Combating Your Personal Stress

Frank - crucified

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:

  1. Feeling overwhelmed/out of balance
  2. Fighting effects of stress and anxiety
  3. 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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)!
  4. 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

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28 thoughts on “Combating Your Personal Stress”

  1. 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)!

    This comment is an attempt to explain theodicy….how can one reconcile a loving god withe existence of evil and suffering in the world. More is given to many than they can handle. I care for my son who is a spastic quad, non verbal, 24/7. Perhaps if I were a weaker man, god would not have inflicted this suffering and stress on both of us. He was a victim of a near drowning (25 minutes under water) and where was god. I work with support groups of hundred of near drowns nationally and you know they were given more then they can handle. And why does this merciful, loving god allow children to suffer, why does he allow children to waste away, why does he allow the most devastating mental and physical illness to kill children every day. Why does an all knowing and all loving god allow evil? And suffering is evil, it is something to be alleviated not accepted?
    I have no rational nor spiritual believe in the absurd concept of “redemptive” suffering when it comes to children, and I disavow the concept of “victim souls.” You are simply wrong….some people are given much more than they can handle and prayer is not an answer. That is the problem of theodicy….the incompatibility of a loving god with the existence of evil. Something makes little sense to the rational mind. And acceptance of theodicy allows us to make it through the day…and we are legion!

    1. My heart goes you to you and your son, and anyone who suffers. Church history is filled with writings and examples from the Saints on your questions. The answers are there, though you reject them. I can’t do anything about that other than remain faithful in God, who watched His own son suffer in this life to conquer all suffering and death for eternity.

    2. Church history and the saints do nothing to explain the problem of theodicy. The suffering saints had the CHOICE to “offer” up their physical and mental suffering….children do not. Theodicy deals with those who do not have a choice, nor have an option; perhaps that is why the Jewish people who suffered through the Shoah developed an anti-theodicy. Church history or the saints do not address the suffering and death of children who have NO choice!

    3. As Mr. Connell indicated, Mr. Dzialo, the Church’s history is filled with people who witness to these things.

      Pray tell, have you read about Fatima?

    4. The RCC does not answer the question of theodicy…how can a loving all-merciful, omnipotent god allow children to suffer and die when they have NO choice in “offering up” suffering for the good of mankind or have no choice to needlessly suffer. Do you believe in a god who would force a child years of intractable pain when they cannot accede to the pain? Why are many allowed to go through life with minimal suffering? Is god arbitrary? Is ne impotent to intervene? Your answer is no answer,neither is Fatima? Please address the issue of theodicy in a way that is reasonable. Someone who is all good would never allow children who have no choices suffering and death? Explain clearly how theology understands this. And please don’y rely on the mystery argument. I can make no sense out of your response. How do the saints and Church History and Fatima explain children and the Shoah?

    5. Of course, I am very familiar with Fatima , Fr Gruner and company….none of it addresses theodicy and the suffering of the innocents…nothing. Now how about answering my questions…..

    6. Thank you, Phil, for answering my question. We can now move to the area.

      If you are “very familiar” with Fatima, then the next question that needs to be asked is your understanding of the mission of the three shepherds prior to our beginning this conversation?

    7. We are not moving anywhere until you address with specificity my issue respecting the notion of theodicy and how a omnipotent God allows pure children without choice nor acquiescence on their part to suffer and die when He could intervene….let’s not play Socratic games…answer the question directly or end the conversation. This is a dialogue; you are not my teacher nor I your student. Answer questions asked, that it what I did!

    8. Phil Dzialo, have you considered that the path to your answer might be in the one I am trying to establish for you?

    9. If you are unwilling to discuss this topic as it ought to be, then we have no business, Mr. Dzialo. Peace be with you.

    10. “as it ought to be”….I am straight-forward in asking questions, you are avoiding the issue of theodicy. I knew you would end the conversation this way … without a straight answer to a straight question.

    11. JoAnna,
      I never assumed God caused suffering…my questions dealt with an omnipotent, all powerful, all loving God ALLOWING the intractable suffering and dying of children who are pure, incapable of free will or even will, incapable of choice and not intervening and preventing this suffering. The innate contradiction is being omnipotent and ALLOWING this suffering. I never said causality (unless a weakened older mind is getting the best of me). I do not believe God caused of death of babies during the Shoah, I question why HE did not employ omnipotence, love and goodness to prevent it.

    12. I have no idea what you mean? Not all people have free will. I assume you and I do. I am referring if you really read my queries to a severely medically compromised child who can neither speak, nor move, nor think, nor see and hear. They do not have free will, they do not have will, period. I know many. Theodicy deals with the qualities of a God who would allow this intractable suffering in an innocent, pure spirit. Allowing the suffering and death of such an innocent seems to be incompatible with a benevolent, omnipotent loving God.
      By the way, Adam and Eve is a creation myth of the Jewish culture. Each culture and religion has it’s own creation myth. You are aware that anthropology has demonstrated polygenesis, as opposed to monogenesis…so let’s not blame two mythical figures. The ultimate issue is the reconciliation of a omnipotent God with the allowance of intractable suffering of those purely created?

    13. Catholic Working Mother

      Phil, have you ever read “Making Sense out of Suffering” by Dr. Peter Kreeft? Or “The Problem of Pain” by C.S. Lewis? If you did, I think you’d understand the origin and concept of suffering much better.

      What evidence do you have that Adam and Eve were a myth?

    14. Adam and Eve…check out anthropology and polygenesis; also

      and on…..

      I have read neither book which you referenced but I will check them out, provided that they deal with more than the acceptance of human suffering by people who can choose and have free will.
      My thread has been about pure children, innocent children, severely compromised children who have no free will, no ability to choose to take in the world and being allowed by a benevolent God to live a life of intractable suffering. If the books reconcile theodicy, I would love to explore them further. Will you give me an assurance I am reading what will address the issues I raised. I know we all suffer, I know suffering and conscious acceptance has true value in making our character worthy. I am writing about people with no free will, no choice no ability to reason and reconcile a God allowing this suffering with omnipotence and benevolence? Assure me before I buy……

    15. Would you prefer that we not have free will?

      For me, this does not resolve the dilemma. If this is all God’s creation, if all the under rule-sets are his work, the appeal to free will holds no water with me.

      Imagine that I were to design a roller-coaster that was perfect in every way*; it’s amazingly fast, makes incredible loops, and somehow manages to perfectly excite and entertain without making the rider nauseous. It’s also infinitely long, and can accommodate endless passengers.

      *Now imagine that the first car (and only the first car) has an other-wise unmarked red-button. To the first pair of riders, I say – “whatever you do, don’t push this button”. Of course, the first pair of riders has no idea what the consequences of pushing the button will be, and eventually, they push the button. Off come the safety harnesses – and not just for them, but for everyone (despite the other riders having done nothing wrong), and eventually they all fall to their deaths, everyone of them.

      Now, perhaps you’ll still say that everyone should be mad at the first pair of riders for ruining it for everyone else, but I don’t know why you wouldn’t also wonder about why the ride was designed in such a way, so that the actions of two people could doom all who followed. Why not design the ride so that each car had it’s own red button? How does that not still allow for free will + consequences?

    16. Here is’s in Romans: 5 (and also Genesis:7 and Peter: 3)
      “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death;
      and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.”
      But… God is so loving and Merciful He sent Jesus, who IS the Mercy and Love of God:
      “Therefore, as by the offense of one, unto all men to condemnation; so
      also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life. For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just. Now the law entered in, that sin might abound. And where sin abounded, grace did more abound. That as sin hath reigned to death; so also grace might reign by justice unto life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    17. So what you imply, because of the creation myth in Genesis 1 or the story in Genesis 2, God is punishing a pure, innocent, medically compromised infant who has no choice nor will, nor any capacity to sin nor even think and dooming (allowing) the child to a life of intractable suffering for the singular mythical act of disobedience of two people about 65,000 years ago when humans attained behavioral normalcy? You are describing a very, very vengeful God? The quote does not explain theodicy, the innate and perhaps irreconcilable contradictory qualities of God. I get the part about we all die, everything eventually dies.

    18. I knew you would answer this way, especially after spending some time reading your comments here and the responses. Seems to me you don’t want answers, you just want to shoot down every person who sincerely tries to answer you. Why? I don’t know, maybe you just like arguing? The people here on CS are incredibly kind, helpful and, I might add, long-suffering. I’m sorry for you and won’t bother responding in the future, I’ll leave that to God.

    19. Phil,
      I don’t have any great wisdom to share, just a few thought for you to consider. I think when the unexpected happens, whether an accident, natural disaster or disease, and we lose our sense of security or control of the world around us, it’s a human tendency to lash out at God for allowing our new set of circumstances to exist. Our life was changed in an instant and it doesn’t seem fair. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have faith, the kind of surrender that has to take place to continue living this new normal.

      God doesn’t punish us or inflict hardship on us just to see how we will deal with it. God is never the source of our pain because he is all loving. The earth is not yet heaven. Things aren’t perfect here. Evil exists, accidents occur, people harm one another, the natural weather cycles sometimes turn disastrous, our bodies weaken over time and we experience disease, or our DNA has certain inherent pre-dispositions toward illnesses. God grieves along side of us through all of our troubles. He reaches out to help us through our pain. While Jesus was on the earth he was moved with pity and cured countless people. He especially loved children, blessed them and called for us to have their same purity of heart and understanding. It’s not his will that innocent babies or children should suffer, and their suffering is certainly not in response to anything they have done. It’s true that God did (and still does) intervene at times to change situations. There is no rhyme or reason that the human mind, with its limited understanding, can fathom for this intervention. But faith is trusting in him, not railing against him for our pain.

      The story of Adam and Eve is not meant to be taken literally (most theology scholars agree that it is a metaphoric not historical story). Maybe it’s metaphoric for the point in time when man lost trust in God and took matters into his own hands and tried to become his own god. You could say that not much has changed in human nature since those first humans tried to usurp God’s divinity.

      Your son experienced a tragic accident and suffers till today as a result of that accident. God didn’t cause his near drowning, and, although it sounds like grasping at straws, maybe the fact that he didn’t die was a small gift to you…? You still have his presence in your life and are able to demonstrate your love for him on a daily basis, and he is able to feel that love, even through his suffering. Maybe there is a shred of blessing in all of that, I don’t know. I just wanted to comment to encourage you to keep an open mind in favor of God. Give him the benefit of the doubt if your faith is faltering, and ask him to reveal more of himself in your life so you CAN believe. Blessings to you and your family.

    20. Mary Ann,
      I thank you for your response. It is thoughtful, kind, empathetic and understanding.
      I do not bemoan nor complain about how my life has changed, It is hard, I am aging, and there are no options for my son other than the care of my wife and myself. I have spent long enough in therapy to deal with my demons. I learn from my situation about unconditional love and I learn that I do not need anything beyond me to be a good person. I live Matt 25 daily and I have no regrets. I understand my role in this life through an examination and understanding of the past lives my son and I have shared.
      I work with a dozen support groups for parents of very medically compromised children…parents whose life is a daily hell, who have been abandoned by family, by friends, by religions. I feel bad when people put their kids’ lives in the hands of God because those kids invariably die…you must take your child’s life fully in your hands alone and search every avenue, traditional or not, to preserve life.
      My son’s survival was not a gift from God, it was the product of evolution. Humans are born with a “mammalian diving reflex”. When a mammal hits cold water, the trachea constricts, metabolism slows, water does not enter the lungs, oxygen is preserved and sent to vital organs. This is a mammalian evolution gift to human which they lose at about 14.
      I am not an atheist, but rather an anti-theist. We have made God into our image and likeness, defined his qualities and it’s just not so.
      There is no reason available to reason and knowledge to assume that God is an all powerful, omnipotent, merciful being when children, legions of children, who have no will, no ability to communicate, no ability to move and suffer intractable pain each day until their spirit is broken. Something is wrong with our conception of this deity, the ultimate contradiction. Good beings do not allow innocents to suffer and die daily.
      Theodicy allows us to protest God, to get angry with Him. Scribed on the wall of a concentration camp during the Shoah is a phrase: “If there is a God, He will have to beg me to forgive Him!” There is no human action which is completely moral and kind which is dependent upon belief or faith…we have the capacity to be good and worthy without the intervention of the Other. I do not have faith nor belief, but I do have my reason and knowledge to do what is right. I believe there is a Source but totally leaves us on our own, without help….we do or we die internally…..
      Again your response was profoundly kind; we live on differing planes and that is OK…I question all and that sustains me. Thanks.

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