When’s the last time you heard—or perhaps thought—the phrase “I’m so stressed out!” For me, it was my nine-year-old daughter wandering into my office, slumping into a chair and declaring that her concerns about the upcoming school year were overwhelming. Now keep in mind that this was a sunny day during summer vacation, but the worries associated with a new classroom, new teacher, and the possibility of new friendships were taking over what could have been a day spent doing what she enjoyed.
I don’t blame my daughter; she comes from a long line of worriers, mostly on my side of the family (thanks Dad!) But my family isn’t alone. In fact, in 2011 the American Psychological Association declared that chronic stress was becoming a public health crisis.
Do a quick internet search and you’ll find countless studies and news reports detailing who’s feeling stressed and why. Some of the most common “stressors” are fairly consistent: health, finances, jobs and relationships. What’s really dizzying, however, is that being stressed about one or more of these areas actually can make them worse; for instance, worrying about one’s health can take a toll on one’s health.
The reality is that stress and worry are all a part of this thing we call life. But there are a number of ways to lessen its burden—including exercising faith. Here are four reasons why:
1. Faith brings comfort and insight.
Prayer, meditation, readings or focused thought on a higher power can calm our minds and bring comfort to our hearts in times of stress. As part of that process, showing gratitude for what we have been given, expressing our needs and reviewing how we got through previous difficulties can help us feel less alone and provide ideas of how to best move forward.
2. Faith strengthens relationships.
Turning to friends and family members in times of crisis can build positive relationships as we learn to rely on and help each other. We often feel better able to cope knowing there is someone who “has our back.” Even getting out in the community to serve others as a show of faith can help us feel more connected to others and less burdened by our own concerns.
3. Faith brings healing.
Believing our lives have purpose can help us heal from the physical and emotional impacts of stress. Some studies indicate meditation, for example, can lower the risk of heart disease. Forgiving the failings of others or our shortcomings as part of faithful expression also allows us to let go of pain we may still be experiencing.
4. Faith fosters action.
Having faith in what is to come can help drive us to take much-needed steps in our lives. It can spur us to make changes, such as better eating or exercise habits, to improve our physical health. It can encourage us to improve our networking skills or even change jobs when workplace stress is at a zenith. It can even motivate us to slow our frenetic pace place greater emphasis on our families, on showing gratitude or reconnecting with nature.
As for my daughter, a review of her successes in past years, making a list of what she can do to start this year off right, a few hugs and a quick prayer put many of her worries to rest. And while adult problems may be a little harder to solve or take a big longer to work through, the same principles of applying faith to whatever stress you may be experiencing still applies—and yes, a warm hug always helps too.