Four Stages of Stress

It might be helpful to look at the four stages of stress:

Stage 1 – NO LIGHT

  1. Insufficient Stress.
  2. No motivation to move responsibly.
  3. When there is insufficient stress to move responsibly, you will find that the person:
    1. avoids responsibility
    2. has poor relationships
    3. is not productive
    4. has no energy
    5. experiences depression
    6. has no purpose
    7. lacks perspective on life

Stage 2 – GREEN LIGHT

  1. Positive Stress.
  2. Motivation to move responsibly.
  3. When there is positive stress, you will see that the person:
    1. faces responsibility
    2. has responsible relationships
    3. is productive
    4. is energetic
    5. is enthusiastic
    6. has fulfillment of purpose
    7. has a positive perspective

Stage 3 – YELLOW LIGHT

  1. Negative Stress.
  2. Motivational warning signs to slow down movement.
  3. The warning signs of stress are like the amber lights on a traffic signal: They caution you to be on the alert, to slow down and to be prepared for upcoming change. The physical warning signs of stress can be:
    1. tension headaches
    2. muscle aches
    3. heavy sighing
    4. high blood pressure
    5. ulcers
    6. hyper-alertness
    7. loss of sleep/excessive sleep
    8. lack of concentration
    9. indecisiveness
    10. irritability

Stage 4 – RED LIGHT

  1. Burnout.
  2. Movement is stopped and repair is necessary.
  3. Burnout is certainly not God’s will for us. It may actually mean that we have not processed the stresses of life in a godly way. Instead of living at Stage 2, we become:
    1. overwhelmed by responsibility
    2. withdrawn from relationships
    3. minimally productive
    4. depressed (lack of enthusiasm)
    5. purposeless
    6. without perspective
    7. easily fatigued
    8. lacking the ability to concentrate
    9. indecisive
    10. irritable

If your car begins to clunk and smoke pours from the hood, you would search for the nearest station and a competent mechanic. The first phrase you hear is, “Let’s take a look under the hood.” Unfortunately, many of us may be more concerned about the distressing condition of our car than the condition of our physical bodies. Are you sensitive to the warnings of your emotional engine? Your physical symptoms could register that you’re on the brink of burnout. “A man may be chastened on a bed of pain with constant distress in his bones” (Job 33:19).

Checklist for Burnout:

  • I have difficulty relaxing.
  • I have lower back pain.
  • I feel tired and lifeless most of the time.
  • I have frequent severe headaches.
  • I get indigestion often.
  • I often have diarrhea or constipation.
  • I could be getting an ulcer.
  • I have trouble sleeping at night.
  • I grind my teeth at night.
  • I am susceptible to every cold and virus.
  • I have allergies or asthma.
  • I eat and snack excessively.
  • I have lost a lot of weight.
  • I often have cold hands and sweating palms.
  • I have shortness of breath.
  • I have a rapid pulse.
  • I generally feel nervous and unsettled.

No one will experience all these symptoms, but if you checked four or more, you may need to evaluate how you are responding to the pressures in your life. Are you releasing your heavy load to the Lord and allowing His peace to permeate your heart? “A heart at peace gives life to the body” (Proverbs 14:30).

[print_link] [email_link] [June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

Spiritual Implications of Stress

Stress is ultimately a spiritual issue that affects your whole life. Pressure is not the perpetrator. Your reaction to pressure is what reveals your understanding of God’s ways. You can allow pressure to come between you and the Lord, or you can allow pressure to press you closer to the Lord. Evaluate your mental, emotional and physical response to the pressures that produce stress in your life.

Mental stress is a result of how you think about or interpret events. If you dwell on losing your job, you will feel stress. If you dwell on God’s faithfulness to provide, he will replace your stress with his peace. Ask yourself whether you have a positive or negative outlook. If you dwell on negative thoughts, you can turn almost anything, even good circumstances, into stress. This is why God wants you to meditate on what is pure and good. “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.… And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8–9).

Emotional stress is the result of how you process your thoughts. If you think bitter thoughts, you will feel bitter emotions. If you think forgiving thoughts, you will feel forgiveness in your heart. Although feelings need to be recognized and acknowledged, they are basically a product of your thinking, and therefore they can be controlled. Emotional immaturity makes you a prisoner to your feelings and keeps you chained to undue stress. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

Physical stress causes your body to automatically respond external pressure. If you dwell on your difficulties, you can develop fatigue. If you trust God for His timing, he provides you peace. Even medical science has its own special definition of stress, which threads mental and emotional reactions to the central nervous system. As other physiological systems begin to activate in order to meet the external demands in life, if the pressure is not dealt with in a healthy way, you become susceptible to a variety of physical problems. God reveals in Proverbs that by keeping his words in your heart, you can avoid many of the consequences of stress. “Keep them [God’s words of wisdom] within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body” (Proverbs 4:21–22).

[print_link] [email_link] [June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

Counseling and Anxiety

Anxiety, stress, fear and tension all have different meanings yet are often used interchangeably to describe the most prevailing characteristics of human beings in this century. Rollo May called anxiety one of the most urgent problems of our day.

It is defined as inner feelings of apprehension, uneasiness, concern, worry or dread which is accompanied by heightened physical arousal. Classifications of anxiety are:

1. Acute: This comes quickly, is of high intensity, and has a short duration. If one is suddenly overwhelmed, it is usually acute.

2. Chronic: This is persistent and longer lasting, but the intensity is lower.

3. Normal: This comes when there is a real danger or situational threat. It can be recognized, managed and reduced, especially if the outward circumstances change.

4. Neurotic: This involves intense exaggerated feelings of helplessness and dread even when the danger is mild or nonexistent. It cannot be dealt with rationally because the source comes from subconscious inner conflicts.

Anxiety can vary in intensity as well: Moderate can be healthy and even desirable since it helps people avoid real dangers. High anxiety can shorten one’s attention span, make concentration difficult, adversely affect memory, hinder performance skills, interfere with problem solving, block communication, arouse panic, and even symptomatic paralysis or intense headaches.

The Bible and Anxiety:

1. Anxiety as fret or worry: (Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 55:22), and we are told to avoid this type of worrying.

2. Anxiety in the form of realistic concern is not forbidden. To ignore danger is a foolish thing. (2 Corinthians 11:28, Philippians 2:20)

The Causes of Anxiety:

Sigmund Freud discusses human personality is terms of the id, ego and the superego:

  1. When he id recognizes a clear threat to the person, this is called realistic anxiety.
  2. When the id begins to get too powerful, so that it threatens to overwhelm the ego and cause the person to act with socially aggressive or sexually unacceptable behavior, this is neurotic anxiety.
  3. When the superego gets too powerful, so that the person is overwhelmed by guilt or shame, this is moral anxiety.

Anxiety Results from the Following:

1. Threat

  1. Danger: Crime, war, violent weather, unexplained illness
  2. Self-esteem: People like to look good and perform competently
  3. Separation: From significant others; or rejection
  4. Unconscious influence: Even those who reject Freud will accept that there can be certain underlying thoughts, emotions or experiences that will cause anxiety.

2. Conflict: faced with two of more pressures

  1. Approach-approach conflict: Conflict over the tendency to pursue two desirable but incompatible goals (two dinner invitations).
  2. Approach-avoidance conflict: Here is the desire both to do and to not do something. One might (grapple with a job offer with more pay and opportunity (approach), but it will bring a move and the inconvenience of a training program (avoidance).
  3. Avoidance-avoidance conflict: Here are two alternatives, both of which are unpleasant, like having pain versus having an operation to relieve the pain.

3. Fear: similar to anxiety, even though they are not identical. Fears can come in from a variety of situations. Different people are afraid of failure, the future, rejection, achieving success, intimacy, etc. These fears can build up into anxiety.

4. Unmet needs:

  1. Survival: need for continued existence
  2. Security: economic and social
  3. Sex: as an expression of love, as a sexual being
  4. Significance: to account for something, to be worthwhile
  5. Self-fulfillment: to achieve fulfilling goals
  6. Selfhood: a sense of identity

5. Individual differences: Some people are never anxious in the same anxiety producing situation for another person. Fears and phobias:

  1. Psychology: Most behavior is a result of experience or learned from parents or other significant persons. We will react as we have seen others react to similar situations.
  2. Personality: Some people are more fearful or high strung than others. Some are more sensitive, self-centered, hostile or insecure than others.
  3. Sociology: Political instability, mobility which disturbs our rootedness, shifting values, changing moral standards, religious beliefs can all cause anxiety.
  4. Physiology: The presence of disease can cause anxiety, as well as dietary imbalance, neurological malfunctioning and chemical factors.
  5. Theology: Some believers are so concerned about pleasing God that their theology cause them undo anxiety. This anxiety would then be considered a lack of faith.

The Effects of Anxiety:

1. Physical reactions: Ulcers, headaches, backaches, lack of sleep, butterflies, fatigue, loss of appetite, frequent urination, blood pressure, slow digestion, chemical changes in the blood.

2. Psychological reactions: Reduction in productivity, stifles creativity, hinders the capacity to relate to others, dulls the personality, interferes with the ability to think or remember.

3. Defensive reactions: Denial of the anxiety, blaming others for faults, rationalization, slipping into childish reactions, escape through alcohol or drugs, withdrawal into mental illness or bizarre behavior.

4. Spiritual reactions: It can drive us toward or away from God, lack of time for prayer, lack of concentration on reading the Bible, reduced interest in worship times, impatience with heaven’s seeming silence.

Counseling and Anxiety:

1. Recognize the counselor’s own anxieties: What is the situation that is making me anxious? What is it about this person that makes me anxious?

2. Demonstrate love: Love move towards others and shrinks fear, and is a demonstration of Christ (1 John 4:18, Hebrews 13:6).

3. Identify causes: One can’t simply show love and tell the client to get over their anxiety.

  1. Observation: Does he shift around, perspire or change breathing when a certain topic is discussed?
  2. Reflection: Can the client recall certain times when the anxiety is more overwhelming?
  3. Contemplation: Raise issues about the causes and get the client to dwell upon these to his own conclusion.

4. Encouraging action: The goal is not to eliminate the anxiety but to become aware of it and be able to cope with it. Help them to move through the situation rather than going around it.

5. Giving support: Anxious client get little help from impatient counselors. The helper must be calm, supportive and patient.

6. Encourage a Christian response:

  1. Rejoice (Philippians 4:4) in the midst of trouble
  2. Forbear (Philippians 4:5) graciousness in your spirit
  3. Pray (Philippians 4:6) about everything, details
  4. Think (Philippians 4:8) dwell on positive things
  5. Act (Philippians 4:9, James 1:22) put these into practice

Preventing Anxiety:

1. Trust in God: We know who holds the future

2. Learn to cope:

  1. Admit fears and insecurities when they arise
  2. Talk these over with someone else
  3. Build self-esteem
  4. Acknowledge that separation hurts
  5. Seek help from God
  6. Learn to communicate
  7. Learn some principles of relaxation
  8. Periodically evaluate your priorities, life goals and time management