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What Are Some Practical Ways to Handle Stress?

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

Dear Roger,

I’m stressed and scared. It seems that the world is becoming more unstable daily. I worry about COVID, mass murderers, and protests. I’m worried about losing my job. I’m worried about what’s happening to my children’s education. I’m worried that life is we knew it is gone forever. I no longer read the news, because it seems that the same scary things are being repeated over and over. Everything seems to be in crisis. What are some practical ways to handle my stress? I’m all stressed out.
Sincerely, Andy

Dear Andy,

When I was a teenager, I came across the following “Life Events Stress Scale" in the Sunday morning newspaper. Of course, putting a number to various stress situations is not an exact science. If you were to make a personal chart, your evaluations would certainly be somewhat different. Nevertheless, this exercise may well give us an idea of just how much stress we’re under.

Life Events Stress Scale

To get an idea of the level of stress (distress) in your life, place a checkmark beside each event that you have experienced in the last 12 months. Depending on your coping skills or the lack thereof, this scale can predict the likelihood that you will fall victim to a stress-related illness sometime in the next year.

NOTE: Stress-related illnesses can include heart attack or other heart problems, stroke, cognitive difficulties such as extreme forgetfulness or decline in problem-solving abilities, major depression, anxiety, immune suppression and a rise in infections, chronic fatigue, increased susceptibility to certain types of cancer, and many others. 

When you're finished, add up the points for each event. Check your score at the bottom.

_____ 100 Death of Spouse
_____ 73 Divorce
_____ 65 Marital or relationship partner separation
_____ 63 Jail term
_____ 63 Death of close family member 

_____ 53 Personal injury or illness
_____ 50 Marriage
_____ 47 Fired from work
_____ 45 Marital reconciliation
_____ 45 Retirement

_____ 44 Change in family member's health
_____ 40 Pregnancy
_____ 39 Sex difficulties
_____ 39 Addition to family
_____ 39 Business readjustment

_____ 38 Change in financial status
_____ 37 Death of close friend
_____ 36 Change to a different line of work
_____ 35 Change in number of marital arguments
_____ 31 Mortgage or loan over $350,000

_____ 30 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
_____ 29 Change in work responsibilities
_____ 29 Trouble with in-laws
_____ 28 Outstanding personal achievement
_____ 26 Spouse begins or stops work

_____ 26 Starting or finishing school
_____ 25 Change in living conditions
_____ 24 Revision of personal habits
_____ 23 Trouble with boss
_____ 20 Change in work hours, conditions

_____ 20 Change in residence
_____ 20 Change in schools
_____ 19 Change in recreational habits
_____ 19 Change in church activities
_____ 18 Change in social activities
_____ 17 Mortgage or loan under $350,000

_____ 16 Change in sleeping habits
_____ 15 Change in number of family gatherings
_____ 15 Change in eating habits
_____ 13 Vacation
_____ 12 Christmas season
_____ 11 Minor violations of the law 

____­_ 50 Before we tidy up our total score, we need to include points which reflect the stress of the COVID pandemic. I’m suggesting 50 points. You may want to go higher or lower depending upon your circumstances.

Of course, you may want to add points in unlisted areas like worrying about recessions and depressions. Or having a fixed income with a downturn in the economy accompanied by worries about inflation. You may have to add points based on your own personal circumstances.

______Your Total Score

Now, compare your score to the scale below: 

< 149 = Low susceptibility to stress-related illness

150-299 = Medium susceptibility to stress-related illness

> 300 = High susceptibility to stress-related illness

Let me give you several practical thoughts about handling stress in a healthy, biblically sound way.

1. We can choose to quiet down and reduce our stress.

Psalm 131, written by David, is one of my favorite “quieting down” biblical passages. I go to it often, especially when I’m stressed. David says that it is possible to quiet our minds if we so choose:

My heart is not proud, oh Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I still and quiet my soul; like a child quieted at its mother’s breast, like a child that is quieted is my soul. (Psalm 131:1-2)

I also like to keep in mind the following verse. I often quote it to myself.

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee. (Isaiah 26:3 KJV)

Imagine that you’re sitting on the hillside with Jesus while He teaches about handling stress.

2. We can lower our stress level when we consider how valuable we are to Christ.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)

How many birds are you worth to God?

Perhaps five sparrows, a hawk, two cockatoos, and a bald eagle? How about two vultures?

Julie and I were teaching a spiritual seminar in Izmir, Turkey. One of my daughters and one of her friends were with us on the trip.

I came upon a leather-engraved briefcase in the bazaar. The price tag was $300.

I said to the shopkeeper, “I’ll give you $150!”

He replied, “No, how about $200.”

“No, thank you,” I said, $150 is as high as I’ll go.” We left.

Several hours later we were walking by the shop with the briefcase. The shop owner saw me, held up the briefcase, and yelled out, “How about one daughter and two goats?”

“No, that’s too much” I hollered back. “How about I give you one daughter and one goat!”

“Dad!”

Of course, my children are priceless.

God’s children are priceless to Him.

He will never allow anything to happen to us that is out of His control. We are worth too much.

3. Draw on your faith to trust that nothing is out of control.

God has a plan and a purpose for everything.

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in his entire splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

Jesus invented the word “little faiths” (oligopistoi). It seems to be a nickname he utilized as a way of gently chiding his disciples for their lack of faith in God. 

Remember when the storm raged upon the Sea of Galilee? Jesus was asleep in the boat, and the disciples were terrified. They awakened Jesus. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid, you “little faiths”?

I wish we could’ve seen His face and heard the inflection of His voice. He wasn’t scolding. He was smiling and encouraging. I’ve often thought that he may have been singing something like: “You’ve got the cutest little baby faith!”

Jesus is in the business of building and strengthening our faith.

Maybe you’re just starting out in your spiritual walk.

“Baby faith: you’ve got the cutest little baby faith!”

One of the most difficult and most important issues for those of baby faith is understanding that God often uses those things which stress us to mature us to look like Jesus.

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. (Hebrews 4:8)

The tools of obedience that God used with Jesus are the same tools that He uses with us. Consider these three types of faith we see in Scripture:

Doubting Faith: Like Thomas vacillating in the Upper Room, we struggle to believe. But when all is said and done, we put our faith in Him.

Normal Faith: Most of us live with normal faith. This type of faith enables us to work with the Father in finding good solutions to handle our stress. With normal faith, we can analyze and better understand what’s going on in our situation.

Amazing Faith: The Centurion’s son was dying. As Jesus set out for his house, the Centurion said, “My house is far away. You don’t need to go all that way. Just speak the word from here and now, and I know he’ll be well.”

Jesus said, “That’s amazing faith! I have not found this type of faith even in Israel!”

The more faith that we have, the easier it is to handle our stresses.

4. Recognizing the worry process may help us understand how to reduce our stress.

What I call the “worry process” works like this: First, our alert system registers that something is going wrong. This is often called “fight or flight.” Second, our brain tells us that we are fixing the problem. So, we work on it. Third, our brain tells us that the problem is fixed. All is well. 

For some people, that process works well. Unfortunately, we can become stuck at any point.

Personally, I get stuck on all three. My alert system is overactive. Try as I might to fix things, I find little relief. I never reach the time when I can say, “All is well.”

Unfortunately, because of my genetic makeup, and also because of the habits I’ve developed, I’ve never handled stress very well. I live with a knot in my gut that never goes away, that tells me that something bad is about to happen.

In other words, worry and anxiety occur more naturally to some people than to others.

But knowing how these three parts of the process work together, I can get a rational head start on handling my stress. I have a chance to control my worry and consciously choose faith.

5. Practice living in the present daily and enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised.

Living in the present is one of the best tools we have for overcoming our stress.

Jesus said: The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy, but I have come that they may have life and life more abundantly. (Matthew 10:10)

Please notice the context. What does Satan come to steal, kill and destroy? Our abundant life!

We can only enjoy abundant life in the present. 

We may say “Well, last week I enjoyed some abundant living.” Yes, but when we experienced it last week, we experienced it in the present. The same goes for the future. We may say, “Well, one day in the future I’ll experience more abundant life.” Yes, but when that future day comes, it will be your present.

What if Satan can keep us bound up in regrets, hurts, anger, humiliations, and ruminations about failures and losses in the past?

Would not that ruin our abundant life?

What if Satan can keep us filled with anxiety, worry, and fears for the future? 

Would not that ruin our abundant life?

Satan is out to steal, kill, and destroy our abundant life. We overcome his attacks by keeping our thinking in the present.

6. Let’s meditate on Jesus’ summary of his sermon on how to handle stress in Matthew 6:25-34

I enjoyed Jesus’ teaching about God providing clothes and caring for the birds and the flowers. But I enjoy most that Jesus ends His sermon with a simple and easy-to-remember statement that summarizes His advice on handling stress.

When you struggle with stress, memorize the following verse, and use it often:

Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

Well, Andy,

I hope you can use these tools to dramatically reduce your stress when needed.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImagesRawpixel 

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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