If so, you’re not the only one. Doctors tell us that a significant portion of illness is brought on by stress.
I run into people everyday who are overwhelmed by schedules, relationships, finances, job demands and any number of other pressures. It fascinates me, however, that I also run into people everyday who are facing those same kinds of circumstantial demands yet somehow able to avoid high levels of stress.
I love the analogy of a roller coaster. Everyone on the ride is experiencing a very similar circumstance, but not everyone has the same experience. Some are overwhelmed and terrified, while others are having the time of their lives. The difference is determined by perspective. If I’m overwhelmed it can very often be because I’m choosing the wrong perspective.
“The roller coaster analogy is useful in explaining why the same stressor can differ so much for each of us. What distinguished the passengers in the back from those up front was the sense of control they had over the event. While neither group had any more or less control their perceptions and expectations were quite different. Many times we create our own stress because of faulty perceptions you can learn to correct.” – The American Institute of Stress http://www.stress.org/topic-definition-stress.htm
We create our own stress. How? By the perceptions we embrace. A helpful study from Weber State University demonstrates that a trait they call “hardiness” is plays a huge role in determining our stress levels within various circumstances. (see: http://faculty.weber.edu/molpin/healthclasses/1110/bookchapters/stresseffectschapter.htm for more on that study.)
Hardiness is defined by three characteristics.
Commitment – I am deeply engaged in my present involvements. We live in a culture where people are largely disengaged from their present reality. We spend our lives wishing we were somewhere else and escaping to some other place. A man on the job wishes he was on the golf course. A man on the golf course is distracted by the unfinished to-do list at work. A stay-at-home mom fantasizes about returning to her career and escaping the demands of screaming babies. A corporate executive fantasizes about being able to stay at home and be with her kids. Our unwillingness to commit our full presence and engagement to our present circumstance sets us up to experience stress, no matter our circumstance. The underlying assumption of this perspective is that we are victims. We are powerless. We have to do this but long to be free to do otherwise. The answer to this is rarely to change your circumstances. The stress isn’t coming from the circumstance. It’s coming from your belief that you aren’t in control. That you HAVE TO be here and can’t be elsewhere. It comes from feeling out of control. Don’t change your circumstance. Commit. Engage. Be fully present. Take dominion where you are. Choose it. It’s what you were made for.
Control – I believe my choices will influence outcomes. Stress increases when my options are removed. I do this to myself simply by believing I have no options, that my capacity to choose is irrelevant. But this belief is itself a choice, one that is actually influencing my present experience of stress a great deal. The reality is that much of my present reality is simply the result of a long series of choices I have made–choices about beliefs, perspectives, and circumstances. I am responsible. My choices have produced the current state of affairs. I am powerful. Of course, things do happen that are beyond my control–bad things, terrible things, even evil things. But I still have a choice regarding my response, my outlook, my attitude, and my ultimate source. No one can take that choice from me. No one. When I choose to believe that I don’t have these options or that choosing them won’t matter I increase my experience of stress.
Challenge – I believe that life will require me to change allowing for growth. What I expect matters. If I’m moving forward into life expecting I won’t have to change or grow, I’m setting myself of for unmet expectations. I’m setting myself up for stress. If my present circumstances are pressing me to adapt and grow, and they always are, then my expectation will determine much regarding how I will experience this challenge. If I am anticipating the challenge, I can lean into the change and growth demanded. I can choose it. I can embrace it. On the other hand, if I am anticipating ease and comfort, I will be taken by surprise when life becomes difficult and I will resist internal change and growth, requiring my circumstances to change instead of me. More stress.
When I choose to inwardly disengage from my present reality, believe that I’m powerless within my present circumstance, and react with surprise when life demands change and growth, then I’m setting myself to be miserable on the roller coaster that is life.
I was made to take dominion not to be a victim.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion..’” (Genesis 1:26a, ESV)