Tag Archives: Stress

Cumulative Stress…

A Modern-day and Ancient Concern

     The other day I ran into an acquaintance at the coffee shop. He told me about troublesome times he’s experiencing. His adult son has been struggling with cancer treatment for months. A little grandson was recently hospitalized with a severe infection that may require surgery. On top of all that, his elderly mother took a serious fall and is clinging to life by a fragile thread.

     A tinge of sadness was etched into his weary countenance, but In spite of his difficult circumstances, it was obvious this man’s faith is intact. Strength much greater than his sustains him.

     Following my last blog post on ‘soul care,’ I heard from a reader who said, “I’ve experienced so many frustrations in “2016” that, at times, left me questioning why do these things happen to good people…However, in my daily prayers (morning and night), I decided one day that all of this is “beyond my control” and I’m going to “submit” and put it into God’s hands and continue to have faith…I have to honestly tell you, from that day, the problems are still here, but I feel less frustrated and more at peace with God and others.”

     In spite of my friend’s difficult situation, strength much greater than hers brings peace.

     Both of these dear people are most likely dealing with what stress management “experts” call cumulative stress. When I first learned about cumulative stress, the picture that came to my mind was the block tower children construct. As I thought about tiny hands stacking one little wooden block on top of another, I envisioned each block represented a stressor. One block of stress piled upon another.

     Some children have better eye-hand coordination than others, and their block tower grows fairly high, but eventually, the tower topples, and blocks scatter every which way. Some adults manage stress more effectively than others, but eventually, the ‘soul’ says, “Okay, I’ve had enough.” (Perhaps you’ll recall from my last blog post John Ortberg’s definition of ‘soul’ as “the deepest part of you…a synonym for the person.”[1])

     Health, emotions, relationships, cognitive clarity and even a sense of spiritual well being are impacted when the cumulative-stress tower tumbles. During such times, our souls need to be cared for well in order to rejuvenate.

     One of the places we visited while in Israel was Mount Carmel. This lush, green area is the site of a Carmelite monastery. It was on this site that Elijah challenged 450 prophets of Baal to prove their god was more powerful than his God. The encounter ended poorly for Baal’s prophets, and as a result of Elijah’s daring faith, rain came, a terrible drought ended, and the faith of the Israelite people in the one true God was restored. (See story in 1 Kings 18)

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A stone statue on Mount Carmel depicting Elijah with sword drawn.

     I can only imagine the blocks of stress Elijah experienced during this time! In 1 Kings 19, we read about the impact Elijah’s cumulative stress had on the great prophet of God. But, when we read this remarkable account, we see that in spite of Elijah’s difficulties, he found strength much greater than his own.

     In my next blog post, we’ll look at how God—the same God who sustains my friends’ faith and peace—helped Elijah rally. The same stress-management remedies God provided for the Old Testament prophet continue to be applicable today.

     As I conclude this post, I’m praying for my two friends, and I’m also praying God will give you, Listening on YOUR Journey reader, strength for whatever stressors you are dealing with today…

Sue Reeve

  1. Soul Keeping, John Ortberg, Chapter 2, What is the Soul?

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Intercepting the ‘Craziness’

     When we last ‘chatted’ on May 12th, I told you about the opportunity I was given to speak to a group of women in early April about experiencing joy in ‘crazy’ seasons. I almost refused the invitation because initially my mind traveled to all the times my performance during stressful seasons has been pretty poor!

     But, then I was reminded that over the years, I’ve grown in this arena. My growth has occurred as a result of education and practice. I’ve learned more about and have incorporated stress management techniques during ‘crazy’ seasons. Also—and I believe more importantly—I’ve searched for what God has to say about ‘crazy’ seasons and have learned to grab hold of and cling to certain Scriptural truths during those times.

     A few years ago a song played on the radio that said, “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” The tune and lyrics were catchy, but people were also drawn to the truth in those words. Jesus spoke a similar message to his friends when he was preparing them for a future ‘crazy season.’

     Jesus said, I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT– emphasis mine). As I read these words, it feels like Jesus is sandwiching the promise of future trials and sorrows between the promises of peace and overcoming.

     We live in a ‘crazy,’ stress-filled world. We know it intellectually. We experience it daily. We watch it unfold in evening news reports. We manage and do what we can, but if we’re honest, we realize much of life occurs out of our control.

     What I’ve learned I can control is how I respond to that over which I have no control. Here are the top five stress-management insights and behaviors I’ve learned in the past few years that help me navigate ‘crazy’ seasons:

  1. Remind myself often that I cannot understand another person’s heart or motives and cannot change any person except me—not my husband, my daughters, my sons-in-law, my grandkids, my friends, my elderly mother nor any other person! I can share my experience or knowledge, make suggestions, help in ways I’m able and equipped, and care immensely, but nothing I do or say will change anyone’s perception.

  2. I can seek to love without strings attached. I can pray God will bless even those who get on my last nerve. I can trust God knows what I cannot know. The Spirit of God can change another person’s heart. God cares more than I ever can.

  3. Where confusion about politics or current happenings is concerned, my anger, worry and speculation are exercises in futility. If I allow, they can immobilize me and keep me from doing the good work God wants me to do. God knows what’s going on in the workplace, the church, community and world. My almost-daily prayer is that God will shine light on that which is truth and will send chaos and confusion into the ranks of those who are the enemies of truth. And, then, I let it go! I don’t speculate, diagnose motivation and rarely discuss anything of a political nature (Every ‘system’—family, workplace, organization, fellowship, municipality, and nation has its own set of politics.) with anyone other than my husband. I can show up, do the best job I can and at the right time, make a decision according to my conscience, understanding, ability and authority.

  4. I examine my ‘implied’ understandings. For instance, I’m a first-born. As a child, I was given kudos for being responsible, and through the years I developed an ‘implied’ understanding that it was my responsibility to plan and organize family events. There were times when I felt other’s resentments toward me, and I found that confusing because I knew my motivation was good. Finally, I realized that while my motives may be good, my behavior is actually unhealthy and often unwanted. No one ever assigned me that responsibility. I never signed a contract. I’d only assumed over many years I was doing what I was ‘supposed’ to do. Retiring from that ‘implied’ position has been oh, so liberating, more enjoyable, less work and less expensive.

  5. Finally, BREATH! Deep breathing exercises often save me from succumbing to stress, and there’s much scientific research to support its effectiveness. Recently, in a coaching course I took about learning and the brain, I discovered deep breathing actually intercepts the production of Cortisol, the stress-producing fight/flight/freeze chemical, which travels to our brains. If you Google “deep breathing,” you’ll find many techniques. The one I learned in my coaching class is now my favorite. To a slow count of six, inhale through the nose; hold to a mental count of six; exhale fully six staccato-type breaths through slightly pursed lips. Repeat 3-5 times. If I engage deep breathing immediately when I feel tension and stress begin to build, the results are amazing.

     Next time, I’ll give some tools to help you discover more about your stress. Until then…

Blessings on your journey of intercepting the ‘craziness!’

Sue Reeve

C:\Users\Sue\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\INetCache\Content.Outlook\U08VSMT7\04302016_4406-1.jpgI love the Ornamental Mountain Prairie Plum tree in our backyard. During summer, its branches provide shade from the hot sun. During autumn, we delight in its leaves that turn brilliant red. During winter, birds come and munch on the tiny plums. And, during springtime, the brilliant pink blossoms delight our senses. Focusing on the wonder of God’s magnificent creation is one way to intercept stress-filled ‘crazy’ seasons.