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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Mental Illness 101 for Christians

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What’s your opinion: were the “demons” Jesus drove out in the New Testament literal demons, or simply a metaphor for psychoses and hallucinations?

I ask that question not to get involved in any theological debate, but because the larger question of Christian attitudes toward mental illness is important to me. Several people in my family have mental-health issues. I myself struggle with Asperger’s syndrome and dysthymia–and it still smarts to recall the time a presumably well-meaning friend told me, “Nobody ‘has’ Asperger’s. It’s just an excuse made up by people who are unwilling to face up to the sin of not loving others.” Job’s comforters could hardly have done a better job of kicking someone who was already down.

Even worse off are Christians with addictions they can’t seem to shake despite their best efforts and deepest prayers. Is it possible to be a sincere Christian and be literally powerless against the urge to drink heavily, eat to the point of vomiting, or slash one’s own arms? Common sense would seem to say no, those actions are deliberate decisions. Yet testimony from many committed Christians and those who love them would indicate that, in some cases at least, the answer is yes.

If we believe God, for reasons of His own, chooses not to heal every prayed-for person with cancer or muscular dystrophy, why is it hard to believe He may let some of His followers bear the cross of mental or behavioral illness throughout their earthly lives?

Probably because mental illness is hard for doctors to diagnose, and even harder for ordinary people to recognize. It’s easier to say, “Oh, s/he’s just stubborn/self-centered,” and leave the affected party to struggle with something that’s assumed to be their own fault anyway.

However, if we’re serious about loving our neighbors as ourselves and not causing our weaker brothers to stumble, a little more compassion is in order.

If a Friend or Family Member Has a Mental Illness

  • Unless you have a spiritual gift of healing to the extent of having successfully told someone in a wheelchair to stand up and walk, never tell someone with a mental illness to “just snap out of it.”
  • And don’t tell anyone, “If you just had more faith,” or “You just need to find out what you need to repent of.” There’s no one explanation for mental illness, and passing flippant judgment on any individual case is akin to claiming wisdom equal to God’s.
  • Support your loved one in finding healthy alternatives to circumstances that are likely to trigger mental health episodes. Respect the other party as the expert on what he or she can’t handle, and don’t flaunt in their face that you have no difficulties there.
  • Always listen to your loved one with empathy. Don’t try to solve their problem (you probably can’t) or demand they explain it to your satisfaction (they probably can’t). Just let them know you care no matter what.
  • Remember to pray for them!

If You Have a Mental Illness

  • Don’t blame yourself or wallow in shame. Get professional help.
  • Know your weak spots and the best ways to avoid or cope with them.
  • Concentrate on what you can control.
  • Enlist help from those who understand your illness (or at least what to do and not do). Limit contact with anyone who makes things worse by pushing “if you’d just get right with God” opinions.
  • Remember to pray about your situation! Whether or not you get any better, believe in God’s support.

And for everyone: remember there will be a time when all our illnesses of body and mind will be healed forever!

  • 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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