One of the most harmful social and health crises facing the world today is the widespread epidemic of drug and alcohol abuse. Each year, millions are dragged into the mire of substance abuse, leading to illness, lost productivity, and often crime and death.
In 2002, in the U.S. alone, an estimated 22 million citizens suffered from substance dependence or abuse due to drugs, alcohol or both, according to a household survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services (Sept. 5, 2003).
Alcohol abuse, and the use of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and “designer drugs” (including prescription drugs), has raged through other Western nations as well. At the same time, developing nations are paying tremendous social and economic costs due to the scourge of substance use and misuse.
Tens of millions of people crave addictive agents to cope with miseries and problems, to escape boredom, or to find excitement. One of the chief causes of this growing problem is intense tension, or hyperstress.
And it is simple to understand why. Look at the world and what do we see? Chaos! There is war, strife and violence in parts of Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, Ireland and the Middle East. Inner city tensions fuel crime in Britain, Europe and North America. Violence, sickness, disease, inequality, poverty, filth, squalor, degeneration, suffering, economic uncertainty, interpersonal conflicts, a gnawing sense of helplessness—these infest all nations and billions of people to one degree or another. Added to this is the fear factor of a world living under threat of the modern terrorist.
Increasingly, people are seeking to escape the reality of these problems—and to ease the pain of continual anxiety or stress—by using potent pills, mind-altering powders or chemicals. “Something is missing in the cultures, values and knowledge of all nations today. Instead of being taught to look for and deal with true causes of human problems, millions have been educated—literally conditioned by their cultures—to look to drugs and chemicals to solve almost every problem” (Plain Truth, May 1982). Twenty years on from this assessment, the situation has only escalated to new levels of escapism.
Medical drugs and painkillers are not the solution to personal and emotional problems. Rather, they usually offer only a temporary respite from stress. If used constantly, they can lead to serious, sometimes irreparable, damage—mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. They always have side effects—sometimes deadly!
The fact is, we all face a certain amount of stress. The key to dealing with it is not to avoid the stress through drugs or alcohol or any other escapist device, but to tackle the stress head-on and learn how to manage our stress levels.
To do this, we need to first of all realize that not all stress is bad. Second, we need to understand that we as individuals largely determine our personal stress level by how wereact to the pressures and stimuli around us. How we react is controlled by our mind and emotions. Stress and emotional stability are directly connected.
Many successful people, who have lived long and productive lives, have thrived on stress. A proper amount of stress can motivate us to perform at our very best. Athletes use it at the start of a race or competition; many Olympic gold medals have been won by those who strained their bodies to the peak of endurance. Inventors and artists have achieved their greatest feats during periods of tension. In fact, it is only by working through periods of great stress and anxiety that nations have been born.
Stress also serves to protect us in dangerous circumstances. Many are familiar with the “fight or flight” impulse shared by humans and animals alike: When one is faced with a crisis or emergency, the intense stress causes a person to either flee the situation or deal with it. Extreme calamity or emergency can inspire almost superhuman strength and power as adrenal glands pump extra adrenaline into the bloodstream, causing the brain, heart and muscular system to react nearly instantaneously.
It is when the crises and stresses around us begin to bombard us incessantly, placing a heavy demand upon our inner resources and emotions, that the pressure and stress can virtually incapacitate us. Hyperstress, or even a normal amount of stress ineffectively managed, simply places too many demands on the body, which cannot then cope.
So today, an increasing number of people, young and old, are turning to alcohol, tranquilizers, amphetamines and street drugs to numb the emotional fatigue or mental illness brought about by excessive anxiety and stress.
Failing to see the fruitlessness of these addictions to effectively manage their stress, users often experience further stresses that come with drug or excessive alcohol usage. At this point, it can be easy for users to fall into a quickening cycle that may end in catastrophe.
To avoid the temptation to turn to drugs or alcohol in dealing with stress, we must understand certain techniques that will help us effectively manage personal stress:
1. Learn to Live With Stress
We can’t possibly avoid all stress. It is a natural part of living in this 21st century. We simply need to learn how much we can handle and take steps to avoid excessive stress.
Negative stress burns up needed energy and causes fatigue. Poor health on top of excessive stress can drag one down into the depths of mental and emotional despair and can amplify life’s smaller problems and irritations.
Improving our general physical health boosts our stress capacity. Moderate exercise relieves tension and builds stamina. Renowned stress expert Dr. Hans Selye found that underexercised mice withstood stress far worse than those in peak physical condition. The same is true with us: A healthy, physically fit person can handle a substantial amount of pressure. Such a person is more adaptable to change and generally possesses a positive and hopeful outlook.
In the interest of improving your general health so that you may better manage stress, consider the seven basic laws of radiant health: 1) Eating the correct foods, 2) cleanliness and personal hygiene, 3) sunshine and fresh air, 4) proper exercise, 5) the right amount of sleep and rest, 6) avoiding bodily injury, and 7) maintaining a tranquil mind and developing self control.
The last law is vital: We all need “quiet time” when the tensions of life build up. A healthy diversion—a change of pace or scenery—is often invaluable.
Meditation and prayer in a private place are highly recommended in the Bible to help develop self-control and peace of mind (Ps. 63:5-6).
One way to relax and sooth rattled nerves is to listen to inspiring music. (Realize that loud rock music or rap should be avoided; it will only increase negative tension.) Consider reading an uplifting book, watching an inspirational film or documentary, playing sports with friends or family, or taking a trip to a park or an area of natural beauty where you can observe God’s “great outdoors.” Take an annual vacation. Some use hobbies as a form of quiet diversion away from people and problems.
Strive to do all things in moderation and balance, not going to extremes in relaxing (to the point of laziness) or working (to the point of becoming a workaholic).
In contemplating a situation or issue, ask yourself, What is the worst possible scenario that could happen? Upon answering that question, accept that scenario as a possibility. If it is particularly terrible, you can even pray for the ability to accept that it could occur. Once you have done this, everything else that might occur will seem entirely positive!
2. Be Positive
Establishing a right mental outlook can prevent and even alleviate certain physical maladies caused or aggravated by stress and negative thinking.
Learning to think properly is a key to mental and emotional stability. As the Apostle Paul said, “[W]hatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
In a world where the prevalent attitude among people is “me first,” strive to develop an outgoing, helpful concern for others. Don’t criticize or gossip, or try to drag them down so you can get ahead. Instead, focus your mind on their good qualities. It will go a long way toward alleviating stress.
Few of us have issues or stresses that have not been experienced by others. Talk to people about your dilemma. Seek help. Offer your assistance to others. This will most often mean just providing an empathetic ear to other people. Seeing our problems in the context of the trials and tribulations of other people can be quite humbling and can quickly put our problems into a proper perspective.
Learning the basic skills of getting along with others will also reduce stressful living. Strive to become a “people person”—go out of your way to practice acts of kindness toward others. Be patient and tolerant. Expect unexpected situations to arise. Don’t lose your cool—anger only adds to your stress and the stress load of those around you (though, of course, there is a time to speak out in righteous indignation).
Dr. Selye says negative feelings “include hatred, distress, disdain, hostility, jealousy and the urge for revenge, in short every drive likely to endanger your security by inciting aggressiveness in others who are afraid that you may cause them harm.” Positive feelings, on the other hand, include “gratitude, respect, trust, and admiration for the excellence of outstanding achievements, all of which add up to goodwill and friendship” (Stress Without Distress).
The Bible concurs. Good emotions are beneficial to the body and mind, but negative thinking and a depressed attitude can hinder normal healthy functioning. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Prov. 17:22; see also Prov. 15:13).
3. Be Realistic
We live in a negative, stress-filled world. We know we will have disappointments in life from time to time. None of us can have smooth sailing 100 percent of the time.
Stressed people don’t accept this simple fact. They tend to mentally magnify their problems out of proportion—making mountains out of molehills. They become so wrapped up in their problems and difficulties (real or imagined), they become almost immobilized.
Don’t dwell on past mistakes and failures. We all have regrets. Learn from them and move on. Don’t wallow in self-pity; for if you do, you’ll remain in a stressful situation.
Some situations are beyond our control. We have to accept them. Why continue to slog away in a no-win situation? Instead, act where possible, but also realize and accept limitations when and where they exist.
Become more goal-oriented; realize there are steps you can take to manage your time more effectively. If you’re losing sleep or stressing because there is not enough time in the day, take steps to plan your time effectively. Buy a day planner and use it. Before you go to bed at night, plan your next day. On a Sunday, when perhaps you have a little more time, take a few moments to plan the week. When planning, prioritize your activities, ensuring the most important come first. Strive for balance between work, family and personal recreation. Too much time spent in any one of these sectors of life can lead to stress and anxiety in the other areas. Too much work will lead to family problems. Too much recreation can lead to problems at work and at home. Aim for balance. When possible, plan ahead in order to avoid any last-minute scrambling and the associated stress. Begin work on new job projects and assignments as soon as you receive them, avoiding the habit of leaving them to the last minute.
Whether we like it or not, our lives are stressful. We must learn to see this in a positive light. Simply think positive!
The summer of 1776 was a stressful period for many leading American politicians, especially Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But what was the end product of all the stress? An independent America! A few years later, the United States Constitution was born out of intense stress and concern. Very rarely do great things happen without some associated stress.
There is no need to avoid all stress in our lives. We simply need to learn how to effectively manage it—even causing it to work for us.
Next time you are faced with a stressful situation or issue, strive to remove any temptation to turn to drugs or alcohol. That’s pure escapism. Face up to life and remember the techniques on managing stress covered in this article. Accept stress as a fact of life. Learn to live with it. Develop a positive mental attitude; strive to focus your mind on others instead of yourself; be realistic and develop a game plan to cope with stress. Remember the lessons from the man who underwent more stress than any other human—Jesus Christ.
The greatest time of stress in man’s history is soon coming upon this world in the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21-22). But out of this intense stress, the greatest occasion this world has ever witnessed will be born—the return of Jesus Christ to this Earth to eliminate all negative stress at its source!