Riots and trouble, depression and guilt, hatred and violence, anxiety and anger. We live in a world turbulent with stress. How significant is this to our health, happiness, and success? It is a recognized cause of high blood pressure and of dysfunction in the immune system. Difficulties in any part of the body can be caused or aggravated by stress.
What is Stress?
Stress in the sum total of pressure converging on a person.
How Does Stress Work?
Stress works through the nervous system. There is an intricate electrical and chemical network providing communication within the different parts of the brain, between the brain and the rest of the nervous system, and between these and all parts of the body. For this reason, a great deal of good or harm can be produced by stress signals going around and around in circuits inside of the brain, the capital of the body. Because nerves go to each of the organs and all major blood vessels, stress can derange the circulation of any part of the body, producing a spectrum of problems from headaches to spasms.
As nerves communicate with the tiny endocrine glands, they can increase or decrease the production of hormones that circulate in the blood to reach and affect specific targets or all parts of the body. This “mass communication system” can affect all tissues of the body, with their 120 trillion cells!
There are three major ways to control stress. One of the finest ways of controlling stress is to reduce the input of stressful stimuli, pressures, and forces impinging on you. Many people could markedly reduce the effects of internal violence in the nervous system by not seeing, hearing, feeling, or vicariously experiencing the violence via the mass media, particularly by television, DVDs, movies, radio, magazines, and stress-producing books.
Another way to reduce stress is to focus the imagination and mind on today’s opportunities and duties, instead of worrying about tomorrow’s synthetic potential problems. Stress input can be markedly reduced by solving the problems of the past. From people we have injured we can seek forgiveness for violating principles of human behavior. After we have asked forgiveness we can go to our Heavenly Father and ask Him to forgive us. When this is done, the stress of the past can be buried in the deepest ocean of history. This will make it very much easier for us to have poise and concentration on the day-to-day living, for the Great Physician has counselled us, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34).
Another way to reduce stressful input is by developing sensible mental and emotional hygiene. Instead of dwelling on the negatives of life and experience in our families, in our communities, or in our world, thinking and focusing on the positive developments in our lives will greatly reduce our internal stress.
A very potent method for stress control is to increase the coping power that we have available. This can be done in many ways. The finest, most economical, most available, and most powerful way to increase coping power is complete cooperation with Divine Power. United States president George Washington, president Abraham Lincoln, and many other great people of history have found prayer to be indispensable in increasing their power to cope with the pressures, problems, burdens, worries, and anxieties of life.
Reading biographies of great people who have dealt with similar problems and succeeded in life in spite of them is very helpful. Some of the finest of these practical experiences and case records of successful stress control are found in the Bible itself. There are such famous cases as Daniel, surrounded in a foreign culture in Babylon, David, chased from one cave to another by an insane king, and Paul, in and out of prisons for sharing the truth with a secular society. Mention could be made of many others. As we identify our situations with those of other people, and as we see how they made it in spite of everything, this will give us more faith, more courage, more toughness of spirit and mind, more resiliency of soul to stand up and go forward in spite of appearances. We too can learn to live by faith instead of by sight.
Many stress control methods that have some utility neglect the highest region of the brain, namely, the frontal lobe. The major portion of the brain, this is where such great forces as faith, hope, and love are centered. By building up this highest region of the brain, we become men and women of grit, gumption, and tenacity. These approaches transcend shallow quick fixes, and tend to produce more character than depression.
Support groups are very useful and valuable in coping with stress, particularly if the support group socially reinforces the truth. Placebos or shallow pseudo-solutions that do not deal with the root causes of our problems will fail in the end.
Often neglected in stress control is another major portion of the brain, the regions on the right side, dealing with the big picture, with music, and with art. Although singing does not seem to be very potent, in reality it is. When Martin Luther sang with lusty courage, “A mighty fortress is our God” (Martin Luther, 1529), he marched—with his whole brain engaged—with the Leader of the universe and the needs of humanity. Every step he took toward Worms echoed for centuries thereafter. This is stress control at its finest.
One time there was a dear friend of the Great Physician named Martha. She came under considerable stress because of her natural tendency to collect and try to assume more and more duties. A noble person of considerable talent, she neglected the finer dimensions of life and found herself in intolerable stress. Her sister Mary chose rather to spend more time listening to Jesus. This better way relieved her of unnecessary stress and sweetened her life with heavenly music—it will for you too.
Delegation of responsibility, appropriate time management, and other divide-and-conquer methods have their place in stress control.
From one point of view, the main difference between carbon—black, dingy, dirty carbon—and the pristine elegance of a diamond, is stress. The convergence of heat and pressure on carbon can produce the glories of diamonds. This is the finest outcome of stress. When we understand and grasp that the crucible of stress can produce the very finest of personality and character development, instead of fighting the process, we will cooperate with the great Designer, relax in trustful submission, and go forward in spite of feelings.
In this way, common people of common talents can become excellent masters of stress control. To participate in this process will require some real study, faith, and maturity. If we feel like orphans, slaves, or ciphers in the universe, the circumstances of life may appear unfair, unjust, and fatalistic, whereas if we discover by careful study of the Bible that we are sons and daughters of the King of the universe and that He loves us steadily, tenderly, eternally, then our outlook on the universe and on the world—on all of life—will be entirely transformed. The spiritual dimension of stress control is indeed ultimate.
In this, the age of computers, we know that the excellence of modern software is essential for the efficiency of good computer operation. The human brain is the greatest computer in the world, and its excellence, too, depends on its software. The software in our living computers will be the best if, in our life experience and in our study of the Bible, when we come across a promise that rings a golden bell in our lives, we will write it down, keep it, and refresh it in our minds and experience. We can become stronger, more flexible, more resilient, tougher if you please, to the buffeting stresses of life’s turbulence. For instance, the Great Physician promised, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). A very good, and useful promise.
And again, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace” (John 16:33). These great promises are great pillars of stress control, and when we take hold of them, and understand them, believe them, and trust the Author of all good, beauty, and strength, our lives can reflect more and more that quality and serenity of peace that passeth all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
“Peace I leave with you.”
Bernell E. Baldwin, The Journal of Health and Healing, vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 4, 5.