Stress

Let’s talk about stress relief.

According to the American Psychological Association, more than one out of every four Americans say that their daily levels of stress are so high that they cannot function. Women between the ages of 18 and 34 are likely to report that their stress is “completely overwhelming,” and 76% of adults reported at least one stress-related symptom in the past month.

What is stress? When we examine the historical roots of this word, we find that it is related to words like stretched, strict, and strung. All of these words suggest tightness and tension. When we experience stress, this is because we feel pulled in too many different directions and under too much pressure. We feel constricted, tense, anxious, and burdened.

Relief, on the other hand, means to be raised up, or lightened. While we associate stress with heaviness, burdens, and pressures, relief is associated with freedom, ease, and comfort.

When I was in gym class in high school, we spent a few weeks learning to do weight training. I remember the first time I used the bench press to lift the barbell. Although I was just a small, thin 15-year-old who ran cross country, I tried to lift a bar that weighed 135 pounds, which was nearly equal to my body weight. A spotter stood over me and helped me to raise the bar off the bench. With my elbows locked, I could hold the weight, but the moment I dropped the bar to my chest, the pressure was overwhelming, and there was no way that I could possibly lift that much weight on my own. At that moment, I was under tremendous stress!

Thankfully, my spotter was much stronger than I was, and he put his hands on the bar and helped me lift the bar back into its safe position on the bench. I was literally relieved! He helped to take a weight off my chest that was threatening to crush me, and I could never have solved that problem with my own strength. I needed someone watching over me, helping me, and taking upon himself some of the weight of the burden that I was under.

Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University is well-known for his research on stress and its negative impacts on health. The psychological burdens of work, deadlines, schedules, bills, taxes, and other aspects of life in the 21st century keep all of us swimming in a sea of stress hormones that have negative effects on our physical health, leading to problems like ulcers, diabetes, and heart disease. However, Sapolsky writes that our relationships with other human beings can reduce the negative effects of stress in our lives.

Sapolsky writes that “the fewer social relationships a person has, the shorter his or her life expectancy, and the worse the impact of various infectious diseases.” However, he adds that maintaining relationships with people through marriage, contact with friends and family, church, and other group affiliations is a “medically protective” way to keep our physical bodies healthier despite the negative effects of stress in our lives. (See Sapolsky’s book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers).

The Bible also teaches this principle. Paul writes to “bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ.” Sometimes we find ourselves trying to lift too much weight, and we need someone nearby to help pull the barbell from our chests. When we isolate ourselves from others, we can become trapped under the heavy burdens of life without anyone to relieve us. Sometimes we just need a helping hand.

If you are feeling stressed, there are two questions that you should ask yourself. The first question is this: “Who can bring me some relief from my burdens?” Another very important question to ask is this: “Have I been trying to lift too much weight?”

When you are actively struggling under a lot of weight, you do not have the luxury of reflecting upon unwise choices that have created stressful, overwhelming burdens in your life. When I was a teenager with puny arms trying to lift my own weight in iron, I knew that I had made a mistake, but I was too desperate at that moment to worry about the foolish decision I had made to lift more weight than my body could handle. My immediate problem was that I needed someone to help me. Thankfully, I did have a companion watching over me who was there to take the burden on himself.

Right now, you may be feeling that you are under a heavy burden of stress without anyone to help you, without a spotter to lift the weight from your chest. The truth is that God is always watching over you, and He is ready at any moment to reach down and take your burdens upon Himself. God wants to relieve you of your burdens, but you have to be willing to ask Him for help.

The Invisible, Almighty God is beside you at all times, and He is ready to relieve your burdens. However, God’s design for us is to bring people into our lives who can share our burdens. God has placed obedient Christians very near to you who are standing by, waiting for God to send them someone who is hurting and needing help. God wants to draw you into a community of friends, family, or church membership so that other people can fulfill God’s mission in their lives by bearing your burdens with you. Would you be willing to ask someone to help you bear the load of stress that is oppressing you?

As you seek God for help in finding relief from stress, ask Him to bring a close friend into your life who will be willing to help. After God has removed your burdens, use wisdom in deciding how much weight you ought to be lifting, and don’t lift more than what is appropriate for you. Like a wise athlete, build up your strength with smaller weights before you commit yourself to the larger ones.

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[If you need to talk with someone about a stressful burden you are carrying, click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor].

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