By Dianna Kasprzak
Stress. It's a common household word and has been for quite some time. However, I remember growing up, when stress was not a part of anyone's vocabulary. Does this mean there was no stress? No. In many ways, my parents experienced stresses far beyond anything I have had to endure. I can't imagine having to be to work at 5 am -- but first, you have to thaw the water pipes that have frozen in the night, so that your eight children will have running water in the morning. I can't imagine getting up multiple times in the middle of the night to stoke fires, so that the heat doesn't go out in the night -- or going out in sub-zero temperatures to start the cars that are sitting in the driveway, to ensure the engines will fire up in the morning when it's time to go to work. These are just a few of the many "stresses" that my parents experienced on a regular basis. But it is interesting because they never named it "stress." It was simply life and everyone knew that life had challenges.
In today's world, we have "challenges" that are different than those in the 1960's. We have technology and media that make life easier, but also can create challenges -- if we do not put boundaries around them. For example, it is not uncommon to sandwich into one weekend three open houses, a wedding, a baby shower, church commitments -- in addition to doing a weekend job. I don't remember this kind of "crazy scheduling" growing up. Sometimes I long for quieter days, without the demands, and I'm guessing you do, too!
This past week I encountered two people who randomly had something to say about stress. Both times, their wise words struck a chord in my heart, and bear repeating.
Stress -- It's what you make it.
Now there's food for thought. Stress comes and it goes and when it is here, our reaction to it can make all the difference. Are we feeling stress because we haven't planned or prepared for something? (We can change that.) Are we feeling anxious, due to circumstances that are outside our control? (We can commit that to prayer.) Are we stressed out because we have taken too much upon ourselves? (We can delegate and also learn to say "no.") Are we experiencing stress because of a level of perfection that is not sustainable in daily living? (We can lower our standards.)
I had a conversation with my son recently and we agreed that some people are more wired than others to be precise in what they do. This can be a very good thing and reflects a strength, or giftedness, that will be very useful in certain situations and careers. But in handling day-to-day living, being too precise takes extra time, robbing us of focusing on the most important things of the day. So we need to discern when to let the carefulness go, getting the job done, and saying out loud to ourselves, "Good enough."
I'll share another situation that occurred this past week that illustrates what I am talking about. It is a bit humorous -- and the joke is on me.
It was the day after teaching a class and feeling quite tired, I had not done the cleanup as I normally do. The next morning, a utility service person came -- and I immediately felt embarrassed -- and regretful -- that I had not "restored everything to order" in my home. I felt a need to apologize, which was really quite unnecessary, and just plain silly.
I shared this humorous situation with a dear friend, and she gave me some very good advice:
I’ve lowered my housekeeping standards that cause stress in my life --
and it might be worth your consideration as well.
Here's what she told me: "I’ve always been motivated to get things tidied up when I know someone is coming. But I’ve relaxed in that area in recent months and years -- lowering the standards that cause stress in my life. What's more, I’ve discovered the only one who even notices my "revised standards" is ME! No one else is bothered by the clutter or disorder."
Great advice. Projects create messes. People create messes. Living is just plain messy (in more ways than one). There is a time for everything -- to make a mess, to clean it up, or to simply not worry about it.
On a different note, stress can be a GOOD part of our lives, causing us to function at a higher level, making us more mindful about how we do things, so that we operate at a more efficient level. But if this is creating a hypersensitivity and taking our peace, then our reaction could be robbing us of good health, as stress -- or more correctly -- a wrong reaction to the challenges in life -- can create an acid pH environment in our bodies, lowering our immune system and inviting illness. It simply is not worth it, and changing the situation can be as simple as changing our thoughts, even turning them into a prayer:
Philippians 4:6-8 says, "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
So slow down, smell the roses (or lilacs), play ball with a child, read a book! Take a deep breath. Laugh. Enjoy life -- and those around us will be better for it too!