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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Positive Thinking vs. Godly Comfort

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How do you tell a “dark night of the soul” (a period of spiritual desolation God uses to test your reliance on Him) from plain old clinical depression? Support from strong spiritual mentors is helpful both in discerning the difference and in getting through either. But what many Christians get instead is “Job’s comforters” advice:

  • “Just snap out of it.”
  • “You must have done something wrong; fix that and everything will be fine.”
  • “If God seems far away, you’re the one who moved.”

My all-time favorite is, “You’ve got to think positive,” often phrased as “Look at all God’s given you; don’t be such an ingrate,” or “Complaining is a sin.” Like Job’s friends, you started out to make me feel better and wound up kicking me with blame-toed boots while I was already down.

Confession time: Studying at Wheaton Graduate School twenty years ago, I regularly heard, “How can you moan about your problems when God’s so good to you?” from one fellow student. When she had to return home because of her father’s severe illness, I silently gloated over the thought that she wouldn’t find it so easy to be perennially cheerful now. I know that attitude was nothing to be proud of and wouldn’t pass the “What Would Jesus Do?” test. There are more Christlike ways to deal with “positive thinkers,” even when you’re at your worst emotionally.

Choose Your Companions Carefully

If someone never shows a trace of unhappiness and can’t understand why you aren’t like that–which leads you to feel jealous and resentful–don’t feel guilty about limiting contact with that person. As St. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 8, sincere Christians are entirely capable of doing blameless-in-themselves things that can exert bad influence on fellow believers. Your spiritual growth will be better nurtured among less cheerful contacts.

Let me quickly clarify that neither should your contacts be gloom-and-doom types who are all too eager to join you in one pity party after another–that really is the sort of complaining God hates. What you need to look for are empathetic and insightful people who are good listeners, genuinely sympathize with your pain, and dispense advice in small tactful doses. If you have trouble finding anyone, try visiting a Celebrate Recovery or mental-health peer support group.

Be a Giver

If you’re really in an emotional pit, you may not feel like associating with anyone at all. Withdrawing into self-pity, however, will just bring you down lower and lower. By contrast, voluntarily doing something for someone else has a surprisingly uplifting effect on your feelings. Not only does God comfort us so we will have comfort to share with others, He uses the comfort we share with others as a channel to provide fresh comfort to us.

You can join an organized volunteer program or just look for opportunities to offer a kind word to someone who needs it. (And if someone who’s told you to “Snap out of it and cheer up” hits a rough patch, I hope you’ll be more mature than I was as a graduate student, and treat them as you’d want to be treated.)

Remember the Source of All Comfort

You can also help others by praying for them. And keep praying daily for yourself, even when you can’t feel God’s presence or see any obvious change. Fill your mind with comforting truths from God’s Word. Be patient and trust He will yet bring you through to true joy.

And yes, accept that this is not likely to be quick and easy. Like Paul, you may even have to live with this “thorn in the flesh” indefinitely. Often, all that’s kept me going is inherent stubbornness and a lack of alternatives.

Whatever else happens, cling to this: God cares, He treasures a personal relationship with you, and He can use the most surprising tools to lead you into the most amazing blessings.

  • 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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