When I went through that period of poor health after the birth of our second son, one of the contributors to my exhaustion was stress. Mantle was in his third year of seminary, my oldest son was an active 5 year old, we had little money, and I didn’t have much help with the boys since family did not live nearby. At that time, I was also not living by these 10 Essentials, so my thinking was not very Biblical during this time, and I was struggling to forgive certain people in my life. Though some of my stress was certainly due to physical issues, a large part of it was from my sinful thinking (Essential 5).
Stress seems to be a 21st century epidemic. While we thankfully do not have to worry about the diseases that people several hundred years ago had to deal with (the bubonic plague, small pox, cholera, etc.) thanks to modern medicine, we do have to deal with the constant, everyday stresses. God created us with a fight-or-flight mode with which to detect life-threatening danger and determine whether we need to stay and fight for our lives or run for our lives. When faced with life-threatening danger, adrenaline begins pumping throughout our body and cortisol is quickly released from our adrenal glands. Typically in these situations, people are able to do great physical feats that they would not be able to do under normal, resting conditions (like run quickly, lift very heavy objects, etc.). However, what happens when we are in a traffic jam, or we have an argument with a loved one or we’re running late to an important event? Adrenaline is being released and cortisol is being raised in our bodies, and though there is nothing threatening our life at that moment, our bodies are still responding as if there were. Over time, this begins to wear on our bodies, causing inflammation, extreme fatigue, and various aches and pains. Because our adrenal glands have constantly been producing cortisol (when we really don’t need it), our reserves run low and there’s not enough left for when we really do need it!
So, what’s a gal to do? One of the best strategies I have found for keeping our cortisol levels in check, is to learn to de-stress. We as women are really good at multi-tasking and trying to do too many things at one time. We have a hard time saying, “No.” We’re also really good at making “mountains out of mole-hills”, and that’s a surefire way to get stressed out over little things, producing that fight or flight response when we really don’t need it. Remember, every time you get upset about that snide comment your friend made, the traffic jam you’re sitting in because you’re running late, or the mess your toddler just made in the room you just cleaned, your body actually thinks its being attacked and is going into survival mode! How can you tell? Check for these signs next time minor annoyances are starting to get to you:
- Increased heart rate/pounding chest
- Shortness of breath
- Tightened jaw
- Tense neck and shoulders
- Sweaty palms or underarms
So, in these everyday instances, ask yourself, “is it worth my health to get upset over this?” More than likely the answer is “no.” Learn to let go of these everyday issues, and hand them over to the Lord in prayer. If you’re already working on Essentials 1-5, this will be much easier for you to do. Letting things go and not getting stressed out over every little annoyance will come easily if you are not living in anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness. The most stressed out people tend to be the ones who are angry, bitter, and have refused to forgive. Just look at some of the ways refusing to repent of these sins can cause stress in our bodies:
- Heart and Vascular problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Skin Conditions
- Pain and inflammation
- Impaired Immune System
Sin is serious and can have damaging consequences in our bodies. So, I encourage you to really focus on the first 5 Essentials so you can more easily learn to de-stress during the everyday problems you will inevitably encounter.
In addition to these, eating right, and exercising, there are plenty of ways you can de-stress everyday. Make these a priority as they will help to calm your nerves, balance your cortisol levels, and keep you balanced and healthy. Here are some ideas:
- Pray about it!
- Take a candlelit bubble bath with essential oils of lavender or peppermint
- Curl up with a good book or magazine and hot cup of herbal tea
- Have coffee with an encouraging girlfriend
- Try 10 minutes of fast-paced, aerobic exercise (anything over 30 is when it starts to be counterproductive to the adrenal glands)
- Give yourself a facial
- Stretching or yoga DVD
- Sing along to your favorite hymn or worship CD
- Take a power nap
Hopefully these ideas have inspired you to create your own De-Stress List. Keep it handy so you can quickly refer to it when you’re tempted to stress out. Check out my Eliminate Stress section for more ideas, and articles on stress as well as supplements that are specifically formulated to help you deal with the physical effects of stress.