Adapting Stress Management to Your Natural Bent

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Have you ever wished that disability-accommodation laws provided better for people with emotional and autism disorders that make frustration (even) harder to bear? Wouldn’t it be nice to have special checkout lines that guaranteed exemption from long waits, special customer service connections that fixed every glitch within five minutes, special cars that flew over blocked traffic?

Okay, I’m being a dreamer, and perhaps belittling the role of hardship in nurturing Christian growth. But some of us do have lower stress-endurance levels than average, and while you don’t have the right to always get your own way because of that, neither should you berate yourself for not being able to take the same level of stress as the person in the next apartment/cubicle/pew.

If we believe in God’s grace to accept us despite our weaknesses, we should also accept ourselves and work with those weaknesses, not against them. Part of Christian responsibility is being good to ourselves so we’ll be in good condition to do good works.

If you want to minimize your stress to ensure maximum personal effectiveness, plan your day/week/career/long-term goals with the following questions in mind:

  • Have I had any meltdowns or near-meltdowns in the past six months? If so, consider the circumstances that led to the meltdown (not just the incident that set you off, but whether you were already overstimulated or, conversely, bored), and plan on avoiding those circumstances in the future. This may mean shortening your to-do list, leaving more margin between appointments, asking for work that’s more creative/stimulating, or staying out of gripe sessions and associating with cheerful people. Or it may mean modifying your own expectations: no improvement or adjustment will ever satisfy you if you cling to “I have to be perfect” or “everything has to go right” attitudes.
  • Am I an introvert or an extrovert? If an introvert, put at least two hours of “alone time” in your daily schedule–and try not to work in customer service. If you’re an extrovert, reenergize yourself daily through work and leisure activities that involve lots of stimulation and human contact.
  • Do I prefer working by the task or by the hour? Arrange your schedule to accommodate these tendencies. Even if you’re a by-the-task type working a fixed-hours job, you can take your breaks at natural stopping points. And few employers object to your staying fifteen minutes past quitting time to finish up a task!
  • Would I describe my temperament as melancholy, easygoing, get-things-done, or bright-and-sunny? If you have a low-key temperament, keep your tasks list small and slow–you’ll make up for a lack of quantity with an increase in quality. If you’re the driven, high-energy type, stimulate yourself with a long, challenging to-do list. Whatever your temperament, work with it instead of trying to force yourself into a mold that suits someone else (and feeling guilty when you just don’t fit). And never, ever nag a “weaker brother,” or anyone with a different temperament, to become more like you–that only leaves two people stressed, angry, and frustrated.

Finally, feel free to pick, choose, and test stress-management tips from the experts according to what appeals to you. Not everyone is made for aerobic exercise and yoga, hot baths and social activities, protein-rich meals and herbal tea. Above all else, don’t copy anyone else’s approach just because that “someone else” seems to have it all together: God created you as a unique individual with unique responses, and it will only increase your frustration if you expect any guarantee of becoming “just like” anyone else. Besides, most people have stress issues you can’t see. That acquaintance who “has it all together” may be falling apart inside–and perhaps needs support you can deliver once you calm down and rediscover your effectiveness.

COMING SOON! My new e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, will be released this spring. Join the 100 Ways email list for up-to-date news, special offers, and teaser optimism tips!

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When You’re at the End of Your Rope … Let Go!

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The classic advice to “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on” is useful to a point. The point being where you forget to consider whether this rope is worth hanging onto at all. If your determination not to let go is rooted in a demand to run your own life and not give up an inch of plans, possessions, or pride, you may simply be collecting enough rope to hang yourself.

The author of Psalm 46 had a better idea when he heeded God’s command to “Be still” (v. 10), even in the midst of external chaos. Stop rushing about and give your brain a chance to catch up. Calm down and remember Who’s really in charge of this world. And hear God telling you what the original audience for Psalm 46 would have heard in the original Hebrew: for them, the word translated “Be still” would have come with a clear sense of going limp, acknowledging their weakness, even giving up. Not giving up on hope or on God: giving up on themselves, on their presumed right to make their own decisions, on their attempts to win battles in their own strength. “Being still”–letting go–in this sense means remembering that when we succeed, we succeed not with “a little help” from God, but entirely in His strength.

That’s good news when we wonder if we have to choose between being effective and being happy. What would be your reaction if someone said, “The more you make an impact for God, the more the Devil is going to fight you. You never outgrow it; it just gets more intense”? I read those exact words in a Rick Warren devotional on spiritual warfare yesterday morning, and my first thoughts were, “So all I can expect for obedience is to encounter more and more misery? So much for God’s generosity. Since I’m already guaranteed Heaven, I think I’ll settle for staying mediocre and comfortable-most-of-the-time while I’m on Earth.”

But wait. Nobody said we’ll never get a minute of peace, or that every attack will be more painful and harder to withstand than the last. As our impact for God grows with our closeness to Him, so does our natural resistance to Satan’s “flaming arrows.” Exercising our spiritual muscles through prayer and obedience means that our strength will increase to match our troubles, just as well-exercised physical muscles can bear without a grunt a workout that would have made the whole body collapse a few months earlier.

Still, exercising those muscles and growing that strength is a task that’s never completed in this lifetime. Many sincere believers never really “get” that fact. The first generation of Israelites to be offered the land of Canaan, lost their nerve when they realized God expected them to work for it. The next generation did much better–but they still decided at a certain point they’d done enough, and failed to follow through on God’s instructions for finishing the job. They were still trying to hang on to a bit of “rope” that promised personal comfort, at the price of being less effective for God.

Are you willing to give up dangling from your worn-out rope, and drop onto the solid ground of God’s direction?

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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