The Stress You Feel? Why You Feel It. And What to Do About It.

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There’s one thing that never, ever looks good on me. And though I don’t know your star colors, I’m guessing it doesn’t look good on you, either.

The awful apparel is STRESS. Like an uncomfortable sweater, stress squeezes the joy out of my life and rubs my contentment raw.

Stress smothers me.

Here’s the cold hard fact:  studies show we are 45% more stressed today than we were just five years ago. I’m no mathematician, but that’s a heck of a jump in stress level.

Of course, everyday life brings stresses of its own; Caring for the needs of others. Financial responsibilities. Work. House. Health. Schedules. To Do Lists. But these types of stressors have been around since the dawn of time and will continue to be part of the human experience. What’s different about the stress we face today? I want to know.

Because I don’t want to get sucked into unhealthy, preventable stress.

I write these words as one who went to bed last night feeling stressed.  As one who tossed and turned because of too many things rattling around in my head. As one who woke up this morning asking God why?  And what am I doing wrong?  Because clearly these internal rumblings of the soul are an indication I’m living in a way God never intended me to live.

Are there “reasons” I feel a bit more stressed than usual this week?  Sure. I got back from a week in Haiti (during the hurricane, mind you) and hit the ground running with the need to write (and give) two messages last week, five talks this week (I teach a couple of hundred women in Bible study each week and am speaking at a conference this weekend) and several more next week (another study, another conference). Yeah. There are always “reasons”. Your list differs from mine but you have your list of “reasons”, too.

Reasons don’t make stress any less real.

Really, though, these things are just the presenting problems.  The real reason I, you, we, live stressed-out are the underlying causes. These underlying issues are the poison that’s made our stress level jump 45%. This is the stuff we can change.

What are the real reasons behind our stress?

  1.  Unrealistic expectations

When we set unrealistic goals for what we will/can/want to accomplish in a day we invite stress to invade our souls. Several best-selling books have been written about the importance of saying “no” to others–but what about saying “no” to myself?  As in, “No, Donna, you can’t possibly do all that in a day and still maintain your sanity if life/people/traffic doesn’t flow in perfect harmony.”

Life works better when we expect the unexpected because frankly, that’s what we can expect.

If I plan less for my day, I’ll stress less in my day.

And for crying out loud, let’s not expect ourselves to be super-women. I’ve read enough articles imploring me to “live my dreams”, “be my best self” and “do the impossible” to make me stressed out for the rest of my life. How about if I just expect nothing more than this:  Today I will love God with all my heart and I will love the people He puts in my path.

Now that I can do.

Honestly, that’s the only thing I should do.

And while I’m on the subject of unrealistic expectations, let’s not place them on others, either. Our husbands, friends, co-workers and kids can only do so much. Let’s give one another room to breathe.

2.  Unhealthy boundaries

Unhealthy boundaries dovetail with unrealistic expectations. When I say yes to the things I’m supposed to do and no to the things I’m not supposed to do, stress level is manageable. If I don’t set my own boundaries, other people will happily set them for me. And that’s a recipe for stress.

But boundaries in our schedules is just the tip of the iceberg. What about setting boundaries for social media use?  Or phone use? Yes, we love our smart phones, but when texts, emails and phone calls mean we can NEVER get away from anyone, it raises our stress.  We’re kidding ourselves if we think it doesn’t.

When we see pictures of the best parts of other people’s live all day long, it raises stress levels. When we watch or listen to the barrage of negative news (and yes, there’s a LOT more negativity these days) it raises stress levels, too.

And what about all those email ads I get from stores I never shop at anymore? Ads that scream you need more, more, more to be happy.  Except it doesn’t make me happy. It makes me stressed.

I don’t have to let Facebook, the news, Instagram, Pinterest or my smart phone invade my life if I realize they’re raising my stress. I can say no. I can set healthy boundaries for this stuff.

I will set healthy boundaries for this stuff.

3.  Unholy priorities

I woke up this morning with these words of Jesus on my mind:  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6: 34).  I knew immediately this was my problem. My stress level was high because yesterday I started worrying about today. And tomorrow. And the weekend.

If I live with my mind on my tomorrow I can’t live present in my today. Yes, I have to plan for tomorrow, but preparing for tomorrow isn’t the same thing as fretting about tomorrow. I can’t live five days in my head when I can only live one day in my body. And not feel stress.

Can you relate?

Jesus’ words calmed my soul. So I looked up the passage in its context. You’ll love this.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

Is Jesus wonderful, or what? 2000 years ago He spoke words that could calm my anxious 2016 soul.

When I seek Him first, I get peace next, and then everything else will follow. Loving Him one day at a time. Loving others one day at a time.

Doing my life. One. Day. At. A. Time.

Living close to Jesus gives me peace. Living apart from Jesus brings me stress. It really is this simple.

And so, today I resolve to remove the unnecessary stressors from my life. I refuse to be smothered by things I can release. I refuse to live stressed when Jesus promises peace. I will not let unrealistic expectations or unhealthy boundaries or unholy priorities steal the joy that should be mine.

I get one life. One. And so do you. It’s time to live.

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