how to move your focus from stress to rest

Stress. It’s a part of life, but it doesn’t need to be a way of life.

When Nancy gets home from a long day of work, she’s different than when she left the house. She’s tired, for starters, but her temper is short. If the kids get into a squabble or ask too soon when dinner will be ready, she’s liable to snap. Dan shuffles in not long after, and getting even a word out of him is like pulling teeth. He’s on and off his phone, checking emails, and it’ll take Nancy grumbling before he even realizes he hasn’t even asked about her day.

This cycle of discontentment can creep into our relationships, making us feel overwhelmed… almost like we’re carrying a huge weight around. The loss of joy in our family may seem like a natural entropy, but the truth is that it often stress following us well outside its territory.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it may be time to reset your focus… from stress to rest.

Stress is a thief. Here’s how to defend your heart when stress comes knocking. 

Expect it.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah! I think I can keep myself from getting stressed this week!” (more on that tactic later), you’re fooling yourself. As I said earlier, stress is a normal part of life. It motivates us to get organized; it stretches us to meet deadlines and accomplish our goals; it even helps us foresee and navigate threats to our well-being. 

To put it simply, it’s the feeling you get when life’s demands seem to outweigh your abilities. In moderation, it’s healthy.

By acknowledging that you will face stressful situations and that you might even have those feelings of overwhelm, you’re already ahead of the game. If stress surprises you, you’re less likely to conquer it thoughtfully.

Dodge it.

Don’t certain people and situations just exude stress? While some stress is unavoidable, some of it we subject ourselves to willingly by just not knowing when or how to say “no.” If you find yourself volunteering to spend time with people who drain you, know that setting boundaries can be a wonderful thing. If you are lucky enough to have loved ones and friends who make you feel refreshed and energized, treat yourself to more time with them instead!

Dump it.

Many times, we can be our own worst enemy. Taking on too much at any one time is a sure-fire way to end up perpetually stressed out. Take a brief inventory by asking yourself, “What would feel so good not to have to do right now?” De-stressing your life might mean…

  • Discussing your task list with your boss — Maybe you’ve said “yes” to a few too many To-Do’s
  • Taking one less class this semester
  • Hitting “PAUSE” on a personal project
  • Fitting appointments more comfortably into your schedule — If your schedule feels too tight, it probably is!
  • Choosing your volunteer opportunities wisely

Now, all of those things are GREAT! But, usually, they’re things we can do later. And, if we do them when we have the time and energy to spare, we can do them better.

Diffuse it.

Stress can be overwhelming. When “This is too much!” takes over your thought life, your brain chemistry starts sappings energy away until you can hardly think clearly. So, let’s get underwhelmed again by creating a plan you can put into action when you’re overloaded.  

Write down three simple and powerful truths to help you focus.

I believe everyone needs a list like this. Here are a few to help you get started.

  1. What I’m stressing about is not today’s agenda. I can handle it later.
  2. I’m strong enough to get through these next few minutes.
  3. If I calm down, I’ll be able to think clearly and get some meaningful work done.
  4. I will focus on only the most important thing right now, so I can regain my confidence and positive momentum.
  5. I can accomplish more than I think in the time I’m given.

It might be a powerful Scripture. My favorite is Psalm 62:1 in the NIV, “My soul finds rest in God alone.” Maybe an uplifting song lyric! May I suggest, in the words of Destiny’s Child, I’m a survivor, I’m not gonna give up, I’m not gonna stop, I’m gonna work harder. Just keep the list short and memorable, so that you are more likely to remember and use it.

Get ahead of it.

What activities truly soothe your heart. Tennis? Walking the dog? Taking a bubble bath? Reading or watching a great story? Gardening? Painting? What soothes you (and NOT what numbs you!) will strengthen you. The better job you do of caring for your heart, the more successful you will be at being on the right side of the daily stress test.

Keep your joy. Defend your heart.

Rev. Greg Griffin is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor and Forgiveness Coach in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.

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