Five years ago, with slurred speech, numbness in my arm, and difficulty breathing, I was admitted to the emergency room. All the signs of a heart attack.
Surely, this wasn’t happening. I was only 34.
But it was.
Living with high levels of stress was putting my entire body and life at risk.
After much care and tests, the doctors were able to rule out a heart attack, but not without warning. Looking at me, the doctor said words that changed my life.
“Whatever you are not dealing with in your life is killing you. You must learn healthy ways to respond to the stress or the stress will take your life, and you will be right back here with a real heart attack.”
This was my crossroads moment.
Would I live my life dictated by stressors missing out on the full life God had designed for me? Or would I learn to truly learn to rest in God placing my cares in Him so that I could walk out His purpose and will for my life?
Leaving that hospital, I was filled with praise. I was given another chance to fully live the life God had given me. I had one more day to love my husband and family. I had another opportunity to walk in my purpose. Nope. This would NOT be my ending.
I made up my mind that stress would no longer hold me captive. I was breaking free. To do that, I had to make some lifestyle changes.
Even though we all may experience occasional moments of stress, we were not designed to live a life stressed out. Here are three healthy techniques that aid me in managing stress in a healthy way so that I can continue to enjoy my life.
Self-care is a priority, not an option.
Taking care of myself became one of the areas I sacrificed in my effort to handle “everything.” Ignoring taking care of yourself, especially during stressful situations, can increase the harmful effects of stress on our bodies. When we put off taking care of our bodies, we can increase our chances of developing stress-related illnesses like insomnia, excessive weight gain, digestive issues, and mood swings. Unfortunately, during that season, I was experiencing them all.
In my effort to take care of everyone else, I was putting off taking care of me. I quickly learned to ignore self-care was reckless and harmful. Taking care of me was not a prize after a strenuous day; instead, it’s a part of the process that helps me to be the best version of myself. A few healthy self-care habits to start are:
- Developing a healthy bedtime routine: Adequate sleep helps to fuel proper thinking and functioning of our bodies. Lack of sleep impacts our moods and can cause us to respond irrationally.
- Exercising regularly: Whether it is a brisk walk around the neighborhood or going to the gym, exercising helps with processing stress.
- Relaxing: Set time aside each day in your schedule for you to relax and protect that time.
- Eating healthy: One of the culprits of weight gaining, while stressed, is often linked to poor eating habits. Spend time planning your meals, especially on days that you are stretched more than usual.
Focus on prayer over problems
Although developing healthy habits are essential aids in managing our lives externally, these habits cannot fix what is happening internally. Prayer is a vital tool in developing consistent changes for a healthy life. A part of living with stress versus experiencing a stressful moment is often rooted in our perspective. Where are your thoughts? Is the pain you are experiencing on constant replay? Are you talking more about your heartbreak than healing? When we choose to change our perspective from our problems to prayer, a shift happens in our hearts. We can see that Christ is our ever-present help.
Developing a consistent prayer life changes our thoughts from mindless to mindful. Our thoughts shift from focusing on our problems to focusing on our all powerful, all knowing God. So how can we use prayer to manage our stress?
- Immerse yourself in scripture: What does the Bible say about your situation? Use the scriptures to pray for your situation.
- Surround yourself with the word: Place scripture about your situation in your car, above your kitchen sink, or write them on the mirror in your bathroom so that you can meditate on God’s truth versus idolizing the stressful situation.
- Pray about it before you talk about it: Going to those we trust for support is important, but it should not take the place of going to God first.
Accept God’s Grace
Stress tends to happen when we are overworked, tired, sick, or outside of our routine. We say “yes” to one too many responsibilities and stretch ourselves too thin causing us to feel an overwhelming level of stress. Or maybe stress builds when we are faced to deal with a broken heart, caring for a sick family member, or circumstances outside of our control. Life just becomes hard. Any moment we might just cave from the pressure.
The guilt we feel takes us captive preventing us from seeing beyond the “shoulda, coulda, woulda” moments of life. Taking a step back, we must learn to extend grace to ourselves. When we are surrendered to Christ, grace is more than our weak earthly attempt to excuse our shortcomings. Grace is a reflection of all that Christ has already done for us. In Him, we can see His grace in the big and small experiences. We simply have to open our hearts to receive.