Almost everything in life moves faster than it did 20 years ago. You can call, text, or video chat with people from around the world. There are services that ship things to your door within two days and sometimes you can get things in as little as two hours. The speed and busyness of the world is growing, but while the efficiency of life is increasing, the stress of life is not decreasing. Many people find themselves wondering how to reduce stress.
In fact, according to two surveys,94% of Americans experience workplace stress and on average Americans reported feeling a level of 4.9 out of ten when it came to stress. So, despite living in the most efficient time in history, many people continue to feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
As a result, many people have come to accept living with stress as the norm and just something that is a part of life. While in some sense that is true, many people are living entrapped by stress. Jesus promised us rest.
In Matthew 11:28 he says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This sounds like the opposite of stress. Jesus is promising Christians an alternative lifestyle to a world driven by stress and anxiety. While this may not happen overnight, leaning into an intentional life and pursuit of the Spirit can bring serious fruit.
While most episodes of stress are not serious and can be handled with stress management and coping skills, there are types of stress, such as chronic stress, which can take a serious toll on your life, relationships, and overall health. Since stress remains a common issue for the majority of Americans, it is important to be equipped with the appropriate skills to cope with stress.
Different Types of Stress
Before getting into the details of how to handle stress, it’s first important to identify what type of stress you are dealing with. There are three generally accepted ideas of stress: Acute Stress, Episodic Acute Stress, and Chronic Stress.
Acute Stress is the most common type of stress. It is the sort of stress brought on by getting into a fight with someone you love, or a looming deadline. Most often, it is a brief experience that can be managed with proactive steps such as reaching out to your loved one whom you were in conflict with or planning to achieve your deadline. Acute Stress is typically brief and minor.
Episodic acute stress is living in a state of regular acute stress. This could be brought on by painful and unhealthy patterns in relationships or unrealistic expectations at your job. Unlike simple acute stress, the circumstances of your life prolong the acute stress, turning it into a longer episode. This could look like working a job where the expectations placed on you by your boss are unrealistic.
For example, every time you complete a task, there is another one you are already supposed to have completed, and your boss is quick to point that out. Or this could be existing in an unhealthy relationship with family or in-laws.
The holidays are a common time for individuals to experience episodic acute stress because the season lasts a prolonged time and often brings out drama in the family. Many people experience episodic acute stress until the season is over, when they can reduce and escape the causes of their stress.
Finally, the third and most serious type of stress is chronic stress. Chronic Stress is probably best described as a lifestyle of stress. When the circumstances in your family, finances, and relationships produce constant stress, then you live in a chronic state of stress.
This type of stress usually exists in situations including poverty, abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, addiction, and an unhealthy marriage. These circumstances produce high levels of stress for a long period of time which begin to alter your way of thinking so that you begin to live in a constant state of stress regardless of what is actually happening.
This type of stress is the most serious risk to your health because it can produce serious health problems or result in violent action toward self or others.
How to Reduce Stress
When it comes to learning how to reduce stress, you will first have to identify what stress you are dealing with. If you are wrestling with Acute Stress, then you will likely only need to equip yourself with some coping skills to overcome the moments you feel overwhelmed. However, if you are wrestling with Episodic Acute Stress or Chronic Stress, you will likely need to work with a professional counselor or therapist.
A trained mental health professional can help you identify the sources of your stress, process your childhood experiences connected to your stress, and help you establish efficient and effective coping mechanisms to limit the stress you experience.
The rest of this article will focus on simple techniques to help you cope with Acute Stress and Episodic Acute Stress, but keep in mind if your symptoms feel unmanageable or overwhelming, then you will most likely need to meet with a professional counselor or therapist.
Coping with stress through relaxation
When you think of stress management, you may imagine someone sitting in the lotus position doing breathing exercises. This Zen ideal is often associated with stress management because breathing and relaxation exercises are actually really effective. While some may consider them hokey and unnecessary, many experience profound results from relatively simple exercises.
When you relax, there is a physiological change in your body. Your blood pressure can lower, your heart rate can slow, and even the amount of oxygen you take in can diminish. This response helps you to manage the physical symptoms of stress, while also slowing your rushing thoughts.
Classic strategies to relax are things like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises, but don’t feel limited to these options. Forms of contemplative prayer and spiritual disciplines are great ways for Christians to experience relaxation. The important thing is to find what is relaxing for you and start to counteract the physical symptoms of stress in your life.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
If your stress is getting in the way of you living your life, then taking a step toward something like CBT may be the right choice. The idea behind CBT is to target unhealthy patterns of thought and replace them with more positive and uplifting lines of thinking, thereby reducing stress. If you can correct the false narratives you hear, then you can begin to feel relief from the unhealthy stress and emotions you are experiencing.
Set your goals
Stress thrives in ambiguity. If you don’t know what you are doing or what you want, then stress can develop simply out of uncertainty. It can also develop as other people speak their own values into and over your life.
A great way to avoid letting this sort of stress develop regarding your career, relationships, family, or future is to set goals for what you want to do. By doing so, you will be defining your own values and pursuing things you feel are important. When you have goals, it can help relieve stress because you can break them down into achievable steps, making you feel like you are moving forward.
Stress is still here. Despite all the modern inventions in the world and the greater efficiency at which humanity operates, it seems stress is unavoidable. In fact, some of the things designed to make life easier bring a faster pace of life which equals more stress.
But you don’t need to be overwhelmed; you can take control of your stress and manage it well. Jesus came promising rest and life to the full; don’t settle for less. You need not be a victim of the busyness of life — you can slow down and experience peace. Contact me or another Christian counselor in our counselor directory to learn more about how to reduce stress so you can live a peaceful, enjoyable life.
“Studying”, Courtesy of Surface, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on the Beach”, Courtesy of Cody Black, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Breathe”, Courtesy of Matthew Kane, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Enjoying the Sun”, Courtesy of Radu Florin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License