Signposts Regarding Stress

Road signs give you notice of impending change or danger. Do you get anxious when you have to stop for others? Do you resent having to yield the right-of-way? Do you get impatient when road repairs make you change your speed or detour from the familiar? God’s warning signs often relay the same messages as those obstacles you encounter on the highways. What may seem an unpleasant hindrance to your movement through life may be God’s notice that you are going dangerously fast or that you are driving down the wrong road.

SLOW:

1. Slow down and make the necessary changes for good physical health.

  • Do I eat a balanced and healthy diet?
  • Do I exercise at least three times a week?
  • Do I take at least one day of rest each week?
  • Do I get adequate restful sleep most nights?

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2).

2. Slow down and evaluate your priorities.

  • Make a list of everything you do.
  • Consider other priorities that should be on the list.
  • Number in order of importance.
  • Choose your commitments carefully.
  • Eliminate unnecessary stressful obligations.
  • Don’t accept impossible deadlines.
  • Don’t give in to the pressure of urgency.
  • Tackle only one problem at a time.

“Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

3. Slow down and nourish your spiritual life.

  • Remind yourself daily to, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
  • Open lines of honest communication with God about your concerns, needs and fears.
    Set aside time daily for personal prayer and Scripture meditation.
  • Memorize Scripture that builds assurance of God’s love (Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 36:7; John 14:21; Romans 8:39).

“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)

STOP:

1. Stop and look at the real reason you are experiencing stress.

  • Do I try to meet my own needs instead of waiting on the Lord?
  • Do I think God cannot get along without me?
  • Do I seek self-worth through proving my adequacy and effectiveness?
  • Am I Spirit-led or people-pressured?

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

2. Stop, confess and turn away from any known sin in your life.

  • Do I manipulate or control others?
  • Do I feel envious or jealous of others?
  • Do I express my feelings inappropriately?
  • Do I overreact to criticism?
  • Do I have impure motives?

“He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

YIELD:

1. Yield to God’s sovereign control over your circumstances.

  • What is God doing in my circumstances?
  • In what way does God want me to change?
  • How does God want me to respond?
  • Do I have impure motives?

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1).

2. Yield to God your rights and expectations.

  • I yield my right to control my circumstances.
  • I yield my right to be accepted by others.
  • I yield my right to be successful.
  • I yield my right to be heard and understood.
  • I yield my right to be right.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

RESUME SPEED: Resume speed, living in the presence of God.

Dear Lord,

  • I choose to let Christ live His life through me.
  • I choose to live in the present, not worrying about tomorrow.
  • I will refocus my thoughts away from my pressures to Your purposes for allowing this pressure.
  • I choose to have a thankful heart regardless of the pressure I feel.
  • I will call on You, Lord, for wisdom and peace.
  • I will commit to talking less and listening more.

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD” (Psalm 89:15).

“My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him” (Psalm 62:1).

[June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

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The Causes of Stress

When there is a problem, looking under the hood of your car isn’t enough. You need to inspect the parts that have received excessive wear and tear. Are you worn and torn by stress? Have you analyzed your own condition? By taking a closer look at Paul’s many experiences, you can check out what circumstances are most likely to cause stress. If the pressures in your life are not being used to press you closer to the Lord, you may be on the way to a blowout!

“Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.” (2 Corinthians 11:22–31)

CONFLICT: Paul was met with extreme opposition from others. 2 Corinthians 11:23–24

  • Opposing values of family and friends
  • Unresolved anger in relationships
  • Unrealistic expectations of another person
  • Lack of open communication in relationships

CRISIS: Paul was shipwrecked and often in extreme danger. 2 Corinthians 11:25–26

  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Separation or divorce
  • Severe illness or handicaps
  • Unexpected trauma of any kind

CHANGE: Paul was constantly on the move, often going without sleep. 2 Corinthians 11:26–27

  • Change of environment
  • Change in financial state
  • Change in employment
  • Change in sleeping and health habits

CONDEMNATION: Paul was rejected and betrayed by the Gentiles and by his own people. 2 Corinthians 11:26

  • Rejection by significant people in your life
  • Lack of support from your coworkers
  • Unfaithfulness of a friend
  • False accusations about your character

CONCERNS: Paul carried the daily pressure of concern for the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:28

  • Concern for loved ones
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Fear of failure
  • Perfectionism and excessive concern with detail

COMPETITION: Paul chose to boast only in his weaknesses. 2 Corinthians 11:30

  • Base your acceptance on who you are in Christ.
  • See your weaknesses as God’s opportunities.
  • Give up the need to be in control.
  • Rejoice in the success of others.

CONSCIENCE: Paul was secure in his integrity before the Lord. 2 Corinthians 11:31

  • Put God first in all your activities.
  • Allow God to meet your needs.
  • Respond to the needs of others.
  • Repent of sin in your life.

Paul was able to have peace in the midst of terrible stress and suffering, so we must look to see if there is a root cause of our stress.

What do you need to know and believe that will enable you to have success over stress?

  • WRONG BELIEF: “My life is out of control. I feel helpless to cope with all this stress in my life.”
  • RIGHT BELIEF: God has allowed this stress in my life to bless my life and reveal my weaknesses. I am grateful for the pressures that have pressed me closer to Him and caused me to allow Christ to be my strength. “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

[June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

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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).

[June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

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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).

[June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

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Scripture to Deal with Stress

People react to pressure much the same way as does any metal that needs to be made useful. Stress can increase your ability to endure, but excessive pressure can break you. Your response to stress is critical. As you submit to God, he will reproduce the life of Christ in you, creating a person who is useful to his kingdom.

Here are some encouraging words from the Bible: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10).

Distress is a word used more than 100 times in the Bible to describe negative stress. It most often pictures the negative result that pressure and pain can have on the heart. The Old Testament Hebrew word tsarah is taken from the root word meaning “tightness” which means distress, anguish or affliction in a spiritual or psychological sense.

Due to a famine in Israel, Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt in an attempt to buy grain, but as they found themselves in a stressful situation, they reflected on what they had done to Joseph many years before. “We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21).

[June Hunt, Hope for the Heart, 2008]

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The Future of Counseling

The traditional divisions in counseling have been:

  1. Remedial counseling: helping people to deal with existing problems of life.
  2. Preventative counseling: help to stop problems from getting worse or prevent them from occurring in the first place.
  3. Educative counseling: the counselor taking opportunities to teach principles of mental heath to larger groups

Recent studies indicate that the three should be reversed in the order of importance. This would take counseling to the people, rather than waiting for hurting people to come into an office. The focus is moved from individuals with problems to the community.

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Counseling and Loneliness

Loneliness knows no class, race or age: it hits everyone periodically. This is the lack of meaningful contact with other people which is accompanied by sadness, discouragement, a sense of isolation, restlessness, anxiety and an intense desire to be wanted. Lonely people feel left out, unwanted or rejected, even when surrounded by others. I have sent missionaries to East Asia, where they were be in a city of 15 million people and suffered terribly from loneliness.

1. Emotional loneliness: The lack or loss of a psychologically intimate relationship with another person

2. Social loneliness: Feeling aimless, anxious or empty, even “out of it”

3. Existential loneliness: The sense of loneliness which comes from being separated from God and the person feels there is no meaning in life

The Bible and Loneliness:

1. Adam was alone and needed a helpmate

2. Adam and Eve were instructed to multiply the race

3. Adam and Eve broke fellowship with God in their sin

4. OT giants like Jacob, Moses, Job, Nehemiah, Elijah, Jeremiah and even David were lonely at times. Jesus was alone in the garden, John on the isle of Patmos, Paul in prison having been deserted by nearly everyone.

The Causes of Loneliness:

1. Social causes

  1. Technology: As government and business gets bigger, people feel less significant, smaller and not needed, and people do not develop deep satisfying relationships.
  2. Mobility: Moving around is much easier, which tears up relationship, separates families, eliminates neighborhoods or a community spirit, and people don’t risk getting close to others in fear of being hurt later.
  3. Urbanization: As people move into cities together, they really tend to withdraw from one another. There is a fear of strangers, and this leads to suspicion and withdrawal.
  4. Television: Television enhances separation both by program content and seems to promote superficiality. People view the tube and seldom engage in meaningful communication.

2. Developmental causes: Ellison mentions basic needs that must be met

  1. Attachment: People need to feel close bonds with other human beings, especially as children. Children separated from parents, divorce and even child abuse can all lead to loneliness.
  2. Acceptance: Parents communicate this to their children by touching, spending time with them, listening, disciplining, and showing affection. If children are ignored or excessively criticized they will feel worthless.
  3. Acquiring skills: We all know social misfits. They are often insensitive to the needs and attitudes of others, and they don’t know how to develop smooth interpersonal relationships. They might try to manipulate or force themselves on others which only brings more frustration and increased loneliness.

3. Psychological causes:

  1. Low self-esteem: This is the opinion we have for ourselves. If it is low we will underestimate our value and withdraw, or if it is too high we will exaggerate our value to the point of conceit. Low self-esteem will cause a person to be weak or shy, and there is a need to depend upon others. When others are not available there comes a sense of insecurity and deep loneliness.
  2. Inability to communicate: This is at the root of many if not all interpersonal problems. If one can’t communicate, there is a persistent loneliness that follows.
  3. Self-defeating attitudes: There is greater possibility for loneliness when there is intense competition, struggling for self-sufficiency, self-centeredness, criticism or intolerance for others, holding on to grudges, using other people to satisfy our own egos.
  4. Hostility: Some people are just innately angry. They seems to feel threatened, frustrated or resentful because of real or imagined injustice. This anger can turn to self-hatred, and into loneliness due to constant complaining and negative attitudes, which will drive people away from them.
  5. Fear: People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges, which keeps other people out. These can have a fear of intimacy, rejection, or fear of being hurt.

4. Situational causes: Being single, divorced, widowed, grieving, or elderly can be lonely. Those in leadership positions, students away from home, affluent people in a financial crisis, those with deformed bodies or diseases.

5. Spiritual causes: Free will allows us to rebel against the only avenue of salvation for individuals. Existential loneliness comes when we refuse to acknowledge and confess our sin.

The Effects of Loneliness:

1. Isolation: Often but not always.

2. Poor self-esteem: Feelings of worthlessness; failure in relationships or activities; discouragement and negative self-talk.

3. Hopelessness: This can lead to despair or even thoughts of suicide, feeling there is no way out.

4. Alcoholism and drug abuse: As a means of escape.

5. Violence: Some will express their frustrations in destructive ways

Counseling and Loneliness:

1. Admitting the problem: They might feel this admission of loneliness is the same as being a social misfit, unattractive, unable to relate to others.

2. Considering the causes: It is possible to work on the source of the problem and not just the symptoms.

3. Accepting what cannot be changed: Self-esteem can be changed, while a widow’s cannot bring back her husband.

  1. One must develop an inner life of positive interests, appreciation for what is good in life, and a sense of humor. It is more than positive thinking. It is a rejection of self-pity and a willingness to see the bright side.
  2. One must develop a lifestyle of keeping in touch. Involve yourself in play, creative activities and daily news which can keep one from a tendency to brood.
  3. One must develop a religious faith that can keep one in touch with the realities of life, seeing life in its wholeness. One will find meaning which can under-gird the individual.

4. Altering what can be changed: Watch less television, spend more time on family activities, get involved in useful church activities

  1. Developing self-esteem: People need help for them to see their strengths, abilities, gifts, and weaknesses. People spend a lifetime telling themselves that they don’t look good, are incompetent or are disliked by people. We compare ourselves with others which aids fuels our feelings of inferiority. Every person has value to God, is loved, can be forgiven, has gifts and abilities.
  2. Taking risks: It takes great courage to reach out to others, even if one has good self-esteem. It can be embarrassing or threatening.
  3. Learning skills: Many people are social cripples and need to learn basic skills of relationships.

5. Meeting the spiritual need: Jesus and me makes a majority, so why be lonely? Then one can be incorporated into the family, the body of Christ.

Preventing Loneliness:

  1. Recognize that as a believer you are adopted into the family of God.
  2. Get involved in a local body of believers or organization with whom you share beliefs.
  3. Find a mentor of someone to whom you will be accountable for growth goals and taking risks of getting out of your comfort zone.
  4. Identify and name your weaknesses, making sure to not put yourself in vulnerable positions.
  5. Rid yourself from isolating activities such as computer, television, gaming and work toward activities that force you to be in community with others.
  6. Discover your giftedness in serving others; it’s hard to be lonely when you are serving others. Visit the local homeless shelter and volunteer, there’s nothing like volunteering to put life back into perspective.

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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

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Referrals in Counseling

This does not mean that the original counselor is incompetent or trying to get rid of the client. It rather shows the counselor’s desire to have the best interest of his client in mind. Counselors should be familiar with community resources and person to whom clients can be referred. After several sessions, and the person is not being helped, it could be that referral in necessary:

  1. Severe financial needs.
  2. Medical or legal advice.
  3. Severely depressed or suicidal.
  4. Demonstrations of aggressive behavior in the client.
  5. Severe emotional disturbance.
  6. Stirring feelings of dislike or sexual desires in the counselor.

Referrals include private practitioners such as physicians, lawyers, psychiatrists, community agencies in the government, or AA.

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The Counselor’s Sexuality

Whenever two people work closely together towards a common goal, feelings of warmth can often arise between them. Sexual attraction between counselor and client has been called the “problem pastors don’t talk about.” Intimate details which would never be discussed between a man and a woman (not married to each other) can be discussed in a counseling session. This can be sexually arousing to both the counselor and the client. The potential for immorality tends to be greater if the client is attractive or tends to be seductive, and the counselor does not have his own sexual needs satisfied elsewhere. Ministries, effectiveness and reputations have been destroyed over this issue.

  1. Spiritual protection: Meditation on the Word of God, prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit are all crucially important. In addition, the counselor must watch what he does with his mind. Focus on purity, truth and honor. Don’t make the mistake that, “this sort of thing can’t happen to me.”
  2. Awareness of danger signals: There are several clues that can indicate a potential shift from counseling professional to dangerous intimacy:
    1. Communication of subtle messages of a more intimate quality (smiles, raising an eyebrow, physical touches).
    2. Desire of both persons to maintain the relationship
    3. Eagerness (especially by the counselee) to divulge details of sexual experiences or fantasies.
    4. The counselor permitting himself to be manipulated by the counselee.
    5. The counselor’s recognition that he needs to see the counselee (which is a sign of going under).
    6. Increasing frustrations in the counselor’s own marriage.
    7. The lengthening of times and frequency of sessions, sometimes supplemented by phone calls.
  3. Limit setting: Once detected, the counselor can stop the sessions, make a referral, or possibly discuss these feelings with the client. Before any of this, it is best to set clear limits:
    1. Prescribe the frequency and length of sessions.
    2. Refuse to engage in long phone conversations.
    3. Discourage lengthy discussion of sexual topics.
    4. Avoid physical contact.
    5. Meet in a place, and seat yourself in a way which discourages wandering eyes or an opportunity for personal intimacy.
  4. Examining attitudes: There is nothing to be gained by denying your sexual feelings. They are quite common, but can be controlled. Remember:
    1. Social consequences: Ruined marriage, reputation, effectiveness.
    2. Professional image: This will never help your counselee, and will never advance the counselor’s professional work.
    3. Theological truth: This is sin and must be avoided, and we are responsible for our own behavior.
  5. Support group protection: A trusted confidant, accountability.
    1. Spouse: Often this is missed do to embarrassment or fear. There is also support that if a client becomes a threat to one’s marriage, there were underlying problems in the marriage long before the client came along.
    2. Trusted friend: Accountability.
    3. The client? Some may interpret this as an invitation, others may talk about this outside of the sessions which could have disastrous results.

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