TRANSIENT STRESS VS TRAGIC STRESS
Stress – it makes me crazy.
I clench my teeth, I forget to breathe, it changes my facial expressions, i.e. one time my 6 year old son asked me why frowning was my favorite face.
We know it’s not good for us, we wish we didn’t have it. But sometimes, we are mired so deep in it, we have no idea how to get out of it.
Maybe you, like me, have even had well-meaning friends comment that all you need to do is cast your cares on Him and be anxious for nothing.
A remark that always multiplies any stress I already have. If it were just that easy – don’t you think I would have already done that?
(Maxine always brings an element of sanity in the insanity…)
The body’s natural response to stress was all part of a God-given plan.
You perceive danger, your body secretes higher levels of Cortisol, your heart-rate jumps, and your brain goes into overdrive trying to discern the best way out. It’s an ingenious plan because, well, He IS God.
Watch this funny short video and read the captions. I’ll bet your heart starts racing for the girl in this video too! Check out the initial surprise, the confusion, the quickened breathing, face flushing, you can almost hear the sound of her heart pounding.
If what happened to this girl in the following commercial, had happened to me – I wouldn’t have just been stressed – I’d have had the whole airport stressed!
I’m willing to bet that when it was over, her body was shaky and it took a little time for her mind to calm down.
That fight or flight stress response? It was meant for short bursts, not as a long term living plan. Sure, it helps for the moment, but to provide that extra boost of adrenalin, the body depletes itself in other areas.
The energy required for escape draws from other areas like the immune system.
So, living in prolonged stress also depletes the immune system. Ever get sick in the middle of stressful situations? There is a physical reason for it – your body has no reserves to keep itself well.
But, very few of us escape without having to live with prolonged stress during different life seasons.
And not all stress is the same – so before we can try to face it, we need to identify it.
From years of praying with and encouraging Christians in distress, and through personal experience, I’ve encountered many kinds of stress, but two categories stand out more than others – Transient Stress and Tragic Stress.
Big project at work that could prove vital for your career? Transient Stress.
Four kids on different sports teams with school projects and teacher’s meetings – transient.
Working, going to school, car breaks down, refrigerator goes out – all transient.
Transient stress is crazy busy schedules, pop up emergencies, short term projects that demand instantaneous responses. And while they are anxiety-producing for the moment – they are usually resolvable within a foreseeable amount of time.
Transient stress says, “If I can just get through next Friday.” “Once this convention is over, things will slow down.” “When soccer season is finished, we will have more time.” “If I could ever get over this cold, I’ll have more energy.” It is transient…temporary.
Don’t confuse temporary with easy, though. You might be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, but getting to the end of the tunnel is still going to wear you out.
Transient Stress usually brings along its friends, Anxiety and Guilt. “I’m never going to get this done in time.” “I’m neglecting my family/spouse/job/self – I should plan better.”
Transient Stress is often brought about by decisions we have, or have not made. It can also be managed, in part, by reassessing and re-prioritizing.
Then there’s Tragic Stress, the magnitude and power of which leaves you gasping for air and drowning, no rescue in sight.
It engulfs, it overpowers and it overwhelms. Being fired or down-sized at work, separation/divorce, or child custody issues bring long lasting stress. Legal issues, deployment, grief from the loss of a loved one, along with chronic depression or long term care giving situations, often send us into a chasm of the unknown and we see no immediate way out.
Tragic Stress doesn’t like to travel on its own, either, so Fear, Desperation, Depression all come along for the ride.
Where we might have a little more control over Transient Stress, Tragic Stress is usually dropped onto us like a bomb. We know that our world has exploded and from this point on, things will never be the same.
True, we might have seen the signs of relationships in trouble, but often one party is still left stunned at the end of it. Easing the end of life for aging relatives, saying good-bye to a military spouse, trying to comprehend a terminal diagnosis – all tragic situations for which there is no comprehensible end.
Grieving the loss of a loved one, or a marriage, or recovering from past abuse are not life situations that can be worked through quickly or easily.
To make matters worse, sometimes we are assaulted from all sides with two or more situations at once, yet we still have to find a way to get up every morning, and face the decisions we have to make and the difficulties we have to encounter.
So what do we do when we feel like trouble has set up camp in our back yard?
How should we react when busy just gets busier, or chaos becomes the relative who has overstayed his welcome?
Experts have laundry lists of solutions: reassessing and reworking schedules, learning to say no to excess activities, grief counseling or nursing services for healthcare related issues, sometimes medications that can help re-balance brain chemistry.
Through the years, there are several things that have consistently helped me when I was busy, but also when I was devastated; when I was overbooked, but also when I was overwhelmed; when I was rushed, but also when I was ruined.
Today I will share the first one – it is easy, yet we rush past it because it is easy.
Breathe – deeply – consciously – repeatedly.
Because when we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow, which causes our hearts to beat faster, which causes a feeling of anxiety and agitation.
So, breathe. It is the one thing ALL of us can do, at any stage. Even if you have to put a sticky note on the fridge or computer – remind yourself to breathe.
Breathe deeply several times throughout the day – in for a count of 5, and out for a count of 7.
Getting oxygen to our brains won’t fix overloaded schedules, or deep heartbreak. It will help lower our heart rates and help to prevent high blood pressure, headaches, intestinal issues.
But don’t just breathe air – breathe Life.
Repeatedly, deeply, consciously…because shallow breathing of Life, Himself, doesn’t allow our souls to anchor in deep and draw from the riches of His peace.
And don’t think your spiritual state has to be perfect either.
In anger and confusion, breathe Him in.
In sadness, grief, guilt, hopelessness – breathe Him in and let Him work His supernatural works down deep in your desperate heart.
Breathe in and picture His life giving peace permeating each cell and particle in your body and mind.
Breathe out, and voice frustrations, emotions, pain.
Breathe in Hope…Breathe out hopelessness.
Breathe in Strength…Breathe out fear.
Say His Name out loud – Yahweh – it is Life to you.
Your situation might stay the same for awhile, but His breath will give life to areas you thought long dead.
Your Father created the lungs of your body and soul to be filled with Life.
“Then the Lord God formed man from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…”
LIFE in Hebrew means – living, alive, revive from sickness, restored from discouragement or even death, refreshment…sustained life.
His breath does not just call us to life – it revives us in life.
On Thursday I will share the second thing that the Lord has used to help calm my anxious heart – heal my broken soul, and instill hope in areas that went hopelessly dark.
Until then…Breathe, my friends.
Breathe – and know that He is not just a resource for you to access.
He is THE Source.
(If you are experiencing a difficult time, leave a comment and let me know how I can pray for you.)