In one of my favorite episodes of “The West Wing”, President Bartlett is sitting with a psychiatrist and talking about lack of sleep. After a back-and-forth, Bartlett says, “Stress is for other people.”
Stress is for other people.
How many times a day do we feel the burden of stress? Whether it be money woes, family issues, grief from missing our loved ones, transitions in our lives…stress is an unwelcome passenger in that veritable clown-car of daily happenings. We must be the other people. We feel it. We carry it like a handbag, whether we like to admit it or not, and we rarely acknowledge it, as though ignoring stress would make it disappear. But there it is, the ever-willing and never-invited participant in our already full lives. Stress has become—for many people, if not all—part of our daily routine; grab the coffee, find your keys, pick up your to-do list and open the door for stress to follow you out into the world.
Let’s face it: Stress is something we all deal with. In one way or another our bodies react to the happenings around us and stress manifests in different ways. For some, it’s mental anxiety; for others, it’s bodily aches, pains, and illness. Sleepless nights, scrambled thoughts, and/or poor physical health can all become presents from our unseen companion. So how can we do better? How can we overcome stress and allow it to melt away?
I don’t have the answer to cure all stress, but I have a few thoughts on how to diminish the effects of it.
1. Sleep. Did you know that lack of sleep is one of the most often over-looked causes of stress? When we’re tired, we can’t think as clearly, work as efficiently, and care for ourselves or others nearly as well. Now, I know some of you are thinking, “duhhhhh,” but here’s the thing: There’s a difference between knowing something, and actually putting that knowledge to use. So, if you’re feeling a little stressed out, perhaps some sleep is in order. We’re all busy, and all of us have deadlines and tasks to meet, but making time to sleep is absolutely paramount for our well-being and for the mitigation of stress.
2. Prayer. I know, I know, I can see some of your eyes rolling. But prayer works. Prayer can be a moment wherein all the other ‘stuff’ rolling through your mind can take a backseat. Stopping for a few minutes every other hour and letting God know how thankful you are for your family/friends, your job, your significant other, pets, trees, the wind…anything for which you are thankful…can literally change your day. Sometimes I’m guilty of saying I’m too busy to pray, it happened yesterday; but I realized it and went a little while later. Praying is more than just taking time to ask God for stuff, it’s also a time to speak with God and lay some of our worries on the altar—altars are wherever we are when talking to God—and allowing a sense of grace to wash over us and offer respite.
3. Talk about it. Don’t think for a moment that feeling stressed makes you weak. Talking about things with other people helps. The conversation may not yield any solutions, but it will always, always, allow a little unburdening. There’s something holy about sharing ourselves with others; the stress begins to melt away a bit when we interact with each other. Part of being human is relying on other humans; talking about things always helps, even just brief conversations.
4. Allow your body some grace. Don’t overdo it, folks. If you need sleep, adjust your schedule. If you need food, eat. If you need to cry, well, watch Old Yeller or something. But listen to your body and keep it happy. The better we feel, the better we operate. Take it from someone who puts his head down and goes face-first, mouth-open through life; there’s no possible way to sustain a constant state of busy-ness…it will not end well for any of us.
5. Be good to yourself. You are created in God’s image, with love in mind. Sometimes our faith is deep and strong, sometimes it is tested by outside circumstances. In either space, or the space between, allow yourselves to feel God’s unending grace. There are times in our lives when we feel as though we’ll never get through, that our luck is just gone, and that the hurt/strain/stress/pain/hardships will never end. They will. Try to pick three things a day for which you are thankful, and concentrate on them. Try to remember to give yourself a break and know that not everything has to be done, today. And try to remind yourself that you are a beloved member of a beloved community full of people Just. Like. You. People who feel stress, who need love, and who are willing to love others.
This life is a gift. The presence of stress can belittle that gift and make it seem as though we’re just constantly at odds with the ‘next thing’. Take a breath. Exhale. And realize that you are worth so much more than what you accomplish or what’s on your to-do list. Let that companion of stress be replaced by a presence of grace. And let grace guide you through the rest of the week.