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Self-Care, Part 6: Is All Stress Bad?

by Julia Bruce

part 6 graphic

 “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience
various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces
endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you
may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”  —
James 1:2-4 (HCSB)

In Part 5 of the Self-Care series, you were asked to make a list of stressors in your life and analyze it. (If you have not read parts 1-5, you may want to go back and start with the first blog in the series, or at least begin with part 5.) After reviewing your list, would you say that all stress is bad? Using a red pen, circle any of the stressors in your life that would be “bad” stress. Do you have any stressors that you would consider “good”? If you think any of your stressors are “good” draw a green box around them. Often we think of stress in negative terms. However, there is both good and bad stress.

Good stress, known as eustress, includes positive forms of stress that can bring about beneficial effects on one’s health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being. It will motivate a person and help them focus their energy so they can persevere and continue working. It’s the kind of stress that helps people meet deadlines and improves their performance. Typically, we feel like this kind of stressor is something within our perceived coping abilities. It feels exciting and makes life interesting. You probably have experienced eustress if you have ever ridden a roller-coaster. Or think about how you felt on a first date or starting a new job. What did it feel like to get a promotion? Other examples of eustress can include getting married, buying a home, moving, having a child, taking a vacation, holiday seasons, retiring, or learning a new hobby. That little bit of anxiety mixed in with excitement is what eustress feels like.

Truthfully, without events in our lives that bring eustress, life would be pretty boring, routine, and lacking in excitement. Without eustress, it would be very difficult for us to be motivated to accomplish the plans that God has for our lives. Therefore, eustress is a gift from God that gives us what we need to reach goals, overcome hurdles and barriers. It gives us a reason to wake up each morning ready to face the challenges of the day and tackle whatever God has in mind for us.

Even though eustress can be good for us, keep us motivated, happy, and healthy, too much of any good thing has the potential of becoming a bad thing. Too much eustress can cause overload and then it can turn to bad stress. Our bodies need time between the exciting and fun things in life to rest in a relaxed state. It is important for us to maintain a healthy balance of excitement and rest. Take a moment, write some descriptive words for how you feel in those moments of eustress.

Now imagine if you constantly stayed at that level of emotion every moment of your life. Would you be able to sleep? Would you be able to concentrate on work? Would you be able to meditate on God’s Word? Would you be able to focus on prayer? Would you be able to have a meaningful conversation with a spouse or friend? If you constantly stayed at this heightened state of emotion, you would eventually feel like an overloaded fuse. This is why finding some quiet restful moments is important.

For a few moments, place yourself in the shoes of the disciples. Close your eyes and imagine standing next to Jesus as he did all the miracles. In your mind, see him heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. Watch him as he makes mud with his spit and place it on the eyes of a blind man and now he can see! See him teaching in a home and the roof opens up and a man on a pallet is lowered through the roof because he is lame and can’t get through the crowd to Jesus so he can be healed. Jesus has compassion on him and heals the man. See him restore hearing to the deaf. Visualize skin covered in leprosy instantly become healthy again. Can you see the excitement, awe, and wonder in the faces of the disciples? Now, let’s look at Mark 6 where Jesus commissioned the twelve and sent them out. Now they were not just excited observers. Verses 12-13 tells us, “So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they were driving out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil, and healing them.” (HCSB) If you were one of these disciples would you be feeling a little eustress when Jesus sent you out? Maybe excitement that you would get to heal people and do the miracles that Jesus did? But maybe that excitement might be mixed with a little anxiety as you wonder “what if this doesn’t work for me? What if I let Jesus down and I’m not able to heal like He did?” They had watched and observed the Master, but now it was their turn to make an impact in the name of Christ. If that were you, what would your thoughts be right about now? Take a moment to write those thoughts down.

In verse 30-31, we read, “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.’ For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” (HCSB) Jesus was God and in Psalm 121:4, we find that, “the Protector of Israel does not slumber or sleep.” (HCSB) However, while on earth the Son of God indwelled a human body and that body grew tired (John 4:6), just as we do. And even though the disciples were probably running on tanks full of excitement, he also knew they needed rest. He knew that they needed down time. And so, in verse 32, we find that Jesus and the disciples went away in a boat by themselves to a remote place. Aaahhh! Can you hear the tired sighs coming from the disciples? Can you hear them thinking, “Finally! Some rest.” Or – maybe not. As we keep reading we see that the crowd saw Jesus and the disciples leaving and they took off running on the land and they actually arrive at the quiet, desolate place meant for rest before them. Jesus, full of compassion stepped onto the shore and began teaching them. As it grew late, the disciples would witness yet another miracle – the feeding of the 5000. After that came Jesus walking on water. Then came more miraculous healings.

We find in the Bible that even the Son of God needed to have some “down time.” In both Mark 1:35 and Luke 6:12, we find Jesus retreating to a place to be alone. But what did he do there? He spent time in prayer. If the Son of God needed time alone with God, how much more do we? Yes, we need those moments of eustress to keep life exciting, to keep us motivated, and to help us achieve goals and overcome challenges. But those moments also need to be balanced with leisure and rest. If not, eustress crosses the line of our perceived coping abilities and turns into bad stress.


This blog is part 6 in a series. Be sure to begin with part 1.

Return on Monday, October 8th for Part 7 in the blog series on Self-Care.
Part 7: The Tension of Bad Stress

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