by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC, Mental Health Coach,
CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries
While a spiritual solution is important, there are also mental and physical solutions that can make us proactive in both reducing and managing stress. For example, as we understand how the body’s natural fight-or-flight response system operates, we can better cope with stress. Emotional intelligence allows us to use and manage our emotions in positive and constructive ways. Self-evaluation can help us become aware of when we are feeling tense, on edge, and stressed out. Self-awareness enables us to recognize the impact our emotions and actions have on a situation. Knowing ways that help the body relax and calm down can help lower stress and be more effective for finding solutions to our stressors. Let’s look at these in more detail.
The Fight or Flight Response System
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, whether real or imaginary, will initiate our “fight or flight” response system and create a greater sense of anxiety. The purpose of this system is to trigger the release of hormones that will prepare your body to either stay and fight the threat or to run away from it and find safety. It prepares your body to respond to the danger.
In Genesis 3, at the fall of man, Satan deceived Eve and created distrust. Through his wiles and schemes, he seduced Adam and Eve away from trusting God – the most wonderful, loving, giving, caring, sensitive, helpful being who created them. Believe it or not, Satan convinced them that God could not be trusted, and our world has not been the same since. As a result, distrust is born and it is impossible for there to be both distrust and faith at the same time. When distrust creeps in, so does fear anxiety, and depression. We instantly feel as if our personal safety is at risk and the “fight or flight response system kicks in.
The Body’s response to the fight or flight response system
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. Your 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. Additionally, 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 its pre-threat state.
We all know of a time in our lives when we let our emotions get the best of us. They can override our objective mind, make mountains out of molehills, and make the possible impossible. Our emotions can influence our personal lives, our relationships, or careers, our families, friends, and our ministries. When our thought processes and emotions become irrational, they become an obstacle that creates stress.
Emotional intelligence is a term used to refer to the ability one has to identify and manage his or her own emotions, as well as recognizing the emotions of others. It includes a sense of emotional awareness that allows someone to identify and name their own emotions. In other words, they can identify they are angry, sad, depressed, frustrated, happy, ecstatic, etc. However, being able to put a name to emotions isn’t enough. One must also be able to harness these emotions and apply them to tasks such as problem solving.
Finally, emotional intelligence includes managing emotions so that a person can regulate those emotions when necessary for themselves or to have the ability to cheer up or calm down someone else. A person that has a strong emotional intelligence would be better equipped to handle stress because such a person would be able to notice when they are becoming stressed and begin to calm themselves before they react to the stress at an unmanageable level. Additionally, the empathy and social skills of someone with a well-develop emotional intelligence would be more effective in both expressing themselves and avoiding saying something that might create a stressful or hurtful situation.
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. Boundaries are important and we must learn to set and adhere to boundaries in our time management, relationships, finances, tasks, and every part of life.
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 can accomplish when we give it our all. But they can also be stressors as we navigate through the challenges.
Self-evaluation helps us recognize what our natural coping skills are and determine whether they are positive or negative coping skills. Any time we complete a self-evaluation, we are looking at the progress, development, and learning that has taken place in a certain situation and deciding what has improved and what areas still need growth.
Our self-talk plays a big role in this. Often, we set ourselves up for failure as soon as stress hits us 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? What do you typically tell yourself when faced with stress?
Self-awareness enables us to understand ourselves and what drives our needs, feelings, and habits. It helps us figure out what is behind our emotions and identify their root cause. Psalm 139:14 says, “I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” Each one of us is a unique artwork, created by God. Because of that uniqueness we can’t look to how others respond to stress and life. We need to understand how we uniquely respond to it. We can start with asking, “Why do I feel this way?”
Whenever we begin to explore our self-awareness, a good place to start is keeping a journal on what you are trying to learn about yourself. By keeping a journal about the areas that cause you stress you can identify reoccurring stressors in your life and the way you currently deal with them. You can then evaluate if the way you deal with them is healthy or not.
To start your stress journal, write down each time you feel stress and then look for patterns or common themes. Each time you feel stressed, write down what caused the stress or if you are having trouble identifying the stressor, make a guess. You can correct it later if you need to.
Underneath the stressor, write about how you felt physically and emotionally. Then write about how you reacted to the stressor. Note if it was a healthy or unhealthy reaction. Next, write about what you did to make yourself feel better, which is your natural coping strategy. Was this healthy or not, and why? Now, plan for the next time you experience this stressor. Lastly, spend some time in God’s Word and find a Bible verse that you can begin to memorize that relates to the stressor. Write the verse at the end of your journal page and begin memorizing now.
Here is a free template you can model in your journal:[Download not found]
Benefits to Journaling
The benefits to journaling your way to self-awareness include:
- finding new ways or better ways to deal with your stress
- being able to determine if a change in circumstances is needed
- being able to determine if your reaction to the stressor was positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy
- identifying unnecessary stress that you can eliminate from your life.
- discovering appropriate boundaries and personal limitations so you are better prepared to say “no” when necessary
- setting priorities that will help eliminate stress
- discovering and remembering God’s plan that will get you back on track to what He’s called you to do.
- Identifying people that causes us stress
Understanding the flight-or-fight response, emotional intelligence, self-evaluation, and self-awareness is the first step to finding solutions to what stresses us. People, our environment, busy schedules, circumstances, personal differences and priorities bring stress.
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Satan is constantly trying to trip us up and he doesn’t even play fair because he uses our own desires as bait to get us to sin. James tells us the five steps that lead us down the path to sin in James 1:14-15, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This download helps you identify your desires so that you can better recognize when Satan is baiting you and you can avoid falling into sin. When used along with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to identify the desires that Satan baits you with, you can then ask the Holy Spirit to help you not become a victim to the bait of your desires. Download the worksheet today.[Download not found]
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