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Stress – pressures or tensions – is an inevitable part of life and is not necessarily bad in small doses! Sometimes, however, we feel that the stresses of life are just too much for us to bear and this can cause our general health to suffer.
We can think of our lives as being like a bucket which is filled with water as the stresses pour in. These can be anything – financial worries, relationship worries, job pressures, academic stress for students, moving house, bereavement and so on. Many stresses are short-term and easily resolve themselves, but others are not quite so easy to get rid of (dealing with a long-term illness, for example.) The current situation, where lockdown has been imposed, job security is up in the air for many and there are fears of illness or dealing with bereavement, is definitely stressful.
In order to prevent the water overflowing and resulting in mental health issues which we find difficult to manage, we need to let the water out of the bucket. That doesn’t necessarily stop fresh water being poured in, but it means we don’t break or snap. These are generally called ‘coping strategies’, ways of relieving and releasing stress.
As this picture shows, we all develop both helpful and unhelpful coping strategies. Some unhelpful ones include smoking, alcohol and drugs, which can generally cause as many problems as they solve, but they also include eating (too much or too little) and self-harm. What we really need are to find helpful, safe coping strategies – for example, physical exercise, eating healthily, getting enough rest and relaxtion, doing something you enjoy (hobbies are great stress-busters!)
One of the additional stresses of our current situation is not being able to spend time face-to-face with supportive people, as many people find they are helped by other people as much as (if not more than) by doing activities. Talking is one of the great coping strategies (which is why therapy can be a useful way of dealing with mental health issues); it helps to bring our anxieties and fears into the open and to know we are loved and cared for. A listening ear is a great help (‘The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.’ Prov 12:15), often restoring a greater perspective to us (stress makes us feel swamped; we literally feel as though we are drowning at times.)
We may well need to find other ways of talking and listening at the present time: phone calls, video calls, texts, sending cards, writing letters, posting out gifts and dropping off goodies such as baking may well become your ‘coping strategy’ at this time (or what you need to receive to help you.) But there is an alternative help which many never consider: God.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean all stress is removed from life (in actual fact, there may well be additional stresses simply from following God!) It does mean, however, that we don’t have to deal with stress on our own. The loneliness and pressure many feel at this time are compounded by isolation, but the Christian is never isolated from God. He is always with us (Heb 13:5, Matt 28:20).
So don’t forget God when you’re dealing with stress. Jesus knows all about stress. He knows what it is to be human, to suffer, to sorrow. (Heb 2:14-18, Heb 4:15) He is there to help us; He won’t abandon us, even if others do. And don’t forget God’s people, for they are often His means of upholding us and supporting us. We may feel we daren’t admit our darkest thoughts to another person and don’t want others to know we’re imperfect and not coping, but it’s surprising how we can be helped up by other people, for we all face pressure and stress (see Eccl 4:9-12). Don’t suffer in silence, but let the water out of the bucket…