How to Handle Stress Well (and what happens if we don’t)

My southern relatives had a saying I remember to this day: “She’s running like a house-a’fire”. Translation? That person never stops.

It was not a compliment.

Because they knew something we often forget: A house-a’fire eventually turns to ashes.

We are a culture that runs like a house-a’fire; sometimes as a result of our choices, and sometimes as a result of our circumstances. But whatever the reason, we end up exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed.

According to the American Psychological Association, 75% of adults reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the past month. Even more alarming, stress is a top health concern for U.S. teens between 9th and 12th grade.

But we don’t really need scientific studies to tell us this. We already know.

Here’s a sampling of confessions I’ve heard (and uttered myself) recently:

“I have compassion fatigue.”

“I’m on mommy-overload.”

“I feel like I’m drowning.”

“I need a break.”

Maybe you can relate. We know what it’s like to feel drained. Depleted. Done.

What we don’t know (or maybe we do know, but don’t do anything about it) is how to handle stress in a healthy way.

Here are four ways to handle stress successfully–and Biblically:

1. Refresh Your Soul

George MacDonald said,  “‘Never tell a child you have a soul. Teach him, you are a soul; you have a body.”

Does the body affect the soul? Of course! But to take care of the body without taking care of the soul is a grave mistake. The body can endure only if the soul is refreshed. In other words, we can keep going physically if we keep refueling spiritually.

This is a critical point when you face a demanding life circumstance with no foreseeable end. (Parenthood, chronic illness, anyone?)

But how does one replenish their soul, exactly?

God knew we’d be people who’d constantly battle the burden of busy, so Jesus told us:

“Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me..and you will find rest for your souls.” Mathew 11:28-29

The Psalmist wrote:

“The law of the Lord is perfect,
    refreshing the soul.” Psalm 19:7

“But I don’t have time to read the Bible or connect with Jesus!” many of us protest–especially in seasons of intense busyness or stress. Instead, we ignore Jesus and keep running like a house-a’fire.

But here’s the thing: if we don’t turn to Jesus, we will turn to something, or someone, else–something always less healthy.

We’ll overeat. Overspend. Over drink. Oversleep. And my personal favorite…Over-react. And in doing so, we heap guilt and shame onto our already stressed souls.

This is why our compassionate Savior invites us to come to Him, and learn from Him. Jesus was the master at successfully handling stress of every kind–relational (people doubted Him, resented Him, hated Him, betrayed Him), physical (He was beaten, bruised and crucified), spiritual (He was tempted yet didn’t succumb).

This same Jesus invites you and me to come to Him so we can learn from Him, and in doing so, find rest for our weary, burdened, stressed-out souls.  

If you feel like you’re hanging by a thread, reach out your hand and grab hold of God. 

What feels like too much for me to handle is never too much for God to handle. Click To Tweet

2. Replenish Your Spirit

When Ashton called near tears early in her freshman year of college, things looked bleak. She felt lonely. Overwhelmed. Stressed.

I listened compassionately, and we chatted for a long time. Finally, she paused, but I could tell she still felt burdened. So, I ask a few simple questions: “Where are you right now? (my dorm room) “Who are you with?” (By myself) “Are the curtains open?” (No).

I took a deep breath and proceeded to give her advice I could only hope she would take.

“Ashton, here’s what I want you to do; Go outside into the sunshine. Find a big, beautiful tree on the quad. Take your Bible and read a bit. And maybe later, make plans with someone on your dorm floor.”

And you know what? She did it! Later that day I got an excited text explaining how her whole attitude, and, in fact–her whole day–shifted.

But here’s the point: none of these actions were expensive, time-consuming or complicated.

It’s easy to think the solution to being overwhelmed is to check out completely. Few of us have that luxury. What we can do, however, is carve small moments of pleasure into our day.

Go outside. Have lunch at a park. Call a friend and start with “I only have a few minutes, but…” Take a nap. Read a book. Plant some flowers. Go to the gym.

Do a small thing that can replenish your spirit in a big way.

3. Rest Your Body

I know, I know. I can already hear some of you objecting: “But my child doesn’t sleep!” or “I have two jobs!” or…

But just as the soul affects the body, the body affects the soul. Case in point:  The last time you felt sleep deprived…

  • How patient were you with your loved ones?
  • How productive was your work?
  • How clear was your reasoning?
  • How wise were your decisions?

If you are like me – and I’m betting you are – you were probably one irritation away from a complete meltdown.

Now, I’m not advocating we all take our blankies to work, but I am saying that unless we take time to rest our bodies, our souls will pay the price. And so will those around us.

God knows we need rest.  That’s why he told the children of Israel to take a day off.  A Sabbath.

Rest isn’t optional for the person who doesn’t want their life to go up in flames.

4. Remove Useless Baggage

You know that bitterness you’ve been harboring? The jealousy you’ve been feeling? The insecurity and self-doubt you’re battling? The shame you’ve been stuffing?

These things wear us out.

There are two kinds of exhaustion: physical and emotional. The remedy for physical exhaustion is rest; the remedy for emotional exhaustion is release. 

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you.”

What do we do with emotions that wear us out and stress us out?

Let. Them. Go.

It’s time. 

If you find yourself overwhelmed with worries and cares, do this:

  1. Take out a piece of paper. Write down any circumstance, feeling, or worry that consumes you.
  2. Look at your list carefully. Is there any part you can play to alleviate your stress? (i.e. ask for forgiveness? get out of debt? send the resume? reevaluate commitments? put a pause on social media?) If you can do something, do it!
  3. If circumstances are beyond your control, write out a prayer telling God you’re giving Him the cares you’ve written, because He cares for you. 

Will there be seasons of busy? Days full of demands? Times of trials? Of course. That’s life. But if we incorporate these four biblical strategies into our lives, our house won’t go up in flames. And neither will we.

Just because everyone else runs around like a house-a’fire doesn’t mean we have to.

Which one will you do, starting today? Let me know by leaving a comment and I’ll pray for you!

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  1. Maggie

    Hi Donna. Great post. Thanks so much!! Have lots of stress at work and home. Need guidance to make major life changes. The stress caused a minor stroke. God now has my undivided attention. So thankful I can tie my shoes. So very thankful for you too!!

    1. donnajones

      Maggie, After reading your comment I paused to pray for you–for direction and wisdom in making life changes, and for your recovering. Thanks so much for letting me know about your situation. I’m so glad God used the post to encourage your heart!

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