Recently I conducted a survey of my book and article readers. I wanted to know how this largely Catholic and professional group viewed current stressors in their lives. When asked what they considered to be a personal struggle, the top three answers were:
- Feeling overwhelmed/out of balance
- Fighting effects of stress and anxiety
- Wanting a more productive prayer life
My initial observation of the survey results were that the top two responses are so closely related, they could be considered two parts of the same struggle. Feel overwhelmed or out of balance long enough and you’ll have to fight hard against the effects of stress and anxiety. Not good. The next thought I had was the key to handling the first two issues is through the third. With a more productive prayer life, one puts on the “armor of God” that Scripture describes, and can kick stress, anxiety and overwhelm in the teeth!
So what can I teach others about stress and how to combat it? Fair question. From both my perspective and experience, I know four things about this topic:
- Stress is universal – it is part of the human condition. If you breathe, you’re a target. Stress and all its relatives – anxiety, tension, fear and apprehension seem very real, and can do very real, physical damage to us and our relationships if not confronted and managed. Stress manifests itself in a variety of physical symptoms and conditions such as heart problems, high blood pressure, a compromised immune system, skin rashes and outbreaks, aches and pains everywhere – especially head, neck, shoulders and back, digestion and abdominal difficulties, obsessive or addictive tendencies and behaviors, chemical imbalances and depleted energy levels (just to name some of the most common effects). Takeaway: almost everyone you meet is also struggling in some unseen way. This simple acknowledgment can adjust your perspective enough to make you a more patient, merciful and kind person – the type of person people like to work with and be around!
- Stress does NOT differentiate between personal and professional. It cannot be left at the office. With stress, there are no boundaries, no “work/life balance.” Stress is a perpetual by-product of our fast-paced society. Takeaway: I like to tell others that, thanks to technology, work/life balance these days is myth. There is no such thing. Instead of searching for something that doesn’t exist, try defining your priorities and then managing your boundaries accordingly. That gives you “voting power” on the things in life that can cause you stress!
- God does not want anyone to suffer just for the sake of suffering. Rather, He permits life’s stressors to be a means to keep us close to Him. He knows just how heavy our personal crosses are and walks alongside us, ensuring our pain is not in vain. In the Catholic tradition, this is known as “redemptive suffering.” Takeaway: Next time you are faced with a crisis, remind yourself: God is here, and He will not give me more than I can handle (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13)!
- God provides a peace that is not of this world (John 14:27). He wants us all to possess and live-out that peace in our interior lives. If, through some misfortune it has been lost, then to rediscover it. Takeaway: Spending time with God through spiritual practices such as prayer, reading His word, and frequenting the Sacraments are the fastest, most direct routes to that unworldly peace.
“He who prays most receives most.” –St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori