Dr. Maria D. Reyes
In response to stress, emotionally we may feel afraid, angry, frustrated, aggressive, depressed, or anxious. Physically, our bodies may react to stress by sweating, having heart palpitations, experiencing aches and pains, nausea, other digestive problems, or headaches.
No matter what our experience with stress has been, we can all agree that it isn’t pleasant. Having strong feelings of overwhelm and the inability to cope with what we face can make us feel helpless and hopeless.
That’s why, in today’s article, we are going to unpack how stress negatively impacts us, what chronic stress is and its causes, what the Bible says about stress, and look at some helpful stress management techniques.
The Negative Impacts of Stress
Stress impacts each of us differently, but across the board, if left unchecked it has the power to negatively affect our bodies, our mood, and our behavior. Let’s look at some of the different side effects of stress.
How Stress Affects Our Bodies
Stress can affect our central nervous and endocrine systems, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, our digestive and muscular systems, our immune systems, and even our reproductive systems! Stress affects every single part of our body and may reveal itself physically as:
- Chest pains
- Change in sex drive
- Upset stomach (or other digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation)
- Sleep problems
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Missed periods
- Weakened immune system
How Stress Affects Our Mood
When our bodies are out of order due to stress, our emotional state (our mood) tends to take a hit as well. Emotionally, stress may manifest itself as:
- Lack of motivation or focus
- Feeling overwhelmed
How Stress Affects Our Behavior
Finally, not only does stress negatively impact our bodies and mood but our behavior as well. Because when our physical and emotional state is not running as it should, it will begin to leak out in our actions and everyday habits. Stress impacting our behavior may look like:
- Social withdrawal
- Drug or alcohol misuse
- Tobacco misuse
- Angry outbursts
- Change in exercise habits
As stated previously, everyone experiences stress in their lifetime. It’s a normal response to overwhelming situations and our body’s way of handling the impact of traumatic events. But what happens when stress becomes a daily way of living rather than just a response to an isolated incident?
This is known as “chronic stress” and according to Yale Medicine, chronic stress is characterized by a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period. When we get to the point of chronic stress, it may be time to seriously consider stress management techniques.
Causes of Chronic Stress
Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., and director of Yale Medicine’s Interdisciplinary Stress Center says that “people experiencing chronic stress might feel incapable of changing their situations.” And that the causes of chronic stress can vary depending on each person’s specific situation.
Some common causes of chronic stress may include:
- A dysfunctional marriage
- A dysfunctional family relationship
- A deeply dissatisfying job
No matter what we may be facing, chronic stress forms when we begin to feel hopeless in changing our situation.
Symptoms of Chronic Stress
Symptoms of chronic stress are remarkably similar to the symptoms you would experience with normal types of stress. The difference is that these symptoms are going to last longer because chronic stress is a long-term condition. The different symptoms of chronic stress are:
- Unfocused or cloudy thinking
- Emotional or social withdrawal
- Changes in appetite
- Alcohol or drug misuse
- Physical aches and pains
Chronic stress can also lead to different health complications and diseases such as:
- Heart disease
- Type II Diabetes
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Addiction to alcohol, drugs, or other destructive substances or behaviors
Stress and the Bible
As believers and people of faith, we are not excluded from experiencing stress on this side of heaven. Some of Jesus’ last words to His disciples before He ascended into heaven after His resurrection, were words of warning that we would face trouble in this world, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Jesus doesn’t just end at telling us we will face trouble in this world. He gives us a ray of hope to hold onto, that hope being Him. He throws us the lifeline of His amazing grace and encourages us to take heart because He has already overcome every stressful situation we are facing and will face in the future.
One of the greatest truths about God we can cling to in times of stress and trouble comes from Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
God promises to be with us in every moment of every season. In the highs and lows of life, we can rest secure knowing that we are never alone. No matter how helpless or hopeless we may feel, we must remember the truth that our God goes before us and with us in everything we face. Nothing is a surprise to Him, and instead of allowing stress to consume and overwhelm us, we must choose to reach for the peace His truth faithfully provides.
In times of stress and worry, God’s Word brings great comfort and a sense of safety. Here are a few Scripture passages that you can look up and reference in times of stress and anxiety:
- Psalm 139
- Philippians 4:6-7
- Isaiah 41:10
- Matthew 10:29-31
- 1 Peter 5:6-7
- Psalm 46:1-3
The First Step in Managing Stress
As we begin to move forward in managing our stress, it’s important that we first understand how stress manifests itself in our bodies. We must first acknowledge the different ways in which we react to stress so we can pursue healthy ways of dealing with that stress.
Do we respond by getting a headache, stomach pain, rapid breathing? Do anxiety and frustration begin to take over? It’s important to ask ourselves these questions to learn more about how we react to stress.
Once we understand our stress responses, it’s time to look at what our different triggers are. A trigger is something outside of ourselves that induces a stress response. It may be something that reminds us of past trauma, causing our bodies to go into “fight or flight” mode. We must determine what in our life elicits stress responses.
Stress Management Techniques
When stress begins to play a big part in our lives, it may be time to explore different stress management techniques. Now that we’ve taken the time to understand our stress and its causes, let’s look at a few different stress management techniques.
According to the American Psychological Association, people who engage in regular physical activity – or exercise – have lower rates of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who live sedentary lives. Physical activity causes a release of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which are two chemicals that can greatly boost your mood.
Some forms of exercise you could employ to manage your stress are:
- Outdoor biking
- Indoor cycling
- Dance, such as Zumba
As we discussed earlier in this article, a natural bodily response to stress is increased heart rate and rapid breathing. Deep breathing can be highly effective in calming your mind and relaxing your body in times of stress.
As you take a deep breath in, your heart quickens slightly and as you exhale slowly, your heart rate naturally slows as well. Repeated deep breaths will put your heart rate more in sync with your breath which leads your brains to release endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals in your brain that have a natural calming effect.
When you find yourself in a stressful, anxiety-inducing situation, remember to slow down and breathe deeply! Your brain fog is sure to clear and help you think rationally about the situation rather than plunging into fight or flight mode.
Sometimes, stress occurs from outside sources such as people. The people we work with, live with, and coexist with can cause us stress. Setting boundaries is a healthy way to skip stress altogether.
The word boundary means a line that marks the limits of an area, a dividing line. Setting boundaries in our lives quite literally means knowing our limits and then letting others in our lives know what those limits are.
It’s our responsibility to communicate our boundaries clearly to others for our own well-being. For example, if you are someone who needs downtime to recharge, a boundary might look like saying no to an invitation to go out after you’ve already had a busy week. Another example of a boundary is letting someone know when they’ve hurt your feelings and then respectfully communicating how you can both move forward without it happening again.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Another great stress management technique is seeking outside help through the avenue of counseling or therapy. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective form of treatment for those who battle anxiety, depression, and chronic stress.
CBT helps people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that negatively affect one’s behavior and emotions. Because cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on how to identify and change negative thought patterns, this is a wonderful stress management technique for those dealing with chronic stress.
Christian Counseling for Stress Management
As Jesus followers, it can be incredibly life-giving to seek out help from a Christian counselor. A Christian counselor’s mission is to provide you with support and treatment from a Biblical perspective. The Bible tells us that we are to encourage one another and build each other up in love (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and that two are better than one so that one can pull the other up when they fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
Battling stress can feel lonely, but you don’t have to be alone in this fight. If you’d like to speak with me or one of the other counselors here at Seattle Christian Counseling, please give us a call and we would be happy to schedule a time to meet with you.
“Coffee Cup”, Courtesy of Tim Foster, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Overwhelmed”, Courtesy of Luis Villasmil, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Breathe”, Courtesy of Tim Goedhart, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pandemic Stress”, Courtesy of Engin Akyurt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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