Stress is a normal part of every life. Some people deal with stress well while others deal with it in very destructive ways. Having a few drinks to relax, popping a few pills to forget about troubles, using hard drugs to numb the pain in life are attempts to deal with stress that only create more stress and complicate a person’s life far more than the original stress. It is important to learn to cope with stress in a healthy way without relying on or forming a dependency on a substance or even another person to make the stress go away.
During the holiday season there are extra sources of stress for most of us. Our schedules fill up with job demands, church functions, and holiday activities. Being overbooked is a definite source of stress. Trying to squeeze extra dollars out of an already overtaxed budget in order to exchange gifts with loved ones can strip us of the joy that should be at the heart of this holiday season.
My students have been studying about stress in health class. You wouldn’t think that a bunch of sixth-graders would have so much to fret about. I gave them an assignment to list 20 things that caused them stress. Not one child said they couldn’t think of something.
Actually, their lists were quite surprising. The following stressful things made their lists: school; ballgames; doctor’s visit; dentist’s visit; shots; getting in trouble; swimming in the lake; coming face to face with a wild animal; getting lost; being injured; tests; messing up; breaking something important; being scared; throwing up; losing a family member or a pet; talking in front of people; being late; not agreeing with friends; not being able to do something that other people can; getting yelled at; breaking up with a girlfriend (or boyfriend); parents getting a divorce; drunk people; swerving cars; slow drivers; having to listen to old timey music; being made fun of; trying to fix something that is broken; reports that are due; new haircuts; too many people talking at the same time; trying to get ready to go somewhere on time; a parent that drives too fast; cheerleading; people trying to put you in the middle when two friends are fighting; snakes; strangers; having to stand up in front of a crowd and do anything; competing; report cards; eating in front of people; riding on an elevator; someone nagging at you; moving to a new place; making friends; the bus breaking down when you’re on it; being around people who smoke; losing something you care about; my pet getting lost; worrying about whether or not my hair is messed up; babysitting; and being scolded by teachers, parents or anyone.
There are many ways to help cope with stress. First of all, we can try to simplify our lives.
Don’t volunteer for everything coming and going. Learn to say no. If you get spread too thin, not only will you be stressed out, but you won’t do a good job at anything. Learn to prioritize by taking care of the most important things that need attending to first. Plan ahead and work toward meeting deadlines instead of procrastinating until the last minute and having to deal with an unexpected demand at the same time.
Learn to delegate. Hold other people accountable for their own responsibilities instead of trying to carry your load and theirs, too. Asking for help is one of the hardest things I ever have to do because of times I asked for help and didn’t get it. One thing for sure is, if you don’t ask, people are unlikely to volunteer when they don’t even know you need them. Don’t try to be the Lone Ranger. Even he had his faithful sidekick, Tonto.
The cost of harmful stress on a person’s life can show up in their health: heart disease, irritability, anger, obesity, headaches, stomach problems, inability to sleep at night. Uninterrupted stress drains a person’s energy, affects their personality and impairs their emotions and judgment.
If it is impossible to get rid of the stressors in your life, then find something to do every single day that relaxes you. Your “calm down” activity might not be the same as another person’s, but if it works for you, that’s what is important. Take a hot bubble bath. Do a workout. Walk. Listen to music or read a good book. Laugh at an old rerun. Pray. Paint. Dance. Do photography.
Especially during the holiday season, with increased demands on our time, relationships and finances, it is important to find ways to cope with our stress.
In my opinion, one of the best ways is to focus on the real meaning of Christmas — that God gave His greatest gift to mankind in the form of His own son, Christ Jesus, that we might have a true relationship with God through Him and that we might experience life abundantly. The love of God never abandon’s us, rejects us or leaves us alone to cope with life by ourselves. No matter how much stress we might find ourselves under, we will be happier if we take the time out to relax and focus on the true meaning of Christmas.