Train Your Stress

A personal plan to help you harness the productive power of stress.

“You need stress in your life!” That is what the National Institute of Mental Health says. “Without stress, life would be dull and unexciting. Stress adds flavor, challenge and opportunity to life. Too much stress, however, can seriously affect your physical and mental well-being. A major challenge in this stress-filled world of today is to make the stress in your life work for you instead of against you.”

Are you up for the challenge?

Violins and Concrete

Think of yourself as a violin. When there’s not enough stress applied to a violin string, it produces a dull, raspy sound. Too much stress makes a shrill, annoying noise, or causes the string to snap. However, just the right amount of stress creates splendid tones.

Not a violinist? Perhaps you’re the concrete type. Hoover Dam, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, was finished in 1935. As its builders knew, concrete gets stronger when it is compressed—when stress is added. To exploit this, engineers designed the dam so the weight of the water behind it presses against the dam wall, sealing the joints and making it stronger. Stress can actually strengthen!

According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Good Medicine, “Stress is the body’s normal response to anything that disturbs its natural physical, emotional or mental balance.” The entry goes on to say that stress is a natural phenomenon of living. If it’s so normal and natural, then why does it frustrate, confuse, agitate and demoralize? The answer lies simply in how well (or not so well) we control stress in our lives!

Notice the irony: Today we find ourselves living in a fast-paced, push-button society of conveniences. Leisure-supporting lifestyles cater to comfort and often reject anything over-challenging or demanding. In truth, this kind of environment is fertile ground for out-of-control stress. Using shallow human reasoning, one might carelessly assume that this life of ease could and would produce happiness free of worry and harmful stress. If so, why is 16 percent of the U.S. population on Prozac or some other form of depression medication?

With so much “self” in society today, it’s tragic that the most important “self,” that of self-control, is rarely found.

The Stress Test

Stress can be simply defined as a non-specific response to events or situations. It’s how we react physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to what’s going on around us.

There are basically two kinds of stress: positive stress—the constructive kind that pushes us to perform at our very best, and negative stress, also known as hyperstress—the destructive kind that harms others or us physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

The bottom line: Negative stress occurs when we feel out of control of our own lives.

Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms commonly associated with stress?

  • Physical: Tension, fatigue, stomach problems or shakes
  • Mental: Forgetfulness, poor concentration, low productivity, racing thoughts or boredom
  • Emotional: Anxiety, depression, mood swings, temper outbursts or suicidal thoughts
  • Spiritual: Emptiness, hopelessness, lack of purpose or faithlessness
  • That is not to say stress is the only cause for these symptoms, but in many people, it is a major contributor. If you are able to relate to some of the above symptoms, you’re not alone.

    Far too often, we allow stress to upset our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual balance. When this imbalance occurs, our nervous system generates a coordinated set of physical actions in our body such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing and sweating. These responses are chemically produced by a substance called adrenaline. Adrenaline shoots out of your adrenal glands on a signal from the brain, and when this happens, you experience what is popularly known as the “flight or fight” response.

    The major negative effects of stress occur when an individual does not “fight” or “fly.” In this instance, the chemicals produced by adrenaline are not used up, and you stay in high gear longer than you should. This usually culminates in a negative or destructive result.

    This trouble can be avoided if you know how to channel your stress properly. Even Hoover Dam knows this. The maximum water pressure at the base of the dam is 45,000 pounds per square foot, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Imagine 45,000 pounds pushing against one square foot of your body or mind! Something has to give! Hoover Dam knows “when to say when”: It releases between 52,000 and 299,000 gallons of water a day. That water is put to productive use by cities and counties down river.

    How we react to and channel stress is the key. At this critical point, one decides which way to channel the stress—in a positive direction or a negative one.

    Renegade stress is a big cause for abusive relationships, unstable homes and broken families. To deal with their bouts of stress, many people seek the mind-numbing effects of alcohol, drugs and other faulty “solutions”—but these only further compound these out-of-control problems.

    Is there a lasting solution, a workable, tangible way to proactively handle and channel stress? Let’s explore some constructive ways to handle and manage stress—ways that will make stress work for you rather than against you.

    The Most Vital Element

    In order to completely overcome the most destructive stress and to gain control of your life spiritually, you must learn how by reading and applying the directions in mankind’s personal operator’s manual: the Holy Bible.

    Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (New King James Version). How many “good words” do you have in your life, to help you maintain a positive, constructive, optimistic mindset?

    As much as possible, surround yourself with those who will positively support you as you work through your challenge. It really helps a great deal to regularly give and receive words of help, encouragement and support.

    The true solution lies within one’s approach to life. Herbert W. Armstrong described it as two basic ways of life: 1) the give way or 2) the get way. Which type of person do you think takes control of stress, and which type allows stress to control him?

    In Acts 20:35, Jesus Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Here’s the key! Our human nature tends to think only of self and self’s desires. This selfish lifestyle is consumed with self-pity and a “why is this happening to me?” attitude. Harmful, negative, destructive stress could be eradicated from this world if we would follow this basic, timeless principle, spoken nearly 2,000 years ago: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

    One of the world’s foremost authorities on stress, endocrinologist Hans Selye, acknowledged this fact by saying, “If everyone loved his neighbor as himself, how could there be any war, crime, aggression or even tension among people?”

    Is it difficult to figure out where the root cause of harmful stress originates? It shouldn’t be! Our own human nature and its self-serving tendencies is the culprit that leaves us empty, anxious and frustrated.

    Don’t be a victim of stress! If you want to gain more out of life, then put more into it—and for that matter, put more into others. Learn how to harness the power of stress and channel that energy into a productive way of life. Take control of it and learn how to live a life of giving and service. Do this and you will soon eliminate destructive stress from your life. Then you can, as the Apostle Paul put it, “Be anxious for nothing … and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

    You have a choice. You can let stress control you and wreck your health, or you can use it to successfully meet the challenges you are sure to face. Will you control stress, or will stress control you? The choice is yours!

    Sidebar: Your Personal Plan

  • Learn how to relax: Slow down and stop to smell the roses.
  • Exercise regularly: It’s a refreshing and constructive release valve for tension buildup.
  • Improve health: A healthy body promotes a healthy mind.
  • Avoid destructive entertainment: No hopeless music, derogatory humor, or senseless movies.
  • Get another perspective: Talk about stress with a family member, close friend or minister.
  • Know your limits: Don’t try to control what you don’t have control over.
  • Schedule “play time”: Balanced living includes constructive recreation.
  • Be involved: Be a player, not a spectator, in school, community, church activities.
  • Manage your time: “Do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of,” Ben Franklin said.
  • See humor in life: Don’t take yourself or situations overly seriously.
  • Acquire a hobby: It gives you a constructive outlet for your thoughts and energies.
  • Listen to soothing music: This induces a peaceful environment for reflection and meditation.
  • Put this list into practice regularly. Then, whatever comes your way, you will be able to control your stress and use it to your advantage in a positive way. Extremely successful people approach their challenges and difficulties from a can do frame of mind.