This is such a wonderful and informative article. This is exactly what I hope to be able to impart to someone very close to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to do the research and write about it.


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