Pastor Craig wrapped up on year-long long at nine mental health strategies for Christians. Check out this recap he shared on his blog, and scroll down to watch the video of the full message.
Of all the things that rob a Christian of peace and robust mental health, stress has to be near the top of the list. There are so many stressors in our lives that to not find a way to actively de-stress is to choose to remain stressed. This is sort of like fertilizing the weeds, as we learned in our second mental health strategy.
A certain amount of stress is good for us—doctors call this eustress. Our bodies have been designed by God with a hormone called cortisol that helps us respond to stressful situations, and He also designed that the unused cortisol be flushed from our bodies as we sleep and exercise. However, when we become stressed, many times sleep and exercise are squeezed out of our lives.
Men’s Health magazine reported, “You personally may dictate when you’ll die. After studying 1633 men for 30 years, Purdue scientists found that worrying takes 16 years off your life. Negative thinking triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that can be dangerous when elevated for long periods of time.”
The eustress can degrade into distress if we’re not attentive to this downward slide. The excess cortisol that is allowed to remain in our bodies leads to unhealthy responses—like sleeplessness, starvation or binge eating, and little to no exercise. These unhealthy factors are further exacerbated by our diminished coping skills that come from the damage done to the hippocampus in our brain. Lingering cortisol kills the neurons in this memory center of our brains, which makes it harder for us to recall past lessons that could help us resolve stress.
Sadly, distress can become its own downward cycle as the unhealthy responses and diminished coping skills negatively impact our lives, creating even more stressors.
Stress makes us:
- Stingy with our time, possessions, and even God’s promises
But there is a word of hope for us. William James noted, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
I want to give you one thought—one word, one action—to combat stress: Bless.
Blessing others takes the focus off myself. Blessing God puts the focus on Him.
In the Gospels, we see people who had suffered the ravages of stress, encounter Jesus, find freedom, and then begin to bless others as a preventative to returning to their stress-filled lives. We can see a few examples in healed women, a man delivered from demons, and a woman who had lived a less-than-virtuous life (Luke 8:1-3, 26-39; 7:36-50).
Frequently, the Old Testament psalmists shared how blessing God and others brought them out of their stressful situations. A great example comes from David when he chose to bless God in a stressful place, and ended up being a blessing to other afflicted people around him (Psalm 34:1-6).
When you feel stress mounting, you need to get active. Feelings follow actions. We usually won’t feel ourselves into action, but we can act ourselves into feelings.
The best way to de-stress is to bless!
As we bless, look at the shifts that take place:
- Instead of remaining self-focused we become others-focused
- Instead of being short-sighted we get a big-picture orientation
- Instead of being stingy with our possessions and God’s promises we become generous
Remember that in the distress cycle I mentioned earlier the brain cells in the hippocampus were being damaged? The excess cortisol literally kills those neurons. The good news is that the hippocampus is one of the few places in the brain that experiences neurogenesis after cortisol is flushed. When you replace stressing with blessing, and the cortisol is regularly flushed from your body, brain cells are regenerated in your hippocampus. In essence, you are developing both a new brain and a new mind.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NKJV).
Don’t let stress steal life from your years and years from your life. De-stress by blessing God and blessing those around you.
If you’ve missed any of the previous eight mental health strategies that I have shared in this series, you can find them all by clicking here.