I’ve come to realize over the past few months that one thing most moms have in common is stress. Stress over parenting, work, managing the home, scheduling, marriage, money and more. So when I was looking for some training I could pursue to better serve you as my readers, Christian stress management just made sense. So…
While having a cool certificate means I have some very helpful tools and information in my knowledge bank, I realized over the course of my training that I was already more equipped in stress management than I thought I was. And chances are, so are you.
I thought it would be helpful to break some of what I’ve learned down into five basic truths. While there are a lot of practical suggestions for stress management and relief out there, what I don’t see a lot of is the why, particularly for anyone with a Christian worldview. And so that’s a big part of what I want to contribute in my little space on the Internet.
In addition to this post on stress management for moms, I’d also like to introduce my five-day email course that goes into this topic in much more detail. Sign up below!
Stress Management: 5 Surprising Truths for the Busy Mama
1. The Stress Response Was Created by God (and It’s Not Bad)
When your start to care about something—be it trivial, like what to eat for dinner, or more substantial, like a loved one’s illness—your body responds physiologically. Your attention and your senses are heightened. Adrenaline and cortisol are released. Your heart beats faster; you mobilize your energy and start to sweat. You’re motivated to act and might be anxious or excited.
You may have heard of this defined as “fight or flight,” so named because these reactions help us respond in an emergency.
The problem is, when your body is in this state too much and doesn’t receive adequate recovery time, you can start to suffer. Chronic stress leads to a host of complications including anxiety disorders, addictions and a weakened immune system.
What many people don’t know is that stress has benefits, aside from enabling you to respond quickly. It can also help you reach out to others and grow in your knowledge and wisdom.
Related: Why Stress is Actually Good For You
Stress is not bad. It just has to be understood and properly managed. When I first started studying it, it dawned on me that God has known this and has been sharing this with us all along:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 5:3–4, NIV
2. There Are Things You Can Control (and Things You Can’t)
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Someone once told me that the only things we really have control over are our little daily decisions. And over time, these decisions add up and help determine the course of our lives.
This is important to recognize in stress management because sometimes we spend way too much time agonizing over the things we can’t control, when we could be a lot more productive focusing on the things we can.
I call the things you can’t control stress environments and events. These include things like your workplace, your relationships, where you live, death, divorce, job change, new marriage, new baby or a move. In some cases you can remove yourself from these stressors, but sometimes you can’t.
But let’s talk about the things you can control. In essence, these are the things that either help you when you’re responding to stress, or hurt you. I call them aggravators and stabilizers.
Aggravators are poor responses to stress and unhealthy practices in your life.
Stabilizers are conditions and habits in your life that can minimize the impact of stress.
It takes work, but focusing on these two things can make you much more resilient to the stressors in your life you can’t control.
3. You Have Control Over Your Thoughts
I’m going to talk about one of the aggravators that can wreak havoc on your stress levels. You could call it negative thinking; I think it might be more accurately described as believing the enemy’s lies:
“I have to be perfect.”
“I need to be more like that other mom.”
“I need to read my Bible and pray in a certain way in order to be a good Christian.”
These lies come subtly and are easy to consume. We turn them over and over in our heads until we’re paralyzed and stressed out.
There’s a better way:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:4–9, NIV
You have control over your thoughts. It takes a ton of work, but you can actually retrain your brain to focus on what’s true, noble and right.
4. You Have Control Over Your Boundaries
My tendency as a mama is to take the weight of the world on my shoulders. Not only do I worry about my kids and making the perfect life for them, but I worry about pleasing everyone around me—extended family, church family, work demands, you name it.
But when I’m not careful, I can skyrocket my stress level with this powerful aggravator called poor boundaries.
When you have poor boundaries, you take more ownership than you need to in stressful situations. You try to fix problems that aren’t yours. You have a hard time saying “no.” Not only does this steal other people’s freedom to own their own problems (even within your own family!), but you can start sliding down the slippery slope of resentment and blame.
And of course, through it all, stress hormones continue to pump through your body.
Proverbs 14:10 says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.” While you can empathize with other people’s problems, coach them, and pray for them, you can’t and shouldn’t own them. Do you see the difference?
Better boundaries are something I have been working on for years in the way I spend my time and where I invest my heart. If you have difficulty setting boundaries, you’re probably not going to get an instant fix..
But you can start working on this anytime. Say no to the responsibilities that aren’t yours to take.
5. You Have Control Over Rest
God invented rest and practiced it on the seventh day of the creation account we read in Genesis 1–2. He made his day of rest, called the Shabbat, holy, or set apart as something special. He sat back, celebrated the completion of his work, and enjoyed what he had made. Later, he commanded his chosen people, the Israelites, to do the same at the end of their work week.
In Christ we are “not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), meaning that we’re not going to face the death penalty if we don’t keep a weekly Shabbat. But…maybe we’re missing out?
I define adequate rest as a stabilizer when it comes to your personal stress level. We’re better equipped to respond to what life throws at us when we’re better rested—not only physically, but mentally and spiritually too.
We need rest. Otherwise, not only do we get run down, but we also forget about our Creator who wants us to celebrate his creation with him.
I’ve found that what is truly restful isn’t always convenient. Sometimes you’ll just have to “let it go” when the work you so desperately want to finish has to sit another day. Just remember that, for many centuries, people have trusted God to provide when they chose not to work and to honor him instead.
I hope you’ve found these truths helpful as you seek to implement Christian stress management. When you’re mindful about managing your stress, not only do you equip yourself to be a better parent and spouse, but I believe you also give more space for God to work in your life.
To learn more, I’d encourage you to sign up for my free email course, StressLESS, in which you’ll get five lessons over five days. I’ve also got a lot of other stress management content on the docket, so stay tuned!
Now it’s your turn, mama: are you stressed out? Which of these five stress management principles helps you the most?