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Self Care: Part 9 – Perception of Stress

by Julia Bruce

part 9 graphic

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed
by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern
what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

— Romans 12:2

Now that you understand eustress and distress, you need to understand your stressors. The more you understand your stressors, the better you will be able to management them. This means you need to understand how you perceive the stressor.

The most important perception to any stress is on a spiritual level. When we look at 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul writes: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.” Because God loves us and He is faithful, God will give us the grace we need to overcome any situation. We need to first seek God and His wisdom. We need to ask for His grace for the situation. We can ask Him to show us the skills and abilities He has given us to handle the situation. We need to ask Him about what He is trying to teach us in the situation. How might He be trying to grow us through it or teach us something new about Himself? We need to ask ourselves how much do we trust God to help us overcome, work through, and give us the grace to endure.

While there is the spiritual level of how we perceive stress, there is also the psychological level. Here our mind will determine if the stress is a threat or a challenge? We typically react to a stressor that is threat in a different way than one that is a challenge. Threats tend to elicit a greater stress response from us and create greater levels of anxiety. Stressors that are perceived as a threat will initiate our “fight or flight” response system and create a greater sense of anxiety. This response system was so named because when we have a perceived threat, the threat will trigger the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with the threat or to flee to a safe place. It prepares your body to respond to the danger. When this happens, your heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and breathing becomes faster. Your body becomes tense, ready to take immediate action. The increased heart rate and breathing rate gives you energy and oxygen. You skin will become pale or flushed as blood flow to the surface areas of the body is reduced so that more blood flow is sent to your muscles, brain, legs, and arms. Your body also increases its ability to clot blood to prevent excess blood loss. Your pupils will dilate so that you can be more aware and observant of your surroundings while also allowing more light into your eyes giving you better vision. As your muscles prepare for action, they will become tense which can result in trembling or shaking.

Your fight or flight response system can be activated by any real or perceived threat. For eustress, this system will help you perform better. For distress, it can help you survive. When this response becomes severe, it leads to panic attacks. However, once activated, it can take anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes after the threat is gone for your body to return to the pre-threat state.

While threats can be scary, challenges can be exciting opportunities to prove ourselves. Challenges can be enjoyable to overcome. They can be opportunities to learn just what we are capable of accomplishing when we give it our all. While some threats are very real, there are times in our lives where a change in perspective can help us better cope with stress. Our self-talk plays a big role in this. Often we set ourselves up for failure before we even try simply by what we tell ourselves about the stressor. We can tell ourselves how bad, scary, impossible, and horrible something is or we can tell ourselves that through the power of God’s help we can overcome. When you are faced with stress what is your typical self-talk? Take a moment to identify what your personal self-talk looks like when faced with stress.

Not only do we need to change our self-talk, but we can also focus the resources we have to the challenges we face. For every challenge, we can listen to the self-talk that tells us all the ways something can possibly go wrong or we take inventory of the resources we have been given (such as friends, abilities, talents, family) to find ways to overcome the challenge. When we change our focus to see stress as a challenge when it is possible to do so, the energy we gain from eustress can help us better handle distress.

Lastly, we need to have an understanding that too many challenges, whether they are eustress or distress, can lead to chronic stress, which then leads to burnout. It becomes important for us to self-evaluate and know what our own limitations are and how to create a healthy balance. As people in ministry, this begins with prayer and seeking God’s will. If something is not His will or part of His plan for our life or the ministry He has called us to, then there needs to be some pruning that takes place and cut out the obligations you’ve committed to are outside His will and plan. Learn to become comfortable with saying “no” to any activity that does not align with God’s plan. Then you will have more time and energy to focus on His perfect plan for you and the ministry He has called you to.

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