Dealing with the pressures of life often creates stress. The great Swiss doctor Hans Selye has written extensively on the “fight or flight” response that we call stress. For our purposes, let us talk about stress in the most observable sense. Stress is the feeling that puts pressure on us to the point that we worry, we’re full of anxiety, we feel overwhelmed, and sometimes we literally feel physically ill. Each person responds differently to demanding situations; what is stress to one is often not stress for another. What can we do in a down-to-earth sense to cope with such problems and avoid becoming “stressed out” to the point where our productivity suffers and we slacken in our duties to family, church, and society?
“Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise; Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked: for they cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me. My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah” (Psalm 55:2–7).
Fear is a great cause of stress. Like the Psalmist, we seek to be put out of the situation. However, only through the trials of life do we grow. The key is to pray for strength in the Lord. Rely upon him and do all you can within your own power (see Psalm 61:1–3).
“When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living” (Psalm 142:3–5).
Let us never forget that the Lord knows what is happening in our individual lives. Even when life is dark and no one seems to be there—there is always the Lord. He will encircle you in the arms of His love (see Psalms 143:3–12).
“The stress most faithful [people] feel arises out of the shared pressures of daily life, the temptations and afflictions common to mortals. These real pressures are unnecessarily increased when some unwisely place upon themselves unrealistic expectations. As to this avoidable stress, the Lord’s instructions are very clear: . . .
“Rather than seeing ourselves as failing simply because we do not become immediately perfect, such as in the attribute of mercy, we should seek to become ever more merciful “in process of time.” Even amid diligence, there need not be unrealistic expectations. . . . As they make still further progress here and now, this will give them much-needed inner satisfaction and confidence. This quiet reassurance can help to temper the outer stress arising from other roles and circumstances in life. A further stress-reducer is that as we become more merciful and long-suffering we will be less badgered by disappointments over the failures of others. As we become more patient, life, though still demanding, will be less hectic.
“If we are . . . progressing, though gradually . . . this is what matters most! Other things matter much, much less! . . .
“We can ease the stress induced by our inconsistency, pain through which we put ourselves repeatedly . . . so it may be that with inconsistent discipleship we actually inflict costs on ourselves in the face of divine counsel.
“Lowered self-esteem results from such needless exhaustion. . . .
“We can be overwrought by seeking the praise and honors of the world. Such individuals are ‘anxiously engaged’ in putting points on a local scoreboard. Heavy stress occurs in gaining the whole world while losing our souls (see Mark 8:36). . . .
“We can likewise diminish (at least our portion of) the painful stress that accompanies unresolved interpersonal differences: ‘Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother’ (Matthew 18:15). . . .
“We can dissolve the stress of wearily listening to ‘so many kinds of voices in the world’ (1 Corinthians 14:10). A true disciple need tune in on only one channel: ‘My sheep hear my voice’ (John 10:27). Like ancient Athenians, some today spend their energies and ‘their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing’ (Acts 17:21). A true disciple will not listen to the voices that deny the divinity of Jesus . . . or that suggest compromising with the world.
“So it is that we can end much stress in life, if we will. Genuine discipleship is a way of shedding the sources of stress discussed above.
“Neither need we experience overwrought anxiety concerning our weaknesses. Such fretting can become a substitute for doing something about them. Nor should we let a mistake or a disappointment mire us in self-pity.
“On the other hand, we should not be passively or defensively self-contented by constantly excusing ourselves rather than earnestly proving ourselves. Rather than being an intimidation, the very act of noticing our failures and our weaknesses can be an invitation, an invitation to overcome them patiently and ‘in process of time’ (Neal A. Maxwell, Men and Women of Christ [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991], 22–26).
Here are some things to remember in dealing with stress:
Stress has its positive elements.
- Realize that stress is, to a certain extent, part of life for everyone. We are always under stress to maintain our relationships, our upward progress, our reputation, our honor, and our character. All of this is a life-supporting kind of stress that can be positive.
Get the facts before you act.
- Better understanding of the situation and its ramifications will help you with your attitude and behavior in dealing with the problem.
You can often dispel stress just by your thoughts.
- Analyze the source of your stress. If it is related to unimportant goals or fads, then fundamentally rethink these pressures and change your goals to those that promote balance, harmony, and peace.
You can get help from others.
- Enlist the help of others to share the load emotionally and practically. The support of others is a comforting feeling that will give you strength.
- Delegate more of your functions and responsibilities in effective ways.
Be strategic in managing stress.
- Preparation, knowledge, and experience will decrease the stress we encounter.
- Where possible, avoid stressful situations that trigger the response.
- Identify time-wasters in your life and replace them with more productive tasks.
Find peace in God.
- Repent. Peace can only come through true repentance. Come unto Christ with full purpose of heart.
- Practice true discipleship. Keep the commandments. Search the scriptures. When you are at peace with the Lord, you will be at peace with yourself. Life’s trials and stress-producing moments will be easier to handle in the strength of the Lord.
- Deal courageously with the unknown.
- Always remember, sooner or later things will get better. We do gain strength in time to endure these difficult situations. Patience is the virtue that will give us the ability to deal with these difficulties.
One anonymous source referred to “stress” as “that great dynamic flywheel of being and growing.” Another source put it this way: “Without the stress of the bow string, there is no arrow flight. Without the stress of the heart strings, there is no love.” And so it is. All people everywhere experience stress. It is a worldwide phenomenon. It is part of the human condition. You are not alone in your stress.
There are physiological changes in the body when it is under stress. The immune system does not always function properly under conditions of excessive stress. This promotes disease. Even though we get sick physically, the major problem is how we feel within. Words like I can’t stand this; I’ll never do this again; I need help; Can’t anybody understand what I’m going through? echo in our minds as well as in our ears. Recognizing that all are affected, it behooves us to deal with life’s stresses as best we can on an individual basis. Taking a step back and counseling with others may give relief. But the decisions can be made more realistically to relieve the fundamental stress within by taking positive and meaningful action. Knowing that stress will happen and that we have dealt with it successfully before can give us a certain amount of peace. This is all part of earth life and we become stronger as we learn to deal with stress.
Remember that the Lord will provide a way for us to do all things. Let us never doubt, but exercise our faith so that pathways will open up that will allow us to deal with the stresses of life. What greater gift is there in this stress-filled world than the promise the Savior gives to those who love Him: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
This article has been adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.