Stress, part 2

In our previous article, we noted that it is impossible to remove all stress from our lives. What is more, stress is not necessarily all bad. Without some measure of this commodity, we could not prepare ourselves to meet various life challenges. The kind of stress that stimulates personal productivity and development without burning us out is described as eustress. On the other hand, the stress that exceeds our ability to cope with it is rightly described as distress.

As the body is continually being bombarded by everyday stressors, it is constantly adjusting through various physiological mechanisms to maintain its internal environment. This marvelous action of the body in keeping all systems functioning within their normal operating ranges is known as maintaining homeostasis. For example: if the body is subjected to cold, the surface blood vessels will constrict, causing more of the blood to circulate within the deeper tissues, maintaining the body’s core temperature and protecting the major organs from below normal temperatures. On the other hand, when the body is subjected to warmer temperatures, the surface vessels dilate, allowing the heat to dissipate, thereby preventing internal overheating.

We noted in our previous article that the body is also capable of making rapid and extreme physiological adjustments when faced with an emergency. This sudden response to danger and the threat of injury is called the flight or fight response. Under the influence of nervous and hormonal stimuli, the body’s internal environment is greatly affected as certain major systems are thrown into top gear in order to meet the emergency. While such excessive nervous and hormonal activity may serve the body well in an emergency, such is not the case if such activity continues long term.

When a person becomes subject to unresolved, ongoing stress, the body, in turn, reacts by producing excessive amounts of hormones in order to contend with the situation. This phase of excessive activity by the body to the demand of the excessive level of stress is described as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS). Long term exposure to this type of situation results in exhaustion and physical and emotional breakdown; and unless corrected, will ultimately lead to premature death.

We must now ask ourselves what must be done in order to prevent such a situation from developing, or to reverse, as far as possible, the negative effects of an already present situation.

Basically, there are two approaches to meeting this problem.

  • We must increase our ability to cope with stress, and
  • We must remove or reduce the source of the stress itself.

The First Step

The first approach requires that a person seek to maintain himself in the best possible health through close attention to his lifestyle. A person who is in good health is better prepared to meet the stressors of life. While this may not remove the stressors themselves, it helps us to more effectively meet the stresses and cope with them. A person who has kept himself in good physical condition is far better prepared to handle the stress of running for the bus than the person who has become a couch potato.

Much could be said about each of the approaches, as listed above; but if we will grasp a basic understanding of how adherence to proper lifestyle can help us in the battle with stress, we will have done ourselves a worthwhile service. Depending upon the kind of stress a person is under, he may find that lifestyle adjustments in harmony with the counsel God has given us may actually resolve his stress. For instance, a person may be subject to stress because the quantity and quality of his work may be on the downward slope. He may have gotten to the point where the harder he tries, the less productive he is. As a consequence, he finds himself under stress through concern of losing his job or seeing his business go under. The solution? Do the very thing that in this case would seem to make the least sense: do not spend so long on the job!

According to Ministry of Healing, 127, rest is one of the components of proper lifestyle given to us by God. Such information is not given to us by the Lord on an optional basis. It is a positive command to get rest. This is particularly important if we are consistently running short on rest because of overwork. For this reason, we would like to especially emphasize the importance of rest and its relationship to stress reduction.

God has told us, “The health should be as sacredly guarded as the character.” Christian Education, 183. The person who claims that he has to constantly suffer excessive stress from overwork in order to succeed is the person who needs to reevaluate what true success really means. The writer had a relative who operated his own business. He built a beautiful home and acquired many of the nice things of life. Yet the day came when he died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving behind his wife and three school-age children. That which in this life is termed success if often realized in this fashion by many every year in the so-called civilized world.

There is no question that God wants us to experience the blessing of good, hard work. He wants us to know the sense of satisfaction that comes with a productive and wholesome lifestyle. Christ was not a slacker, and anyone who truly succeeds in life will never do so while rising late and daydreaming at his workstation. There is a place for drive and initiative, but they must be exercised in moderation and controlled by wisdom. The hardworking producer who is truly wise will recognize that in the long run, far more is achieved if he will discipline himself to take a proper amount of rest. Not only will he achieve more at the time, but he will also do so without cutting his life short.

Lesson from Word War II

At the beginning of World War II, in a desperate attempt to produce armaments, British industry was thrown into top gear. It was supposed that if the average workweek were considerably lengthened, it would result in greater productivity. This worked, but not for very long. It was noted that production soon began to decline. As a consequence, the work period was extended even further; but productivity declined to an even greater extent. It was not a question of laziness or a lack of incentive, as their very hope of survival depended upon the output. It was lack of rest, not of motivation, that defeated their efforts to meet higher productivity goals.

Faced with this seemingly insurmountable problem, the government decided to drastically cut the workweek, allowing everyone more rest. The outcome? Production increased dramatically. More and better was finally produced in less time than was produced during the longer work period.

The factors that applied to a nation at war may also apply to a person in conflict with the stress of decreasing production. To refrain from overwork is not a disservice to one’s employer, to one’s self, or to our Creator. Taking necessary rest is the wise choice and will ultimately result in allowing you to not only a longer period of productivity to the glory of God and to the blessing of others, but increased productivity at the time.

True Faith

Further, “It is the very essence of all right faith to do the right thing at the right time.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 24. It is not the exercise of true faith to continue working when the time has come to obtain one’s necessary rest. There will always be emergencies or events that will arise from time to time to rob us of a night’s sleep, but we can be well assured that it is not God’s will that we constantly subject ourselves to the stress of overwork, living from one production crises to another.

At one time in their experience, Jesus told His disciples to “come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.” Mark 6:31. It was the essence of right faith that the disciples demonstrated in doing the right thing at the right time and rested in obedience to Christ’s command. The Scriptures go so far as to tell us that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Romans 14:23. We need to beware of the human tendency to play down the fact that in matters pertaining to health, it is a violation of the Divine will to fail to get proper rest. “Today there is need that God’s chosen workmen should listen to the command of Christ to go apart and rest awhile.” Review and Herald, November 7, 1893. [All emphasis supplied.] While the context of this statement is in respect to those who are gospel workers, it is not wresting the principle from its true setting in applying it to all people.

We are also told that, “He [Jesus] did not urge upon His disciples the necessity of ceaseless toil. . . . He tells His disciples that they will be unfitted for future labor unless they rest awhile. . . . In the name of Jesus, economize your powers, that after being refreshed with rest, you may do more and better work.” Ibid., November 11, 1983.

Rest is a Duty

When we are faithfully performing our Christian duty, we are faithfully working for God. When that duty is to rest, we are doing our appointed work just as surely as in our regular work. To be unfaithful in this duty will cause us to shortchange our Maker in future production and quality. We need to keep in mind that anything we do that decreases our ability to serve to our fullest capacity is something for which we will be required to answer in the judgment. At the same time, we will also have subjected our bodies to higher levels of stress, something from which God is seeking to protect us. Whatever is ours to do within a reasonable daily work period we are to do to the best of our ability, and then leave the results with God. It can be just as much an act of faith to close shop for the day with a multitude of things still to do and trust that God will preserve our enterprise, as it is to believe that God will preserve our business if we faithfully pay our tithe. God is concerned about our temperate life and is just as willing to bless us for our faithfulness in this area, as He is willing to bless us for returning a faithful tithe.

Some might view this as too simplistic and philosophical and not geared to the realities of life. For example, the busy housewife who is not only a mother, but also a home school teacher is seemingly never done with her work; nor is there a place to escape to where she can relax and dissipate her stress. There is also the work supervisor who has to follow people around to pick up the pieces and improve upon the mess that they have left behind, making it presentable to a customer who wanted it all done yesterday for half of its real value. These are but a few of the people who are faced with the harsh realities of life that include deadlines that must be met.

It is Possible?

This raises the question, Is it possible for such individuals to live temperate work lives so that they do not succumb to the stress of overwork? While on one hand there may be factors that seemingly deny the possibility of finding the much needed rest, we must ever keep in mind that there is the constant and unchangeable factor that all of God’s biddings are enablings. (See Christ’s Object Lessons, 333.) What may seem an impossibility from the human standpoint is never so from God’s perspective. For those who choose to do His will, “Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing.” The Desire of Ages, 330.

“He [God] will change, wonderfully change, the most hopeless, discouraging outlook.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 12.

“Whatever your anxieties and trials, spread out your case before the Lord. Your spirit will be braced for endurance. The way will be opened for you to disentangle yourself from embarrassment and difficulty.” The Desire of Ages, 329.

It is an act of faith to so order our lives that we find deliverance from the stress of overwork and live within the moderate parameters of God’s design. Though it may seem an impossibility to accomplish, if it is the soul’s desire to be right, God will make it happen for those who trust Him.

“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:5.

A person may be under the stress of over-activity, not so much from his work per se, but because he is constantly seeking to cram too many things into his day. While his day may be packed with good and interesting things, the constant treadmill of one activity after another wears upon the human organism. As mentioned in our previous article, people can ultimately burn out having a good time just as surely as a result of the bad times.

In order to follow God’s plan and rest at the appropriate times, it may be necessary for us to learn to say, “No;” not only to ourselves, but also to others who seek to fill our lives with so much activity. This can be difficult, but we must learn to do it if we are going to obtain the rest and relaxation that we need.

Now another question: What do we actually mean when we speak of rest and relaxation? We should not take this to mean simply going home, putting our feet up, and relaxing in front of the television. The sedentary worker who is brain weary through constant mental activity needs to relax by getting outside and doing something physical. Working in the yard or going for a long walk will do much to clear the mind and strengthen the body. In addition, it will also reduce the stress level.

The person who has been physically exerting himself all day long needs to adopt a pastime that allows more chance for his body to physically rest and his brain to exert itself for a change. A person is much more able to go back to his regular work, refreshed and ready to produce, after having allowed his thoughts and energies to run in a different channel for a season.

Ultimately, the reason why God wants us to come aside and rest is not only so that we can dissipate all of our stress, but to afford us an opportunity to commune with Him, and as we do so, to cast our burdens at His feet. A life that has become a constant whirl of activity is a life that cannot effectively tap into the well of salvation or become firmly anchored in the Rock. Those who will be partakers of the latter rain and give the Loud Cry will prove to be the most industrious army of soul winners that the world has ever seen. They will know what it means to work hard for God, but they will also know what it means to have gone aside and learned to rest in Him.

Work that is Restful

Working unselfishly for souls is one of the most revitalizing exercises of life, bringing fresh zeal and vigor to the faithful laborer. Yet,

“while we are to labor earnestly for the salvation of the lost, we must also take time for meditation, for prayer, and for the study of the Word of God. Only the work accomplished with much prayer, and sanctified by the merit of Christ, will in the end prove to have been efficient for good.” The Desire of Ages, 362.

It takes time to effectually meditate, pray, and study God’s Word to the point that our work will prove to have been efficient for good. Therefore, each day it is important that we do not allow ourselves to become too exhausted to offer God no more than a heavy-eyed glance and a yawn. Those of this class are doing nothing less than shortening their existence for this life through the destructive working of stress and casting away all hope for the next life.

May we so order our lives that God can bring to us the same sweet release from the constant stress that we each face. As we rest in Him, may we find again the wellspring of power so that each day as we leave His presence we are freshly braced to meet the challenges of life. God bids us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. Not only is it here alone that true rest can be found, but this is the effectual preparation for all who would be laborers for God.

“Amidst the hurrying throng, and the strain of life’s intense activities, he who is thus refreshed will be surrounded with an atmosphere of light and peace. He will receive a new endowment of both physical and mental strength.” Ministry of Healing, 58.