by James Rudy Gray
Stress seems to be a subject that won't go away. In fact, new research seems to
indicate that stress, or even how we perceive stress, may actually lessen our life span.
Dr. Hans Selye, the man who is credited with bringing the idea of stress to the forefront of awareness, defined stress as "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it." He said stress is the wear and tear caused by life, a specific syndrome of biological events, the mobilization of the body's defenses to adapt to danger, and is dangerous when unduly prolonged. Stress, he said, is not nervous
tension or the discharge of hormones from the adrenal glands. The most insightful observation the "father" of stress made about it was that stress is not entirely a bad thing.
Recently, a research team at the University of California, San Francisco, found that chronic stress appears to shorten the life span of cells, which in turn shortens a person's life span. They related that the cells of persons aged 9 to 17 years, who were under significant stress, aged more than people under less stress. One of the more enlightening points their report revealed was that it was not simply the stress itself but also how people perceived stress. The more "stressed out" a person felt, the more likely the life span of his or her cells would be shortened.
One of the common factors found among people who live to be 100 or more is their ability to handle stress well.
Pastors and counselors are challenged when they are called on to help "stressed-out" clients. It is a myth that we can eliminate stress. Some jobs and positions are certainly more stressful than others. The key is not helping people attempt the impossible—eliminate stress from their lives—but enabling them to manage stress. The most important step in that process is right thinking, and the best thinking begins with learning to think truthfully. For a Christian that means learning to tell yourself the truth by developing a growing understanding of God's Word.
A number of professionals have written on ways to manage stress. The best strategy is the one that works for the particular person and one that utilizes the truth of God.
Setting well-thought priorities is an important stress management strategy. Learning to do one thing at a time is another. Remembering that there are always alternatives to nearly every situation is another. Exercise is important. Taking time to relax is helpful. Prayer and Bible study are powerful avenues of building a lifestyle that better manages stress.
It is important for clients to understand that no one is completely in control. We feel stress when we sense life is out of control. God is sovereign. He is in control. We can think differently about most situations in life, even if we cannot do anything to change them. We can make biblically sound choices about work, relationships, recreation, etc. A person can actually become more stressed by thinking that something must change in order for him to feel better. People can change the way they feel by first making choices to think differently. People are in charge of their emotional feelings, whether they realize it or not.
Keith W. Sehnert, M.D., has listed seven rules for good health: never smoke cigarettes, avoid alcohol or use it moderately, get regular physical activity, sleep 7 to 8 hours regularly, maintain proper weight, eat breakfast, and don't snack between meals. He has also developed what he refers to as the secret seven for effectively managing stress: accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, fill your cup of good will, do what you like, accept your flaws, collect people not things, find wisdom for living in Bible study and church.
We cannot escape stress anymore than we can avoid all germs. Jesus said in John 16:33 that in this world we would have tribulation (pressure, stress). He also told us to take courage because He had overcome the world. A person can live healthier and longer by learning to manage stress. There is no better place to start that management lifestyle than seeking first God's kingdom and His righteousness as the theme of living.