We’ve all experienced stress at one point or another. From being caught in traffic on our way to a job interview to dealing with the death of a family member, we’ve all been in a situation that makes us feel we’ve been given more than we can handle. Stress can also result when seemingly minor problems are ignored instead of solved right away. For instance, borrowing some money from someone to pay off credit card debt may not seem like a big deal at first. But with no real lifestyle change on your part, it’s not hard to imagine this could eventually snowball into real trouble that causes stress. It is an unpleasant feeling and one that is familiar to all of us. But unfortunately, it is a part of life. Rather than trying to avoid it completely, we are better off learning how to cope with it more effectively.
At a glance, the Bible doesn’t seem to offer any solutions to stress. Stress itself sounds like a modern concept, not something anyone in the Bible would know how to relate to. But in fact, the Bible tells plenty of stories about people who were suffering. An often cited example of this would be the story of Job, who lost literally everything he had all at once. Job started out as a well-to-do man and a model citizen, someone God was particularly proud of. Satan argued that of course Job was well-behaved and faithful to God—he had everything. So Satan took away his children and all of his property, convinced that it would immediately turn Job against God. But Job, devastated as he was, did not curse God. Instead, he stayed faithful and simply said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:20, NASB).
Job isn’t the only person in the Bible who knows what it’s like to be stressed. There are many others. Abraham was told to sacrifice his son Isaac. Joseph was sold as a slave at a young age by his own brothers. Moses had to lead an entire nation that did not always appreciate what he did. And in the New Testament, there is Jesus’ mother. Mary was an unmarried young woman when an angel came to her and told her she would be carrying a child. During her time, a woman pregnant outside of wedlock would be killed—stoned to death. But Mary, like others before her, stayed faithful and simply said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV). These faithful followers who experienced stress in some pretty desperate situations, coped with their stress through faith.
It’s easy to believe in God when everything is going well, but during difficult times, it’s a lot easier to wonder if God has abandoned us.
Knowing how to cope with stress effectively is important for various reasons. To begin with, poor coping mechanisms can negatively impact both your physical and mental health. It can turn you into an irritable person and ruin your relationships with other people. If not properly dealt with, stress can lead to clinical depression, which is hard to snap out of once you get there. Furthermore, it is also in times of stress that many people struggle with their faith. It’s easy to worship God and believe in him when everything is going well for us, but during difficult times when the exact opposite thing happens, it’s a lot easier to wonder if God has abandoned us or maybe if He even exists at all. But rather than quickly dismissing him, there are several things you can do to help yourself.
First, follow the example of people in the Bible and stay faithful. As Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (NRSV). It is difficult when there are a lot of things on our minds. But we can’t overly worry about something that may not necessarily be helped, or something we’ve done everything in our power to prevent. At the end of the day, God is the one in control. Believing in God, we have to take comfort in the fact that we trust him with our lives and with the situations in our lives; the easy and the difficult. As with everything that we do, prayer should take the forefront while we are dealing with our situations.
As you are praying, or even if you are having a difficult time praying because you are so stressed, take a step towards acknowledging that there’s a problem.This can also be hard at times. Many of us like to be in control, and one way to feel in control is to deny that there’s a problem at all. Alternatively, some of us may recognize a problem but choose not to worry about it or hope it’ll go away on its own. Neither of these, needless to say, are effective ways to deal with a problem. The third step would be to identify the root cause of our problems, which can still be hard to do when our emotions prevent us from thinking clearly. If this is the case, start organizing your thoughts. Write them down or talk about them with someone. List all of the things you worry about and decide which ones are important or urgent, and which ones aren’t. Prioritize the ones that are both important and urgent, and cross out the ones that are neither. Then slowly work your way through these problems, keeping in mind that a reasonable amount of time is needed for real change to happen.
In the meantime, you should also start a healthy lifestyle, if you haven’t already maintained one. Eating nutritious meals, sleeping the right amount of time, and exercising regularly all can help reduce the effects of stress. Stress can normally disrupt our eating or sleeping patterns, which in turn can affect our mood. Try not to turn to comfort food or to sleep more than you need as ways to escape reality. Although food and sleep can provide temporary relief and is acceptable every once in a while, they don’t really solve the problem and in the long run will probably hurt you. Regular exercise can also help improve your mood. Running around the block may seem pointless when you still have a laundry list of seemingly more important things, but exercise can actually help you clear your head. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but you will also be able to think better and get more done.
Whatever you do, don’t cut off contact with your family and friends. It’s tempting to take some time off to focus on working on your personal problems, but more likely than not, this plan will backfire and put you in a worse situation than you were before. Family and friends can give some good advice with your situation and can help you keep things in perspective. They will be the ones telling you to relax and reminding you that you are stressing more than you should be.
No matter what you do to cope with your stress, make it a point to make God part of your stress-easing process. As Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (NRSV). As the old saying goes, do your best and God will take care of the rest.